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ARCHITECTS, DESIGNERS CONVERGE FOR BIG SHOW : Twenty thousand professionals expected at Pacific Design Center for three-day trade event that explores link between technology and design.

March 19, 1986|DAVID CROOK | Times Staff Writer

There's always something on Melrose Avenue to make even the most jaded urbanites gape as they inch through the never-ending gridlock.

What with its video store that's been split by a neon lightning bolt, its pricey interior decorators' showrooms or its parade of electric hairdos, Melrose definitely ain't West Covina.

All of which is to say that people driving in the vicinity of the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood today through Friday shouldn't feel the least bit disconcerted if they see an array of mirrors arranged in the shape of a huge human eye.

Winking.

Like everything else on Melrose, the mirrors are there to be seen, and, like most everything else in Los Angeles, they are there to be seen by a camera.

Only this camera happens to be on a satellite 22,000 miles in space, and its pictures will be part of the program of a unique conference inside what locals know, affectionately, as the Blue Whale.

Twenty-thousand architecture and design professionals are expected to be on hand this week for the sixth annual Westweek, a three-day trade show that has grown this year into a grand effort to explore the common ties of modern design to technology.

Program topics include panel discussions by artists and film makers on the nature of "image making," corporate executives examining new ideas in office design, and five furniture designers exploring the essential and ubiquitous chair.

"We hope to look at the elements that tie architecture, technology and design together," said Westweek organizer James Goodwin. "The underlying thread seems to be image-making.

"Architecture and technology are the same things in the beginning. When primitive man was ready to try to get a bird in a tree and used a stone to do it, his image of the stone striking the bird was the beginning of technology."

Technology has come quite a way from a Neanderthal's elegant rock hurtling through the jungle air to the GOES 4 weather satellite hurtling through the void of outer space.

GOES 4 is familiar to most people as the source of satellite photos used in TV and newspaper weather reports. During Westweek, the satellite also will be taking pictures of the mirror array outside the Design Center.

Thirty 2-foot-square mirrors arranged in the shape of an eye will reflect sunlight to the satellite. Black-and-white photos will be beamed back to Earth at half-hour intervals. To make the mirror station more visible, the mirrors will be alternately covered and uncovered, causing the eye to appear to wink when the images from the satellite are displayed on TV monitors in the Design Center's lobby.

All of the space pictures will be put together Friday for a three-day time-lapse overview of the Earth.

The mirror project was conceived by artist Tom van Sant, who built a larger but similar project in 1980. Three leading scientists will join with the artist Friday to discuss the winking eye along with other developments in space technology, its roots in art and its influence on humankind's evolution.

Panelists include Paul Erlich, Bing professor of population studies at Stanford University; Albert R. Hibbs, manager of space science application at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Nobel laureate physicist Richard Feynman of Caltech.

"Rather than looking at architecture only internally," said conference organizer Goodwin, "we can better see it and design when we explore them from disciplines outside."

According to Goodwin, the panelists will attempt to explore the image-making concepts that unite some of the most ancient architecture--large prehistoric earthworks in Peru and elsewhere--with 20th-Century works. Goodwin hopes that the panelists will show that architecture and design today still have plenty in common with their earliest examples.

Even some of the least elegant works of today--the space shuttle, for example--have a kind of architectural integrity that ancient builders might appreciate, he said.

At its best, he said, architecture is the "design of spaces to perform certain functions" within the confines imposed by the environment. That's how the space shuttle was developed.

"Its design was imposed by the necessity of creating something that will function within the conditions imposed," Goodwin said. "That forces a kind of clarity of design. At this point, it may not be the most elegant, but think of the propeller. It was shaped that way to move the wind, but it had a kind of elegance to it too."

Modern buildings, Goodwin said, too often are divorced from their environments and, as a result, are not truly architecture. He hopes that this week's conference will awaken some attendees to the possibilities that exist to create architecture as art within the financial restraints of today.

"We're not attempting to convert anybody," he said. "We're creating an opportunity for the exchange of ideas."

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