YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Painting the Town : Southern California Urban Designers Have Discovered a New Way to Breathe Life Into Architecture--Color

May 11, 1986|GORDON SMITH | Gordon Smith, who lives in San Diego, writes frequently about city planning and the environment

In the summer of '84, a television audience of 2 billion people sat down to watch the Olympic Games-- and Los Angeles. Instead of the predictable red, white and blue, the city appeared draped in magenta, vermilion, yellow and aqua. The Games also took place amid ephemeral struc- tures made of cardboard, fabric and fancy. Balloons, murals and wafting pennants lined the boulevards. It was a pivotal 16 days for the city; the world discovered that Los Angeles had replaced its out- moded reputation for ennui and sprawl with culture, cuisine and a sense of humor. And what it lacked in grace, it clearly made up for in style. In the following pages, we offer some of the high points--and the high-profile practitioners--of that style, including the likes of architect Jon Jerde and color consultant Deborah Sussman, who together gave the city its look for the Olympics and still shape its skyline, and Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, taste-making chefs with the courage to improvise. We've also united rising stars in entertainment with their counterparts in fashion for a sneak preview of L.A. designers' fall collections. Their contributions propel Los Angeles forward, making it, in Jerde's words, "the place where things are going to happen . . . the city of the future."

It's a sprawling jumble of the delightful and the discordant. The architecture of Los Angeles is less elegant and unified than that of other cities, but it's also not as predictable. This is a place where people are willing--no, certain--to take chances. And that's why the city is at the forefront of a new wave of architectural design that aims to enliven the urban landscape with color.

Color can unify disparate parts of a building. It can make edges seem cleaner, make shadows darker and even influence mood. But most architects aren't trained to know how to use color. Increasingly, they turn to experts such as Deborah Sussman and Tina Beebe, who have already begun to give Los Angeles a new and multihued image.

Sussman is an environmental designer whose passions include graphics, signs and other decorative elements of architecture. Color is one of her primary tools, and she wields it with considerable grace. As consultants to some of the Los Angeles' top architects and developers, she and her design team at Sussman / Prejza & Co., Inc. (headed by Sussman and her partner-husband, Paul Prejza) have fashioned the distinctive color personalities of Crocker Center, the Westside Pavilion and the 1984 Olympic Games. "I tend to get my color ideas very quickly," Sussman says. "For me it's an intuitive process. But what is intuition? To have it takes years of searching, thinking, agonizing and studying, not only in school but everywhere you go."

Soft-spoken and precise, Beebe is an architectural color consultant--a colorist. Working independently and as a consultant in the architectural firm of Moore Ruble Yudell, she has created inspired color schemes for the Parish of St. Matthew, in Pacific Palisades, and for the Beverly Hills Civic Center. She is also using color to give character to major housing projects in West Los Angeles and Mission Viejo. "If you just think about a job long enough, it will tell you what the colors should be," she explains. "It's all quite objective and logical."

Both Sussman and Beebe see Los Angeles as a Mediterranean-style city influenced by its closeness to Mexico and Central America. For the Olympics, Sussman chose magenta, vermilion and chrome yellow--hues, she says, that are common in Mexican marketplaces and at celebrations. "Combining them with aqua was sort of unusual--aqua representing the Mediterranean spiritual climate of Los Angeles--and that juxtaposition meant L.A. '84."

The high-rise towers of Crocker Center required a more subdued approach. Sussman recalls that when she first became involved with the project, Crocker executives had already settled on pink granite as the basic construction material and were considering a similar color for the window mullions and other trim. She and her assistant, Susan Hancock, suggested the opposite. "We thought, this building is in the heart of downtown, but it's also on the edge of the California desert. And the grayish-bluish-greenish colors of cactus would make the pinkish granite seem even richer, provide a counterpoint to it, the way you balance one note in music with a complementary note."

For the skyscraper's interior courtyard, 11 shades of ivory, peach and light aqua were chosen to complement the darker pink and blue-green of the exterior. "The exterior is like the plant, and the interior courtyard is like the flower," Sussman says.

Los Angeles Times Articles