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Sam Hall Kaplan

Architecture Alive, If Not All Well

October 26, 1986|SAM HALL KAPLAN

Architecture, anyone?

There has been an echoing lament from who else but architects that this column pays an inordinate amount of attention to planning and preservation issues and not enough to architecture.

My contention, of course, is that planning and preservation issues are architecture issues, and if architects don't address them, they will soon find themselves in a small corner of the design world.

Actually, from my vantage point, that corner is getting quite crowded, something the American Institute of Architects should be concerned about.

Too many architects appear to have designed themselves into it in their preoccupation with the look and symbolism of their structures, rather than with their functions and social and cultural context.

No doubt their efforts titillate peers and editors of regressive and indigestible architecture magazines, but in the larger scope, purpose and import of design as a social art, they tend not to be particularly important, or worthy of review. There will be no jumping on the fish truck here.

In the perfidious pursuit to become a superstar, these self-appointed serious architects (SASAs) seem to work as hard at promoting or trying to explain their projects as designing them. There is talent out there, but to what end is at question.

Still, architecture in the Los Angeles area appears to be very much alive, if not altogether well.

The biggest event this fall has to be the dual opening of the recast and expanded Los Angeles County Museum of Art, crafted by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates, and the completely new and sparkling Museum of Contemporary Art, designed by Arata Isozaki.

Also of architectural interest is how Pereira Associates, the Nadel Partnership and Maxwell Starkman Associates are decorating the abused zoning parameters on the Westside.

Assuming that the scale was, in effect. dictated by the client, some of the towers there are quite engaging, certainly in comparison to the late-Modern cliche and clones going up in Glendale and Burbank. And one has to like the expressive Mercedes Benz building Nadel has done in Hollywood.

But when it comes to scale and siting, a much more engaging fit is the imaginatively colored and massed office complex, designed by John Alekisich Associates, at the Arlington off-ramp of the Santa Monica Freeway.

We are still awaiting the completion on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood of the commercial and residential conglomeration designed with an apparent flair by the Architectural Collective headed by Charles Lagreco. It was a challenging site and program of the type I suspect will become more common in Los Angeles as the city continues to urbanize.

Also of interest, no doubt, when completed, will be the office tower at 1000 Wilshire Blvd., marking the local debut of Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates. At an earlier stage of construction is the promising World Trade Center complex in Long Beach, designed by the firms of Ross/Wou and DMJM.

Of note on drawing boards is the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising by Jon Jerde, and Olympic Park apartments by Rob Quigley. Both projects are to be located in the South Park redevelopment area downtown.

On the drawings boards also is the I. M. Pei & Partners design for an office tower crowning the Library Square project, and Richard Meier's Getty arts complex in Brentwood. In addition, the New York firm, in a joint venture with Gruen Associates, recently was awarded the coveted expansion of the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Then there is all that scurrying going on at UCLA, where a gaggle of firms is at work on the design of a mixed-use medical complex, including, in no particular order, Ross/Wou, MBT, Kurt Meyer, DMJM, Mitchell Giurgola and Medical Planning Associates, and last, but not least, Craig Hodgetts. One suspects they will all need one another to overcome some of the problems the ambitious project presents.

And let us hope there also will be the surprises, the unexpected project that somehow serves the user and the city, as well as art and architecture.

Alert: A public hearing is scheduled Monday at 5 p.m. at the Pasadena Conference Center on the continuing efforts of a group of neophyte developers to hustle the landmark Huntington Sheraton hotel into oblivion.

The hearing is being held by the city's Board of Directors, which has received a Planning Commission recommendation to allow a development team headed by Lary Mielke to demolish the hotel's historic main building.

Contending that the six-story hotel is seismically unsafe and too costly to renovate, Mielke has proposed to construct a replica, with some variations. Is Dr. Frankenstein now about to meet Abbott and Costello?

A more serious question is exactly how unsafe the building is and how much would it cost to renovate? There is yet to be conducted an independent, thorough structural analysis.

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