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Sam Hall Kaplan

L. A. Architects Score Impressively

February 22, 1987|SAM HALL KAPLAN

Of 13 projects selected for recognition from a whopping 670 submissions vying for the coveted Progressive Architecture (PA) magazine awards in the architecture design category, six were from the Los Angeles area.

That is an impressive number for a region, even if in this present age of architectural hype one tends to be suspicious of architecture awards bestowed on architects by juries dominated by architects, particularly those yearning to be au courant.

This yearning, along with a cloying pretentiousness, has, in the last few years, weakened the credibility of the PA awards, as well as that of the magazine. Not helping was the feeling that at the cost of its perspective, the magazine was catering to a relatively small but vocal self-congratulating band of self-serving professionals.

The perceived drift had prompted some to label the magazine "Regressive Architecture," which was quite unfair, given the publication's editorial tendencies to be, if anything, post-progressive.

But the major awards this year and the select comments of the jurors indicate a subtle shift in the concerns of the architecture profession, at least those being expressed in PA magazine. In this time in architecture of shifting styles and self-appointed stars we take hope where we can.

Certainly, there is much hope in the design of two affordable-housing projects by the local firm of Koning Eizenberg that won PA's prestigious First Award. The modest infill projects are scheduled to be constructed in the Ocean Park neighborhood of Santa Monica for the local nonprofit Community Corp.

The jury praised the way the design solved a variety of site and cost problems in a relatively simple, straightforward way, yet without sacrificing critical common spaces and some distinctive architectural detailing, such as varying roof lines and window compositions.

"This project emphasizes the California tradition of Modernism," declared jury member Thomas Hines of UCLA. "It picks up on Neutra, Schindler and Gregory Ain. I don't know whether the architects were thinking of that, but it's in the atmosphere, and you can't avoid it."

"It is nice to see buildings of this kind with minimal budgets being given that kind of interest," added juror Bernardo Fort-Brescia, a Miami-based architect. "It has been a long time since the architectural press and architects have paid attention to this building type. It is not the building type that usually wins awards; hopefully, the country will take note."

As if to emphasize this point, the jury gave out the only other First Award to a housing project designed by the firm of Mockbee-Coker-Howorth for low-income families in Madison County, Miss. The design was described by the jury as an unpretentious, elegant response to the needs of the user and the constraints of the budget site and climate.

Winning an award was the firm of Cesar Pelli & Associates for its plans for the expansion of the Pacific Design Center at San Vicente Boulevard and Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood. The design of the expansion as two distinctly colored and shaped fragments creating a pod of structures was praised by jury member Ricardo Legorreta as an original solution to an original proposition.

"The merit of this project is that it follows up the tradition and the idea, maintaining the character of the first building, which is based on strong, primary colors," declared architect Legorreta of Mexico City.

Also winning one of the five awards was the design of the Kate Mantilini Restaurant in Beverly Hills by the firm of Morphosis, Thom Mayne and Michael Rotundi, partners. The design involved entrapping a "new" building in an old building, and topping it with a giant sun dial, among other things.

The other awards went to designs for a well-organized single-family residence on a tight, 18-by-100-foot site in Toronto, Canada, by Steven Fong; an expressive, concrete batching plant in Oakland by the firm of Holt & Henshaw; and an ambitious housing, office and retail development straddling a train station in suburban White Plains, N.Y., by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates.

In awarding the less prestigious but still coveted citations, the jury slipped away somewhat from favoring direct, socially minded designs, such as the Santa Monica and Mississippi projects. Instead, getting the nod were generally more trendy and arbitrary architectonic solutions.

Leading the pack was Morphosis, which in addition to an award, garnered two citations for projects in Los Angeles. One was for a constructivist prototype hamburger stand and the other a complex comprehensive cancer center proposed as part of the Cedars Sinai Medical Center.

The hamburger stand appears to be very much in the same mode as a design for a Cookie Express drive-in that won a PA citation for the firm of Hodgetts & Fung two years ago. While the design is, as the jury notes, quite sculptural, it appears to me that Morphosis once again has taken the simple and strained to make it complicated.

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