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Sam Hall Kaplan

A Tour of Eclectic L.A. Architecture

March 14, 1987|Sam Hall Kaplan

Sometimes it takes visitors to make one appreciate more the rambunctious range here of distinctive and imaginative architecture.

That is especially true if the visitors are architecture educators, such as the 350 or so who are here for the next few days for the jubilee conference of the Assn. of Collegiate Schools of Architecture.

They are ostensibly in town to discuss and debate the theme of architecture and urbanism, but, as anyone who has ever attended such conferences knows, that is just an excuse to enjoy the host city, catch up with family and friends here, and explore its architecture.

For myself, and others with tenuous ties to the trade, the telephone has been ringing with requests for recommendations of what new restaurants to try and what new buildings to see.

But these are teachers of architecture calling and, in the Socratic tradition, they ask questions so they themselves can answer them. Such was the case when I received a call from Carmie Bee, a former colleague at the schools of architecture at Princeton University and later the City College of the City University of New York.

Before I could even suggest to Bee that he see the Museum of Contemporary Art downtown and the expanded County Museum of Art in the Wilshire district, he declared, "Of course, I must first go to the new museums."

While still finding time to teach a design studio at the City College, serve on the alumni council of Cooper Union and be a partner in the accomplished architecture firm of RKT&B specializing in housing and restorations, Bee as an indefatigable New Yorker naturally had read most of the recent popular and professional articles about the museums, had studied their plans, and already had an opinion.

"(Arata) Isozaki's design (of MOCA) looks in plan and photographs like pure poetry," Bee said. "He appears to have used the museum to make a place where there was no place. My artist friends who have seen it say his use of materials is wonderful and that the circulation works."

As for the design of the expanded County Museum of Art by the firm of Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates, Bee was more reserved. "It seems like it was a much, much tougher problem, having to add on to those ugly old, awkward buildings, so it really is not fair to compare the two museums," he said. "I like what HHPA does and really look forward to seeing it and experiencing it."

Bee also said he wanted to see "the new stuff by the younger people," and mentioned in particular architects Thom Mayne and Michael Rotundi. I suggested their three self-consciously crafted Venice alley houses, on Amorosa Place, Superba Court and Victoria Street, just west of Lincoln Boulevard, and then lunch at 72 Market Street, which they also designed. The designs are a rare brand of architectural intellectualism, rigorously wrought.

I added that Bee might glimpse the rear duplex architects Hank Konning and Julie Eizenberg designed for themselves at 2449 California Ave. in Santa Monica, and the house Rebecca Binder did for herself and her husband at 7726 81st St. in Playa del Rey. Across the street at 7741 another exuberant Binder bash is nearing completion.

And because Bee is a curious soul, I urged him to take a look at Eric Owen Moss' uncommon composition of common materials at 2828 Midvale Ave. in the Palms area. I think the design is a strained piece of self-promotion, but want to hear Bee's opinion.

For something a little more soothing, I suggested to Bee that he might find some time to visit the Ocean Park beach and pier areas in Santa Monica and check out the sensitive designs there of the landscape architecture firm of Campbell & Campbell, while also enjoying a California sunset.

"But let's not forget the oldies but goodies," Bee interrupted. Though he has seen them before, Bee said it was always a pleasure to once again look at Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House in Barnsdall Park, Richard Neutra's Lovell House (4616 Dundee Drive, Los Feliz), and R. M. Schindler's house and studio (833 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood).

"And put a Gregory Ain design on the list," Bee added. "Too many people already have forgotten about him." So onto the list was added Ain's spare modern apartment complex at 1281 S. Dunsmuir Ave., in the south mid-Wilshire area.

Actually, the list we ended up with for this weekend was more or less a composite of architectural tours the association has organized for its members. These include an "early masters" tour featuring select designs of the Greene brothers, Frank Lloyd Wright, Lloyd Wright, Schindler and Neutra, among others. There also are tours labeled the "Westside new wave" and "exuberant L.A.," featuring a melange of experimental, expressive, programmatic and thematic designs.

For those not connected with the conference but curious, the association has promised to make available a self-guided tour map for a modest $1 each to benefit the Los Angeles Conservancy. They will be available today through Tuesday at the conference desk in the lobby of the Biltmore Hotel at 5th and Hill streets.

Even if you can't take a tour this weekend, the lists would be handy to have around the house--especially when that out-of-town niece, nephew or cousin studying architecture eventually visits, showing the usual disdain but curiosity about Los Angeles.

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