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Ideas Abound for Design of Civic Center in W. Hollywood

August 02, 1987|MATHIS CHAZANOV | Times Staff Writer

An Italian piazza. A 15-story Chinese pagoda. A terrarium-like structure rising from the ground with a glass wall that reveals the gopher holes and tree-roots of a rooftop park.

These are some of the ideas proposed for West Hollywood's new Civic Center, a $24.5-million project to be located on the site of a park on San Vicente Boulevard.

The task would seem daunting: Not only is the site across the street from the Pacific Design Center, a looming blue glass structure, but the city also wants to fit a library, two tennis courts, a softball field, a fire station, a swimming pool, city offices, county offices, City Council chambers, a civic theater and parking for at least 375 cars onto just six acres.

And all this without sacrificing the three acres now used as park land.

'Terrible to Genius'

Nevertheless, 292 architects, artists and other hopefuls rose to the challenge. Their proposals, ranging from "terrible to genius," in the words of Community Development Director Mark Winogrond, have been on display all week in a sweltering white tent in a parking lot at the site.

After a weekend of judging, a panel of architects, designers, public officials and city commissioners is scheduled to announce five semifinalists on Monday.

The five then will have two months to work up more detailed drawings and scale models before the winner is chosen on Oct. 5.

The exhibit has attracted more than 1,500 people to view the drawings, which were identified only by number. Some were highly professional and others bizarre, at best.

"Since when should a Civic Center resemble an amusement park or shopping mall?" one visitor wrote on a sheet soliciting the opinions of the public. "Most of them seem to."

Nude Statute

One vision was topped by a huge nude statue of Eve, made of faceted glass in the style of the robot in Fritz Lang's silent-film classic, "Metropolis." The Biblical mother of humanity was posed reclining on a vast American flag with searchlights from her ears probing the sky.

"This glass Eve shiningly proclaims that an age of 'New Love' has come to a world of war and violence supported by dirtied money," the accompanying text explained.

Another hopeful saw the City Hall chambers as a silver ball poised in an amphitheater of municipal offices like a roulette ball about to drop.

A third depicted the complex as a space station launched into orbit and a fourth envisioned a "wall of steel and woven steel materials, surmounted by a banding of highly reflective and dynamic glass, which will reflect and transmit light as a beacon announcing the presence of the Civic Center."

Other designs were more plausible, with towers, open plazas, reflecting pools, palm trees and barrel-shaped roofs as frequent motifs.

Aping the Blue Whale

Some tried to mimic the unusual shapes of the Pacific Design Center and its annex, which is now being built directly across San Vicente Boulevard.

Winogrond said that imitations will lose out to "those who are brilliant in their own right and come up with their own solution."

He said it was instructive for city workers to see "some of the world's most famous architects stumbling in the door in the last hour before deadline, looking like they'd been up for three nights."

Working with a librarian, a parks official and a cost estimator, the judges are expected to have little trouble winnowing out many proposals that cost too much or fail to meet the requirements set by the city.

But the judging will get harder as they narrow down entries to the final five, said Michael John Pittas, a consultant who is running the competition.

Seeking Consensus

Each of the 13 jurors will look at all of the entries several times and then take part in repeated votes and discussions, he said, adding that the final five are generally agreed on by consensus.

"To have more than 10% of the entries viable makes it difficult, but I'd say 15% of these are truly interesting proposals that are buildable," said Pittas, who also administered the competition that chose the design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.

There are entries from 25 countries, he said, "from Austria to Zimbabwe--A to Z." Other entries came from Malaysia, Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, Chile, Japan, Argentina and Mexico.

To help out-of-towners understand the site, architects and others who paid the $95 entry fee were sent a packet including a 10-minute video tour of the city, guided by actor Tony Franciosa.

"It'll probably be revolutionary," said Capt. Ray Ribar of Los Angeles County Fire Station 7. "They like to go for new things in this city."

Ribar said anything would be better than the cramped quarters that the local engine company has been working out for more than 60 years.

Panel of Jurors

The jury, made up of seven professionals and six local officials, is chaired by Charles W. Moore, "generally acknowledged to be the most influential West Coast architect of his generation," according to an announcement from the city.

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