For a glimpse at what is new in Los Angeles architecture, a good guide usually is the annual design awards of the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
But this year, the chapter's architecture jury, composed of three visiting practitioners, gave out just four awards to existing projects in Los Angeles, only three of which can be viewed by the public. Most years, at least a dozen awards are bestowed for the design of local projects.
Still, the three projects that can be seen give an indication of some of the concepts and challenges local architects are struggling with in the design of public buildings during these days of shifting styles.
Winners of a merit award were Michael Rotundi and Thomas Mayne of the firm Morphosis for the design of Kate Mantilini, a diner at 9101 Wilshire Blvd., at the northwest corner of Doheny Drive in Beverly Hills. The jury said the design was a "quiet and disciplined statement that then becomes exuberant," and that it was "loyal to the diner as a building type."
I would agree. Designed to be "a roadside steak-house for the future," the diner consists of a "new" building within an "old" building, featuring intimate booths as well as an open dining room and a sleek counter.
Decorations include a giant mural of a fight scene and a so-called conceptual orrery--a solar sundial of sorts--that pierces the ceiling and provides the diner with a focal point and conversation piece.
While the building's architecture, when studied, may be a bit too self-conscious and busy, nonetheless the style that emerges is that of a very updated, singular slick diner, a constructivist rendition of a Moderne-styled eatery, cool yet welcoming.
A merit award also went to a small commercial development in Malibu, at 24955 Pacific Coast Highway, designed by the firm of Goldman/Firth Associates. The jury praised the development as "a nice investigation of the building type" and noted that "the stainless-steel appendages are elegant and the ratio of stucco wall to the other materials is carefully balanced."
Visiting the development about a mile north of Pepperdine University revealed a sensitively sited, engagingly massed, finished and landscaped two-, three- and four-level complex of offices, woven into what looks like a Modernist-styled clustered village.
Instead of a mini-mall or monolithic slab of offices typical of such developments, the complex is broken up into varying sizes and shapes, lending each office its own entrance and identity.
I found, as did the jury, the varied construction materials to be particularly interesting. The use of galvanized roofing, aluminum wall panels, stainless-steel railings and green-tinted glass meld with the natural concrete pavers, stucco-and-wood beam ceilings.
The third accessible project that the jury cited was a mixed commercial and residential structure at 8981 Sunset Blvd., designed by Charles Lagreco and the Architectural Collective. Awarding it a citation, the jury declared that the building "comes to grips with complex constraints and mixed uses" and "drops down-scale to residential successfully."
While there is no doubt that the design was a difficult one--combining apartments and offices on a tight site edging a busy major street--it is my opinion after visiting the project several times that the solution is not very neighborly. The massing, composition and finishing is too busy and the Sunset Boulevard frontage at the pedestrian level awkward.
But this is a building type that most likely will become more prevalent as Los Angeles becomes more urban, and it deserves to be seen by those interested in architecture as an attempt at a prototype. Second opinions are always welcome.
For the record, top honors in the awards program went to a small guest house on an estate on a lake in Wyzata, Minn., and an, as of yet, unbuilt residential remodel in Santa Monica, designed respectively by Frank O. Gehry & Associates and Morphosis.
The jury, composed of architects Thomas Beeby, Henry Cobb and Jorge Silvetti, also gave out awards for a restaurant in Kobe, Japan, designed by the Gehry office; plans for a town center outside of Honolulu, by Pereira Associates; another yet-to-be-built project in Santa Monica, this one a retail and commercial development by Kanner Associates; and an artist's studio in Venice by architect Stephen Ehrlich.