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Outsider Arbiters

January 16, 1988

It's apparent from the article of Jan. 7 ("Designers of Museum Face Chore of Putting Landmark Where 'Nothing Stands Out' ") that the culturally superior folks at the Los Angeles Times have decided it's time to once again enlighten we poor slobs of Orange County as to our utter lack of class.

We've gotten rather used to the county-bashing that is a regular part of the reviews of events at the Performing Arts Center. Now comes staff writer Allan Jalon, that arbiter of all that's good and pure and culturally acceptable--he must live in L.A.--and a merry band of Europeans hired by the status-conscious board of the Newport Harbor Art Museum. The occasion of their discussion of our many shortcomings was the design team's first visit to the museum's new 10-acre site in Corona del Mar. The Europeans, Renzo Piano, Peter Rice, et al., were hired to design a 75,000-square-foot museum for the site.

First, we are informed by Mr. Jalon that Corona del Mar is a "vast suburban sprawl," where the horizon is crammed with "a wash of visual sameness" and where buildings can only stand out by resorting to "sculptural bravado." Oh. I thought that what I saw on the horizon was the Pacific Ocean. But what do I know? My office is next to the site in question. That makes me an occupant of one of those awful buildings he was talking about.

Next comes Mr. Rice, the structural engineer, to tell us that nothing stands out, that Corona del Mar has "no context," whatever that means, and that there is no architecture here because architecture "is whole streets and buildings together." Right. That's one thing we're lacking, all right, whole streets and buildings together. Mr. Rice finishes us off with this coup de grace: "Nothing seems to have a right to be here." Starting with pompous structural engineers.

Then we get THE Mr. Piano, designer of the Georges Pompidou Museum in Paris. It's the one that we cultural Neanderthals think looks like leftovers from the set of "Cats." He says visitors to the museum will become dehumanized by the act of getting into their automobiles and driving through the Orange County wasteland to get to the refuge that his building will provide. Oh golly, am I ever looking forward to having one of his buildings to go into to get away from all this architectural terribleness that's surrounding me.

I have one suggestion for Mr. Piano and Company, since they've hit on the truly novel idea of using a Japanese rock garden to act as a "filter," screening the impurities that we dehumans might drag into the museum from the wasteland. Renzo, check with Mr. Segerstrom and Mr. Noguchi. They can give you some pointers.

JOANNE REYNOLDS

Corona del Mar

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