The diverse local design community has banded together to launch a so-called "oranges" and "lemons" awards program that promises to be more than just another self-congratulating exercise.
With a view toward raising the public design consciousness, the program proposes to honor projects of merit with an orange, scold the less deserving with a lemon, and gently chide others in need of a push with an orange blossom.
The program's first awards, announced with much fanfare at a ceremony at the Westwood Playhouse last Monday night, were somewhat shaky, much like a child taking its first steps or a new critic writing an initial review. One had to be sympathetic.
In seven categories, ranging from architecture and landscaping to public art and environmental solutions, there were 8 oranges, 4 lemons, 2 orange blossoms and no real surprises or challenges.
It was apparent that those involved in the selection process played it safe. Without being limited to a specific time frame, say projects built within the last three years, they honored mostly already acclaimed projects and, from my perspective, scolded too few. Still, it was a welcome effort
Winning oranges in architecture were the Vista Montoya housing complex in the Pico-Union neighborhood and the Museum of Contemporary Art downtown. The housing was praised for "creating a secure environment and usable open space," and the museum for its scale and styling. No surprises here.
The lemon went to the Robert O. Anderson wing of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, "winning" over such other, I feel, more deserving nominees such as Citicorp Tower, the new faculty center at USC and the WTC building. The jury contended that the wing's siting contradicted the original concept of the museum as a building in and surrounded by a park.
In the category of planning and urban design, an orange went to the Old Pasadena restoration and redevelopment program. According to the jury, "even without the project being complete, it is demonstrating its ability to revitalize what was once a slum into a vibrant part of the community." One could take exception to the word slum, but not to the city of Pasadena's commitment to restore the area.
Little Tokyo Square commercial complex east of downtown was to receive a lemon for its design, but reportedly, when notified, threatened the sponsors of the awards program with a lawsuit. It is bad enough the project intimidates the surrounding area without the developers trying to intimidate those who take exception to it. For that I give them a particularly sour lemon.
In landscape architecture, an orange went to Seventh Market Place at Citicorp downtown, and a lemon to Caltrans for not landscaping the sound-abatement walls along the freeways. Both are deserving.
Cheer, a nonprofit organization dedicated to brightening the lives of hospitalized children, won an orange for orchestrating the interior design for the pediatric section in the UCLA Medical Center. Also honored for work in this volunteer effort was the late Louis Cataffo of Intradesign.
The lemon in the interior design category went to Kate Mantillini's restaurant, whose decorations the jury felt do "not fit in with the sensory experience of food." Taking gracious exception to the comments in accepting the "award" was the operator of the restaurant, for which he received warm applause.
In the public art category, the orange went to the current effort in MacArthur Park involving the Otis Art Institute, the city's Recreation and Parks Department and the MacArthur Park Foundation. "A great example of how a public arts program can stimulate community enthusiasm and pride," stated the jury.
Orange blossoms in this category went to the city's Cultural Affairs Department for the yet unfinished Watts Towers restoration project, and the El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historical Park for its "potential" to restore a landmark mural that has been whitewashed there since 1942.
In the historic preservation category, the last-minute reprieve of the Spanish Renaissance-styled water treatment plant in Beverly Hills won an orange for those involved, while a lemon went to the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency for the delay in rebuilding Angel's Flight, the funicular railway on Bunker Hill.
The jury noted that the railway, "a symbol of what Los Angeles used to be in a past era," was only removed with the promise that it would be reinstated. "The message to the public by this award is that a commitment has not been kept," the jury declared.
Winning an orange in the category of environmental solutions for its land acquisition and management projects was the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. That there were no lemons handed out in this era of mini-malls and street widenings, the polluting of the air and Santa Monica Bay, of toxic spills and questionable garbage disposal projects, seemed a shame.