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Sam Hall Kaplan

Back Again to the Drawing Boards

May 01, 1988|Sam Hall Kaplan

The design competition between three world-acclaimed architects for a major downtown development that I wrote about with enthusiasm a few months ago turned out to be something less.

This is a problem these days with so many architectural competitions across the country vying not only for the best design solution for their particular project but also for the biggest names and headlines.

What I found so exciting about the competition here was the location and program of the proposed project--a mixed-use development of 2 million square feet on nearly 5 acres just east of the Harbor Freeway at 9th Street. I felt that in the combination was the potential to fashion a superstructure to lend the downtown skyline some needed identity and the streetscape, verve.

And making the competition, organized with much fanfare by the Parkhill Partners, even more attractive was that it pitted Michael Graves of Princeton, N.J., and of Post Modernist fame, against high-tech advocates Helmut Jahn of the Chicago-based firm of Murphy/Jahn, and John Andrews of Australia.

As one would have expected from the three architects involved, there was a spirited presentation of distinctly varied schemes. Andrews proposed a futuristic high-rise composed of clusters of pods; Jahn, three slick towers encased in an exposed structural grid, and Graves, two pairs of twin towers clad with his trademark cookie-cutter collage of classical elements. I preferred the scheme by Jahn.

A decision was promised by Parkhill within days, but when the days became weeks and the weeks a month, I began to worry that once again we had been a witness to less a design effort than a public relations effort to test the real estate waters.

Eventually, came word that Graves has been selected as the architect and that he was radically altering the scheme he had proposed. It appears the decision of whom to select was not particularly based on the schemes but on which architectural firm was most accommodating. So much for private design competitions.

But competitions and corporate conveniences aside, we can be grateful that the original scheme by Graves was, in effect, abandoned. As I had written in the original column on the competition, I felt the style, palette and materials proposed by Graves combined to create a classical cartoon of his award-winning Humana Building in Louisville, Ky. We already have enough recycled designs downtown.

More promising is the design by Graves indicated in the photograph of the study model of his latest scheme for Parkhill. However, before expending more ink on the project I will wait until it seems more real than a model and a press release.

Meanwhile, the project and its potential to create a more architecturally engaging downtown persists.

In other news that might affect the look and shape of the burgeoning downtown skyline, Richard Keating of the Los Angeles office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) will be in charge of the design of Grand Place Tower, the second phase of the ambitious Library Square project being doggedly developed by Maguire Thomas.

The job is a plum for Keating, who came to Los Angeles last year from Houston, where as a partner in the SOM firm there, he played a major role in shaping the distinctive skylines of that city and Dallas. Among his projects were the Texas Commerce, LTV and Renaissance towers, any one of which I feel are, frankly, better styled than anything now standing in downtown Los Angeles.

Also, no doubt raising a few eyebrows in the very competitive architectural community, is that Keating replaces the New York firm of John Burgee. It was Burgee, in partnership with architectural icon Philip Johnson, who developed the design concept for the site. We look forward to what changes Keating will make, and how he will explain them, bearing in mind Johnson's prejudices and influence.

Awards and Honors. Richard Meier, who divides his time between New York and Los Angeles, working here on the design of the Getty cultural complex, has been awarded Britain's 1988 Royal Gold Medal. The award is made annually on recommendation of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Meier's practice is becoming increasingly international. Among his projects abroad is the city hall and central library in the Netherland's The Hague, and an exhibit hall in Ulm, West Germany. If this continues, we expect that someday he might even get an office complex to design in Los Angeles.

Raphael Soriano, one of the architectural heroes of Los Angeles postwar years, is being honored with a testimonial dinner Friday at the School of Environmental Design at Cal Poly Pomona. The 83-year-old Soriano recently moved back to the Los Angeles area.

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