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Lifeguard Towers: Waves of the Future?

July 07, 1988|LEON WHITESON

Assignment: Create a prototype for a new wave of Southern California lifeguard towers.

Specifications: A 360-degree outlook and a budget of $17,000.

Results: A stunning array of designs that will be exhibited Saturday through Aug. 13 at the Kirsten Kiser Gallery on La Brea Avenue. Fourteen renowned architects from Austria, Denmark, Italy and the United States, including Los Angeles, are joined by 10 young local designers in a display of radically different models and drawings.

Icons of our worship of sun and sea, the lifeguard towers that dot Southern California beaches have a long history of being underdesigned. Few were dreamed up by professional designers and little about them has been altered in decades.

But all that could change if any of these new visions is approved. They include:

-- L.A. architect Charles Moore's tower shaped like a colorful dragon complete with swishing tail, gaping maw and sawtooth spine.

-- New York architect Robert Stern's model featuring two immense sand-colored seated figures that resemble Ken and Barbie dolls transformed into giant Egyptian statues watching over the waves.

-- Chicago's Stanley Tigerman's cottage-like pavilion featuring a ramp designed for a disabled lifeguard. Perched in a wheelchair on a balcony that juts out over the waves, the lifeguard appears ready to plunge into the water to rescue a distressed bather.

Other designs illustrating the range of invention are Albuquerque's Antoine Predock's brass and painted metal "land shark," Canadian architect Arthur Erickson's boat-shaped shelter bedecked with banners, Cesar Pelli's tower that opens its side leafs like a giant yellow daisy, and Princeton architect Michael Grave's desert tent.

Richard Meier, designer of the new Getty Center for the Arts and Humanities in Brentwood, Milan's Aldo Rossi, Vienna's Hans Hollein--one of the finalists in the Music Center's Disney Hall design competition--Denmark's Ernest Lohse and L.A.'s Morphosis also submitted prototypes.

Designs by the younger architects tend toward the technological.

Typical is Steve Johnson's fold-up crate that opens to become a hydraulic-legged monster, complete with its own solar energy panels and sunshades. Any time the tower needs to be moved, it can be closed up and lifted onto a flatbed truck.

Said Kirsten Kiser, co-owner of the gallery with Donna Grossman: "This exhibition of lifeguard tower ideas reveals the imagination of top designers at play. Some of the designs are primarily visual jokes but all could be built, even if we have to bend the rules a bit."

In planning for the exhibit, "I searched for an architectural idea that was very L. A. yet would appeal to major designers everywhere," she continued. "The response has been terrific, and the designs are marvelous in their invention and variety."

Architects were sent standard lifeguard tower specifications supplied by Bud Bohn, administrative lieutenant of the lifeguard operations division of the Manhattan Beach-based state Department of Beaches and Harbors. In addition to a 360-degree outlook, standard requirements also govern height, access and construction materials.

Possible Prototypes

Bohn, who has not yet seen the exhibit, said he will consider the designs as prototypes for future lifeguard towers on Venice Beach and elsewhere in Southern California.

Models and drawings are for sale and priced from $2,500 to $10,000.

"We are a commercial gallery, not a museum," Kiser said. "Although the idea of selling architects' drawings and models as art objects is fairly new in Los Angeles, we hope the idea will catch on."

Kiser and Grossman, both architects, opened the gallery in October, 1987. Previous shows have included the sketches and collages of architects Richard Meier, Aldo Rossi, Frank Gehry and Hans Hollein. Future exhibitions are planned for Charles Moore, Arata Isozaki and Michael Graves.

"The philosophy of the gallery is to show architects' more personal side," Kiser said. "The drawings display the thought processes behind a designer's work, and so make the often famous man or woman more directly accessible."

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