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State Architects Prevail at Coveted Awards

March 08, 1992|EVELYN De WOLFE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

California architects have dominated the 1992 Progressive Architecture magazine competition, taking 13 of 22 awards for design, urban planning and architectural research.

Winning projects, the majority by Los Angeles architects, included a vintage car museum, housing for homeless families, a private guest house, a subway system station for Los Angeles, a house addition and a cultural institution in Paris.

The P/A awards, announced in the January issue of the magazine, are among the most prestigious in architecture. Held for the past 39 years, the competition is the only national contest focusing exclusively on unbuilt work.

"We recognize the merit of an architect's commissioned work in its original form while it is still intact and uncompromised by budget or other concerns, and a primary objective is to provide an incentive for clients to protect and preserve the integrity of that design," said P/A's profession and industry editor, James A. Murphy. "In the process we have been able, fairly often, to discover vibrant new talent."

The jury of eight architects who examined the 726 entries submitted by American and Canadian professionals, including 183 by Californians, applauded the quality and originality of breakthrough concepts but lamented the fact that there were not enough entries in the fields of housing, health and education worthy of major awards.

The 1992 awards showed a balance between firms previously honored and first-time winners. Selected with such well-known firms as Eisenman Architects and Ellerbe Becket, each taking honors for the fourth consecutive year, and Frank O. Gehry & Associates, were new winners Michael Bell Architect and Daly Genik Architects, both of California.

"Eight awards for architectural design were won by Los Angeles architects, three were for cultural facilities and three for single-family dwellings," said Robert S. Harris, dean of the USC School of Architecture. "These are the kinds of projects which lend themselves to exploration about design and one expects they would stand out. Single-family homes always offer this kind of opportunity to be inventive and to think through at a scale in which the risks are not so great.

"What characterizes the winning designs is that they are very strong, have a sense of immediacy and enliven the senses. From a theoretical and architectural perspective, they are not 'deconstructivist' . . . that is, they're not angry, not trying to make a statement about values and don't make a reference to architecture of another time or place or to remote symbols as in post-Modern."

Commenting on California's dominance in the competition, Dean Richard S. Weinstein of UCLA's Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning noted that "the ingredient that causes a particular place to produce a phenomenon usually is the presence of a creative figure who opens this opportunity for others. . . ."

Such a figure, said Weinstein, is Pritzker Prize winner Gehry, whose design of the American Center in Paris won a P/A architectural design award.

"(Gehry) has touched a responsive chord nationally and internationally that has helped to make architecture what it is and what it may become.

"The spirit that comes out of Los Angeles is positive, unembarrassed, lyrical, uncomplicated and free, but that is not to say it does not have its dark moments. However that may be, it's done without sweeping anything under the rug.

"When you have a powerful creative cultural ecology, all the other plants survive," Weinstein noted. "L.A. is a city that is not constrained by weather, with a history that is shorter and less traditional . . . with people who have come here looking for a freer way of life, and with a diverse manufacturing base and multiplicity of cultural groups that make it less of a requirement to be a part of any tradition."

P/A Editor John Morris Dixon agrees that "this is California's time" to shine, referring to this year's sweep of honors as compared to the state's two winners in 1990 and four in 1991.

While stressing the influence on architecture from professionals in the Philadelphia, New York and Chicago areas, Dixon believes California has become a larger center of activity in architectural innovation.

"There is also an influential synergistic relationship with the architectural schools of Southern California . . . USC, UCLA, SCI-ARC and Cal Arts that has drawn numbers of people to its tradition of independence and directness.

"Much of what has crested in innovative architecture has become evident in the work of Morphosis, Gehry, Franklin Israel, Eric Owen Moss and others . . . a fragmentation of forms coming together in a kind of collage or juxtaposition of forms," Dixon said.

"When work is done that catches attention, it brings additional architects to that place and encourages clients also to go in that direction. Success breeds success."

CALIFORNIA'S WINNING

FIRMS AND PROJECTS:

Architectural Design Awards:

Frank O. Gehry & Associates, Santa Monica.

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