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Museum Building's Beauty Lies in Its Refined 'Tilt-Up' Simplicity

September 23, 1993|AARON BETSKY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Aaron Betsky teaches and writes about architecture

Los Angeles is a tilted kind of town. Offices, factories, clinics, homes and schools are contained between thin concrete slabs that preserve the anonymity of the activities inside. These concrete panels are poured on the ground next to the building's foundation and then, when they have dried, are tilted up into place and tied together by standardized trusses.

"Tilt-up" is the cheapest, quickest way to form a big and flexible box. There are thousands of such structures all around Los Angeles. You can recognize them by their very anonymity and their telltale shortage of windows.

Most tilt-up structures contain rather prosaic functions and their design reflects their utility. One of the boxes that makes up a little office and factory enclave at the eastern edge of Marina del Rey contains a museum, and here the architects have made a tilt-up structure as sophisticated as the artworks inside. The Lannan Foundation, which is almost as anonymous as the former air-conditioning plant it now occupies, funds poetry readings and small area exhibitions.

You can tell this is not an ordinary tilt-up affair by the refined details of the building. The original plant was already a little unusual because an architect of some note, William Kisler, designed it. When architect Mark Hampton renovated it a few years ago, he made sure to work with Kisler in picking out the details that make this a more refined version of the ubiquitous type of structure. The edges of the gray stucco-covered slabs are crisp and smooth. You can see immediately where each separate section of concrete stops and starts. And little has been added to the basic structure.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday October 21, 1993 Home Edition Westside Part J Page 2 Column 5 Zones Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Lannan Foundation--A Sept. 23 architecture review of the Lannan Foundation building in Marina del Rey misspelled the name of the architect. His name is William Krisel.

This might seem like a simple idea, but if you turn to look at the neighbors, you see everything from redwood siding to mansard roofs pasted onto the slabs to try to make them look like something they're not. As if to explain how this works, the students of an architecture school that inhabits another tilt-up around the corner have built a small segment of such a construction in its parking lot.

The real revelation of the Lannan comes at the entrance. Here the panels give way to a glass and steel assembly set back just the thickness of the slab, reinforcing the sense that the concrete is a thin shell protecting great riches. The clean lines of this little composition remind you of a corporate office building, but ultimately they reveal the modernist roots of this architecture: Forms dissolve into pure structure revealed through thoughtful detailing.

The interior continues this modernist motif. The main gallery is 18 feet high, surrounded by white walls, lit by four skylights, and floored with bleached oak. It is a perfect neutral container, the purest reduction of the kinds of spaces possible within a tilt-up building. There is a little secondary

gallery tucked away under the offices that take up most of the rest of the building, but none of the other spaces have the clear grandeur of this beautifully proportioned room.

The Lannan Foundation does break out of its box

a little in a garden designed by artist Siah Armajani. Quotes from Walt Whitman crown tall benches from which you can look at various maples and a stack of blue jars. All of this is crammed together in a narrow lot screened from the street by a tall wall, made out of wood frame but designed to mimic the tilt-up building. It has become a favorite lunchtime respite for workers imprisoned in the less elegant boxes all around the foundation.

What the Armajani garden misses is the very art of this anonymous form of construction. The Lannan Foundation building proves that a building can follow the cheapest and most efficient building method, and yet, by revealing the very way it is made, can become a work of art that houses art.

* The Lannan Foundation: 5401 McConnell Ave., Marina del Rey

* Architect: William Kisler

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