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ARCHITECTURE

Look at the Critic's Own Environment Gives Rise to Musings

January 06, 1994|AARON BETSKY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's time to bring it all home. For three years, I have been writing in these pages about the buildings and places of the Westside that reveal something about who we are, how we live and to what we aspire. This is my last column, so I thought I would tell you about where I fit into this architectural survey.

I live in a 1954 building that reflects all the faith in the future, love of the landscape and weakness for snazzy imagery that makes me love the architecture of this place. Designed by E. H. Ficket as a "Swiss chalet," it has since been painted a hideous orange-pink (salmon , in real estate parlance).

The building is most simply described as an abstraction of the sloping alluvial plane that comes down from the Hollywood Hills. What you see from the front, above the banana and palm trees, is a roof like a piece of the ground's diagonal thrust that has been lifted to make room for people to live under. It is also a dynamic form that shoots off from the land and the meeker forms people have placed on it. It represents a faith in building.

Pass under the image and the dark outside foyer (though you need a security code these days) and you will emerge into man's answer to the sun and harshness of Southern California: the courtyard. Here the public sweep gives way to a controlled open space, organized around that most precious commodity in our landscape--water. It is not much of a pool, but the courtyard is larger than most, so that you can understand it as a place opened up within the grid of the city. The outdoor spaces make and shape this building. Around it, the two-story wings of the Hollywood Riviera open up to each other in plain, simply detailed walls of glass, jalousies, thin vertical wood strips and stucco.

Yet that refuge is unstable and cracked, as all man-made things in this environment are. To the south, the ground suddenly drops to make way for the parking garage. The cars here are not our fetish objects that, while desirable, we hide under concrete the way it's done in most apartment buildings. Here, they are displayed on each side of this little arroyo. This is not just a question of image. The arrangement allows for the maximum amount of parking in the lower part of the slope, without having to excavate underneath the pool and courtyard.

Above the parking area, the southern range of apartments stacks up in layers. Bridges connect them with the main building. The composition of bridges and planes is accentuated by railings that come out at an angle, and by thin posts and beams that divide the actual living spaces into an orthogonal composition that reveals the relationship between lived space and the structure that contains it. Landscape, image, structure--the basic elements of architecture--come together with a degree of clarity that is to me one of the hallmarks of great Los Angeles architecture.

Our own apartment goes all the way to the peak of the slope. Over the years, we have tried to strip it down to allow all the original materials to come out. We exposed the metal railing of the staircase and uncovered the wood stud wall that separates the kitchen from the living room. Our lives here are like a bit of archeology into the architecture of Los Angeles. As I write these last words in this three-year survey of the architecture of the Westside, I sit encompassed by the grids that cross off a rational parcel for each of us and sheltered by the abstract roof that makes us at home here. I look out past palm trees at the dingbats and haciendas, office towers and telephone poles that make up the confusing network of forms through which you and I must navigate every day. Good architecture is a pathfinder in such a landscape, and I wish you all a good journey.

* The Hollywood Riviera: 1400 North Hayworth Ave., West Hollywood

* Architect: E. H. Ficket

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