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Looking to Take L.A. in Many Directions

Designing LA. Second of Two Parts

March 19, 1998|CONNIE KOENENN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Architect Stephen Kanner designs buildings with a retro-futuristic edge that he labels "evocatecture." You can see this in his sleek, red and yellow burger stand that brightens an L.A. street.

Pushing beyond realism, set designer Marsha Ginsberg combines architecture and art installation to enlarge a play's text.

Graphic designer Tyrone Drake refers to the metaphor of music ("Miles Davis is my inspiration for doing anything") when explaining his approach to combining type and image.

Fashion designer Hoda Meisamy substitutes a texture palette for color in nearly seamless silhouettes by combining such contemporary fabrics as waxed linens and cotton mixed with bits of steel.

And architect Bryan Cantley focuses on theoretical architecture, which he describes as "exploring the relationships among physical environment, inhabitant and observer." Check out his concept for a pop-up, disappearing urban toilet.

These five are among the more than 100 designers represented in "New Blood 101," a revealing exhibit that opened Wednesday as part of WestWeek '98 at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood. Working, for the most part, outside the commercial mainstream, they are representative of the breadth and the energy of the city's increasingly robust design community.

Long known as the home of architectural icons from Frank Lloyd Wright to Frank Gehry, and the destination of people seeking to reinvent themselves, Los Angeles today spills out in dozens of creative directions.

It is the home of the most forward-looking industries--Hollywood, aerospace and high technology. Not only do new lifestyle trends emerge as if on a high-speed assembly line, but the city's Pacific Rim perch promises that L.A. and its designers are already looking beyond the millennium to reshape the 21st century.

With that in mind, WestWeek, the big annual design conference that last year celebrated European design, chose as its theme this year "To Live and Design in L.A." It's the topic both for this week's many panel discussions and shows for its invited guests, and also for several exhibits that will be open to the public for the next six weeks.

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Epitomizing the L.A. focus, "New Blood 101" presents a wide selection of new and emerging talent in the fields of architecture and interior, product, graphic and set design. Co-sponsored by the American Institute of Architects, the exhibit was initiated by architect Bernard Zimmerman, who teaches at Cal Poly Pomona, where he started the School of Environmental Design, which is in the department of architecture. "These are young people who don't always get a chance to have their names out there," said Zimmerman.

Each designer has an ample display area in the show, which occupies about two football fields' worth of the Pacific Design Center's Green Lobby. If there is any generational characteristic, said Zimmerman, it is the imaginative use of computers and applied technology.

After he had worked on a popular 1994 "100-100" show, which was the AIA's 100th birthday salute to 100 prominent architectural firms, someone suggested it might be time to quit honoring the establishment and do something for lesser-known people doing outstanding experimental work.

"It has taken four years to get all these names together," said Zimmerman, who started by organizing a committee of 10 avant-garde designers ("I called it the Powers of Ten"), who each picked 10 more. The names came from a careful process of selection and elimination, he said.

He and his group have spent the past six months studying portfolios. "We were trying to get people who have done at least one building or one product, but we haven't pushed it. Some are doing ideas," he said. They did require that Los Angeles be the participant's home base, although some designers are working around the world.

"Why do we have so much creative talent here? I guess it is the freedom of Los Angeles, that anything goes."

With the field expanded beyond architecture, "New Blood 101" offers a rich cross section of designers, including recent graduates, professionals who've made mid-career changes and inventors of new forms and technologies. "This is our upcoming generation of designers and the scope is unbelievable," said Zimmerman, who likes to envision Los Angeles as the world's emerging design leader.

* "New Blood 101," Pacific Design Center, 8687 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Ends April 30. Free and open to the public. It is also posted online as part of Digital Magazine's Web site, http://www.volume5.com.

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