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Saturday Letters

Koolhaas Doesn't Have Everyone's Vote

December 15, 2001

The continuing predilection of Los Angeles' elite for modernist architectural junk ensures that yet another of our city's landmarks will be gutted ("L.A. Art Museum Decides to Radically Reshape Itself," by Suzanne Muchnic, Dec. 6). Rem Koolhaas' model for how he would redesign the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is the apparent winner of the design competition, and what is it?

His building resembles a folded-up coat hanger suspending a soap bubble over simple boxy buildings.

L.A.'s reputation as the home of the ephemeral, the inconsequential and the flighty will be furthered by LACMA's new museum.

JEFF SOFTLEY

Los Angeles

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After reading your story about the unanimous praise the new LACMA plan is garnering from the so-called cognoscenti ("LACMA Raze Met With Praise," by Suzanne Muchnic and Lynn Smith, Dec. 10), this 77-year-old nobody would like to check in with a contrarian viewpoint.

As I sat in LACMA's Plaza enjoying last Friday night's jazz concert, I found myself taking a new look at the presently scorned architecture surrounding me. I was pleasantly surprised at the interesting historical picture these buildings presented, and I wished that I had brought along my digital camera to record it.

On my left was the massive, blocky-look of '60s modern, while contrasted on my right was the retro look of '80s post-modern. I could even catch a peek-a-boo glimpse at that '50s motel-style modern of the Japanese Pavilion in the distance.

Hey, this is architectural history, I thought, and the curators, who are supposed to be all about the history of art and architecture, want to destroy it. Somehow that doesn't seem right.

Of course, there's something to be said for the museum's desire to provide visitors with an unbroken continuity in their trip through the museum, something that the Koolhaas blueprint is expected to provide.

But is the saving of a few moments, a few steps, really worth the loss forever of still important examples of L.A.'s architectural history, good or bad? I think not.

Where is the L.A. Conservancy when we really need them?

MONROE MENDELSOHN

Sherman Oaks

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As a licensed architect and an adjunct professor of architecture at a local university, I look upon the Rem Koolhaas proposal for LACMA with trepidation. Although as a designer, I find the models to be quite seductive and enticing, as a concerned citizen of our planet in an age of "sustainable design," I regret to say that Koolhaas' proposal is grossly irresponsible.

At issue is a concept called "embodied energy." When one considers the amount of raw material extracted to build the existing buildings; the energy used to transport, refine and transport again to the construction site; and the energy used to construct the buildings, the thought that we would simply tear these buildings down, dump them in a landfill and start the process all over again is absurd. It is akin to clear-cutting an entire old-growth forest, then using the lumber for a high school pep rally bonfire!

When LACMA trustee Stanley Grinstein praises the design as "the most sensible" because it puts "86% of the budget into new construction," he misses the larger picture. If the embodied energy of the existing structures were added into the calculation, he would find that equation flips: 86% of the budget is actually for the demolition and disposal of existing embodied energy and the extraction, processing and transportation of new embodied energy.

CHARLES CRAWFORD

Los Angeles

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Bravo to LACMA for a bold, decisive move on its architectural future. While I fear a certain Disney-esque deja vu may befall both its final cost and fund-raising efforts, a piecemeal approach would only delay the inevitable.

While the merits of Rem Koolhaas' ultimate designs have yet to be addressed, this opportunity to unify its campus and to re-imagine (and re-create) LACMA's role/purpose on Southern California's cultural landscape is a great one indeed.

PETER LITTLE

Monrovia

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Let's see if I get this right: The LACMA board of directors approves a $200-million building that is basically a cement tent on stilts and the museum still can't admit the area poor for free more than one day a month? This is self-serving, insensitive, elitist, insider behavior at its worst.

MIKE FALCON

Los Angeles

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Art education in elementary, middle and high school is so pathetic that it can truly be said that we now have at least two generations that are, for the most part, culturally illiterate. It makes me wonder why LACMA would be willing to spend at least $200 million renovating their space when the masses are not prepared to understand a painting or sculpture in the first place.

Maybe Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky can explain why the city wants to help fund a museum makeover but not art education in the public schools? Who does he think is going to benefit from that decision? Maybe Eli Broad and his pals who house their collections there.

ALAN KATZ

Los Angeles

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