Tag Archives: california

SCI-Arc Graduation Pavilion

SCI-Arc Graduation Pavilion in Los Angeles, California by Oyler Wu Collaborative, 2011.

In 2000 the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) moved to its current location just southeast of downtown Los Angeles. It occupies the 1907 Sante Fe Freight Depot, a roughly 1,250-foot-long (380m) concrete building fronting, appropriately, Sante Fe Avenue on one side and a large parking lot on the other side. The latter is the site of experimentation and construction for the architecture school, not just a place for cars. It was the construction site for this year's Solar Decathlon, which the school developed with CalTech, and annually it is the home of a temporary graduation pavilion designed and built by SCI-Arc faculty with students.

This year's pavilion was designed by Dwayne Oyler and Jenny Wu, aka Oyler Wu Collaborative, with their studetns. The duo's work exhibits a lightness that is countered by a structural complexity, a combination that results in daring designs with a layered network of pieces (be it wood, metal, or even rope) held in a seemingly magical, floating tension. Such is the case with this pavilion, yet it is a leap in scale from their Pendulum Plane, Suburban Intervention, and other small-scale interventions. It is basically a backdrop and canopy for the graduation ceremony, but it elevates the ceremony into something even more special.

Based on a conventional knitting technique, like that used in the making of a sweater, the pavilion exploits the malleability of this technique as it stretches to conform to the three-dimensional shape of the structure. -Oyler Wu Collaborative

Called "Netscape," the pavilion, which seats 900 people, consists of  "45,000 linear feet of knitted rope, 6,000 linear feet of tube steel, and 3,000 square feet of fabric shade louvers." The architects further state, not surprisingly, that the "design of the project involved an elaborate back and forth between digital and analog systems of investigation." In particular Nous Engineering analyzed the tension of the nets using computers, but large models also "provided a means of studying the behavior of the grids and their resulting geometries."

The overall geometry is symmetrical in plan and elevation, but less so in the smaller parts and in one's experience of the whole. The three materials -- rope, tube steel, fabric shades -- work in concert yet they read as distinct entities with their own purpose. The steel structure leans and extends to create a soaring space, while the rope is knitted to become a dense yet porous plane up high. Lastly, the shades are supported by the first two but angled according to the sun at the time of the ceremony; as well, the wind lets them billow independently of the structure.  It's natural to want to try to describe what the pavilion looks like, to strive for metaphors, but I think it's best to see it as the sum of these three parts, a synthesis that works through its contrary reconciliation of lightness and monumentality. In turn it makes the graduation ceremony a grand affair.

Project Credits:

  • Principal Architects: Dwayne Oyler, Jenny Wu
  • Project Team, Oyler Wu Collaborative:  Nick Aho, Chris Eskew, Matt Evans, Andy Hammer, Michael Ho, Richard Lucero, Sanjay Sukie, Yaohua Wang
  • Project Team, SCI-Arc: Jacob Aboudou, Casey Benito, Paul Cambon, Julian Daly, Hung Diep, Jesus Guerrero, Clifford Ho, Duygun Inal,  Mina Jun, David Kim, Noorey Kim, Jacques Lesec, Zachery Main, Tyler McMartin, Richard Nam, Kevin Nguyen, Manuel Oh, Carlos Rodriquez, Bryant Suh, Kyle von Hasseln, Liz von Hasseln, Jie Yang
  • Engineering:  Nous Engineering (Principal Engineer: Matt Melnyk)

SFMOMA Expansion

SFMOMA Expansion in San Francisco, California by Snøhetta, 2011.

Since the unveiling of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's (SFMOMA) expansion plans in late May, responses to the design by Norway-based Snøhetta are strong yet mixed. Most notably San Francisco Chronicle architecture critic John King called it "imaginative and utterly unexpected...an inventive way to double the [museum's] size." Alternatively L.A. Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne described the 225,000-sf (20,000-sm) addition to SFMOMA's 1995 Mario Botta building as "a chiseled behemoth, ... disingenuous, impressive and amusing all at once."

What each article agrees upon is that the design is preliminary and will probably change greatly between now and the anticipated completion five years from now; the architects even contend that their unveiled design is "a preview of a preview." The design fits a roughly 100-foot by 335-foot (30-meter by 102-meter) parcel immediately behind the Botta building. Seen from Yerba Buena Gardens (second photo) and the Metreon, the expansion is perpendicular to the strong NE-SW axis of Botta's terraces and truncated cylinder. If anything, Snøhetta's monolithic design serves to reinforce this axis with a dip in the roofline that preserves a view towards the 1925 Pacific Telephone Tower.

Pedestrian routes will enliven the streets surrounding the museum and create a procession of stairs and platforms leading up to the new building, echoing the network of paths, stairways, and terracing that is a trademark of the city. -Craig Dykers, Snøhetta

Of the five released images for the design, all shown here, most provide aerial views, showing the tapered plan of the uppermost floors and the long elevation facing northeast. Very few openings can be found within the facades covered in a to-be-determined solid material (GFRC is one possibility mentioned), raising a flag about how the building will fit in its urban context. A glass entrance to the south on Howard Street (taking over a fire station that will be replaced by SFMOMA nearby) is one of the few places where the expansion opens itself up to the city, echoing Botta's primarily solid original.

The aerial views may push the focus to the attempts at breaking down the large mass of the addition -- what Hawthorne equates with a cruise ship -- and the sculpting of the roofline (as if the view from Yerba Buena Gardens were all that mattered), but they also highlight the most creative aspect of the design: the elevated promenade that knits various buildings within the block together. Yet it is not clear currently how terraces atop the new building and what appears to be a rooftop sculpture garden atop an existing building to the north mesh with public circulation from the ground. Plans and interior renderings are needed to fully appreciate the design. At the moment the abstract monolith is straddling a fine line between being a good neighbor, by taking advantage of a difficult mid-block site, and being an overbearing presence in the city, by wrapping itself in way that prioritizes protecting the recently donated collection that is the impetus for such a large expansion.

Cognito Films

Cognito Films in Culver City, California by Randall Stout Architects, 2001.

Recently receiving an honor award from Wood Design & Building Magazine, the office for Cognito Films in Culver City (home to many of Eric Owen Moss's architectural adventures) is definitely unconventional in its use of wood, using structural sizes to demarcate space in an imaginative arrangement. The jury commented that the "arrangement and connections are so simple that one can imagine the stacked timbers re-use at some time in the future." This thinking goes hand-in-hand with the company, a production company for television commercials, who strive for freshness and surprise.

Randall Stout Architects' design responds to the bowstring trusses of the roughly 11,000 s.f. warehouse space they retrofitted into office space. While the wood members of the trusses are smaller with space between, the main intervention competes through its mass, 12x12 inch pieces stacked together. These wood walls contain a conference room, media room, A/V editing room, and staff workroom (also supporting a mezzanine lounge for staff) though never completely as the skewed walls create gaps both in plan and section. The plan illustrates the simplicity of the main design element, basically an island within the warehouse space.

Beyond the contemporary design, the architects successfully incorporated sustainability by using timbers from a local yard that were cut from reforested, new growth trees. According to the architects, "Timber lengths range typically from 14 to 33 feet [and] are held together using simple combinations of steel angles saddles and splice plates with 3/4-inch diameter bolts. Stacked timbers were drilled through on 7 foot centers to receive 3 inch diameter steel pipe and also glued along their entire lengths. No finish was applied so as to leave the wood grain fully open to sight and touch." While it may not be immediately apparent, the details of the construction are just as important as the ideas behind the design.

Renovating warehouses is a popular means to create office space in and around California. Many ways of relating to the existing structure exist, including the extremes of ignoring it or celebrating it. In this case, the architects come close to celebrating the existing, though their reinterpretation of the use of wood moves the design away from mere mimicry. A consistent material palette from roof structure down to the new walls helps to create a cohesive space that is otherwise lacking in completeness: the walls look like they could still be under construction. But it's a maneuver that in the end pays off.

Canyon View

Canyon View in Los Angeles, California by Kanner Architects, .

Housing a psychologist's office, the Canyon View office by Kanner Architects also acts as a guesthouse. Situated on a lushly-vegetated hillside behind the main residence, the small structure is a wood-wrapped oasis, built to alleviate a long commute for the psychologist, but definitely more than a functional working space.

Before ascending the steps to the entry (above), the most notable aspect of the house is its cladding and the angular walls that make up the exterior. The architects designed the office/guesthouse to blend into the natural environment, the angled wall planes and corner windows eroding parts of the building while also framing generous views of the hillside vegetation.

The alcove-like entry surrounds the visitor in wood on three sides, an elegant transition to the interior, where white finishes set off the wood trim, furniture, accents and structure. Its 1,000 s.f. is composed within a broken box, which helps blend the small structure into the landscape - as mentioned - but also articulates the building into separate spaces, as opposed to one large box subdivided at will.

At a cost of $200,000, the office and guesthouse is an attractive addition to the property that will increase its value beyond its dual functionality. And it is the structure's dual functions that helps its success, divorcing the design from trying to appear like a house or an office. Its physical manifestation finds more kinship with the landscape than its function, an integration that will benefit the psychologist as much as his patients.

Pasadena Christian Center

Pasadena Christian Center in Pasadena, California by Tolkin & Associates Architecture, 2001.

Located on a busy commercial street a few miles from Pasadena's Central Business District, the Pasadena Christian Center inhabits an old 700-seat movie theater. Local architects Tolkin & Associates Architecture carried out the adaptive re-use of the building, transforming it into a space for 300, with educational and children's worship facilities.

The most unique aspect of the movie theater, its lamella roof structure, became an important part of the Center's design. Stripped of its paint down to the bare wood, the wood structure forms the grand, congregational space with two new, smaller wooden structures inserted into the space for the educational and children's worship uses. These objects create a bottleneck between the entry and the main space through their placement (click for plan), in what may be the project's one weak point. Otherwise the two wooden "blobs" are playful additions to the space.

The architects developed a unique framing system for shells of the new wooden structures, relating to the existing structure without mimicking it. Whereas the existing roof structure uses a regular sizing and spacing of framing elements in a compression arch system, the new structure acts more like an egg with the surface itself acting as the structure and the framing helping to stiffen the shell in an irregular sizing and spacing corresponding to the shell's form.

Although the finish of the two new shells is not as refined as the existing lamella roof and the same shells' framing distracts from sensing the irregular forms, they achieve their purpose of housing additional functions while also activating the larger space around them. Given that the services are spontaneous and joyous in their performance, it is appropriate that the architects strove for a new way to create something different yet economical.

[Google Earth link]

CCAC Dormitory

CCAC Dormitory in Oakland, California by Mark Horton / Architecture.

California College of Arts and Crafts (CCAC), the oldest fine arts and design school west of the Mississippi, asked Mark Horton / Architecture to design their first dedicated dormitory building, located on the idyllic Oakland campus. The new building is adjacent to CCAC's last major construction project on the Oakland campus, a glass studio designed by Jim Jennings, and follows closely on the completion of the expansion of their San Francisco campus with the Beta Building by Tanner Leddy Maytum and Stacey. The project was a direct result of the Bay Area's tightening housing market and the impact of this condition on attracting the best possible art students to San Francisco.

From the beginning, the College viewed this structure as the architectural gateway to their historic campus, and was very interested in a building which would announce their interest in, and understanding of, the importance of contemporary architecture in today's society. As well, the building needed to act on a civic level as a hinge point between the commercial/retail fabric of Oakland to the south and west and the single-family residential fabric of the Rockridge neighborhood to the north and east. In fact, the building is required to address four very different conditions on each of its four elevations: campus, commercial, single-family housing, and service.

The dormitory structure houses 124 students and advisors in 64 bedrooms on three floors above two stories of structured parking. The housing is organized in a bar building running along the north line of the property, with an object building placed in front of this facing the main portion of the campus. The residential rooms are arranged as a pair of one-room doubles which share an intervening bathroom. The object building, clad in zinc, houses the semipublic program areas of the dormitory and has its first level open onto a semipublic terrace to provide for larger school-wide functions. This terrace, combined with the large window of the round building, makes a symbolic as well as programmatic connection to the main campus.

At the civic end of the building, facing Broadway, the building presents itself as a "lantern" or beacon for pedestrians and cars traveling along the Broadway axis. The light-box portion of this lantern, the large glazed portion of the building facing south toward the main portion of campus, has the possibility of acting as an animated surface through internal or external lighting or projection, directly embodying the art school condition in the building.

[Google Earth link]

Getty Center Garden

Getty Center Garden in Los Angeles, California by Robert Irwin, 1997.

Since its completion in 1997, the Getty Center in Los Angeles, California, has received much press and praise, primarily centering on Richard Meier's building designs. Equally important, though not afforded as much attention, is the landscape around the buildings, particularly the Central Garden by artist Robert Irwin. If any aspect of Irwin's design has received attention, it has been the tension between Meier and the artist over the latter's credibility and eventual design of the garden. At over 130,000 square feet, the garden plays a major role in linking the buildings while also drawing attention away from them. It is this aspect, and Meier's desired control, that detracted from the worthiness of the landscaping and Central Garden, something that should have been collaborative and fruitful.

Any semblance of control at the Getty Center can not be solely contributed to the architect, for the Center can best be described as a campus, a building type that strives to become an oasis free from outside distractions. After taking the quarter-mile tram ride up to the Getty, one notices the difference between this place and the one he or she just came from. There are not street signs, billboards, telephone wires, anything that one can associate with urban life and society. The immaculate white and travertine buildings among the pristine landscaping is all one finds apart from tables, chairs and umbrellas for enjoying the respite from life below. In this controlled environment, it is ironic that one of the most popular experiences for visitors are the many panoramic views of Los Angeles, whence they came.

Although Meier designed the buildings with great care and patience over a great amount of time, they exhibit his typical approach, based on rigid geometry and monochromatic tone to accentuate the play of light through the volumes. Fine buildings in their own right, together they are too much of the same. One realizes that an occasional Meier building is refreshing, especially in an urban context full of variety and the distractions that are missing at the Getty. Given that realization, though, the spaces between the buildings become that much more important, and the Central Garden is the most important of those spaces.

Occupying a natural ravine between the Museum and the Research Institute (click here for early axonometric plan), the Central Garden lies on one of the two main axes of the Center. The first axis (shown on plan) extends down the length of the Museum buildings, from the tram drop-off and Museum entrance to the south promontory. The second axis, of the ravine, also starts at the drop-off, but angles off from the Museums, terminating at Irwin's colorful masterpiece. Traveling from the drop-off to the Central Garden sets up a difference between Meier's and Irwin's thinking, the former creating a physical axis between his buildings so the visitor can walk in a straight line while the latter creates a visual axis, where the visitor can see the end but must meander back and forth across the axis to reach the final destination. And once there the visitor is constantly persuaded to move around, shifting their perspective on the garden and the buildings.

Unlike the buildings, whose material palette is limited to marble, aluminum, glass and steel, the Central Garden uses a multitude of materials, both natural and built, including grass, water, stone, trees, plants, flowers, cor-ten steel, and rebar, imaginatively used to create arbors, as seen at left. The plant species range from hydrangeas and roses to the azaleas that float in the pool that terminates the visual axis (the axis is also symbolic as the water starts as rain and moves down a stream to the pool). All the different plant and flower varieties help to create patches of color that come to life against the mute backdrops of the buildings. Nurtured by southern California's year-round warm climate, the changes between season are subtle, yet apparent. Each aspect of the gardens furthers the Getty Center's sense of being an oasis from the outside world, which comes at a price as 24 full-time people maintain the landscape, four alone for the Central Garden.

[Google Earth link]

L.A. Eyeworks

L.A. Eyeworks in Los Angeles, California by Neil Denari, 2002.

Neil Denari's first built work in his hometown of Los Angeles, California, the store/showroom for L.A. Eyeworks, furthers the architect's exploration of surface and form found in his unbuilt work. The main idea of continuous surfaces utilizing multiple functions starts at the front door of the 1,250 sf store, as a low bench rises up to an LED display and further wraps to become the stores primary signage.

A renovation of an existing two-story building, the store keeps the upper, curved portion of the facade which wraps the corner between Martel and the main entry of Beverly Boulevard. Although the primary reason in keeping the stucco facade was for zoning requirements, the corner is a precursor to Denari's treatment of surfaces. In the case of the existing facade, the corner makes a transition between two elements, just as Denari transitions between the bench and the signage.

Inside the architecture is an assemblage of continuous surfaces defining spaces and leading the eye through the store. The low bench of the facade is brought inside as a bench that leads up towards the skylight while helping to define the space beyond. As well, the pieces of furniture move on casters and nest inside each other to become a single, sculptural unit during non-business hours. At the rear of the store, the multiple-height countertop wraps up to become a continuation of the ceiling plane that also rises to the rear of the store, together acting as a procession towards the purchase of the owner-designed frames.

Famous in LA for their frames, Gai Gherardi and Barbara McReynolds gave Denari the chance to design a total environment that reflected the store's product and process. As the architect proclaimed, "the architecture is built, the art is installed, the glasses are designed, then produced...work[ing] together to create a smooth environment." The art Denari refers is a wall installation that blends in well with the architecture: alternating, vertical ribbons of vaccuum-formed panels that ripple as the architecture bends, both in a soft blue that gives the store a soothing feeling. With this store, and Denari's determination to focus on his practice, his built work should become more common and stronger as his ideas extend beyond the computer.

[Google Earth link]

Colorado Court

Colorado Court in Santa Monica, California by Pugh + Scarpa, 2001.

Extensively published since its completion in 2001, the Colorado Court Apartments in Santa Monica, California by hometown architect Pugh + Scarpa, embody that state's commitment to environmental responsibility. At the same time, the project goes beyond the standards set by Califronia to make the building and its residents completely independent in terms of energy consumption.

In the architect's words the building uses many passive, environmental strategies, including: "locating and orienting the building to control solar cooling loads and exposure to prevailing winds; shaping the building to induce buoyancy for natural ventilation; designing windows to maximize daylighting; shading south facing windows and minimizing west-facing glazing; designing windows to maximize natural ventilation; shaping and planning the interior to enhance daylight and natural air flow distribution."

Beyond the building's form and orientation, the mechanical technologies include systems to a natural gas powered turbine/heat recovery system for power and hot water and a solar panel system integrated into the facade for peak electricity. The latter gives the building its most unique external aspect, the rectangular blue solar panels hung from the building in a considered manner. Typically solar panels are hidden on a building's roof, deemed an eyesore, but at Colorado Court they are raised to the status of beauty.

The 44 residents of the Colorado Court Apartments live in a building that is many things: a handsome addition to Santa Monica, a refreshing environment with courtyards and exterior walks, totally independent, and most importantly something that gives back to the city in beyond its presence. Since the building produces excess power beyond its consumption it shares that production with the grid of Santa Monica, helping the city to produce "green energy" and hopefully paving the way for similar developments in the future.

[Google Earth link]

Camino Nuevo Charter Academy

Camino Nuevo Charter Academy in Los Angeles, California by Daly, Genik Architects, 1999.

The following text and images are by Daly, Genik Architects of Santa Monica, California for the Camino Nuevo Charter Academy and elementary school in Los Angeles.

The elementary school is the first of several projects Daly, Genik is designing for the Camino Nuevo Charter Academy. The new elementary school was created out of an abandoned mini-mall on Burlington Street. By reusing and renovating the former mini-mall and parking lots, this familiar type of low-slung building is transformed into an inviting 12-classroom elementary school around a courtyard.

The three main elements include a new freestanding extension which widens the upstairs passageways allowing ambient light into the classrooms, the sloping parking lot which is converted into a pleasant outdoor assembly/play area, and curved wooden lattices that shade most of the building.

Through a process of analysis and diagnosis of the existing mini mall, one of the most opportunistic and disposable building types, the structure is transformed into a school that sustains and serves a community.

This project received an AIA/LA award for design excellence.