Tag Archives: los angeles

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)

Ecology of Fear

Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster by Mike Davis
Vintage, 1999
Paperback, 496 pages


Davis begins his thoroughly-researched study of Los Angeles's environmental and social conditions with an obvious topic: earthquakes. Many outsiders see L.A. as a place destined to fall off into the ocean when "the big one" hits. Davis may even be adding ammunition to this unfounded and unrealistic view by establishing that the region is in an earthquake drought when compared to previous millennia. Framing these, and other natural disasters within the social structure of L.A. is the author's unique take that permeates the book. Further chapters examine wildfires, wild animals, even tornadoes, finishing the book by looking at the literary destruction of the city and how the city is destroying itself from the inside out. Throughout, the overriding thought is that this "ecology of fear" can't be blamed on earthquakes and other natural phenomena alone, but rather by an irresponsible overtaking of the natural lands that make the region unique and the irresponsible treatment of different races and incomes in an area with a very polarized mix of inhabitants. These irresponsibilities are a recipe for disaster, according to the author, if things keep their course. Davis doesn't offer any solutions but he definitely makes a strong argument for rethinking the way we live together and the impact of our actions on the environment.

Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies

Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies by Reyner Banham
University of California Press, 2001
Paperback, 275 pages


The four ecologies that Banham refers to in the title of his "light-hearted and affectionate tribute to Los Angles" (New York Review of Books) are the beach (what he calls Surfurbia), the foothills, the plains, and the freeways. This last part is definitely an attraction for the author who famously proclaimed, "like...English intellectuals who taught themselves Italian in order to read Dante in the original, I learned to drive in order to read Los Angeles in the original." But Banham doesn't rest on any conviction that the automobile created and defined the sprawling, centerless metropolis; rather he concludes that the Pacific Electric Railway laid the groundwork, the automobile merely following its lead (sometimes literally on top or next to old tracks). Along the way he investigates not only buildings by famous architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, R. M. Schindler, and Richard Neutra, but the infrastructure of the place and the "throw-away architecture" of restaurants, shopping malls, and the like. Published in 1971, this book was one of the first to take a serious look at LA's built environment in its totality, giving it credit where others were apt to dismiss it. This highly enjoyable read proves that Banham ranks as one of the best architecture critics in history, not only for his fresh and readable prose but for his broad definition and coverage of architecture and the urban landscape.

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.

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]

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.

Lawson/Westen House

Lawson/Westen House

Lawson/Westen House in Los Angeles, California by Eric Owen Moss, 1993.

The evolution of the American house has paralleled changes in the family, both in its focus and its structure. The fireplace, long the center of the home, was supplanted by the family room and its accompanying glowing box for family gatherings. The focus moved from inward to outward; to the world outside of the family. Now in a world of constant visual stimulus (television, computers, advertising) the location for interaction with family and friends rests in the kitchen.

The Lawson/Westen house in Los Angeles, designed by Eric Owen Moss, reflects this change. Both in plan and in space the kitchen has a constant presence, a multi-storey space contained within a truncated and sliced cone. These two formal gestures dictate the form of the rest of the house: truncating the cone creates a skylight bathing the space in light and slicing the truncated cone perpendicular to the ground plane creates a parabolic section that extends through the living areas. Moss's quirky style of design is expressed in these formal maneuvers which continue as the house becomes an architectural experiment. Volumes are cut with sections removed, structure is continued beyond what it contains and windows angle and wrap corners.

This experimentation lead to Moss's more popular structures in Culver City, California, in more and more complex arrangements of structure and material, often bordering on extreme. Works, like the Box that resembles an exploded glass cube, epitomize his evolution. The Lawson/Westen house's restraint makes this design more tolerable than his recent work, while acting as a stepping-stone towards the latter. In the former though the expression is more prevalent inside, creating beautifully complex spaces, climaxing with the kitchen.

The architect's attempt to satisfy the client's wish for a culinary-centered world, with his desire for complexity and fragmentation, raises questions about the relationship between architect and client. Is it the architect's prerogative to impinge a preferred formal vocabulary on the future resident? How much voice should the client have in the aesthetic design of their house? Does a balance exist? In relation to this house the answer to the last question is yes (as it is for his work in Culver City). Giving Moss freedom to experiment the family now lives in a house that expresses both the their way of living and the architect's ability to express this.

Massey Residence

Massey Residence

Massey Residence in Los Angeles, California by Neil Denari, 1994.

Project and text by Neil Denari:

This house is for a young graphic designer in Los Angeles. The house is located on a typical sized LA site: 50ft x150 ft, proportionally a triple square. It is the client's wish to explore the basic conditions of the North American Suburban Subdivision through a typical flat site and a typical program of 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. However, the house itself, though accommodating these ordinary factors, shoud be extaoridinary.

Like many smaller multi-unit apartment buildings in Los Angeles, this house has one level below ground and two above, thus disguising its size. Essentially, the house sits in an excavation with the driveway sloping down to -2.6 meters. The experience and concept of the house is about the SECTION CUT. The front and rear elevations show the roof skin and the basic extruded form of the overall volume. Inside, the circulation space revolves around a stair which connects 7 different levels, each one shifted in height to create half levels and splintered views of adjacent spaces.

So the living experience exposes the tectonic and constructional aspects of the house and allows the inhabitant to be in the space being formed as well as to see the shearing effect caused by the stepped floor plates. Perhaps this is like looking at a sectional view (drawing or image) and a perspective view of a building: the section is external and analytical, whereas the perspective is internal and experiential. Computer simulation drawings reveal the quality of materials and light which would actually occur in the space.

Carlson-Reges Residence

Carlson-Reges Residence

Carlson-Reges Residence in Los Angeles, California by ROTO, 1996.

Michael Rotondi and Thom Mayne's partnership in the firm Morphosis created a balance between their two design approaches; emphasizing aspects of construction and theory respectively. When Rotondi left Morphosis and formed ROTO, with Clark Stevens, the exploitation of a building's construction and its inherent process leading to this phase became the focus of the new firm. The Carlson-Reges Residence is indicative of ROTO's unique client interaction, design process, and construction: in this case a design build with the client as builder, a loose experiential modeling coupled with stricter geometrical analysis, and minimal construction documents with much on-site improvisation.

The residence is located in an old electric company cabling structure north of downtown Los Angeles. Having lived there for a long time, the couple have amassed a considerable collection of building materials and industrial artifacts from much work and renovation. The experience and concomitant skill acquired over the years helped to enable the client to act as builder. The role the client would play informed the design process from the beginning, enabling an exploration in construction typically not considered in most residential work. These means, along with the wife's large collection of art required for display, pointed the focus of the design toward the volumetric possibilities of the project.

The architect began by analyzing the existing sizes and spaces of the structure and the site in relation to the surrounding areas (freeways, trains, mountains, city). Volumetric pieces were created: a shield protects the kitchen from the strong southern sun, reflects noise from the train yard, and acts as a protective garden for an existing forty-foot tall bamboo stand. The ground floor became a garden and gallery, while a new exterior ground plane was created sixteen feet above grade, level with an elevated lap pool. These and other spaces shaped through this part of the design process are unified by a volume created through a geometric analysis of existing structural conditions, layered with other information. The solution created a roof supported by a wave-like truss system structurally independent of the existing shell.

Non-structural steel detailing was improvised on site, based on availability of material and labor. Many ideas were tested full size and any "mistakes" that happened through these tests merely informed the next step; removal was not an option. Although a possibility based on circumstance, the ability to work on a project with such flexibility enabled Rotondi to create an architecture unique to his thinking that also is very personal for the client, one of the goals of an architect so rarely achieved.