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    Los Angeles Under Construction

    Scott Kepford
    Sep 24, '08 4:02 AM EST

    After one of the last meetings of the pre-semester rhino modeling course I’m doing, I went downtown and decided to check out some of the big construction projects going on. I figured it would be nice to check in with the city before the semester starts and I have to hang out in Westwood all night and day (a soul-crushing thought, ha ha). I visited four downtown projects last week, and checked out a smaller fifth one today.

    1. LA Live – Gensler and RTKL

    LA live is a HUGE (5.6 million square feet, according to wikipedia) taxpayer-subsidized entertainment complex/money factory next to the Staples Center in the rapidly developing South Park area of downtown. The architect appears to be RTKL for the entertainment areas and Gensler for the Ritz-Carlton hotel buildings; I actually worked in the Gensler LA offices earlier this year as my former firm was collaborating with them on another project, and I saw some nice models of their designs for LA Live. I hope the developer hasn’t dumbed down the design from some of the nicer options I saw in physical models.

    A rendering advertising the completed hotel/residences

    I’m not sure about the aesthetic or functional value of the project at large, but I’m definitely not going to automatically jump on the “this corporate architecture is ruining the neighborhood” bandwagon. My experience with South Park has led me to think it’s a pretty shitty neighborhood in general as-is, especially where LA Live is going up, as it’s basically just flat asphalt parking lots for acres. If the neighborhood was ruined, it was probably by the enormous Convention Center a block down and the Staples Center next door. But as it stands, it’s probably good to have a big entertainment area to bring people downtown and that people who live in the area could walk to at a variety of hours rather than have another vast parking lot. However, I’m worried that most people who go there will still drive as it’s not quite convenient enough to transit for most Angelenos (four long blocks from the subway; I know, right?), so I’ll be avoiding the area on big event nights (which might get tough as the loft I’m moving into next week is just a mile away…).

    Anyway, some major parts of the complex are completed, like the Nokia Theater, where apparently the Emmys were just held. The Grammy Museum is on the way – its building appears pretty much complete. The biggest part – the Gensler-designed Ritz-Carlton hotel/residences – is still very much under construction, and it was pretty weird to walk around the LA Live plaza with all its blaring advertisements while the whole thing is basically a giant construction zone.

    All the 'media' actually drowned out the construction noise!

    I actually walked right into the active construction area by accident just trying to find my way out. I can’t imagine what they did to spruce it up when they had the Emmys in the middle of a construction site; did they hang up a 10 story curtain around all the unfinished parts? Hollywood magic works in mysterious ways, I suppose.

    2. Police Administration Building – DMJM Design

    I initially saw this project in construction when driving by half a year ago and I believe only the blue glass cube section was anything near finished. One of my friends asked “what is that building?” I gave a dismissive glance to the irregular window spacing and said “probably condos, they all look like that now.” Funny to find out that what I thought were high end condos is actually the new high end home to the world-notorious LAPD. The new HQ is now nearing completion and is designed by corporate architects DMJM. It’s right next to Morphosis’ now-classic CalTrans building, and across a park from City Hall, and so will complete the bureaucratic core of downtown LA. There are some nicer images here. The building is, like the others profiled here, interesting for what it is. It appears to be a different building from every side, but somehow each side still gives a dominating, Borg-like impression. Which probably meets the client’s requirements? Maybe there will be a café at ground level so the public can interact with law enforcement officers outside of nightly aural greetings from the ubiquitous LAPD “ghetto birds”. Jokes aside, I actually like the new building and think it’s a nice addition to downtown; it isn’t as daring as CalTrans, but it isn’t as boring as it could have been.


    Additionally, I actually like the severe minimalism of the current LAPD HQ a few blocks away; I hope they retain that building for some other use. Condos with the tagline “No longer a screen for police brutality” perhaps?

    Current LAPD HQ at the Parker Center

    3. High School #9 for the Visual and Performing Arts – Coop Himmelblau

    The most bizarre and in my opinion exciting of the projects I looked at is designed by Vienna/Los Angeles-based Coop Himmelblau, and will be an arts magnet high school for the LA Unified School District. I believe it came into being due to the district being flush with cash from a voter-approved ballot initiative to fund school construction; they decided to invest in some pretty forward-thinking architecture, for a public school district anyway (like the year-old Camino Nuevo Charter High School in my neighborhood). High School #9 by Coop Himmelblau is meant to be the centerpiece of all this development. It’s located on a plot sandwiched between Sunset Blvd/Cesar Chavez Blvd and Highway 101 (which we like to joke is the Seine of Los Angeles) at the border of Chinatown, Echo Park, and Downtown. Facing the school right across the freeway is the Rafael Moneo-designed Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, one block away is the main performing arts/opera center in LA, two blocks away is the Gehry Disney Concert Hall, and three blocks away is the main branch of MOCA. Just a few blocks to the north is one of the major centers of contemporary art galleries in Los Angeles, on pedestrian Chung King Road in Chinatown. So, a pretty great location for an arts magnet school. It’s fairly far along in the construction of the building envelopes, enough to see clearly what it will look like finished. The show-stopping elements in the design include an off-kilter pyramid, a truncated cone, and a tower encircled by a twisting tube (which I believe will be occupiable?), all clad in metal. The latter leans drunkenly over the cars streaming by on the 101 below (though anywhere near rush hour the appropriate verb is less “streaming” and more “sitting”).


    The tower and tube is meant to act as a sign to the freeway for the school, and I would say it’s pretty attention-grabbing; I hope it doesn’t cause accidents. But I guess in a city where a light drizzle causes catastrophic pile-ups, it’s more realistic to hope for only minor accidents. Aside from these starchitect flourishes huddled toward downtown, the school looks like it’s set up rather nicely; the classroom buildings flank a wide Spanish Steps-style grand stair down to Cesar Chavez Blvd.


    I can imagine these being well-used and adding to the feel of a dynamic urban school. Design-wise, I think the reliance on circular windows to alleviate the boredom of the relentlessly rectangular classroom buildings is not wholly successful, but I guess after the pyramid, cone, and tower, there probably wasn’t money left over to articulate more fully the buildings in which the day-to-day users will actually spend the most time.

    Circles galore

    To be charitable, I suppose the classrooms and offices are meant to act more like industrial loft spaces, and the attention is meant to be drawn to the public performance venues. Despite this imbalance in development of form, I think the project will ultimately be successful, and I can’t wait to check out the interior spaces. For some more information and renderings, check out the arcspace page about the project.

    For those in the Los Angeles area, there has been an LA Forum lecture announced at the school on Nov 6 – I can’t find too much information on it, but I believe Wolf Prix of Coop Himmelblau will be speaking, at least that seems true from this post. Hopefully the school will be finished by then; the date of the lecture has already been pushed back from Sept 11.

    4. Fuller Lofts – Pugh+Scarpa

    I’ve watched the progression of this loft conversion by Westside architects Pugh+Scarpa on trips to adjacent thrift megastore St. Vincents, only to see construction suddenly stop. Apparently the construction company sued their lendors and then the developer of the site, a non-profit, went bankrupt. We apparently have a ‘ghost building’ on our hands, at least until someone steps up and competes the conversion. Which is looking less likely, especially in this rough industrial area during this economic climate. I came by this building yesterday with some non-architecture friends who were completely baffled at the notion that developers would build luxury lofts (even with some originally intended to be “affordable for the middle class”) in that area. Still, it looks like a pretty interesting project in terms of the architectural intervention into the really beautiful historic building, so despite the possibly problematic nature of bringing rich loft-dwelling yuppies to this neighborhood, I hope someone does pick up the pieces.

    Great detail on the old structure, here facing San Fernando Road

    Not so sure about those colors...

    For more info, check here and here.

    5. ImaginAsian Center – Hodgetts+Fung

    The last of the projects I checked out today is actually completed already, so probably shouldn’t be included in an “under construction” post, but I like the project and it’s new to me, so I’m putting it in anyway. To fit with the construction theme, here’s images of it under construction. It’s called the ImaginAsian Center, and is primarily a loosely-interpreted Asian-interest movie theater (I say "loosely" because the website advertises a screening of Brideshead Revisited, in which I don't remember seeing a single asian). It’s by Culver City architects Hodgetts+Fung, in whose office the final reception for the UCLA AUD architecture tour at last summer’s open house for admitted grad students was held. I don’t remember seeing any models of this project in the office, but there was some really nice work going on there. ImaginAsian has an interesting location on Skid Row; it’s two doors down from “Downtown LA’s only gay bar” (though there are several downtown gay clubs, and I’ve heard this one is more a tranny bar anyway – let’s be accurate about our queer bars!) and is pressed up against the Smell, the New Yorker-profiled, all-ages venue at the center of Los Angeles’ innovative music scene – though maybe I just say that because it launched my best friend’s band, ha ha. At any rate, I wasn’t as excited seeing the ImaginAsian close up as I thought I would be from looking at renderings. Something about the energy of the façade and the transition from interior to exterior seemed to be lost in translation. I would like to go back at night and see how it lights up though.

    So, downtown is about to have a bunch of pretty nice new buildings by architects who are surprisingly all LA-based or have LA offices. Hope I get to see the finished work before the semester starts in earnest and I no longer get to see the sun!


    • Nice set of reviews. Thanks.
      I think perhaps the building i like the best is the new Police administrative building and the loft reno is pretty tastefully done.
      Coop Himmelbaum's school is certainly eye catching and i actualy like the round windows. Very nautical but the tower and tube and the project in general is a lttle too deconstructed for my tastes...

      Sep 24, 08 11:55 am  · 

      thanks for the pics. o have been wanting to see some of the progress on these projects!

      Sep 24, 08 1:50 pm  · 
      drums please, Fab?

      that himmelblau school is exactly what's wrong with taxpayer funded education projects in california. all we hear about is 'teachers are underpaid - and we have no money for books for the children'. then the city blows it's budget on that thing because they were 'flush with cash from a voter-approved ballot initiative to fund school construction'? give me a break.

      i'm all for good design for the kids - but it doesn't have to be outlandish and excessive. what a horrible waste of taxpayer dollars.

      sorry for digressing - thanks for posting those pics and reviews!

      Sep 24, 08 2:17 pm  · 

      Yeah I guess I could have stated more clearly that yes, the Himmelblau school is totally ridiculous and outlandish. But that's kind of why I like it so much. And how cool would it be to be a student there?

      Nam, it's not "deconstructed", it's UNDER construction! Kidding. But actually I think Coop Himmelblau have tried so much to distance themselves from the deconstructionist movement that they helped define that they're now making whole projects with barely-altered versions of the same basic solids Plato liked to play with. I don't care if it's dated, the Vienna rooftop addition is still their most exciting project. Though the more contemporary UFA Cinema is pretty awesome too.

      Sep 24, 08 7:32 pm  · 
      Greg J. Smith


      The UFA Cinema is one of my favorite projects.

      Sep 24, 08 11:56 pm  · 

      it's a shame they got away from the UFA Cinema forms... their recent project just look cartoony in a bad way. They've lost all of the dynamic tension that made their earlier projects great.

      Sep 25, 08 1:54 pm  · 

      The Arts school was funded from a tax-payer funded bond set for NEW CONSTRUCTION. Bitch and moan all you want, but the system is set up to separate operational and new monies. In addition, a cheaper, less 'design-y' scheme had originally been proposed, but Eli Broad convinced LAUSD officials to re-plan with something more evocative. Or outlandish, take your pick. That spiraling tower was originally set to house a board/conference room, but got VE'd out so now there's just going to be an observation platform at the top.

      Fuller Lofts was a damn shame. The developer does affordable income stuff, but like noted, was bankrupted by the litgeous contractor. And while they had Pugh + Scarpa for the design, these were ever aimed as 'luxury lofts' or anything. Some of the original units were pricing out at 150K back in early 07.

      ImaginAsian always seemed shoddy in person. Mona Lisa; good from a distance. (And no it's not on Skid Row)

      Sep 25, 08 3:09 pm  · 

      Appleseed, thanks for the background info. I like the Mona Lisa reference, but I prefer "it's a total Monet" from Clueless.

      I guess when I said it's "ON Skid Row" I was being a little inaccurate because the actual 'row' is usually considered Los Angeles St (right?), but I was referring to the area that wikipedia states the courts and fire depts use to define the Skid Row area. But mostly I just wanted to be dramatic, ha ha. Most importantly it definitely FEELS like Skid Row - the contrast between the neighborhood and sleek contemporary architecture (even if it's shoddy, ha ha) is pretty pronounced.

      Sep 25, 08 5:48 pm  · 

      Nah, Skid Row is 5th from Los Angeles to San Pedro streets.

      Sep 26, 08 12:04 pm  · 

      Wow, i just got here from clicking a link in Artkrush's monthly e-newsletter.
      That is pretty cool.

      Oct 5, 08 10:49 pm  · 

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