Tag Archives: BRUCE GOFF

SIX ICONOCLASTS: MARCHING TO THEIR OWN DRUM

February 28, 2020

The Factory, Catalonia, Spain, by Ricardo Bofill (photo from thisiscolossal.com)

There are the Usual Suspects, and we all know who they are. Featured on our magazine covers, these architects take home the big-name awards, are invited to international competitions, and cash in on their prestigious commissions. Then there are those creative minds that march to their own drum, exploring ideas that resound privately in their head. Rarely in the zeitgeist of the mainstream, these architects flourish in bizarre ways and have tremendous influence.

Pavilion for Japanese Art, LACMA, Los Angeles, California, by Bruce Goff (photo from lacmaonfire.blogspot.com)

From Oklahoma to France, from California to Spain, from Alabama to New Mexico, these six artists did and do not follow the status quo. Instead, they sought solutions of ingenious personal expression— sometimes even unsettling forms and imagery.

left: Gryder House, Ocean Springs, Mississippi; right: Struckus House, Los Angeles, California, both by Bruce Goff (photos by Elena Dorfman)

BRUCE GOFF (1904 to 1983)
As I often enjoy doing with my design work, Goff too finds inspiration in music as well. He leans on Claude Debussy and Balinese music. He also happens to like seashells. Eclectic and unconventional, Goff’s work was sublimely organic—starkly original with never-before-seen forms and unusual materials. Regardless, a world-class institution like the Los Angeles County Museum of Art took a huge risk and scored big with hiring Goff.

Les Arcades et Les Temples du Lac, Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, France, by Ricard Bofill (photo by Gregori Civera)
Kafka Castle, Sant Pere De Ribes, Spain, by Ricard Bofill (photo by Ricard Bofill)

RICARDO BOFILL (still in practice)
Bofill’s early works represented some of the most interesting explorations in Post-Modernism. With facile classical skills, this artist added fantasy and twisted plays of scale. For Bofill’s dystopia, see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. Additional projects are other-worldly explorations into geometry and mind-bending repetition. His reconstruction of an abandoned cement factory transforms dilapidated structures into his personal residence and park, as well as offices for his architecture company (first image).

Lucy Carpet House, Mason’s Bend, Alabama, by Samuel Mockbee (photo from livingcircular.veolia.com)
Sheats Goldstein House, Los Angeles, California, by John Lautner (photo from archdaily.com)

JOHN LAUTNER (1911 to 1994)
This Southern California architect captured the sunny optimism of the region. A student of Frank Lloyd Wright, Lautner similarly stretched the rules of structural engineering as well as spatial relationships. He pioneered new possibilities with poured-in-place, steel reinforced concrete. Lautner was a Mid-Century visionary of brave new worlds.

Park Guell, Barcelona, Spain, by Antoni Gaudi (photo by hotellacasadelsol.com)
Sagrada Familia Church, Barcelona, Spain, by Antoni Gaudi (photo by Getty Images, Tanatat Ponghibool)

ANTONI GAUDI (1852 to 1926)
When I visited Gaudi’s work in Barcelona, it was only then that I realized that an architect can indeed build his fanciful visions that seem to appear from a hallucinatory fugue. Like a jazz musician, Gaudi improvises, experimenting with Gothic and Art Nouveau styles, taking engineering risks and aesthetic chances. 140 years later, the world is still dedicated to completing Gaudi’s design of the Sagrada Familia Church, an ambitious vision that was conceived before we even had the technology to execute the design.

Lucy Carpet House, Mason’s Bend, Alabama, by Samuel Mockbee (photo from livingcircular.veolia.com)
Community Center, Mason’s Bend, Alabama, by Samuel Mockbee (photo by Johann Strey)

SAMUEL MOCKBEE (1944 to 2001)
Look closely at the Lucy Carpet House. By its name, yes: Those are carpet tiles stacked up to make part of the exterior skin. The design used 72,000 worn carpet tiles held in compression by wood beams on top. And the smell, you might ask? The tiles were stored for seven years to prevent off-gassing. The multi-faceted red structure has a bedroom on top of a tornado shelter. Inventive, novel and philanthropic, Mockbee and his Rural Studio often worked with rural, disadvantaged communities.

Pierre Cardin’s Bubble House, Cote d’Azur, France, by Bart Prince (photo from odditycentral.com)

BART PRINCE (still in practice)
Call it weird—rebellious too. Some would argue that Prince’s work was ugly or better yet grotesque. A colleague of Bruce Goff, Prince’s work was unprecedented and imaginative, whether you saw courageous splendor or awkward shapes. His architecture is a collision of myths, dreams and nightmares, laced with raw materials straight from the shelves of your local hardware store.

Fu Residence, Rio Rancho, New Mexico, by Bart Prince (photo from Robert Peck)

Ayn Rand promoted the Roark-ian ideal through her Objectivist view that “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” Does this apply to my six iconoclastic architects above? Let’s just say that Individualism has it merits, as these architects value self-reliance in the creative process–as they cherish their artistic freedom

PETER ZUMTHOR AND ELEMENTAL IDEAS

November 3, 2017

Zumthor’s original 2013 presentation model for LACMA. Though it looks like a conceptual diagram, this is actually the complete design for the project. (photo from inexhibit.com)

There are the usual suspects: Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, I.M. Pei, and so on. Call them celebrity architects or call them “Starchitects,” but one greater walks amongst these mere mortal rock stars. I speak of the one who is called an “architect’s architect.” He is Pritzker-winning, Swiss architect, Peter Zumthor.

Many non-architects may not even know the name of the enigmatic Zumthor, for his Haldenstein-based practice is small and artisanal, perhaps even cultish. But in a short time to come, Los Angeles will know Mr. Zumthor’s work.

LACMA’S campus building architects
upper left: William Pereira (photo by George Carrigues); upper right: Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Architects (photo by Alison Martino); middle left: Albert C. Martin Sr. (photo from thepowerplayermag.com); middle right: Bruce Goff (photo from thepowerplayermag.com); lower left: Rem Koolhaas (photo by Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times); lower right: Renzo Piano (photo by Museum Associates / LACMA)

He has proposed a courageous addition to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (“LACMA”). This museum campus has had a string of prominent designs of their time, from the 1965 concrete structures of William Pereira to the curious 1986 Post Post Modern addition of Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Architects (my previous employer), from the 1994 purchase of the iconic Streamline Modern May Company department store by Albert C. Martin Sr. to the quirky yet poetic 1988 Pavilion for Japanese Art by Bruce Goff, and from the controversial 2004 unbuilt $300 million glass roof from Rem Koolhaas (my previous teacher, herehere and here) to the elegant but underwhelming 2008 and 2010 buildings of Renzo Piano.

Exterior view of Zumthor’s 2017 proposal for LACMA (photo from archdaily.com)
Interior view of Zumthor’s 2017 proposal for LACMA (photo from archdaily.com)

Contrasting all this noisy activity, Zumthor’s proposal is so elemental and simplistic that you have to wonder if this is pure genius, or is it a blob of ink that accidentally got turned into the $600 million dollar project?

However, this is how Zumthor excels. He generates ideas like we all did in architecture school or even as a child. Innocently.

Simple ideas come to us all, and if we stay true to our opening statement, then our architecture can result in greatness. But in the real world of client changes, limited budgets, unrealistic schedules, and construction shortcomings, our ideas of greatness are at best compromised. At worst, our ideas drown in a tidal wave of mediocre practicality and code compliance.

The Thermal Vals, Braubunden, Switzerland, by Zumthor (photo from arcspace.com)

Somehow, project after project, Zumthor keeps his conceptual visions alert and alive from the first day of the design process to the final day of construction. Take for example some of his concepts, such as this one for a hotel in Chile. The presentation appears to be no more than twigs, rocks and debris—literally. Yet , Zumthor addresses the mundane necessities of things like bathroom plumbing and air conditioning, or budget and constructability, and time after time, his final building parallels the essence of his first idea.

Presentation models for Zumthor’s Nomads of Atacama Hotel, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile (photo Peter Zumthor, Buildings and Projects, Volume 5)

If we common architects delivered such a presentation as the hotel above, in what seems like no more than a teenager’s effort, we would be laughed out of our client’s conference room. The genius of Peter Zumthor is almost Warholian. Not only are the ideas of Zumthor artistic in nature, but he is able to artfully convince a Board of Directors that his ideas are artistic and worth pursuing at all costs. As often critiqued, Andy Warhol’s genius was most profound not in the work, but rather, in how he convinced everyone that he was a genius.

Peers would not take this kind of cynicism with Zumthor. As the media discouraging called Zumthor’s LACMA scheme the “ink blob,” reminiscent of the neighboring La Brea Tar Pits, we had faith in our hero. This architect of poetry and practicality will work in the fire escapes and exit signs,  the desert sun beating through the enormous panes of glass, and the structural engineering to bridge over six lanes of traffic on Wilshire Boulevard.

Proposed Academy Museum of Motion Pictures (photo from dezeen.com)

With recent museums in Los Angeles, such as The Broad , the Petersen , the above mentioned Renzo Piano buildings at LACMA, and the in-construction Academy Museum of Motion Pictures also by Piano, each of these projects will look like what happens when talented architects try too hard, yelling like a child for attention. And then, Zumthor walks in the room with grace and calmness.

Saint Benedict Chapel, Sumvitg, Braubunden, Switzerland, by Zumthor (photo by Felipe Camus)
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