Tag Archives: ERIC OWEN MOSS

THE BRAVERY OF HAYDEN TRACT

October 28, 2022

(W)rapper: Moss' most ambitious project to date, a highrise with a striking exterior frame which eliminates all columns on the inside, Los Angeles, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

Good architecture takes vision. Great architecture takes courage. Within Culver City lies Hayden Tract, a former industrial zone named after the main streets, Hayden Avenue and Hayden Place. For the past four decades, this neighborhood has served as the national stage for the audacious vision of architect Eric Owen Moss and developer/builders Frederick and Laurie Samitaur Smith.

Pterodactyl: a visually-bold composition of zinc-clad boxes set into a glass office building, Culver City, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

Recently, I got a behind-the-scenes tour of Hayden Tract, organized by the AIA with members of Eric Owen Moss’ studio. Regarding the architecture, the Baroque and Mannerist art movements of 17th and 18th century Europe came to mind: sensual excess, grandeur and daring, and an idiosyncratic sense of awe.

3535 Hayden: The existing wood trusses remain like historic artifacts, Culver City, California (photo by Anthony Poon)
Samitaur: Architecture as art and sculpture, Culver City, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

In the 80s, husband-wife, real estate developer team, Frederick and Laura, launched an agenda of city transformation unlike no other. Prior to that, the husband was Pablo Picasso’s assistant, and the wife, a Los Angeles dancer and performing artist. The couple founded their organization, Samitaur, and found their lifelong pet project in Hayden Tract. At the time of their property acquisitions decades ago, the area was not much more than a rag-tag collection of crumbling buildings and streets.

Pterodactyl: left-the expressiveness of the exterior continue throughout the interiors of this office space; right-offices cantilever over the parking ramps, Culver City, California (photos by Anthony Poon)
Pterodactyl: Complexities of the engineering express themselves unapologetically, Culver City, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

Eric Owen Moss, a Los Angeles native with degrees from UCLA, UC Berkeley, and Harvard, started his design studio in 1973. The three individuals met a decade later through an ordinary circumstance: Moss was a tenant paying rent to his landlord, Samitaur. Since then, Frederick and Laura have been an unwavering loyal client to Moss, commissioning project after project, year after year, decade after decade. This patronage mirrors one of the most fruitful benefactions in history. From the Renaissance, I call it the Medici Effect.

left: Dining table detail at Waffle (now Verspertine restaurant), right: Pterodactyl: Zinc-clad and glass forms collide with impressive results, Culver City, California (photos by Anthony Poon)
Waffle: Originally designed as a conferenece center, then later adapted into a restaurant, Culver City, California (photos by Anthony Poon)

These days, Hayden Tract has become a pilgrimage for architects seeking landmarks of renewal and artistry—a flexing of muscles on the other-side-of-the-tracks. The nearby predictable redevelopment of downtown Culver City brings the expected offerings of shops, bars, and restaurants (and traffic!).

Strait is the Gate: Announcing the entry with steel plates and tubes, Culver City, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

Herbert Muschamp, New York Times, pronounced, “Moss’s projects strike me as such a form of education. The knowing spontaneity of his forms, the hands-on approach implicit in their strong, sculptural contours, the relationship they describe between a city’s vitality and the creative potential of its individuals: these coalesce into tangible lessons about how a city should face its future.”

Slash and Backslash: Glass surfaces express the cut away forms, Culver City, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

Neither Modern, Post-Modern, Post-Structuralist, or Deconstructivist, the work of Moss side steps the labels. His architecture defies both lessons learned and the successes of history, paving an individualistic path. The designs also resist the standard definitions of the industry, being architecture and art, sculpture and theater. From the 18th century movement, the Grotesque, such adjectives may apply to Moss’ work: deformed, bizarre, and uncomfortable, yet strikingly beautiful.

The Umbrella: A virtuoso performance of steel and shaped glass, Culver City, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

The materials are raw and honest, elemental even—unassuming concrete, metal, wood, and glass. The details are extreme. Like a car crash, one cannot advert the gaze, as I wonder how such twisted and decadent details are imagined, engineered, drawn, city-approved, and built in the field. Not only do the personalities of each project— nearly all unique—resist categorization, the forms and shapes appear to disregard even gravity itself. For architects—fans or not of the quixotic collaboration between Moss and Samitaur—the result is an extraordinary city-size amusement park of architectural indulgences, a wonderland of spatial and visual treasures not to be overlooked or presumed arbitrary. I think of the axiom, “Love me or hate me, but don’t ignore me.”

IS TV FOR REAL? PART 2

February 17, 2017

Potential clients have come to my office asking for three free designs from which to pick—“the way we saw it on HGTV.” My anger aside from how reality TV twists reality, the client’s request compromises the integrity of the architectural process. (This article is a follow up to my past one, Is TV for Real?)

My client meeting with a Buddhist Foundation, Virginia, for a new dining hall (photo by Bryan Bethem)
My client meeting with a Buddhist Foundation, Virginia, for a new dining hall (photo by Bryan Bethem)

When I design for a client, I don’t draw three random schemes in a vacuum. I listen to the client first—their goals and dreams. When I show preliminary concepts, the client provides feedback on what they like and what they don’t. Through this back-and-forth process, a design develops, and is then refined. Not ever in a vacuum, the creative process is an exciting and thoughtful journey.

Okay, time for me to confess. Here and there, I have learned a few things from TV about color coordinating, selecting furniture, and being creative on a budget. I confess!

Also, the reality TV DIY shows have brought design to the forefront, that a well-crafted, nicely-styled life is desirable and achievable. In 15-minute bite size servings, these shows have delivered architecture to the mainstream.

Architect Howard Roark’s client presentation from The Fountainhead, 1949
Architect Howard Roark’s client presentation from The Fountainhead, 1949

In some distant past, clients were under the impression that design was a mysterious, closed-loop process. Now, many are conscious of how accessible good design advice is, whether from an award-winning architect or, yes, a charismatic TV personality.

I enjoy meeting with clients who already understand the concepts of an open floor plan, for example. Good or bad, these clients come prepared with Pinterest pages on style. Thank you reality TV. The clients and I can hit the ground running, proceeding with a shared foundation. Knowledge is power, after all, even in choosing paint colors.

Love-It-Web

Once was a cocktail debate between architects: “Who is the most influential voice in our industry?”

The usual suspects were tossed out as conversational sacrificial lambs. Local big names like Steven Ehrlich and Eric Owen Moss. Pritzker Prize winners like Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry. A safe go-to is naming the senior leaders like I.M. Pei and Renzo Piano.

National Centre for The Exhibition of Contemporary Art and Architecture, Rome, Italy, by Zaha Hadid (photo from fundazionemaxxi.it)
National Centre for The Exhibition of Contemporary Art and Architecture, Rome, Italy, by Zaha Hadid (photo from fundazionemaxxi.it)

Another angle is to suggest famous architects no longer living, but believed to be still influential today, i.e., Frank Lloyd Wright or Le Corbusier. Pretentiously, you can also try the obscure, though no less significant, such as Wang Shu, Sverre Fehn or Paulo Mendes de Rocha.

Ningbo Museum, China, by Wang Shu (photo by Iwan Baan)
Ningbo Museum, China, by Wang Shu (photo by Iwan Baan)

My contribution that night stopped the discussion. I proclaimed, “Martha Stewart!”

At the time, Martha Stewart utilized avenues of outreach in all forms, and was better known than any other designer in the country, maybe even in the world. If she stated with a quiet breath that “pink is to be used at table settings this season,” you could count on millions of dining tables across America set with something pink.

Stewart-2-Web

Let the debates and cynicism rage on. It’s all for the good. Martha, HGTV, Sunset, Houzz, Dwell, Wayfair, the plethora of magazines and blogs, etc.—all of it deserves gratitude from architects everywhere. To the widest audience, these mainstream entities deliver the concept of wanting good design. And for that, I say thank you.

Covers-Web

WHO WILL BE MY CLIENT?

July 8, 2016

Arena for 2000 Olympics, Sydney, Australia, by Anthony Poon (w/ NBBJ)

In architecture school, our professors provided us with projects to design. Example: For this semester, design a sports arena in San Francisco, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

But here is the thing: How does an architect land such a project after graduation? This is a challenging question to ponder after you leave the comforts of school, after you have made the premature decision to start your own architecture company from your apartment. And you realize that you have no clients. Not a sports arena. Not even a bathroom addition. None at all.

Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy, by Leon Battista Alberti and Giorgio Vasari (photo by wanderfly)
Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy, by Leon Battista Alberti and Giorgio Vasari (photo by wanderfly)

Everyone sees homes, theaters, parks and shopping centers within our communities, but how does an architect get hired to design them?

Many architects would kill for a system I call the Medici Effect. Within such a circumstance, an architect can sustain a career through the loyal patronage of a single client—be it an individual, a retail chain, or a university. This Medici Effect is a client-architect relationship where decade after decade, the faithful client provides the architect with projects.

Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flowers, Florence, Italy, by Arnolfo di Cambio (photo by Petar Milosevic)
Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flowers, Florence, Italy, by Arnolfo di Cambio (photo by Petar Milosevic)

From the 15th to the 18th century, the Medici family reigned supreme in Florence. As wool merchants initially, then formidable bankers later, this family commissioned Renaissance painters, sculptors and writers. And yes, architects too.

Alongside hiring painters Michelangelo, Raphael and Rubens, and the scientist Galileo, the Medici’s supported architects most of all: Alberti, Vasari, Buontalenti and Bartolomeo, just to name a few. As one of the most powerful clans throughout Europe, the Medici family bankrolled the entire career of any architect of their choosing, as well as completing building upon building—from palaces to churches, from museums to hospitals.

Pterodactyle, Culver City, California, by Eric Owen Moss Architects (photo by Architect)
Pterodactyle, Culver City, California, by Eric Owen Moss Architects (photo by Architect)
Samitaur Tower, Culver City, California, by Eric Owen Moss Architects (photo by Tom Bonner)
Samitaur Tower, Culver City, California, by Eric Owen Moss Architects (photo by Tom Bonner)

Though a wonderful tale from hundreds of years ago, this Medici Effect does continue today. A contemporary example can be found in Culver City, where a husband/wife, client/developer team of Frederick and Laurie Samitaur Smith has sustained a 30-year patronage of Eric Owen Moss Architects. Project after project, the Smiths have produced a city-scale portfolio of buildings through the talents of this single architect

During fortunate periods of my career, my Medici’s have appeared in the form of developers, retiring architects, friends, and even a public school district. What I have learned so far, if I have learned anything at all, is that an architect should base a career on relationships not contracts. If an architect’s entire career revolves around one hundred projects, it is better to find ten patrons that might each give you ten commissions vs. finding one hundred individual clients.

It should be taught in architecture schools, and it should be a directive at the workplace: Build relationships and attract clients. At many law firms, entry-level attorneys, even paralegals, are requested to bring in clients.

DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, University of Notre Dame, Indiana, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by Pfeiffer Partners)
DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, University of Notre Dame, Indiana, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by Pfeiffer Partners)

Architecture is not just about earth shattering design, but about marketing, business development and public relations. If you are simple minded, call it “schmoozing.” If you are intelligent, call it good business. And, if you are human, call it survival.

© Poon Design Inc.