Tag Archives: Frank Gehry

#186: ANOTHER BAKER’S DOZEN

April 26, 2024

Broad Beach Residence, Malibu, California (photo by Iwan Baan)

A few years ago, I listed some of my favorite buildings in the city of Los Angeles. Today, I offer another dozen favorites from Southern California, but outside of Los Angeles proper. There are many wonderful works of architecture in our region that to choose only thirteen is impossible. Regardless, here a some in no particular order, from residences to retail, from restaurants to religious to research.

Broad Beach Residence, Malibu, California (photo by Iwan Baan)

1: The 10,800-square-foot, six-bedroom Broad Beach Residence offers a new form to residential architecture. The triangular composition by Michael Maltzan Architecture starts narrow at the street and expands towards the beach and ocean, maximizing views to the horizon. This martini glass-shape houses two major bedrooms hovering above a courtyard with swimming pool and basketball court, replete with indoor-outdoor enjoyment of the Malibu coast.

(W)rapper, Culver City, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

2. The old saying goes, “Love me, hate me, but don’t ignore me.” So it is for this Culver City office known as the (W)rapper, by Eric Owen Moss Architects. The 17-story structure has the honor of being 2023’s most written about building. The bizarre steel exoskeleton with its aggressively cantilevered stairs, oddly shaped glazing, and large expanses of solid walls result in a sublime and grotesque presence in a low-lying skyline. The verdict: I admire the courage.

Prada Epicenter, Beverly Hills, California (photo from OMA)

3. In Beverly Hills, OMA reinvents shopping at the Prada Epicenter on Rodeo Drive. From the street, the floor rolls up to the second level, becoming an amphitheater to display fashions or socialize. The traditional storefront display is subverted by eliminating the condition. Instead, the store opens to the street in its entirety—secured at closing by a massive aluminum panel that rises out of the sidewalk. Street retail displays are set in the concrete floor, where a shopper looks downward on, separated by elliptical glass panels upon which one stands, if feeling courageous.

Gardenhouse, Beverly Hills, California (photo by Nic Lehoux)

4. MAD Architects—creators of the upcoming, monumental, 300,000-square-foot Lucas Museum of Narrative Art—designed a whimsical mixed-use project of 18 condos and commercial spaces. Entitled Gardenhouse, the architects envisioned a 48,000-square-foot “hillside village” in Beverly Hills, where an assemblage of quirky house-like forms rise from the building’s living façade.

Frank Gehry’s house, Santa Monica, California (photo by IK’s World Trip)

5. During the many decades of its making, the neighbors hated this house. To their astonishment, the masterful creation has become one of the most famous residences in the world, a living thesis of and personal residence to Frank Gehry’s seminal ideas. For the existing Dutch colonial, Santa Monica house, the architect engaged the traditional personality with torn apart walls and roofs revealing a skeletal expression of wood studs. Enter the 1970s premiere of chain link fence, raw plywood, and corrugated metal to the world of high design.

Chiat/Day Building, Venice, California (photo from The Architect’s Newspaper)

6. Gehry at it again, this time in Venice. Often called the “Binocular Building,” the Chiat/Day headquarters, now occupied by Google, blurs the line between art and architecture. Visitors and cars enter the 75,000-square-foot building through the binoculars, a functional sculpture with offices within, created with artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Brugge. On the right sits a tree-like composition in copper panels, and on the left, a contrasting enameled metal ship form.

Maison Martin Margiela, Beverly Hills, California (photo from archdaily.com and johnstonmarklee.com)

7. Thinking of the Maison Martin Margiela store in Beverly Hills, I am reminded of the Sparkletts water delivery truck and its tiny shimmering discs—a kinetic surface reflecting the sun. Played out on a much larger scale, architects Johnson Marklee covered the Margiela’s façades entirely in these mirror-like discs. Always in motion (and not captured well in a photograph), this visual treat sparkles while displaying wind patterns swooshing down the retail street.

Kate Mantalini, Beverly Hills, California (photo from morphosis.com)

8. Though Kate Mantalini closed in 2014, this Beverly Hills restaurant was an icon, both socially and architecturally. As a place to see-and-be-seen, the design was no quiet backdrop. Architect Morphosis created an energetic living room of art, sculpture, and architecture: angled walls, oculus/skylight sundial, steel beam compositions, curved mural of boxers, striped black and white tile floor, and irreverent giant headshots of Andie MacDowell (why her?). The final result remains in memory as a local attraction and an influential early work from the Pritzker-prized architect.

Wayfarers Chapel, Rancho Palo Verdes, California (photo by Olive Stays)

9. When the Wayfarers Chapel first opened in Rancho Palo Verdes, the 1950s site was not the lush forest of trees as one encounters today. On a bluff overlooking the ocean, Lloyd Wright (son of Frank Lloyd Wright) designed a crystalline glass and wood structure surrounded by majestic skies and vast land. As dramatic as the chapel’s origin was, the current state is no less powerful—now a magical building surrounded by dense trees. One enters as if in a romantic fairy tale. Last year, the chapel was named a National Historic Landmark. (Unfortunately due to recent land movements, the chapel has been slated to be dismantled and reconstructed at a new location TBD.)

Riviera United Methodist Church, Torrance, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

10. A lesser known work from Richard Neutra, the Riviera United Methodist Church displays the simplicity and elegance of colleague Mies van der Rohe’s “less is more.” Neutra introduced the International Style to California, alongside his once-roommate at the famed Kings Road House, Rudolf Schindler—architect of said house (which was no. 14 on this list). Coincidentally in the early 1900s, both Neutra and Schindler arrived from Austria and worked for Frank Lloyd Wright. For this church, Neutra embraced the rectilinear nature of post-and-beam construction, adapting it to the fresh air of Redondo Beach.

Case Study House No. 8, Pacific Palisades, California (photo from archilovers.com)

11. The Case Study House No. 8, also the Eames House, served as the modest 1,500-square-foot personal residence and 1,000-square-foot design laboratory for husband-wife architects, Charles and Ray Eames. For this National Historic Landmark in the Pacific Palisades, the house should possess an “unselfconscious” and the “way-it-should-be-ness.” Through new technologies, off-the-shelf materials, and standard components, the architects pioneered much of today’s pre-fab, modular construction industry. (L)

Neurosciences Institute, La Jolla, California (photo from twbta.com)

12. With the Neurosciences Institute, Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects created a “monastery for scientists.” In La Jolla, three structures—theory center, 350-seat auditorium, and labs—nestle into the earth and form a courtyard. As is typical of the architects’ work, this research campus explores the most sublime and fetishized (obsessive?) details and materials: sand blasted concrete, redwood panel sun shades, bas-relief surfaces, jade green serpentine stone, fossil stone from Texas, and bead-blasted stainless steel. This tactile environment confronts all the senses.

Salk Institute for Biological Studies, California (photo by Adam Bignell on Unsplash)

13. Ask any architect, this is the hero of them all: the Salk Institute. If a work can be named one of greatest of all time, Louis Kahn’s 412,000-square-foot research center in La Jolla is high on this list. Jonas Salk, who created the polio vaccine, asked the architect to “create a facility worthy of a visit by Picasso.” With influences from monastery design, Kahn’s profound composition inspires scientists, architects, and everyday visitors, with its otherworldly beauty and axial relationship to the clouds, horizon, and beyond.

(For my 2023 favorites from around the world, visit here.)

#189: MY TOP TEN FAVE ARCHITECTS

December 1, 2023

The Nancy and Rick Kinder Building at the Musuem of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, by Steven Holl. The architect’s inspiration came from the changing shapes of clouds and the trapezoidal shape of the property. (photo by Richard Barnes)

“Hey Anthony, who is your favorite architect?,” I am often asked.

I might reply, “Can there only be one fave? What is your favorite book or your favorite song?”

upper left: Casa Batllo, Barcelona, Spain, by Antoni Gaudi (photo from stirworld.com); upper right: Les Espaces d’Abraxas, Marne-la-Vallee, France, by Ricardo Bofill (photo by Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura); lower left: Assembly Building, Chandigarh, India, by Le Corbusier (photo by Narinder Nanu); lower right: National Assembly Building, Dhaka, Bangladesh, by Louis Kahn (photo from metalocus.es)

For nearly all, there is no one favorite piece of music. For me, there is no one favorite architect. There are several dozen. But here I try, gathering a mere list of ten, in no particular order. Just a note: My list comprises living architects, so excludes favorites like Antoni Gaudi, Louis Kahn, Le Corbusier, and Ricardo Bofill.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, by Steven Holl. Adjacent to the renovated museum, five enigmatic glass structures deliver various qualities of natural light into the interconnected subterranean galleries. (photo by Andy Ryan)

Steven Holl
Holl possesses an individualistic vision of architecture, where his signature watercolors establishes the conceptual agenda for each project. This New York–based architect blends complex building programs—both new structures as well as additions—with seemingly random sculptural shapes, while applying his mastery of shaping natural lightTime magazine called him “America’s Best Architect” for “buildings that satisfy the spirit as well as the eye.”

Saint Benedict Chapel, Sumvitg, Switzerland, by Peter Zumthor. Impeccably crafted, the leaf-shaped, one-room structure explores a lemniscate, an algebraic, hyperbolic, inverse curve. (photo by Federico Covre)

Peter Zumthor
Often called the “architect’s architect,” there is no one else practicing today so often referred to as a “master” of his craft. Each project from the Swiss architect, the son of a cabinet maker—whether a home, chapel, or museum—is precisely uncompromising, often austere, and elemental, embracing the basics of architecture, e.g., shelter, light, materials. Zumthor suggests, “Architecture is not a vehicle or a symbol for things that do not belong to its essence.”

Educatorium, Utrecht, Netherlands, by Rem Koolhaas. Two planar surfaces fold and interlock to create lecture halls, classroom, cafeteria, and plaza. (photo from architecture-history.org)

Rem Koolhaas
Dutch architect, provocative theorist, prolific author, professor at Harvard, and one-time filmmaker—Koolhaas brings gravitas and intellectualism to his practice. His work is known for its clarity in conceptual thinking, where a simple idea or diagram drives the development of an entire project, whether a house, library, or entire town. Time magazine put him in their top 100 of “The World’s Most Influential People.”

Iberê Camargo Foundation, Porto Alegre, Brazil, by Alvaro Siza. Soaring ramps give an iconic personality to this cultural institution and museum dedicated to the works of Brazilian Expressionist painter, Iberê Camargo. (photo from archdaily.com)

Alvaro Siza
Some buildings from this Portugues architect are quiet and minimal, like his Leca Swimming Pools—so integrated into the waterfront that one doesn’t even know where the buildings end and the land begins. Other projects combine invention, and poetry. “Every design,” Siza states, “is a rigorous attempt to capture a concrete moment of a transitory image in all its nuances . . . the more precise they are, the more vulnerable.”

Chichu Art Museum, Naoshima, Japan, by Tadao Ando. To avoid compromising nature, this museum burrows underground. Abstract openings of square, rectangles, and triangles march across the scenery and open to the sky. (photo from avauntmagazine.com)

Tadao Ando
Self-taught Japanese architect started out as a truck driver and professional boxer. Contrasting the delirium of such a past, Ando’s portfolio is the epitome of minimalism, exploring a profound nothingness. Nearly all his projects are composed of primarily two materials. 1) poured-in-place concrete—concrete walls, concrete floors, concrete roofs, and 2) natural light (yes, I view light as a construction material). Though many of his buildings appear to be the similar, celebrities flock to own an Ando design: Beyonce and Jay-Z, Kanye West, Tom Ford, Kim Kardashian, amongst others.

Douglas House, Emmet County, Michigan, by Richard Meier. Restored twice since its 1973 completion, this 3,000-square-foot, waterfront residence is one of the most iconic Modernist homes of recent generations—and added to the National Register of Historic Places. (photo by Scott Frances)

Richard Meier
New York architect Meier (now retired with controversy) claims, “White conventionally has always been seen as a symbol of perfection, of purity and clarity.” He established his design language, for better or for worse, as the one of the most recognizable styles in history—a singular vision and personal brand of Modernism, stark white surfaces, and strict geometries. The formality and strictness in Meier’s work, though rigid and severe for some, provide an oasis of calm for others.

Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, Germany, Herzog and de Meuron. A new glassy, 2,100-seat concert hall sits upon an 1875-constructed warehouse, rebuilt in 1963. The sweeping roof provides a plaza with views of the docks and city. (photo by Iwan Baan)

Herzog & de Meuron
Based in Basel, Switzerland, the partnership of Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron approaches architecture as a deep dive into design philosophy, experimental methods, and technology. They believe their work “can meet the needs of our rapidly and radically changing world.” Each project is a reinvention of their creative process, with a fetishization of form making, textures, patterns, and materials—both traditional and radical.

Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet, Le Brassus, Switzerland, by Bjarke Ingels. This spiraling museum displaying watchmaking history contrasts the company’s traditional 1875 workshop building. (photo by Bjarke Ingels Group)

Bjarke Ingels
Many of Ingels’ projects—bold, exaggerated, and cartoonish—appear to have leapt off the pages of a comic book. In fact, he published a 2009 graphic novel entitled, Yes Is More: An Archicomic on Architectural Evolution. His firm of 700 architects, simply known as BIG, is one of the fastest rising companies in the global marketplace. The Wall Street Journal called this Copenhagen-based architect, “Innovator of the Year” for architecture and “one of the design world’s rising stars.”

Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland, by Thomas Phifer. Mute boxy structures clad in Carderock stone form an introspective campus the combines art, architecture, and landscape. (photo from thomasphifer.com)

Thomas Phifer
One of the lesser known names on my list, and not yet a Pritzker Laureate like more than half of my list, Phifer established his Manhattan studio after working for Richard Meier. Whether Phifer’s work comprises the self-proclaimed “light buildings that landed lightly on the land” or Thomas De Monchaux’s description of “a river stone, embedded in the flow of its place,” I would suggest that Mies’ “less is more” is the rule. If ever in the D.C. area, do not miss a visit to the Glenstone Museum.

Marques de Riscal Hotel, Elciego, Spain, by Frank Gehry. Part of the winery complex, the 43-suite, steel and titanium hotel expresses a typical Gehry sculptural presence, adding some new colors inspired by wine. (photo from shrifreevs.live)

Frank Gehry
The stunning collisions of steel, glass, and stone from this Canadian-born American has made him the most famous living architect on the planet. Though often accused of aesthetic sameness—a kind of architectural one-liner—the mastery of his design vocabulary never ceases to impress. With the 1997 completion of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, Gehry’s single building attracted so many visitors to the area that the entire economy of the Basque region improved dramatically.

Along the lines of favorites, here are my favorite buildings in Los Angeles, favorite buildings of all time, and most breathtaking buildings of last year.

#173: MODELS AND SUPERMODELS

July 28, 2023

Staples Center and downtown Los Angeles, California – materials: acrylic, lacquer paint, LED lighting, incandescent lighting, fluorescent lighting, and mini-television, by Anthony Poon (w/ NBBJ, photo by John Lodge)

It makes me uneasy when architects replace physical models with computer renderings, replacing a centuries-old craft with software-driven images that pander more to marketing and promotion than exploration and abstract thinking.

Fröbel blocks (photo from frobelgifts.com)

Frank Lloyd Wright’s mother gave her young son the Fröbel blocks, to encourage the inquisitive boy to think three-dimensionally, to create structures like an architect. German educator, Friedrich Fröbel (1782-1852), conceived of a set of wooden cubes, spheres, and cylinders for children to capture their curious need to organize, create, and build. Fröbel proclaimed, “The active and creative, living and life-producing being of each person, reveals itself in the creative instinct of the child. All human education is bound up in the quiet and conscientious nurture of this instinct of activity; and in the ability of the child, true to this instinct, to be active.”

Chaya Downtown restaurant, Los Angeles, California – materials: foamcore, various woods, museum board, chip board, acrylic, and craft paper, by Poon Design (photo by Anthony Poon)

For generations, architects, young and old, engaged in a process of building miniature physical representations of design ideas. Whether Lego or Lincoln Logs as a kid or laser cutting and a 3D printer as a professional, the making of a physical model in scale was inherent in the process of all architects.

Enzoani bridal store, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia – materials: foamcore, laser prints, basswood, spray paint, and museum board, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)
University Center, University of the Pacific, Stockton, California — materials: foamcore, chip board, museum board , craft people, metallic paper, aluminum cars and people, and wire trees, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by HHPA)

I separate “physical model” from today’s “digital model,” the latter meaning a computer file, a virtual three-dimensional object. Digital modeling has reaped tremendous advancements in photorealistic renderings and “fly-throughs.” The sexy presentation drawings provide a client with an image as if standing there looking at the real building.

At times, computer renderers can’t seem to control their self-indulgence as the renderings are over-the-top with multiple light sources, mirror-like reflections on glistening surfaces, over saturation of colors and patterns, perfect skies and sunsets, and supermodels populating the buildings—all resulting in a surrealism that overtakes any substance of the rendering. These exciting images try to show the real thing, but often fail. Renderings should capture the personality and emotion of the space, the story of the design, not a photorealistic replication of materials and surfaces.

Sports City Stadium, Doha, Qatar, by Meis

There is limited tactile connection in computer processing, other than the clicking of one’s mouse. And architecture, both its process and final product, is tactile and physical. I like feeling how a graphite lead gently wears into the toothy surface of a sheet of vellum. I like scoring a piece of chipboard with an X-Acto No. 11 blade, then carefully bending the chipboard with both hands.

Toppings Yogurt, Pacific Palisades, California – materials: museum board, foamcore, acrylic, stainless steel, cork, copper, stone, honeycomb plastic panel, by Poon Design (photo by Anthony Poon)
San Diego Civic Theatre, California – materials: foamcore, basswood, museum board, laser prints, and craft paper, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by HHPA)

As a physical object, a model is the closest thing to the physical building. But of course, it is a smaller version. But it is through such abstraction that one can comprehend the concepts driving the design. The client can hold a model and study it from infinite angles, or place her eyes, head even, into a large model to experience the space.

Herget Middle School, West Aurora, Illinois – materials: foamcore, laser prints, basswood, spray paint, and museum board, by Anthony Poon (w/ A4E, photo by Anthony Poon)

Whether a detailed representational model with little people, cars, and trees, with colors and textures suggesting the actual materials of construction, or a concept model made fast and crude, torn apart and glued back together experimenting ideas that flash into the imagination of the designer—models are an investigative design tool.

Model making at Gehry Partners, Los Angeles, California (photo by R+D Studio)

Frank Gehry’s process centers around making models with his famed model shop, as does Morphosis with its obsessive use of a large format 3D printer, evidenced by the new book, M3: Modeled Works. This 1,008-page tome focuses exclusively on photos of physical models that span founder Thom Mayne’s career, displayed in reverse chronology, from high tech to low tech model making tools.

Educational Center and Library Addition, Holocaust Human Rights Center, University of Maine, Augusta – materials: museum board, acrylic, modeling paste, gesso, and acrylic paints, by Poon Design (photo by Anthony Poon)

Whether architectural models are created with recycled corrugated cardboard and discarded scraps or exotic woods and archival museum-quality materials, the design themes told are can be powerful, poetic even. The thing to keep in mind is that model making is but one tool in the process, as is rendering software, as is A.I. or color pencils.

Korean Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California – materials: museum board, acrylic, modeling paste, gesso, and acrylic paints, by Poon Design (photo by Anthony Poon)

#170: STROKES OF GENIUS?

May 26, 2023

Dancing House, also called “Ginger and Fred (after the dancers Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire), Prague, Czechia, by Frank Gehry (sketch from ted.com, photo from prague.eu)

There is a fascination with how an architect, in a single first sketch, can capture the entire concept of a proposed project. Is such a sketch evidence of inspired genius blasted onto paper within seconds vs. a mere doodle of no concern vs. smoke-n-mirrors and good salesmanship?

Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, by Tadao Ando (sketch from archdaily.com)
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (photo from archdaily.com)

A romantic belief exists that the brilliance of the creator and the entire DNA of a new building can be displayed in a few strokes of artistry. Such a poetic sketch, a simple scribble even, on the back of a cocktail napkin supposedly represents the entire design philosophy of a design to come—a guidebook for the design team and a request for client affirmation.

Collage of sketches by Anthony Poon

This obsession and even prominence of sketching a concept on a napkin has reached such fanatical heights that ArchDaily features, “Napkin Sketches by Famous Architects,” Architectural Record has their annual, “Cocktail Napkin Sketch Contest,” Architizer invites architects to the “One Drawing Challenge,” and the American Institute of Architects conducts the “AIA Napkin Sketch Auction.”

Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki, by Steven Holl (sketch from cladglobal.com, photo from stevenholl.com)

But is it realistic to think that the author’s elemental drawing, as profound and seductive as it might be, can fuel the entire design journey from pen and paper to brick and mortar? Frank Lloyd Wright was rumored to have preconceived in his head the entire design of one of his famed houses. Within a brief moment of time, he could draft the whole thing in front of his attentive audience of apprentices. Architects like Frank Gehry, Tadao Ando, and Steven Holl draw, doodle and sketch (watercolor In Holl’s case) using the scribbling process to find an idea.

In the end, an inspiring concept is indeed captured, and such a sketch becomes the apparent roadmap for the architectural team to develop, and in some cases, to struggle with and reproduce in three-dimensions. In this latter case, is the sketch less a source of inspiration and more a pair of handcuffs? What pains the employees must confront as they try to second guess the boss’ design intentions, as they try to decipher what may be nothing more than a whimsical drawing, as they try to extract answers from an enigmatic gesture.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Kansas, by Steven Holl (sketch from cladglobal.com)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (photo by Roland Halbe)

Returning to salesmanship, one architect (not to be named) knew of his prowess with drawing brilliant sketches—sepia fountain pen on yellow translucent paper. He was also aware of how his clients would value such sketches of their projects as art, as fine originals from the artist/architect. But here are the smoke-n-mirrors.

  1. This architect does not actually create that first sketch in the beginning. Instead, he waits until after the building is completed years later.
  2. He then takes a photo of the finished project and traces over said photo imitating (cheating actually) the look and feel of an inspirational conceptual sketch.
  3. Then he predates the sketch back by many years to suggest (deceive actually) that this drawing was the first sketch of his genius process ar the beginning.
  4. The salesmanship continues with the sketch being framed accompnaied by a blatant lie by the architect, “I never give away any of my original sketches, but this time, I will—just for you.” Of course, these fake sketches are given away all the time.

Hence the hocus pocus.

Escena Residence I-3, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design (w/ Andrew Adler, sketch by Anthony Poon)
Escena Residence I-3 (photo by Chris Miller)

#162: OCMA REVIEW: THE BEAUTY OF EXCESS

December 9, 2022

Orange County Museum of Art, Costa Mesa, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

Upon visiting the recently completed Orange County Museum of Art, I thought of Christina Aguilera or Patti LaBelle. Maybe Whitney Houston too. All three singers engage in vocal acrobatics, excessive riffs of attention-grabbing notes in virtuoso succession. So too with the new museum designed by Culver City-based Morphosis.

View from the civic plaza, Orange County Museum of Art, Costa Mesa, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

Pritzker Prize winner Thom Mayne, founding architect of Morphosis, designed the $93 million, 53,000-square-foot museum, also known as OCMA—in the long line of museums of four letters, e.g. MOCA, MOMA, NMNS, CMOA, and so on. At OCMA, 25,000 square feet is dedicated to displaying the museum’s 4,500 works from the 20th and 21st centuries.

Mayne states that he created “a gradient of architectural intensity, from complex forms at the museum’s entry to rectilinear and flexible forms within the galleries.”

Approaching from the street, the low profile rectilinear building presents an understated curbside appeal. But entering the plaza and greeted by Richard Serra’s 65-foot-tall sculpture of his signature weathered steel, the architect’s ambition for “architectural intensity” rings true.

Atrium, Orange County Museum of Art, Costa Mesa, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

Sweeping, tilting, and undulating forms, wrapped in individually-custom white terra cotta panels, rise up to the sky—not unlike a composition from Frank Gehry’s repertory. OCMA’s sinuous and muscular character on the outside continues within. A central space twists and warps three-stories high, punctuated by glass and steel bridges crossing each other haphazardly. The building represents fantastical gestures afforded by digital technology. Such advance software results in the Construction Documents (once called blueprints) that instruct the construction team how to turn such heroic shapes from curved lines on paper to reality.

Doors out to roof terrace, Orange County Museum of Art, Costa Mesa, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

This contemporary building shines brightly as both an icon and a rebel within the unabashedly conservative region of Orange County. Of such exciting building forms and interior spaces that counter the idiom, “less is more,” one has to ponder if such shapes and surfaces are warranted in the first place. Besides the thrill I felt touring and confronting such a sculpturally innovative building, are all these design moves necessary? Was the money well spent? How many brain cells were damaged in figuring out how to defy gravity?

left: Cooper Union, New York, New York (photo from morphosis.com); top middle: Viper Room Development, West Hollywood, California (rendering from archdaily.com); top right: Kolon One & Only Tower, Seoul, South Korea (photo by Jasmine Park); bottom middle: Bill and Melinda Gates Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York (photo by Roland Halbe); bottom right: Yangtze River International Conference Center, Nanjing, China (photo by Fangfang Tian)

I enjoy the projects of Morphosis, these designs of virtuosity and flair. Save a few restrained structures like the Taubman Complex at Lawrence Technological University, Morphosis’ body of work challenges architecture as art, graphic representation, and construction methods—the artistic soul as well—and employs the keenest minds and highest tools of technology. The results are no doubt incredible and stunning.

Orange County Museum of Art, Costa Mesa, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

But one has to question, isn’t architecture more than making sexy forms? In a recent symposium at Los Angeles’ Colburn School, Mayne attempted to (unsuccessfully) deflect questions about his work being mostly about composition and aesthetics. Today, architecture is more than the shape and form of a building, more than how it looks. At its best, architecture involves sustainability/carbon neutrality, community engagement, social equity/diversity, resilience, biophilia, affordability and access, adaptive reuse, philanthropy, and ethical labor practices.

Regardless, I am a fan of the work at Morphosis, and this brings me back to the aforementioned singers. Sure, they sing unnecessary notes. Sure, it sounds gratuitous and self-serving. Much of the vocal lines, often called “runs,” are excessive, merely indulgent passages that show off one’s fancy skills. But admittedly, I like it. I find it exhilarating even intoxicating to be transported beyond what a standard performer’s voice can do. So too with the architecture of Morphosis.

#158: LOS ANGELES BAKER’S DOZEN

September 16, 2022

(photo by Julius Schulman)

As a Los Angeles architect, I am often asked, “What are your favorite buildings in the city?” Considering houses, concert halls, schoolstemples—it is difficult to answer. There are so many great works of architecture. To have parameters, I stuck to the City of Los Angeles. I did not include the many treasures in adjacent cities like West Hollywood, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, etc.. Also, I couldn’t decide on the typical “top ten,” like I have done each year (2019, 2020, and 2021). So in no particular order, here you go: a Baker’s Dozen.

(photo by Juan Carlos Becerra on Unsplash)

1: In the evening, the John Ferraro Building, commonly known as the LADWP Headquarters, glows like a beacon of downtown. More than a 1960s office building, architect A. C. Martin created an iconic structure metaphoric of the department’s command over water and power. Floating in a massive reflecting pond that hovers over the parking, the building captures one end of the city’s grand axis that aligns the Music Center and Grand Park, and terminating at City Hall.

(photo from raimundkoch.com)

2: A city-within-a-city, Emerson College by Morphosis offers a collegiate identity unlike anything before. Within 107,000 square feet, two large sinuous structures sit within a ten-story, frame-like building—providing housing for 190 students, educational spaces, production labs, and offices. The technology of computational scripting guided the patterns of the aluminum sunscreens and organic building shapes.

(photo from plansmatter.com)

3: Few homes capture the zeitgeist of the Mid-Century Modern movement alongside the family life of the homeowners. Husband and wife design giants, Charles and Ray Eames, created this Case Study House No. 8, simply called the Eames House, to serve as their residence, work space, and design laboratory. The beauty of the architecture stems from the simplicity of form, lightness on the site, and prefabricated materials. Each year, 20,000 design fanatics tour this National Historic Landmark.

(photo by Anthony Poon)

4: Rafael Moneo Arquitecto graces the urban landscape with his Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Serving as the mother church for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, this design explores a myriad of tilted lines (an avoidance of any right angles), solid concrete walls several feet thick, and the dramatic control of light and shadows—delivering a complex composition of tension/calm, grandeur/intimacy, and mystery/faith.

(photo by StockSnap from Pixabay)

5: The 1892 landmark Bradbury Building by George Wyman and Sumner Hunt is a classic masterpiece of traditional materials, ornate details, and sun and air. Appearing in numerous works of fiction, movies, television, and music videos, the five-story office building was honored as a National Historic Landmark in 1977, Los Angeles’ oldest landmarked building—today restored to perfection. The skylit atrium—casting intricate shadows of ironwork against surfaces of tile, brick, and terracotta—delivers the beating heart of the building.

(photo by Anthony Poon)

6: The existing 1953 Getty Villa—a passable recreation of a 1000 A.D. Roman house—pales in comparison to the 2006 addition by Machado Silvetti. For this museum dedicated to the classical arts, the contemporary renovations and surgical insertions offer a contrasting dialogue of old and new , of history and the future. Like a palimpsest, the layers upon layers of materials, exquisite details upon exquisite details border on excessively articulate, yet reaches the sublime.

(photo by Anthony Poon)

7: Frank Lloyd Wright’s  Hollyhock House was the first American work of contemporary design added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Sometimes referred to as Mayan Revival, the ambitious courtyard house of 1921 comprises an intricate balance of split level floor plates, roof terraces, and steps throughout. The hollyhock—the favorite flower of the owner and oil heiress, Aline Barnsdall—drives the architectural patterns, decorative details, and stained glass windows.

(photo from lacma.org)

8: Upon completion in 1988, the Pavilion for Japanese Art baffled visitors. The enigmatic 32,000-square-foot building by Bruce Goff—a bizarre combination of sweeping roof forms, cylindrical towers, tusk-like beams, green stucco, and translucent windows—divided critics. Was the work visionary or grotesque? Master architect Peter Zumthor has decided the Pavilion’s worth: His master plan for the campus of LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art), has already demolished nearly all existing structures. Goff’s building will remain.

(photo by Talal Albagdadi from Pixabay)

9: The honeycomb exterior skin of The Broad captivates passersby on this busy downtown street. An instant architectural icon and Instagram-able moment, this three-story museum by Diller Scofidio + Renfro presents a porous wrapper the architects call the “veil”—composed of 2,500 rhomboidal forms of fiberglass-reinforced concrete. Within this “veil” sits the “vault”—the concrete core of the museum housing laboratories, offices, and the massive collections of art not currently on exhibit.

(photo by Anthony Poon)

10: The Stahl House, or to many, Case Study House No. 22, is one of the most famous homes in the history of the architecture world. Designed by Pierre Koenig and made known by Julius Shulman, considered the greatest architectural photographer of all time, the soaring hilltop residence made the 2007 AIA list of “America’s Favorite Architecture.” My one criticism is this: The kids have to walk through the master bedroom to get to their two bedrooms. Perhaps an exploration of domesticity?

(photo by Anthony Poon)

11. Both a work of art and architecture. Sabato Rodia, Los Angeles’ own Antoni Gaudi, constructed the Watts Towers with few tools and mostly his bare hands. From 1921 to 1954, this Italian immigrant construction worker toyed with concrete, rebar, wire, and tile—even ceramics, seashells, and broken bottles. Recognized with honors over time, the project was designated a National Historic Landmark, and one of only nine folk art sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places in Los Angeles.

(photo from jamesfgoldstein.com)

12. A master class in late Mid-Century Modernism, John Lautner gave us the Sheats-Goldstein Residence, a daring home set into the ledge of a sandstone hill. The intimacy of the arrival counters the living room’s explosive embrace with the city view and surrounding nature. The geometry of triangles upon triangles, a revolutionary concrete roof structure, and endless glass walls have captivated pop culture with cameos in films from Charlie’s Angels to The Big Lebowski.

(photo by Futuregirl from Pixabay)

13. No list of local great buildings can exclude Frank Gehry’s almighty Walt Disney Concert Hall. Though the architect had to travel to Bilbao, Spain to prove he is the most famous architect of our time, though the Disney Concert Hall took 15 years to complete and resulted in 300% over budget, the project stands as prominent as the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, or the Sydney Opera House.

As mentioned, there are so many iconic masterpieces just outside of Los Angeles. Here are half a dozen. And for my favorite buildings of all time, here.

top left: Creative Artists Agency, Beverly Hills, by I.M. Pei and Associates (photo from techooficespaces.com); top middle: Prada Epicenter, Beverly Hills, by OMA (photo from oma.com); top right: Horatio Court, Santa Monica, by Irving Gill (photo by smallatlarge.com); bottom left: Broad Beach Residence, Malibu, by Michael Maltzman Architecture, Inc. (photo from mattconstruction.com); bottom middle: Schindler House, West Hollywood, by Rudolf Schindler (photo from makcenter.org); bottom right: Art Center College, Pasadena, by Craig Ellwood (photo by u/archineering)

© Poon Design Inc.