Tag Archives: RICHARD SERRA

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.

BLURRING THE BOUNDARY BETWEEN ART, SCULPTURE, AND ARCHITECTURE

December 25, 2020

(photo by Hunter Kerhart)

Architecture can—and most definitely should—be artistic. Masterpieces such as both Guggenheim museums, in New York City and Bilbao, Spain, are called “works of art” by pretty much everyone. Interesting that a legendary work of art such as the Monet’s Water Lilies would never be referred to as an exquisite “work of architecture.” Some sculptures on the other hand, such as those by Richard Serra, are indeed called architectural.

Sequence, by Richard Serra, 2006, SFMOMA, San Francisco, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

Poon Design was honored to be commissioned by two global hospitality brands, the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott at the 27-acre L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles. The Ritz stands proud as one of the highest standards of quality, earning the colloquial adjective that defines sophistication and elegance, “Ritzy.”

At the existing porte cochere and main entrance to the 54-level luxury hotel and residential high-rise, our client challenged us to replace the hundred foot long fence with something innovative. Not only was the existing fence not at all Ritzy, it was more akin to a low end motel—the fence barely better than a commercial chain link screen. Failing dramatically, the 9-foot tall fence was supposed to accomplished several things, most importantly: provide security and privacy to the residents and visitors who comprise high net worth individuals, Hollywood stars, celebrated athletes, and the like.

Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott at L.A. Live, Los Angeles, California (photo from gensler.com)
(photo by Hunter Kerhart)

Alongside creating a unique privacy scrim, the Ritz-Carlton gave Poon Design additional design objectives:

– Present a notable front door for a world-renowned brand,

– Provide security to the residents and their luxury cars arriving at the porte cochere,

– While providing privacy, allow natural light to enter the porte cochere, meaning, not a solid fortress-like wall,

– Screen out the movie complex across the street which brought glaring lights, noisy customers, and trash, and finally,

– Establish a friendly face, but one that can protect the hotel from bystanders, loiterers, and paparazzi—again, but not a fortress-like wall.

(photo by Hunter Kerhart)

The assignment was a triple-threat challenge of architecture, sculpture, and art. In response, we designed an 87-foot-long statement of contour and texture. Our 260 shaped steel fins at 10’-6” tall guard the Ritz-Carlton, while projecting a distinguished curbside appeal and allowing in dappled sunlight.

Plan, elevation, and detail

As a visitor moves alongside this wall of ever-changing angled slats, her views, perception and exposure to light constantly and mysteriously change. Even a stationary car on the other side of our wall appears to be in motion.

(photos by Poon Design)

In addition to the uplights in the ground, the steel’s powder-coated silver surface captures the constantly changing colors of the theater’s flashing signs and lights from across the street, and reflects it back as an everchanging light show.

Is it architecture because it is a mere freestanding wall—an element of a building? Is it sculpture that happens to serve many programmatic functions from security to trade dress? Or is it art because it’s sublime presence surpasses the base purpose of being just a piece of architecture?

A future design to come to enhance the streetscape at the Ritz-Carlton, by Poon Design
© Poon Design Inc.