Tag Archives: THOM MAYNE

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.

HALLOWEEN AND ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM

October 28, 2016

Kids in costume, (photo from whitewaydelivers.socialtuna.com)

Halloween costumes are typically representational, not abstract. Costumes are always something—like a princess, pirate or witch. On Halloween, Harry Potters, President Obamas and Katniss Everdeens roam the streets.

But. What about costumes based on abstract concepts? Can one dress up as wonder, rigor or overtime?

As with the Post World War II art movement known as Abstract Expressionism, can Halloween costumes be non-representational? Can costumes be non-thematic, non-literal and non-figurative?

Untitled, by Mark Rothko, 1949
Untitled, by Mark Rothko, 1949

Whereas traditional artists painted water lilies, ballerinas and the crucifixion, Abstract artists painted subjects like color and emotional output or the action of paint drippings. Abstract artists rejected portraying objectified and recognizable classical content.

Ballet Rehearsal on the Set, by Edgar Degas, 1874
Ballet Rehearsal on the Set, by Edgar Degas, 1874

So I ask: Can trick-n-treaters attempt a similar philosophical position? This could offer entertaining debate when responding to the prerequisite question at a costume party, “Who are you supposed to be?”

Convergence, by Jackson Pollock, 1952
Convergence, by Jackson Pollock, 1952

Rather than answering Darth Vader, the sexy nurse or Donald Trump, the answer would be complex, because the question is actually “What are you supposed to be?”

Illustration from The First & Chief Groundes of Architecture, by Marco Vitruvius, 1563
Illustration from The First & Chief Groundes of Architecture, by Marco Vitruvius, 1563

Or maybe, “How are you supposed to be?”

The Halloween tradition known as “guising” or going out in public with a disguise, started as early as the 16th century in Scotland, and was first documented in America as 1911. Guising is a design topic as well.

Classical architecture used figurative themes so as to establish rapport with the visitor. For example, the Greek column comprises three components: 1) base, 2) shaft and 3) capital. This composition was intended to reference the human form: 1) feet, 2) body and 3) head.

Modernist architects, many stemming from the seminal Bauhaus period of 1919 to 1932, discarded this idea of representation. Akin to Abstract painters, these architects designed buildings of abstraction and lack of traditional adornment.

The Bauhaus, Dessau, Germany (photo from aoaonline.ir)
The Bauhaus, Dessau, Germany (photo from aoaonline.ir)
Cedars Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Center, Los Angeles, California (photo by Charles Daniels)
Cedars Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Center, Los Angeles, California (photo by Charles Daniels)

As a contemporary example, Pritzker-winner Thom Mayne turned away from Old School theories, such as the 1st century BC Vitruvian rule that architecture must be “firmatas” (strong), “utilitas” (functional) and “venustas” (beautiful).

For Mayne’s 1987 design of the Cedars Cancer Center, he offered a complex vision that was intentionally unsettling. The design is a “tough” building, so as “to instill confidence in patients’ ability to fight the disease,” according to Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for the New York Times.

Besides being a ninja, the Batman, or a zombie from The Walking Dead, I suggest exploring new ideas during the Halloween frenzy. How about going as: the sky or appetite, or maybe frequency or generosity? Hmmm, food for thought.

Sunrise Death Valley, by Ansel Adams, circa 1950
Sunrise Death Valley, by Ansel Adams, circa 1950
© Poon Design Inc.