By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Unshaven, dressed in blue jeans and a black T-shirt, Paige has a steady, easygoing air which, one suspects, is an amalgam of exhaustion and exhilaration. In a little over a year, with a scant $6.1 million budget, he has had to invent a building for students of architecture and architects. “You couldn’t have a more critical crowd,” he says with a warm smile. Lacking “a palette or budget for formal expression and lush materials,” as Paige says, SCI-Arc retains many of the key elements of the depot as it was “found” a year and a half ago. Inside and out, it is porous and suffused with light. The exterior shell is perforated, in the sense that most of the infill between the bay openings is glass, making it transparent, as it always was. The modern structural elements -- steel, expanded metal grating, corrugated decking forms, concrete sheer walls -- are exposed, unfinished. All of this reinforces the earliest purpose of the building: It is infrastructure.
Infrastructure connotes something that is indispensable and, more importantly, indivisible, and that is one of the high ambitions of SCI-Arc. Putting the school inside the existing depot binds the past to the present and unites the future of the school to the future of the city. It is also an expression of the way the best cities thrive: We pursue our individual aims only by participating in civic ones.
“We like the proximity to the Fourth Street Bridge, to the Alameda Corridor, to the river. We like that we are inscribed into the fabric of the city,” Paige says, adding, “We worked hard not to make a signature building.”
This may sound like false modesty, or an effort to sidestep certain architectural projects, notably Frank Gehry‘s Disney Hall, which celebrate the chaos and impenetrability of Los Angeles. SCI-Arc’s new home will be a much less codified, much less sculpturally reductive reflection of Los Angeles. It will be both a window and a lens through which the city can peer in and the students can peer out. It will involve Los Angeles in an open dialogue.
“We are here at the beginning of a new wave,” says SCI-Arc director Neil M. Denari. “We will force the expansion of the idea of downtown beyond monofunctional, a hollowed core, and a financial machine. I really think from here on out it won‘t just be a symbolic gesture to build downtown. It will be a more diverse, localized landscape among many other points, and it will develop its own specific feeling.”
Although the school opens this week, it will remain a work in progress. Among other things, Gary Paige hasn’t yet gotten the costly assembly-hall pivot doors he wants. When swung open they would “let the city, symbolically, waft through the building. We‘ll have to fund-raise for that,” he says wistfully.
Opening party for the Freight Depot, with a live performance from 9 to 10 p.m. by Architettura, begins at 8 p.m., Saturday, September 15, at 350 Merrick St., downtown. Enter off Traction Street.