By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Wilshire and Vermont — you can’t find a more complicated neighborhood. It is black, white, brown, 65 percent Asian, high- and low-income — a lot of distress in the demographics. It’s an historic intersection. It was once very central, and it’s got just about every aspect of L.A. packed around that corner.
Now, if you’re a young Korean businessperson, there is no new housing — and really no first-class housing to speak of — between Park La Brea and downtown. There are a few older, beautiful buildings, like the Los Altos or the Gaylord. But if you’re in the fashion industry in Koreatown, and you’re in Asia a week, a month, and need to lock the door behind you, and have a very active lifestyle and don’t have a lot of gear, an apartment at Wilshire and Vermont can be very, very attractive. It doesn’t have to be big. It has to be high-tech, wired and crisp. It will also have to have a closet big enough for golf clubs, and it won’t hurt if there’s an indoor driving range. For that lifestyle, you are seeing in some buildings, even, lap pools replacing regular diving pools.
What people commonly debate is stainless versus black versus white appliances, which all seem to have hidden meanings.
Well, ask Dr. Freud about that one. I think it’s very subliminal. They don’t sell a lot of white cars anymore, so you wonder why people want white appliances. Black implies elegant, and stainless seems to go one step further, wherever beyond elegant is. But white? You’ve got me, but some people really want it.
Yes, and what’s happening in those bathrooms is also happening in apartment bathrooms. Is the sink part of a built-in counter or is it freestanding or wall-mounted? I think you could build a whole issue of L.A.Weeklyaround that question.
For instance, at the Standard Hotel, the shower is out in the middle of the room, a glass enclosure that invites voyeurism. That’s emblematic of the whole shift in body culture. Bathrooms used to be tiny afterthoughts, with almost embarrassing connotations. Now you see, in single-family houses, bathrooms and dressing areas and closets that sometimes overwhelm the rest of the house.
And why not in apartments? Naturally, at the high end, they’re experimenting with things like countertops, using wild materials, straight out of the pages of Wallpaperand Metropolis.You see things like stainless-steel toilets —
Yes, wild stuff.
Downtown, people like space, and the less you spend finishing a unit the more attractive it is to the end user. They like to customize. And maybe they want their closet in the living room, and maybe they have a bed or sleeping arrangement that, you know, is their shtick. If we pick the window coverings and the cabinetry and the bathroom tiles, the more we design to our own taste, the more we risk excluding the unique taste of a potential renter.
Often it is, although you need a bathroom and a kitchen. But a lot of the downtown lofts are literally that. They’re cubage. You sandblast back to the concrete and brick walls, provide the required plumbing and let the tenants have a free-for-all. People like the flexibility. So, here’s an interesting question: Does every shower need a bath? How often do you take a bath? A bathtub itself becomes a question mark. Do you want to pay for a bathtub and chew up that much space?
We’re looking for a building that works — and something more. The building has to function at every practical level. It has to be efficient, safe, durable, and absolutely satisfy every living requirement. Then it has to provide something more. That’s sort of an intangible element.
But I think if you spend time in a Morphosis or a Meier or a Pelli building, you’ll begin to understand that these architects are exploring the meaning of urban living and the symbolism of architecture. In the case of Morphosis, it’s about the tensions of urban life, the tension between cost-effective materials and self-expression. The conclusion is that our city is not a neat, orderly, International-style set of boxes but is fundamentally a chaotic and, therefore, very vital place. You feel that in a Morphosis building. It is constantly challenging you to think about yourself and your place in the city fabric. And I hope others would like to live in that kind of an environment.
We’re at a breakthrough point in Los Angeles. Up to this point, tall residential development, as it’s known in Vancouver and New York and Chicago — and more recently in Seattle, San Francisco and even San Diego — has not occurred here. Westwood and Marina del Rey were the exceptions. Other than those areas, there was sufficient land and opportunity to build wood-frame apartments, as high as five stories. The more expensive — and durable — concrete-and-steel towers didn’t pencil economically. We’re now just at the tipping point. You’ll soon see, in a number of neighborhoods, tall buildings. In Hollywood, and all over downtown, certainly, and anywhere else in the city where the market allows.
Yes, that’s the future.
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