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10 Biggest L.A. Architecture Stories of 2013

Crowd at the opening of the Getty's "Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940-1990".
Crowd at the opening of the Getty's "Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940-1990".
Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging

This year saw downtown continue its rapid-fire gentrification, organized groups of kayakers toured the wilds of the L.A. river through Frogtown, the city's housing market bounced back hard, we continued to densify and use our cars less (surprised?), and the city was awash in architecture exhibitions, lectures, panels, tours and conversations thanks to the Getty's citywide series Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A.

Here's a rundown of the year's highlights:

10. Dodger Stadium Renovations

Hours before opening-day crowds meandered up the hill towards Elysian Park this March, crews were still putting finish touches on the $100 million renovation job for the 51-year old stadium, which began back in the fall of 2012. Subtle for sure, the tweaks consisted of a few un-flashy, well-considered and strategic design decisions -- renovated bathrooms, more food stands on upper levels and high definition screens in the outfield -- all of which maintain the low-lying, outdoorsy feel of the 60's era structure. With all the money saved on the construction, new Dodger management was able to pony up for more security, thus eliminating any near-death, parking lot beatings this season. Score.

On the Road projects
On the Road projects
Jaime Kowal

9. On the Road Projects

On the Road, a scrappy group of architects, writers and curators, spent the last half of 2013 producing public interventions, self-curated mobile art shows and pop-up exhibitions that sought to detract from the Getty's Pacific Standard Time architecture series but also to play off of it, the intention being to redirect some of the Getty's spotlight beam onto younger practitioners of architecture in L.A. For the first installment, the group parked five open-backed U-Haul trucks on the lot outside MOCA's Geffen pavilion in advance of the "A New Sculpturalism: Contemporary Architecture From Southern California" exhibition. Each U-Haul featured two young L.A. architects and their work pinned to the interior walls of the boxy back cabs. On the Road's year-long series of events will continue into 2014.

8. Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Building acquisition

A critical piece of built history for the African American community in Los Angeles was saved this year, in a victory for preservationists and for members of a community concerned that Black Los Angeles' heritage is being lost due to gentrification in South L.A. Built in 1948 by L.A.-native and award-winning African American architect Paul Revere Williams, the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company building at the corner of Adams and Western was the physical manifestation of African American success and entrepreneurship in the West Adams/"Sugar Hill" neighborhood of L.A. in the 1940s. This year, the South Central Los Angeles Regional Center (SCLARC, a community-based organization that helps people with disabilities) completed its acquisition of the building, including the historic murals within it, which were commissioned originally along with Williams' design for the structure.

 

Academy Museum of Motion Pictures
Academy Museum of Motion Pictures
Academy Museum of Motion Pictures © Renzo Piano Building Workshop, Studio Pali Fekete architects, AMPAS

7. Renzo's Piano's Academy Museum of Motion Pictures design

Paris has one, so does Stockholm. Shanghai has a bundle, even Dallas has one stuck on top of a skyscraper, and come 2016, Los Angeles will have our own giant shiny sphere building too. Unveiled in April, Renzo Piano's addition to the back of the old May Company building at Fairfax and Wilshire will house the future Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. The design preserves the historic Wilshire-facing facade of the old May Company but goes all crazy in the back with a glassy bubble that hovers above street level, enclosing a theater and galleries. This gargantuan glass orb will make Michael Heizer's LACMA-adjacent Levitated Mass rock look like a dinky pebble by comparison.

6. Soft story legislation

Yes, it's arguably the least sexy story on this year's list, but if you live on the first floor of a 60's-style apartment building (with a floor above and a carport below), be very glad this is happening. Laid out by head honcho engineer Ifa Kashefi at the Department of Building and Safety and based on a similar initiative in place in the Bay Area, a new plan would identify "soft story" structures -- those ubiquitous wood framed apartment buildings of the 60s & 70s that are built over carports and held up with skinny columns that can come crashing down under the weight of the upper floors during an earthquake. Once it's determined which buildings are unsafe, the department will then determine which need to be strengthened. It's a good call since these types of apartments line pretty much every other street in L.A. Not to mention that we're overdue for a 7.8 magnitude earthquake -- and that's 44 times stronger than the Northridge quake of 1994.

5. L.A.'s dinosaur starchitects self-adorate, everybody else moves on

As part of the Getty's Pacific Standard Time Presents series, the "A Confederacy of Heretics" exhibition at SCI-Arc reshuffled the early work of the "L.A. School" - a group of architects who, in 1979, were considered edgy outsiders by some East Coast critics writing on the subject. SCI-Arc held a reception for the show, and then an opening talk. Later in June there was a symposium, and three days of panel discussions about the show and its architects. At the closing panel discussion, next-generation SCI-Arc professor Hernan Diaz Alonso eloquently noted in his remarks, "You cannot believe how happy I am that the title of this talk is 'closing remarks,'" echoing the feelings of many young architects in the city who'd grown suspect of the buzz about the older-generation and the sentiment that these guys were just trying to achieve social change through architecture, as opposed to personal achievement. At the end of his talk, Diaz Alonso added, "We are here 35 years later, trying to care. . . Now, let's move on."

 

10 Biggest L.A. Architecture Stories of 2013
photo by Gabor Ekecs

4. Michael Maltzan Architects' Star Apartments

Along the skid row portion of 6th Street at Maple Avenue downtown, architect Michael Maltzan's Star Apartments complex rises up from the little lot below, and miraculously stacks and grows as its floors creep up higher and higher. Previously a one-story commercial block, this transitional housing complex for the homeless demanded a tight time schedule for construction and even tighter restrictions on budget and construction staging. But the design team's concept to build the concrete podium in one phase first, then lift and place the prefab room units later, proved successful. Now finalized at six stories tall, the units almost hang out over the street like bows of a tree growing from the concrete structure beneath it -- each concrete finger elevates a cluster of housing and community spaces that offer light, views, breezes, and relief from the stank of the street.

3. Design, Bitches

Rebecca Rudolph and Catherine Johnson of the design office Design, Bitches spent much of 2013 doing their part to change the stereotypical image of "architect." Thanks to them, old, white, rich and male are giving way to hip, refreshing, fun and new. But it's not just that Rudolph and Johnson are young, accomplished women that makes them stand out. Their studio practice and the way they execute the jobs they're grabbing up all over the city stands apart because of their ability to integrate graphic design, product development and materials research into their architecture. Their work includes the new Oinkser in Hollywood, stores for the growing Coolhaus ice cream sandwich empire, a yet to be completed bakery on Lincoln boulevard in Venice and the Superba Snack bar in Venice -- for which they won the AIA's Restaurant Award this year.

2. Ugly buildings getting hacked

Eighty percent of southern California's buildings are more than 50 years old, so there's glut of building stock to repair, renovate, re-imagine and redesign. Unfortunately, most of it is ugly, but some architects are jumping at the opportunities that lie within this unfortunate stock of unsightly horrors. The architecture giant Gensler even went so far as to begin developing a toolkit of design concepts they could apply to, or "hack" any old ugly office building in order to make them new again. Some of these design concepts include adding new windows, carving out internal atria, inserting public plazas and redefining entrances. Others have already been successful -- for instance, Causseaux | Arc, Inc.'s recent renovation this year of an ugly airport-adjacent eyesore on La Tijera Boulevard. With a simplifying of the facade, new paint job and strategic internal flourishes, the building is stylish and new again -- contemporary, yet old-school in its massing and lines. Next year will hopefully see more transformations like this -- they only require a few thoughtful and calculated moves.

 

Crowd at the opening of the Getty's "Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940-1990".
Crowd at the opening of the Getty's "Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940-1990".
Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging

1. The Getty's big architecture thing

Without a doubt, the biggest thing to hit the L.A. architecture world in 2013 was the Getty's city-wide initiative of loosely coordinated exhibitions, lectures and talks that started in March and ran all the way into September. Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A., for all its faults (some shows and series came off as hastily patched together or critically limp, or both), got folks collectively talking and thinking about buildings, their creators and their effects on the city at large. The Getty's series exposed new audiences to often forgotten designers, eras and types of architecture in the city, and even produced a few spin-off events, discussions and revelations (see items #5 and #9 on this list). But most significantly, the Getty series provoked audiences and attendees to consider why and how Los Angeles looks, feels, develops, and builds the way it does today and in imaginations past.


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