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Fugly Gets a Facelift: How Will Massimiliano Fuksas Polish the Turd That Is the Beverly Center?

Fugly Gets a Facelift: How Will Massimiliano Fuksas Polish the Turd That Is the Beverly Center?
Wendy Gilmartin

Seems like everybody hates the Beverly Center. A local "landmark" of sorts, the Beverly Center has been regularly mocked for decades due to its downright fugliness, impenetrable facades that block out the sun, and awkward siting along the Los Angeles/Beverly Hills border.

Critic Aaron Betsky once dubbed it a big, brown blob that's "a maze of glittery, tacky material," and it has been called "a hideous factory slapped down into a boutique neighborhood," "butt ugly," "a hulking mess" and "a clunky, worn-out nightmare." But this old leathery cougar of a mall complex is about to get a major facelift, and it was announced last week that the redo will be headed by the capable Italian architect Massimiliano Fuksas.

The block-long, 8-story-tall, beige/brown tank of a structure was built in 1982 as a money-making solution for a strange site with less-than-accommodating features, including nearly unstable soil and an oil well that sits in a weirdly carved-out zone at the back side of the lot. Five levels of parking and three levels of retail plopped on top create the windowless, simultaneously cumbersome and yawn-worthy pile at the busy intersections of San Vicente, Beverly Boulevard, Third Street and La Cienega.

In a historic line of failed upgrades, other facelifts over the years included covering the escalator tunnels with plate glass (the pathetic attempt at Pompidou-ifying the facade with outbound escalator tunnels was a bad move from the beginning) and covering the smog-colored exterior walls with ever more advertisements. So what kind of intervention could actually fix the problem of the Beverly Center this time?

When asked what strategies and changes the architects had planned for the project, the Fuksas office responded that it has been asked by the client to keep things under wraps until the final designs are ironed out.

The real estate investment trust that operates the Beverly Center, Taubman Centers Inc., also would not reveal extensive details about how the mall's exterior or interior would be revamped, but hinted to L.A. Weekly that the overall upgrade will be more than a simple nip-and-tuck job. (Taubman would never hire an office like Fuksas to execute meager tenant improvement work, and Fuksas would never take a job that small anyway) So it's right to expect a full reconstructive surgery, and if Fuksas' newly built Zenith Music Hall in Strasbourg or the La Nuvolo"cloud" convention center in Rome are any indication of the renovation's possibilities, then Los Angeles is in luck.

How Fuksas tackles the larger design issues involved in unraveling this unsightly beast will be an urban experiment worth watching. Will the new architecture play up the unruly scale of the building or try to lighten it? Will it accentuate its clumsy disconnectedness from the city around it (probably not), or make an attempt at slicing some transparency through the fortress walls? Or will Fuksas simply slap on a curvy glass facade? That's not likely, since Massimiliano Fuksas is a talented builder -- but he's got a helluva task ahead of him. A spit shine of polish ain't gonna help this mega turd.

Follow me on Twitter at @fugly_buildings, and for more arts news follow us at @LAWeeklyArts and like us on Facebook.

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