Early on in architecture school, a professor advised me against filling in a half-baked drawing with a row of sycamore trees. Admittedly, I was trying to cover up the unresolved aspects of the design.
"Ah trees," he sighed gently, raising one eyebrow, "the architect's eraser."
Around the city, one can easily spot the work of long-practicing, professional, non-student builders who never did learn the lesson of the "architect's eraser." Case in point, the Olympic Collection at Olympic and Sawtelle boulevards in West Los Angeles, and on a smaller scale, at the house at the corner of Leyland Way and Seward Street in Hollywood, pictured above.
Are the buildings behind these plants fugly? We can't be sure. But all those trees, hedges, pots and urns beg the question: why the cover-up? Landscaping costs property owners money, it requires maintenance, gardeners, tree trimmers and clean-up crews through out the life of the project, not just at the start. In construction projects, budgets for landscaping are typically the first portions scrapped or downsized. So what does landscape overload mean? Either the owner is crazy about greenery (could be), or the designers are very good at their business (maybe), or something is seriously lacking in the building and it requires an adjustment - something a coat of paint can't fix (highly likely).
Its not like buildings and plants don't get along. Fabulously and famously well-integrated landscape/building projects over the centuries include, to name a very few, the gardens at the Getty, the High Line in New York, Japanese garden design in general, anything by Emilio Ambasz, and everyone's favorite house built on a waterfall, Frank Lloyd Wright's Kaufmann house. On the other hand, when floral flare goes wild and engulfs the whole dang building, usually fugliness is to blame.
Take the Olympic Collection at the corner of Olympic and Sawtelle, for example. The 4-story retail center, which was painted dung brown over its original mustard yellow a couple of years back, hosts a variety of tenants, like sushi and ramen restaurants, frame shops, a couple interior banquet halls and a Pinkberry.
Dressed up in marble-clad signage, dainty yellow awnings, old-timey lampposts, a central hulking elevator shaft, and dusty murals featuring quaint, French street scenes, the Olympic Collection is a bit of an architectural mess. The strange echoing voices from the banquet halls, occasional thumping bass and long dark hallways can be a little spooky if you're there late. But from the street, no one would ever know. Potted urns are placed mere inches apart on every spare walkway and deck surface in the building's complex -- making a 5-to-6-foot tall perimeter wall of palms and ficus. Inside, beyond the wall of plants, its like a mock-Parisian jungle with noodle shops all around.
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Probably less of an intentional cover up, the afro-shaped bougainvillea hedge that boldly adorns the front windows and doorstep of the Hollywood bungalow at Leyland and Seward pictured above, is nevertheless hiding an unfortunate secret. The hedge is definitely an after-thought remedy for a south-facing front facade that blazes in the summer afternoon sun.
The architect or builder here should have known the house's orientation was a problem, and could've integrated some shading elements on the front of the place -- a deeper overhang, a sun porch, canopy system -- but they didn't and so now fro-gainvillea has to do all that work. Shaved into a slightly askew suave fro, the hedge borders on genius topiary art. This wacky, weed-whacked treasure could put a smile on any passersby's face, and its a testament not only to this owner's DIY moxie, but also to their soulful style.
Never fear fugly buildings, plants have got your back (or front, in this case).