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Architecture & Design

The Elleven and Luma Towers, Downtown: A Double Shot of Fugly

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Tue, Apr 3, 2012 at 11:05 AM

click to enlarge WENDY GILMARTIN
  • Wendy Gilmartin

There's a Waylon Jennings song called "Too Dumb for New York, Too Ugly for L.A.," and that goes for these twin towers, dubbed Elleven and Luma (yes, that's how it's spelled), in downtown's quickly developing and gentrifying Southpark district too.

Density is good, and so is moving loads of development money downtown to finally foster a local population that leaves cars behind to walk or use public transportation. Fortunately, the downtown boom seems to be a continuing success; even during the recession, the building frenzy downtown that had only slowed a smidge is bouncing back with another tower project announced just last week at Ninth and Olive (coincidentally, the proposed design looks just like Eleven and Luma). Now there will be even more opportunities to live without cars, to take up less precious open land, and to expend fewer resources.

We're on a roll, and it's high time to demand architecture that's specific to our haphazardly vibrant, always vain and incorrigibly complex homegrown culture -- that would include towers that mingle or at least relate loosely or even totally contrast with the existing histories and aesthetic fabric of our hometown's epicenter. You know, architecture that delivers something other than a nap.

Instead, what's tragically happened on L.A.'s skyline is this: A handful of developers have grown very comfortable with the cookie-cutter design that works best for them and their bottom line. This burgeoning new development type -- the urban core condo-living tower -- is becoming the new version of the suburban tract home: boring, predictable, glossy yet tiresome, locationally indeterminate, generic, safely bland and sterile of all imagination.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, New York is kicking our ass in terms of smart, visually stunning, efficient and innovative residential towers.

Ankrom Moisan Associated Architects is the Portland, Ore.-based firm that's done this almost exact design in Portland, Seattle, San Jose and here at the "Elleven" at 1111 S. Grand Ave., and next door with "Luma" at 1100 S. Hope St. Ankrom Moisan is known for high standards when it comes to sustainability and for its efficient, pragmatic design moves and keen ability to bring public spaces to life within the complexes it builds. The firm is capable of better, but it's all lost here.

It seems like Ankrom Moisan has been regurgitating the same stale idea year after year at this point, and it's a lazy set of routine aesthetic moves devoid of any soul -- this is architecture that's just going through the motions. The dream of the '90s may still be alive in Portland, but in L.A., we like to think ahead of the curve (and we're all about looks), so our buildings should be physical manifestations of that thinking, right?

When I asked a former colleague and architect who lives and works in Portland about the firm's work, he responded, "In general -- meh."

L.A. needs less "meh."

Look, we understand some specific aspects of tower design can't be changed and this will lead to a building's ultimate look: There's the code-required helipad, the weather-required sun shading and overhangs, the ground-floor retail (which can't be designed with too much specificity, since architects don't know which retailer is moving in yet when they're designing the thing), and the unoffending beige and teal glass cladding (which hopes to appeal to the most buyers possible). Ankrom Moisan can't be blamed entirely here; it's the developer who's footing the bill and calling the shots.

But consider the recently completed 100 11th Ave. building, the 40 Bond Street building or the Aqua tower, which do all of the aforementioned architectural tasks successfully and manage to look cool, defy mass-produced sameness and proudly define the skyline and city -- but wait, those are all in other cities.

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