Architecture & Design

Top 10 L.A. Architecture Stories of 2012

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Wed, Dec 26, 2012 at 8:00 AM

click to enlarge Grand Park downtown - JIM SIMMONS
  • Jim Simmons
  • Grand Park downtown
We spend most of the year criticizing Los Angeles' ugly buildings and other unfortunate aspects of the local built environment. Here's our chance to rundown some of the thoughtful, inspiring and downright stellar projects that make us L.A. proud, and that make our burg a better place in general.

click to enlarge Occupy L.A. - TED SOQUI
  • Ted Soqui
  • Occupy L.A.
10. Occupy L.A.'s Chalk protests

The Occupy movement's chalk protests actually began in May but by July, with tensions mounting and tempers high, the clash with police that culminated during downtown's monthly Art Walk on July 12th left three LAPD officers wounded and 17 arrested -- and made some surprised art walkers aware that a game of hopscotch might send them to the clink. The "Free Chalk For Free Speech" gathering in July was organized by demonstrators to protest the apparent arrest of people who had written on the sidewalk with chalk during previous events. The action consisted of handing out sticks of chalk and inviting passersby to make markings on the pavement -- some of these included arguably benign slogans like "Chalk the police" and "I want peace." Love them or hate them, Occupy L.A. is expanding the downtown gentrification debate and speaking out for the largely voiceless homeless population downtown with their continued actions in public (and some not-so-public) spaces of contention. Through their continued protests this year, the conversation that marinated in the tent city on the lawn of city hall in 2011, and its assemblage of issues that came to symbolize the movement -- foreclosure inequity, economic fairness, public rights to public land and the fostering of a community built on shared recognition -- endures, and reminds us what's a stake.

9. Beverly Hills' historic preservation ordinance

This year saw yet another tragic demolition of one of the southland's late-modern, residential gems. This time it was the Lloyd Wright-designed 1959 Moore House in Palos Verdes Estates, and even though the L.A. Conservancy filed a final-hours appeal for the protection of the home -- notable for its silvery, skewed angle roof and locally quarried Palos Verdes stone cladding -- the PVE city council denied it. Knowing full well that preservation efforts are lacking in, ahem, certain areas of the city, it's welcome news that other parts of town like Beverly Hills have adopted historic preservation ordinances that will protect "noteworthy structures" (meaning buildings more than 45 years old and/or buildings built by a "master architect" or "locally important architect"). Prompted by the demolition of the Friar's Club and an averted, close-call plan to bulldoze Richard Neutra's Kronish residence last summer, the Beverly Hills ordinance went into action this January and city representatives claim it will protect over 200 significant structures within the city's boundaries.

click to enlarge Studio Gang's architectural pavilion in Lincoln Park, Chicago - PHOTO BY DANIEL X. O'NEIL
  • Photo by Daniel X. O'Neil
  • Studio Gang's architectural pavilion in Lincoln Park, Chicago

8. Sylvia Lavin's "Vanishing Point" article in Artforum

Sylvia Lavin's four-page article in the October issue of Artforum might ultimately make a bigger impact on the profession in the coming months than any building project could. In her article, the former chair of the UCLA school of Architecture and Urban Design takes on the pavilion -- those cool-looking, temporary mini-buildings on view at museum plazas and art foundation lawns. These simple structures, designed without any "real" architectural elements to get in the way of their formal acrobatics (like plumbing or multiple stories), she argues, have been played out and exist as merely "party décor." Lavin explains the historical importance of the architectural pavilion as an embodiment of experimentation. But now, in their proliferation, the easy appeal of the pavilion as a quick formal opportunity for hungry designers has bred a professional miasma with dire consequences for the development of meaningful experimentation in the field. Lavin urges architects to do some serious soul searching when it comes to the proposals they put forth for public use, and to reconsider urbanity at large, politics, the end user and afterlife of the object. Thankfully, this L.A. academic has the keen eye to spot an architectural identity crisis when she sees one -- and the cojones to call it out.

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