When asked why he preferred living and working in Los Angeles instead of other major cultural hubs like New York and Paris, artist John Baldessari once said, “I live here because L.A. is ugly… If I lived in a great beautiful city, why would I do art? I always have to be slightly angry to do art and L.A. provides that.”
Its nice to know — for some of us — that the visceral reaction to the city and its ugliness can also be an impetus. For Baldessari, it's an impetus to create — the idea being that when you're immersed in a total environment of ugly, you're kept on edge in a constant state of critical observation. And that, in turn, is good practice for being a critical observer of your own art.
Observe 8525 Valley boulevard, for example. The Jerry-rigged hodgepodge of materials and massing exhibited here really accentuates the way San Gabriel's stagnant valley air gunks-up and runs-off a mirrored surface. But that's most likely an unintended perk. Getting angry yet? This bad egg manages to turn a lovely blue sky into a sickly, greenish reflection — drab, unkempt and yellow around the edges. Its like wearing brown-tinted sunglasses on a perfectly gorgeous day — when the shades unintentionally make everything look smoggier.
With its dirty teal cylinder emerging (crowning?) from the loins of this stepped-brown and brick eyesore, it kind of makes you wonder if the architect of this office building at 8525 Valley boulevard actually wanted the building to look like it's hatching. (Or perhaps birthing a disco ball?)
For all its faults, the underlying design concepts here have good intentions – unobstructed views from three sides, the nifty, building-as-archway access into the parking lot, a small scale street-level retail space down below — it could've worked, but it got screwed up trying to be arty on the top, and remaining cluttered at the street level. All that crap — the gas valves, the stop sign, etc. — would normally be hidden at the back of the property, with the parking located up front. But as happens oftentimes when trying to reinvent the wheel, one ends up laying an egg.
What some architects and designers refer to as the “design development” phase or “finessing” of the project is the exercise that's done to work out the bugs, and to take the under-developed, first pass of the fuzzy building concept into its more-solidified, final manifestation — a working building. During this phase the sketch gets fit within the context of the site. Scale, materials, and the way drivers visualize it as they approach — these are usually taken into consideration. Design development almost always involves ditching some crappy ideas that came about in the brainstorming session.
Unfortunately, 8525 Valley seems to have missed out on this phase. This clunker is an overly glazed and under-cooked mess with a fire alarm bell pimple on its left cheek. No doubt they could've hid that thing on the upper level. But that's what Baldessari is getting at when he says L.A.'s ugliness gets him “slightly angry, to do art.” Not only is the bad egg a downer, it's slightly annoying that so much energy was spent at the drafting table with such sad results. Three thousand years of architecture and this is what we have to show for it?
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