The Associated Press has called the school the most expensive in history; in fairness, it's not really a “school.” The campus is five pilot schools located on a 544,000 square foot site, serving 4,400 students. As the critic notes, the price tag includes big demolition costs and legal bills fighting opponents of the school.
The complex stands on the site of the old Ambassador hotel, the Koreatown landmark where Robert F. Kennedy was murdered. The historical legacy must have been a heavy burden to bear for the architects, Pasadena-based Gonzalez Goodale.
Sam Lubell is the reviewer.
Among the good:
The large grassy swaths provide a welcome respite from the continual concrete and noise of Wilshire Boulevard….
The buildings to the south are long linear bars clad in futuristic zinc that lead the eye to the southernmost building, a colorful composition that meets the street at a welcome storefront scale….
From a planning perspective the school manages the chaos of this impossibly complex program intelligently. The lawn breaks down the thousands of pounds of concrete, the grand thoroughfare in the center is an effective connector, and the long view corridors help provide much-needed orientation. The varying levels of grade that the site had to begin with break down the scale further and provide great views from some of the buildings. Also the outdoor eating areas and many outdoor play areas take advantage of the California climate, at least to an extent….
Inside, the school, hamstrung by district regulations, looks institutional, although the amount of natural light and the width of the hallways are both encouraging. The highlights are the recreations of the Cocoanut Grove (recreating the original's middle eastern motif turns out to be pretty hokey, but promises to be one of the most fun places to have a school assembly anywhere), the old Paul Williams coffee shop (which is now a fabulous, although a bit over the top teachers' lounge), and the gently vaulted library, on the site of the old ballroom, which, with its lovely murals and hypnotic volume has become one of the most gracious spaces in the whole project. The double-height library in the south-most building, fronted with colorful colors and fitted with a large glass curtain wall, is another successful space….
Overall, however, it's a very tough review. To wit:
The insistence on compromise makes for a timid recreation of history and for a strange (is it postmodern?) form of contemporary architecture. While the planning manages the school effectively (no small task), and more carefully crafted spaces like the former Cocoanut Grove space and the libraries are welcome exceptions, the overall design is not really rooted in anything except maybe the city's obsession with loosely recreating the past. Effective historical architecture involves painstaking investigation and attention to detail. Effective contemporary architecture is rooted in solving the problems of site and in a fresh vision. This has neither.
Looking at this building you don't really know what it is, and you can't really tell what time period it's supposed to represent. If anything it's a painful reminder of what was there before; an authentic piece of LA history that's been replaced by a loose nod to it. Much of its neighborhood, which was once one of Hollywood's most electric areas, has the same feeling. And no matter what external circumstances drove up the final price tag, for the staggering cost, the students, and the city of LA, should be getting something better.