Blowhard, Esq. writes:
Last weekend, I was finally able to get up close and personal to Thom Mayne’s Pritzker prize-winning (i.e. the “Nobel of architecture”) CalTrans 7 District Headquarters located across the street from City Hall in the heart of downtown L.A. To orient you, here’s an unedited Google Maps screencap:
This site says the building is meant to “evoke a feeling of the freeways.” Two comments:
- Why the hell would you want to do that? L.A.’s freeways may be many things — marvels of construction and engineering, efficient ways (usually) to get from A to B, fantastic places for drive-by shootings — but they’re not exactly known for evoking the sort of “feeling” one wishes to dwell on. Remember the opening scene in Falling Down, how being stuck in traffic is what finally makes Michael Douglas snap?
- On the other hand, if you really want to express the soul-deadening rage and frustration that is the 405 at rush hour, this place nails it!
Alright, let’s take a closer look at this thing and hope that our sense of beauty will come out unscathed. Here’s a montage of what I call Noodle Plaza, after the metal undulating out of the concrete.
On one side of the building, some glass juts out because, gee, why not.
The blank, intimidating facade. It sorta reminds me of one of those computer punchcards from the 70s.
Let’s push in a little closer to the main entrance. [Insert inevitable joke about Death Star under construction.]
Must be so nice to have an office view that’s obstructed by a sort of permanent scaffolding that recalls a highway guardrail.
As you can see from this guy’s Flickr page, the rails light up at night. It’s kinda hard to tell, but I’m actually at the top of some stairs. When you go down and turn around, this is what you see.
In his 2005 TED lecture, Mayne said the following about this building:
And now we’re seeing as the skin and the body is differentiated. Again, it’s a very, very simple notion. If you look at most buildings, what you look at is the building, the facade, and it is the building. And all of a sudden we’re kind of moving away, and we’re separating the skin from the body, and that’s going to lead to broader performance criteria, which I’m going to talk about in a minute. And you’re looking at how it drapes over and differentiates from the body. And then, again, the building itself, middle of Los Angeles, right across from City Hall. And as it moves, it takes pieces of the earth with it. It bends up. It’s part of a sign system, which was part of the kind of legacy of Los Angeles — the two-dimension, three-dimension signing, etc. And then it allows one to penetrate the work itself. It’s transparent, and it allows you to understand, I think, what is always the most interesting thing in any building, which is the actual constructional processes that make it.
(Emphasis mine.) Is that the “most interesting thing in any building” to you, the “actual constructional processes”? What about, oh I dunno, pleasure, comfort, and how it fits in with the surrounding urban fabric? But then those values serve the needs of the public as opposed to the ego of the architect, right? The emphasis on “constructional processes” strikes me as his way of saying, “Hey, look how SUPER DIFFICULT this all is. There’s no way you can do it. Aren’t I a genius?” Never mind that it has all the charm or interest of a parking garage stairwell.
What do you think? Do you agree with the Pritzker Juror Chairman who said, “Every now and then an architect appears on the international scene, who teaches us to look at the art of architecture with fresh eyes, and whose work marks him out as a man apart in the originality and exuberance of its vocabulary, the richness and diversity of its palette, the risks undertaken with confidence and brio, the seamless fusion of art and technology.” Notice how general, unemotional, and cliched the comments of the rest of the jurors are, which include the likes of Frank Gehry and Ada Louis Huxtable.
- Here’s the web site for Mayne’s Santa Monica-based firm.
- Here’s Witold Rybczynski’s thoughts from 2005 when Mayne won the Pritzker.
- Mayne is building a tower in Paris’s La Defense which is expected to be finished in 2017. Mayne said, “There’s a whole group of people that want to build new buildings that look like old buildings…It’s ridiculous, right? It would be like … somehow cherishing a horse and buggy.”
- This building serves as the backdrop to many a car commercial. This one ran ad nauseum during the Olympics.