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Critic's Notebook: How to build a better shortlist

June 22, 2010 | 12:45 pm

Artcenter So far, as I reported in Sunday's paper, Eli Broad has kept a tight grip on the private architectural competition he has been overseeing for the new museum he hopes to build on Grand Avenue, alongside Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Prodded by The Times and other publications, however, Broad earlier this month publicly confirmed the six firms invited to take part in the competition. Topped by Rem Koolhaas, Herzog & de Meuron and the Japanese firm SANAA, the group is stuffed with talented architects. But it is also rather conservative in its reliance on well-established star power -- the architectural equivalent of casting a movie by picking only from lists of recent Oscar winners.

It's possible, however, to imagine a very different group of contending architects for the museum -- one that might not only have produced a successful design for Broad but also given exposure to talented younger firms and helped cultivate a civic conversation about the future of Bunker Hill and downtown.

The recipe for such a list is straightforward. Start with a few Los Angeles architects, for two reasons: to ground the competition in its location, perhaps unearthing clues along the way about the peculiar Bunker Hill museum site that foreign architects might overlook, and to give the public a chance to see how the priorities of younger and emerging firms differ from those of Frank Gehry, Thom Mayne and other well-known local figures. This list could include Michael Maltzan Architecture; wHY Architecture; Frohn & Rojas; Daly Genik Architects; or Ball-Nogues Studio.

Next, add some similarly talented emerging firms from abroad. This group ought to have an emphasis on architects from South America and Asia, to reflect the increasingly vital cultural traffic between Los Gram Angeles and those parts of the world. It might include Sou Fujimoto from Tokyo; Minsuk Cho from Seoul; Ben van Berkel from the Netherlands; and Alejandro Aravena or Smiljan Radic from Chile.

Finally, compile a list of masters who are under-appreciated or have had few opportunities to build in the United States. This group could include Tokyo's Toyo Ito, Swiss architect Peter Zumthor and Portugal's Alvaro Siza.

Pick two from each of those three categories and you've got six firms.

Want to add one more firm with significant museum experience, to cover your bases? Fine -- go, as Broad did, with SANAA or Herzog & de Meuron. Or ask Steven Holl or Thomas Phifer from New York, Dutch firm Mecanoo Architects or London-based David Chipperfield.

Then you’ve got a surprising, dynamic list of seven firms.

But don’t stop there. Pay each of the competing architects to produce a fleshed-out design, and then arrange to exhibit the results at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is just a few steps from the proposed museum site. If MOCA's new director, Jeffrey Deitch, can arrange in a matter of weeks to add a Dennis Hopper retrospective to the museum's calendar, putting a handful of architectural models and drawings on prominent display shouldn't be difficult.

To complement the exhibition, organize debates and panel discussions about the designs, about contemporary museum architecture and about the future of Grand Avenue and downtown Los Angeles. Invite the participating firms to join the conversations, along with planners, policy makers, artists, curators and scholars. Make these discussions free.

Once those pieces are in place -- once the public nature of the project has been fully embraced, in other words -- choose your architect, strike your deals with city and county officials and move forward with your museum.

-- Christopher Hawthorne

Photos: Top, the South Campus of Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, designed by the firm Daly Genik Architects. Above, the Grand Rapids Art Museum in Michigan, designed by wHY Architecture. Credits: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times; Steve Hall for Hedrich Blessing.


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Comments () | Archives (3)

frankly i think if i had the money to build my own museum i'd get whoever i wanted to build it. yes its an important civic building but why does everything have to be a competition? some of the firms suggested are kind of ridiculous. they're either completely untested for a project this important or way past their relevance. let's just be glad that broad has decided to replace a dismal parking lot w/ another important museum not to mention for bailing out the ineptly managed MOCA.

The pick-two-from-each-camp, while pseudo-nice in a democratic way, that you've suggested is one of those false propositions, sort of like false equivalency, as say when we are asked to debate evolution vs creationism, as "pick two" troublingly validates the individuals as deserving equal opportunity (particularly the locals) which, in fact, they don't merit (and two firms aren't architects for whatever that's worth). With an open competition you don't have that issue, as there's no proclamation/staking of value and then everyone gets to see what they can do. the idea of exhibition across the street and public dialogue about the use of public land is a minimal give for a generous take. eli broad knows at this point that the specter of competition lights fires beneath the laborers, but he's probably more interested in this platform of choice as an expression of his taste, and he chooses "blue chip" to more popularly validate that taste. on the other hand, to his credit, he's probably less interested in opening up to the possibilities and more in simply getting it done (to his credit/our possible detriment long-term).
Or he could just commission Siza, a shame that he doesn't have a building here as his technique is a good fit for LA.
You may do a similar web based service of your own by hotlinking these firms' sites you've named to the blog, at least we could debate their merits here.

Architecture columnist of Los Angeles Times increasingly becoming a country club newsletter boy. Go Johnny Go!


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