Occupying a windowless, easily overlooked storefront on Venice Boulevard in Culver City, the Center for Land Use Interpretation has been putting together quietly impressive and obsessively detailed exhibitions, publications and field trips for nearly two decades.
They all tell some version of the same story: how we shape and find meaning in the physical landscape around us, whether it’s through oil exploration, architecture, map-making or freeway building.
The center’s latest show, which runs through Sunday, is both more of the same and among its finest yet. Organized by Matthew Coolidge, who founded the land use center in 1994, “Centers of the USA” accomplishes, at first blush, no more and no less than its title suggests: It charts all the places in the United States, nine in all, that claim to occupy the center of the country.
It was easy to forget during the boom years, but good architecture is fundamentally about resourcefulness. No budget is big enough, no client agreeable enough, to let every one of an architect's ideas run wild. The key is to figure out how to bend a visionary plan to make it work in built form — or, better yet, to think of the constraints and limitations that come with any piece of architecture as sources of ingenuity in and of themselves.
A new administrative center at the Claremont Colleges, designed by New York firm Lewis Tsurumaki Lewis and set to be dedicated on Monday evening, is a likable and especially clear example of that point of view. Given the state of the economy and the general gloom still hovering over the architecture profession, it also feels unusually timely — like a colorful, modest slice of the zeitgeist.
The new Apple headquarters, planned for a site in Cupertino not far from the company's current digs, looks plenty futuristic: It's a sleek, four-story, ring-shaped building that Jobs himself, in an appearance before the Cupertino City Council, compared to a "spaceship."
But buried beneath the otherworldly gleam of the building is a very old-fashioned approach to architecture -- and to city-building. The attitude of the campus toward the metropolitan region around it recalls quite clearly the suburban corporate estates of the 1960s, '70s and '80s.
Read more about the campus, designed by London's Foster + Partners, in my Critic's Notebook.
Photo: A computer rendering of Apple's planned new campus. Credit: Foster + Partners / cupertino.org.
If you were familiar with the experimental, risk-taking reputation of the Ojai Music Festival but didn't know much about the town where it is held every June, you might assume that the festival's rebuilt performance space, known as Libbey Bowl, would be a daring, attention-getting piece of architecture. You might picture a smaller, less expensive version of Frank Gehry's Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago's Millennium Park or Harry Teague's open-air, fiberglass-clad Benedict Music Tent in Aspen, Colo.
If, on the other hand, you knew all about Ojai's civic personality but not a lot about its music festival, you might imagine something far more traditional. Like Santa Barbara, its red-tile-roofed neighbor to the north, Ojai is the sort of place where new buildings are generally expected, if not compelled by design-review boards, to fit in seamlessly with the old ones -- and with the natural landscape around them.
The new Libbey Bowl, designed by Ojai architect David Bury and completed in time for this year's festival, which begins Thursday, is a good deal closer to the second category than the first. If not quite a nostalgic piece of architecture, it aims largely to re-create the look of the old bowl, where the music festival made its first appearance in 1952 and which despite significant repair work in recent years had slid into a charming sort of disrepair.
The contrast between the festival's iconoclastic musical history and the restrained look of its $4-million new home flows more from practical than aesthetic concerns. The festival uses the band shell for just a handful of days each year; the rest of the time the facility, which sits in a city-owned park, is used by a diverse range of groups, including the casts of high school musicals and various pop musicians on tour.
There is also the question of money: The music festival was responsible for the bulk of the fundraising for the new facility, and it began its campaign just as the U.S. was falling into recession in 2008. There is an economy and efficiency to Bury's approach that clearly appealed to both the music festival and the city.
Here are some additional images of the acrobatic-looking building, which takes its name from the site where West 23rd Street in Manhattan meets the High Line elevated park.
The project is the first ground-up building for the 53-year-old Denari, who is based in Los Angeles and was for five years director of the Southern California Institute of Architecture. More photos after the jump.
-- Christopher Hawthorne
So much for the prospect of cars and pedestrians coming face-to-face in the lobby of Eli Broad's new museum in downtown Los Angeles. And so much for the idea of hanging large digital screens on the building's exterior facades.
In news that will hardly surprise anyone who has closely followed Broad's track record as an architectural patron, the design of the $130-million, three-story museum at 2nd Street and Grand Avenue, by the New York firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, looks bit more conventional than it did before the billionaire collector and philanthropist became actively involved with his architects. For practical and budgetary reasons, many of the daring ideas that helped DSR win Broad's high-powered private competition for the museum last summer have been stripped away.
When Broad joins L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and DSR co-founder Elizabeth Diller for a news conference Thursday at Walt Disney Concert Hall, he'll be unveiling a design that is more straightforward and even a bit more severe than we've come to expect from Diller's firm, which designed the 2006 Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston and collaborated with landscape firm Field Operations on the High Line elevated park in Manhattan, the second phase of which will open later this year.
Still, the news about the museum project is not all compromise and value-engineering. In a sign that Broad has been listening to criticism about the aloof, self-contained quality of so many architectural landmarks on Bunker Hill, he is expected to announce Thursday that he is working with city officials and developer Related Cos. to win approval to build a large new plaza wrapping two sides of the museum and to widen the sidewalks on both sides of Grand Avenue between 2nd and 4th streets.
For more on that emerging plan and on the architecture of the Broad museum, click here.
For a report by my colleague Mike Boehm, click here.
And stay tuned for more museum news, including additional renderings of the DSR design and comments from Diller about how the building will relate to Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall next door, among other topics.
Rendering: Exterior of the planned museum and archive for the Broad Art Foundation downtown. Credit: Courtesy Broad Art Foundation/Diller Scofidio + Renfro.
Over the spring and summer, Los Angeles County Museum of Art director Michael Govan opened the freshly completed but still under-wraps Lynda and Stewart Resnick Exhibition Pavilion, the second gallery building on the LACMA campus designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano, for a series of tours for collectors, curators, critics and donors -- and on a handful of days to the general public.
For the occasion, he arranged to put on display a remarkable piece of minimalist art, Walter De Maria's sprawling, floor-hugging and rarely seen "The 2000 Sculpture," and kept the rest of Piano's single-level building uncluttered.
Now that the $54-million pavilion is ready for a clutch of celebratory galas this weekend and an official public opening Oct. 2 and 3, it's evident that Govan's decision to arrange for the building to be viewed -- and written about -- at that preliminary stage was, if not a risk, then at least strategically something of a double-edged sword.