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Ground Level: New meaning for Venice's landmark binoculars

December 7, 2011 |  1:14 pm

In their classic study of commercial-strip architecture, 1972’s “Learning from Las Vegas,” Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour defined two kinds of ornamented buildings: the “Decorated Shed,” a plain shell covered with applied decoration, and a “Duck,” a structure that is itself a symbol. As Scott Brown once explained to an interviewer, a Duck is “a building whose shape itself conveys a message. It's named for the building, made in the shape of a giant duck, where they sell Long Island duckling, a delicacy.”

Los Angeles has always had more than its share of Ducks; the original Brown Derby restaurant on Wilshire Blvd. was a classic, even unrivaled, example. But the recent fate of Frank Gehry’s 1991 Chiat/Day building, on Main Street in Venice, offers a twist on the local history of this architectural type, suggesting that a building can become a Duck simply with a change of tenants.

Last month, Google moved several hundred of its local employees into the building, on which Gehry collaborated with artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. Oldenburg and van Bruggen designed the binoculars that serve as an oversized, Pop art portal to the parking garage.

Even if Venturi and Scott Brown have always been clear about preferring the Decorated Shed to the Duck, the Google move is still a marriage made in “Learning from Las Vegas” heaven -- a search company choosing to lease a building with a façade dominated by a pair of binoculars. Quack.


Ground Level: One more good looking garage in Santa Monica

Ground Level: Lawrence Halprin's Bunker Hill Steps

Ground Level:  The Superior Court Building near Lafayette Park in Los Angeles

--Christopher Hawthorne

Above: The Chiat/Day building in Venice, with the huge binoculars Gehry worked on with Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. Credit: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times