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Deconstructing Eric Owen Moss' 'Construction Manual'

March 11, 2010 |  9:50 am


For the last few weeks, I've been working my way through Eric Owen Moss' "Construction Manual" (Aadcu: 1,560 pp., $124), an archival record of the architect's projects from 1988 to 2008. Moss, for the uninitiated, is the director of Sci-Arc, the experimental architecture school in downtown Los Angeles, and head of the eponymous Culver City-based Eric Owen Moss Architects.

"Construction Manual" is designed to look like a reference book: red leatherette cover with gold block lettering, alphabetical dictionary tags. That's both a put-on and not a put-on, for at its most basic level, a reference is what it provides. Tracking 40 projects, built and un-built, it takes us through the layers of production, from design (beginning in many cases with raw sketches) through the building process. Each stage is lavishly illustrated, in color and black and white, with blueprints, computer simulations, models and photographs.

The buildings here include professional and domestic spaces: the UC Irvine Central Housing Office, several remodeled industrial structures in Culver City, Brentwood's Lawson-Westen House. And yet, to think about "Construction Manual" purely as a compendium of these efforts is to miss at least half the point.

Moss, after all, is an architect in the way that, say, Dave Eggers is a writer: All his work feeds back into a larger core. Talking to Scott Timberg last August for a piece in The Times, he discussed his desire to "do for L.A. urbanism in the 21st century what we did for L.A. architecture in the 20th" -- to think, in other words, not about particular buildings but how they add up to a more organic cityscape, one in which architecture and infrastructure might, finally and fundamentally, go hand in hand.

This is the subtext of "Construction Manual," which seeks to reveal its own underpinnings, even as it connects them to a more expansive whole.

"We learn as we go," Moss writes in a brief introductory statement. "And the results of that learning process are in evidence in the final result. ...

"No durable signature is my signature.

"My signature is never dry."

-- David L. Ulin

Photo: A Culver City building designed by Eric Owen Moss. Credit: Naquib Hossain via Flickr.