Gehry Lets Loose on Los Angeles, Downtown Ambitions

Eavesdroplet, West
Thursday, August 1, 2013
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biennale_frank_gehry

Writer Anne Taylor Fleming recently interviewed Frank Gehry for Los Angeles Magazine, getting a glimpse into what the architect thinks about Los Angeles and the meaning of his work there. Gehry tells Fleming about some of the missed planning and architectural opportunities that continue to challenge the city, including the push to make a bona fide downtown, which he believes stems from clinging to old ideas about what a city should be.

For Gehry, a Los Angeles version of a “center” is something like Wilshire Boulevard. “I have always thought that L.A. is a motor city that developed linear downtowns,” he noted. It’s for this reason he feels Disney Hall would have been better positioned in Westwood and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels near MacArthur Park.

He’s a believer of putting the architecture where the people are. Gehry would have also put MOCA across the street from LACMA. “Los Angeles doesn’t take architecture seriously,” he told the magazine, “though I guess you could say that about most cities.” Despite this, he is positive about his role as an architect and the impact he has had here. “I’m happy. I mean, Disney Hall is once in a lifetime. Are you kidding? I could go to the moon and forget it all.”

5 Responses to “Gehry Lets Loose on Los Angeles, Downtown Ambitions”

  1. Randolph Ruiz says:

    It is a generational thing. Older folks do not appreciate that there are other ways of doing things, and that a lot of people want an urban lifestyle in Los Angeles.

    This city is big enough to provide a variety of experiences, and more and more people are looking for an alternative to the auto-centric development of the past. Los Angeles’ complete reliance on automotive mobility may one day be seen as a historical aberration that emerged from a unique set of circumstances that no longer apply.

  2. George Showman says:

    I don’t think this is generational at all. I think Gehry is simply suggesting that LA’s urbanism might have its own properties, and that trying to graft a pedestrian-centric, “19th-century” (as he calls it in the LATimes) planning strategy onto a city already highly developed for automobiles isn’t the best way to enhance the city’s public spaces. This is a way of thinking about urban space, particularly in LA, which I think is fairly contemporary. After all, when you use the catchall phrase “urban lifestyle”, what do you exactly mean? I’m guessing you’re thinking pedestrian-friendly city centers, among other things. I think Gehry could use the same words, however, to mean the ‘linear downtowns’ mentioned in the article, which would be more about the spatial and visual relationships that involve the automobile as well.

    I just hope that a word like “generational” doesn’t lead one to ignore, however respectfully, valid observations by a master architect. Anyway the LATimes article goes into at least a little more nuance and depth than this very misleading stub from the archpaper (the headline is worthy of Wired.com — total hyperbole to get hits and comments).

  3. George Showman says:

    Whoops, sorry — mean’t “L.A. Magazine”, not “LATimes” in the previous comments. I.e. I was referring to the article they linked to above.

  4. Randolph Ruiz says:

    The only thing that makes Los Angeles unique is that so much of it was built during the auto-era (albeit on an infrastructural framework established during the interuban rail-era). Different parts of Los Angeles were developed in a manner that was identical to how other cities across North America were being developed at the same time. The same succession of transportation, construction, and development technologies created a downtown in Los Angeles that is nearly indistinguishable from portions of San Francisco, Chicago, and Manhattan.

    The fact that the city ALSO has linear urban spaces, such as along Wilshire does not make Los Angeles unique nor incompatible with the sort of transit-oriented, mixed-use urban living that has been thriving for over a decade in our major cities. “Linear Downtowns” such as Wilshire are not currently pedestrian “friendly.” The scale and velocity of such spaces have long been attuned to the auto. The city could use focus on retooling these areas to serve both motorists and pedestrians. The Purple line extension will be an important step.

    I do not think anyone is suggesting that we abandon the automobile or the spaces it has created, but Los Angeles’ downtown will continue to become a better place as more people choose the lifestyle that level of density affords. For decades, all development in Los Angeles was auto-reliant. Now a small portion of new development has been working to revitalize a late-19th/early-20th Century urban downtown. This is long overdue, and serves a demand for urban living that has long been nearly impossible to find in Southern California.

    Master architect or no, Gehry is wrong, and pedestrian-oriented urbanism continues to be on the rise. As a westsider, and a member of a previous generation, he appears to hold the same anti-downtown prejudices outlined in Davis’ City of Quartz.

  5. Michael Wesolowski says:

    Architecture and planning is not important to some.

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