LA’s City Planning and Building and Safety departments, which we could not reach last week, have finally spoken up on the now-imperiled M Cube in Venice. To remind you LA City Council on Thursday rejected designer Mark Baez’s request to allow his floating modular, glass-clad, cube shaped apartment building an exception to remain two feet above the Venice Specific Plan’s requirement of 30 feet. Baez asserted that building inspectors informed him too late that the building was too tall, that his contractor bungled the height, and that the city was nitpicking over a height limit that other buildings are able to surpass. Baez may now resort to tearing down the building instead of going through with the costly changes. City planner Kevin Jones and building and safety investigator John Kelly beg to differ. Read More
Yes, we will someday have high speed rail in California (Anaheim, for instance, is already nailing down its plans and San Francisco has a swanky new downtown station planned). And no, there aren’t enough innovative ideas. That’s why RailLA, a collaboration between the LA Chapters of the AIA and the American Planning Association have launched a Call for Ideas to collect more innovative thinking on the topic. Entrants are encouraged to submit designs, plans, papers, videos, models and other studies about stations, rail infrastructure, architecture, neighborhood planning and anything else having to do with effective high speed rail. In short, say the founders, the primary goal is to show “how rail can help us recapture our individual American dream.” Wow, that’s a tall order. The top five submissions will receive $2500, and a select group of submissions will be shown off at an exhibit in downtown LA.
One of Venice’s great new houses—the M Cube by designer Mark Baez— is in danger of being at least partially demolished because of a local height restriction that says it’s about two feet above code (32 feet instead of 30). The prefab, modular building glows from within thanks to exterior windows and sliding doors made of translucent fiberglass. These and other elements make the cube look like a Japanese Tatami home floating above the city. The structure also uses radiant heating powered by solar panels on the roof. A hearing on the home is scheduled for June 2 (at LA City Council chambers at 10 a.m.) , and the architect is urging supporters to email their local councilman Bill Rosendahl at firstname.lastname@example.org. So what’s two feet between friends, right?
According to both the New York Times and the LA Times, Eli Broad appears to have settled once and for all on a Downtown LA site for his new museum, and has gone so far as to hold a new competition for its architect. Further background has it that Thom Mayne, who had been favored to design Broad’s museum, is now out, and the new finalists are Rem Koolhaas, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Herzog & De Meuron, Christian de Portzamparc, Foreign Office Architects, and recent Pritzker Prize winners SANAA. According to the New York Times, the jury appeared to favor Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Koolhaas. A choice, according to their story, could be made within the week. Read More
One of the perks of being an architect is the excuse to build yourself the coolest of all possible houses (despite any budget holes it may push you into). An excellent way to explore this phenomenon comes at this weekend’s Venice Art Walk + Auctions, and their Art and Architecture Tours. Featured on the tours is one of the wackiest houses we’ve ever seen: Architect Tony Coscia’s own Skywave House (above), a serpentine sculptural form unraveling itself from a single plane and hovering over a glass base. Another highlight is Glenn Williams’ Guitar House, a cubist creation that the architect designed for himself after being inspired by a Picasso painting of a guitar. Read More
New Las Vegas megaresort City Center, which we reviewed in January (it features buildings by Daniel Libeskind, Cesar Pelli, Rafael Viñoly, Helmut Jahn, and others) just reported its first quarter results. They weren’t good. The’s $8.5 billion project, owned by MGM Mirage and Dubai World (which has finally worked out a debt restructuring deal with its creditors), recorded an operating loss of $255 million, and has only been able to sell about 100 of its 2,400 luxury condominiums, according to the Wall Street Journal. MGM is also locked in a lawsuit with its contractor, Perini Building Co, for defective workmanship and overbilling. For what it’s worth the company claims that it will soon begin to turn a profit on the project. Now that’s a Vegas bet we’re interested in following.
What’s that on the roof of Hollywood’s Standard Hotel? Is it a….giant light bulb? Well, yes. Artist Piero Golia has installed a permanent, orb-shaped light (clad in acryclic, lit by eight fluorescent tubes, and sitting on a large steel spindle and crown) on the roof, called Luminous Sphere, that is quite visible from traffic below. It looks a little bit like a glowing golf ball on a steel tee. In a particularly quirky (and egotistical?) move, the light will go on when Golia is in town and off when he is out of town (it can be controlled via the internet). The project was organized by Culver City’s LA><ART and executed by Zellnerplus architects, Buro Happold engineers, and Benchmark Scenery fabricators. LA><ART, which focuses on site-specific work while also maintaining its own gallery, is celebrating its fifth anniversary. Sphere launches its LA Public Domain (L.A.P.D, get it?) program (also sponsored by local group For Your Art) , promoting artistic interventions in experimental contexts. Now is that lightbulb a halogen?
Is the air coming out of the big orange balloon? Orange County’s Great Park, which is rising on the former El Toro Marine Base in Irvine, has since its inception in 2002 been the last great hope for OC residents hoping for a great rural retreat (landscape architects like Ken Smith and Mia Lehrer are among those working on it). But the housing market has now officially gotten in the way, delaying the needed $1.4 billion in construction funding by years. According to The Orange County Register, the 1,347-acre park will have only $17 million in unallocated funds by next summer, and building money is still years away. “I don’t know where the idea materialized out there that somehow we would have the great metropolitan park developed full scale within a matter of a few years,” said Great Park Chairman Larry Agran. “Nobody ever promised that, and certainly I believe we have been quite clear that you build out a park of this magnitude in typically a 15- or 20-year process.”
Sure, sports fields are great. But wouldn’t it be cool if your school had a great garden? GOOD Magazine and the LA Unified School District think so too. They’re looking for architects as well as teachers, students, parents and anyone else to create affordable, scalable, modular school garden designs that any school can use. There’s more to it than you might think. Plans can include not only plants and plant beds but pathways, tool storage, irrigation schemes, greenhouses, benches, seating, trellises, plant beds, paths, trees, potting tables, farmstands, and so on.. It’s a great idea to unleash creativity and learning in a place that’s so often dominated by tests. Winning designers will attend a one-day workshop with landscape architect Mia Lehrer to refine their proposals, and one garden will be installed in a Los Angeles school by October. Submissions are due by June 15, and the winners will be chosen by July 1.
Once again our friend Stanley Saitowitz—San Francisco architecture’s answer to Meryl Streep— took home the most honors at the AIA SF’s annual awards, held at the San Francisco War Memorial & Performing Arts Center last Thursday. Saitowitz took home prizes for his elegant, and relatively affordable, Tampa Museum of Art, his screen-obsessed Costa Rica house, and his effervescent Toast Restaurant in Novato, CA, which the jury described as “like walking inside a loaf of bread…..like swimming in sparkling champagne….” . Other big winners included Jensen Architects, noted for their SFMOMA rooftop garden and Walden Studios in Sonoma; EHDD, which took home awards for its UC Merced Science and Engineering Building and its Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo in Lincoln Park, IL; and Min Day, which took home prizes for its L Residence and its Community CROPS Center, both in Nebraska.
We don’t usually track our emails from the National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA) very carefully. But today we learned via one of their offerings that Sarah Palin will be the keynote speaker at the NHLA’s annual convention, which will be held from October 13-16 in Vancouver. So what does Palin have to do with an organization formed to “establish a uniform system of grading rules for the measurement and inspection of hardwood lumber?” Here’s what they say: “The hardwood industry has been successfully self-regulated for more than 110 years. Governor Palin supports a free enterprise system with limited government involvement and understands that industries, such as ours are a great example of America’s pioneering spirit. We are pleased and honored to welcome her as Keynote Speaker.” There you have it. God Bless America.
Once again the Society for Motion Pictures About the Built Environment (SMIBE) has dared filmmakers to document the constructed world around them, with its second annual short film competition (see our take on last year’s competition here). This year’s theme, “Personal Infrastructures” (everybody loves the word infrastructure these days, right?) spurred some great work, including First Place winner “Ice Carosello” by Matthias Löw, which captures the creation and enjoyment of an ice carousel (yes, a spinning block of ice in the middle of a frozen lake) in Sweden through time-lapse photography, accompanied by light techno background music. Now we REALLY want to visit one of these things. Our favorite of all was Augmented (Hyper) Reality: Domestic Robocop by Keiichi Matsuda, who explores the blurring line between humans and cyborgs as an animated human (or is it a robot?) digitally scans everything in his kitchen to make a cup of tea. Reality is coming, and we are all turning into iPads.