Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Los Angeles: cars, cathedrals, cops and more

I went to the Los Angeles County Art Museum (LACMA) in downtown LA to catch the last day of an exhibition by the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor.  He has been commissioned by the new director of LACMA to devise a plan to rationalise their several buildings and related spaces into a more rational estate.  It's fascinating, because he is the third to be asked to address this problem in the last twenty years.  I'll write about it at length in the future.     On the way out from LACMA I stuck my head in another gallery and came across this large installation by artist Chris Burden.  What fun

The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels is the third-largest cathedral in the world and serves as the seat of the archbishop of Los Angeles. The cathedral was completed in 2002 and was designed by Spanish architect Rafael Moneo.  The great cathedrals of Europe were traditionally built next to rivers but in Los Angeles, the cathedral is next to the 101 freeway. Architect Rafael Moneo has likened the freeway to a modern day river that serves an an artery for commerce and transportation in the city. The view of the cathedral is so clear from the freeway that many Angelinos refer to it as "Our Lady of the 101."

And being Los Angeles, this cathedral has its own parking garage

Los Angeles Union Station is the largest railroad passenger terminal in the Western United States. The station opened in May 1939 as the Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal, one of a number of union stations built in the early 1900s.  Built on a grand scale, Union Station became known as "Last of the Great Railway Stations" built in the United States.  Union Station was partially designed by the Parkinson's brothers, who had also designed City Hall.
I didn't know about the station and only "discovered" because I'd been told that was the best place to catch the rapid bus back to Santa Monica.  What an amazing place it turned out to be, beautifully preserved and busy with commuters

Los Angeles City Hall

City Hall again, this time reflected in the LAPD headquarters building

Outside the front entrance patrol officers and their superiors evaluate a prototype next-generation car against an existing Ford.

I was amused by the cash machine in the lobby of the police hq

From a distance I wondered why this building had such small windows (it's right in the middle of the city)

It's the cells

Mulholland Drive:  a gorgeous late afternoon drive through the Hollywood Hills, about 15 milescomes down by the Hollywood Bowl. Stunning views and places to stop.

Take this drive with someone who is a great driver! It winds and twists and turns and Can be fast, People ride your bumper on the road, and there are only a few pull-in places from which to take in the views.. For added fun, study a map to the stars home? Make sure it’s a clear day. We went up Mulholland Drive via tour bus, the view was absolutely stunning. 

You cannot possibly know the beauty of California unless you drive the canyons between Malibu and the west valley, including Mulholland Drive. Decker Canyon is one of my favorites - the beauty of the hills is breathtaking Ocean

Warner Bros Studios

The towers of Downtown peer through the haze

The Hollywood Bowl

Stream of cars heading home

Monday, 23 September 2013

Disney and Gehry: two showmen

In downtown LA, almost at the heart of this vast city, and sitting close to City Hall and other such institutions, is the most flamboyant of civic monuments.  Largely funded by Walt Disney's widow Lilian, who made an initial gift of $50 million in 1987, this building is the Walt Disney Concert Hall, home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic. 

It was designed by Frank Gehry, with essential acoustic design by Yasuhisa Toyata, and opened in 2003.

In the way of these things, it occupies a whole block of the city, with its entrance on the Grand Avenue

I approached it with reservations, thinking it must be all about external show, with a less than enjoyable interior.  This is the third Frank Gehry building I've seen on this trip; the Music Experience in Seattle and his Venice Beach House being the others.  If the client's wish was for a 'signature building' they've certainly got that. 

The stainless steel skin covers a framework of steel beams erected in the shape of billowing sails or flower petals, depending on your point of view. Inside, the building houses one of the best concert venues in the world, with an auditorium known as much for its acoustics as its stunning design.

Inside, my reservations disappeared.  The spaces really do soar, with most of the structural columns clad in beautiful Doulas fir. The carpets, and the seating within the hall, are boldly done in a way I haven't seen before in such arts buildings, the legroom seemed generous, yet the whole space quite intimate; surprising given that it seats 2,200. 

Of course the real judgement can only be made by experiencing music, in live performance conditions, with a full audience.  I doubt I shall ever do that, but I really did like what I saw.

Getty Center

The Getty Center: With an endowment of $4.2 billion, the Getty Trust is the wealthiest art institution in the world.  Its physical manifestation is a campus of pure white buildings north of Los Angeles, designed by architect Richard Meier, with a budget of 1billion dollars, 1997

On two ridges in the Santa Monica Mountains, interconnected buildings of concrete / steel with travertine cladding. The landscape provides a welcome complement to the building’s grandeur, with gardens, plazas and terraces created to prevent erosion. 28 sculptures, including masterpieces by Calder, Magritte and Miró.   The Getty is one of the richest museums in the world and it shows - the architecture, gardens, and views are beautiful and the collection is impressive. Admission free, parking $15 per car. Bring sandwiches to have a picnic in the gardens. 

It is one of two locations of the Getty Museum. This branch of the museum specializes in "pre-20th-century European paintings, drawings, illuminated manuscripts, sculpture, and decorative arts; and 19th- and 20th-century American and European photographs". Among the works on display is the painting Irises by Van Gogh. Besides the museum, the center's buildings house related Getty institutes for research, conservation, and the Getty Foundation.

The center also has outdoor sculptures displayed on terraces and in gardens. Designed by architect Richard Meier the campus includes a central garden designed by artist Robert Irwin. GRI's separate building contains a research library with over 900,000 volumes and two million photographs of art and architecture. The center's design included special provisions to address concerns regarding earthquakes and forest fires.

Spiny Top, Curly Bottom, by Alexander Calder

Delusions of Grandeur, Magritte

Did I like it?  Yes, but...

It is wonderfully impressive, from the moment you roll up at the (Getty's own) car park, sunk 7 levels into the hillside, get onboard the (Getty) automatic train to take you to the top of the hill, to the knowledgable volunteer guides who give side tours on the architecture and the gardens.   The setting, and thus the views from the top, are spectacular.  The landscaping is fabulous "money no object", and I particularly liked all the open, and shaded spaces between the buildings.   Richard Meier specialises in white buildings, with a very formal grid applied to the exterior, and you can love or hate this, or in my case tire of it (his museum in Barcelona is just the same).   I did like, very much, the Italian stone used everywhere, in a rough unpolished finish. 

However an art museum is really all about the internal spaces in which the art is displayed and I don't think the Getty is always successful.  Some gallery rooms seemed surprisingly small, the art spaces quite cramped. The quality, though, was exceptional.  I particularly liked the rooms given to French Decorative Arts: walls, ceiling, floors all beautifully installed into Meier's white boxes. 

Another art institution mature enough to allow photography.

Volunteer architecture guide standing against the beautiful stone

If you are going to be in Los Angeles, this is a 'must see'. Allow 5 hours as a minimum.