Monday, October 26, 2009

The architecture of anxiety

Home should impart a feeling of comfort and safety, shouldn't it?

So why do contemporary architects and designers persist in creating structures that present very real threats to one's physical well-being?

Like these lethal staircases.

Lawsuit in the making.

"'Night, grandma. Careful going upstairs."

180-pounds-plus not recommended.

Or this anatomically challenging seating.

The Kidney Killer™ by Starck.
Sigmoidoscopy, anyone?

Perhaps ultimately worse than their threat of physical endangerment, these designs engender fear and anxiety, corroding emotional health and deepening our collective sense of dread. Or am I just hopelessly old-fashioned?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Brentwood estate sale

Another way to see some nice L.A. houses.

Treasures Estate Sales is holding a sale this weekend in Brentwood at 215 N. Carmelina.

Photography by Vance Gerdau.

The nearly 8500-square-foot Tudor-style house was built in 1987 (not 1927!) and seems to be currently listed with Prudential for $7,895.000, with an engaging slide show, although the George Winston (?) soundtrack can go.

See you there?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Windows as eyes

If eyes are the windows of the soul, then windows are the eyes of a building̬—and just as important to its well-being.

In his classic and still widely-used textbook on drawing the human form, Master Class in Figure Drawing, Robert Beverly Hale examines the various components of the body as drawn by exemplary Old Masters and discusses their complexity for the draftsman. Hale has this to say about the eye:
Artists sometimes drop a center line from the supraorbital bump. The growing back of the down plane of the glabella is clearly in directional contract to the up plane of the nasal bone. The orbit of the eye moves back, down, and around. The essential thing is to feel the ball of the eye protruding from the opening of the orbit and the lids circling over that ball. But that's not quite the whole story because . . .
My point is that, as Hale knew, the eye is a complex visual study requiring a knowledge of anatomy—and even of physiology—on the part of the artist.

A three-dimensional eye.

Windows, as the eyes of a building, should be rendered in equally complex terms and should demand of the architect and the builder an attention every bit as great as that which Michelangelo or Rembrandt paid to rendering the human eye.

Unless they are very precocious, children draw eyes (and faces in general) in two dimensions, not three:

Naive two-dimensional eyes.

This is the equivalent of architects, designers, and builders who settle for two-dimensional fenestration, usually off the shelf from The Home Depot.

A critical dimension (among other things) is missing: depth.

Like eyes, windows are three-dimensional features, not two-dimensional openings. Real windows have depth as well as height and width.

Fully dimensional windows.

What we've lost

I tend to spend a lot of time in the past (I originally typed "a lot of tome," which is also true), but I really don't want to live there.

I ran across this picture of the Fremont Hotel in the USC Digital Library archive. The Fremont sat at 401 S. Olive for five decades until it was razed in 1955 for a CRA project.

The Fremont Hotel, circa 1920; razed 1955.

Numerous incidents of theft from the rooms of the hotel's upscale patrons were among the many peccadilloes that went on at the Fremont, as faithfully reported by nostalgia blog On Bunker Hill.

But what interests me more than recreating the ethos of spicy, pre-corporate Bunker Hill is the clarity of vision embodied in this photograph, which was obviously made on a large-format negative and beautifully captures the architectural pride of this Mission-style building in its heyday. (Yes, some buildings have pride.)

Compare the vision of the same corner today, found in 5 minutes of navigating Google Earth.

401 S. Olive, Los Angeles, today.

As Gertrude Stein wrote of Oakland, "There's no there there."

Not only has this once engaging corner become a soulless parking lot, but our best photo documentation of it is a fuzzy "drive-by shooting." Of course there's no perspective correction with Google's fishy see-all lenses . . but, on the other hand, do these god-awful buildings really deserve it?

It's not so much that we've lost a wonderful Mission-style hotel full of history and Los Angeles lore. It's that we've lost the ability to envision our city in terms other than the most banal.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Hollywood, redux

No one builds apartment buildings anymore, do they?

I spent an hour or so revamping unit A6 at The Hollywood, a recently completed apartment (read: loft) building in Hollywood.

Original floor plan.

In spite of architect Stephen Kanner's boast about the "big open windows" in his spiel on the building's official website, according to his floor plan this "unit" seems to derive almost all of its light from the sliding glass doors that lead to the balcony. But really, you don't care whether your bedrooms have windows, do you?

My revamp leaves all of this apartment's infrastructure—including plumbing, HVAC, and miserly fenestration—in place. But it does complexify and attempt to remedy (insofar as possible) Kanner's reductive grovel to the "contemporary lifestyle, " i.e., no storage space, kitchen as foyer, dining room as afterthought.

The revamp.

The Hollywood, Hollywood.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Colcord on the market

This sweet and nicely appointed traditional by Gerard Colcord at 215 Strada Corta Road in Bel-Air is on the market for $12.95 million.
215 Strada Corta Road, Bel-Air.

Colcord, who lived from 1900 to 1984, was known for his conservative traditionalism and appeals to a small but fervent group of cognoscenti, who value his understated elegance, sense of proportion, and disregard for sensationalism.

Gerard "Gerry" Colcord (center).

This informative 2005 L.A. Times article outlines the major characteristics of Colcord's residential projects. Although at the time of the article there were no monographs on Colcord, one has since appeared: Colcord Home by Bret Parsons.

Click the image to order from

The living room.

What more can one ask?

The listing is here.

If I owned it, I would tone done the stark black and white color scheme to off-white and dove gray.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Crime of the Week

There oughta be a law.

But this is America, where, by God or Allah, you can build anything you damn well please to puff up your ego, neighbors and neighborhood be damned.
Wapello Street, Altadena.

If this na├»ve disaster were on a street composed of nothing but similar architectural schlock (Encino comes to mind), one wouldn't mind quite so much. But, alas, it's on a quiet, quaint, semi-rustic side street in upper Altadena that hosts an array of modest—and quite often charming—cottages, small mid-century ranchers, and the occasional bungalow.

The cottage directly across the street (from Google Earth).

This behemoth not only dwarfs nearby houses, but is entirely out of character with the surroundings, eclectic though they may be.

The behemoth from above.

Like I say, there oughta be a law.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Adorable in Altadena

Today I drove over to Altadena's Janes Village neighborhood to take a look at sone of the cottages designed and built by Elisha P. Janes between 1924 and 1926. The neighborhood has an informative website with lots of pictures. More than 160 houses in Altadena have been identified as Janes designs, although he probably built far more than have been positively attributed to him.

Historic views of Janes cottages in Altadena, shortly after completion.

Several of the cottages are currently for sale in the $400,000-500,000 range, including these two:

3058 Olive Ave.

3224 Grandeur Ave.

As an example of just how chic this neighborhood could be (although it's far from shabby now), here's a parting shot of one homeowner's accomplished landscaping.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Crime of the Week

Hey, remember Post-Modernism?

While Gloria Estefan was on the Top 10 and Miami Vice ruled the Peacock Network,
Kanner Architects were busy with their aqua-tinged 1988 makeover of this 16-unit Mid-Wilshire apartment building, originally constructed (I wouldn't say designed) in 1957.

686 S. St. Andrews Place, Mid-Wilshire.

Unfortunately, the statute of limitations has expired on this one, and in any case one can hardly feel pity for the "victim" building. My deepest sympathies, however, are extended to anyone who lives across the street from this forced study in the Architecture of Cool.

The perpetrator firm now bills itself as "a M
odern design studio in Santa Monica, California" (Modern with a nice big capital M), disingenuously disguising its sordid Post-Modernist past. But the truth will out: Kanner continues its obsession with Swiss cheese in this much more recent gymnasium in Pacific Palisades.

Stately in Country Club Park

On the market since January for an asking price of $7.5 million, the stately Rosenheim mansion (1908-1910) in Country Club Park is Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument No. 660 (declared in 1999).

1120 Westchester Place.

St. Louis native Alfred F. Rosenheim (1859-1943) was the architect of the Hellman Building (now the Hellman Lofts), the Majestic Theater on Broadway, the Second Church of Christ Scientist in West Adams and several other important Los Angeles buildings at the turn of the last century. This 6-bedroom 15,000-square-foot mansion—his own home—was among his most important designs for private houses.

Interiors (from the MLS).

The house has a large ballroom in an adjacent structure immediately to the southeast, which is currently being used as a recording studio, evidently by Planet Earth Records, whose garish, horsy website can be visited here (ibuprofen recommended). The agent suggests that the former ballroom might also be converted into a pro basketball court. Are you listening, Kobe?