Alan-Voo House, by Neil M. Denari Architects (Los Angeles, 2007). Photo courtesy of Benny Chan
As part of Pacific Standard Time, the four-month-long architecture fête that will take over Los Angeles this spring, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) is mounting the first in-depth survey of the city's radical breed of rule-busting, roof-folding, and occasionally mind-bending architecture.
Titled "A New Sculpturalism: Contemporary Architecture from Southern California," the show will run from June 2 to September 2 at MOCA's Geffen Contemporary museum, itself a Frank Gehry design. "In the last 25 years LA really has become a kind of center for a creative form of architecture," says guest curator Christopher Mount. His selection of models, images, and full-scale maquettes—all for work that's built or under construction now—includes veterans (Gehry, Franklin D. Israel, Thom Mayne) as well as second-wavers like Lorcan O’Herlihy, Michael Maltzan, and Barbara Bestor. A quartet of experimental pavilions from growing practices such as P-A-T-T-E-R-N-S will add some whiz-bang to the exhibition's mostly familiar cast of characters.
A physical model of the Textile Room, a pavilion created for the show by P-A-T-T-E-R-N-S (Marcelo Spina and Georgina Huljich) in collaboration with Bill Pearson of North Sails. Image courtesy of P-A-T-T-E-R-N-S
A lifelong New Yorker, Mount got the idea for the survey after moving to LA. "I got out here and I was just shocked at the visual richness, the level of experimentation, and the things you discovered in Los Angeles that were hidden behind Victorian houses or metal workshops," he says, citing examples large and small, from the metal sails capping Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall to an electric orange house by Daly Genik. "For various reasons they had been able to ignore the more conservative restrictions you have in places like Chicago or New York or Boston or Philadelphia, and somehow there was this explosion here."
Samitaur, by Eric Owen Moss Architects (Los Angeles, 1996). Photo © Tom Bonner
So why did the explosion happen in LA? Mount attributes the city's high level of experimentation to a lucky confluence of factors, ranging from the numerous university architecture programs, which supported academic careers, to the influential art scene and a general sense of impermanence. "LA is a newer city. You can build an orange house and no one is going to complain," says Mount. "And, just physically walking around LA, you have a lot of space. You have space to build, and space to build and see things in a three-dimensional way, in a more sculptural way."
Wild Beast Music Pavilion, by Hodgetts + Fung (Valencia, California, 2009). Photo courtesy of Tom Bonner
For Mount, buildings such as Michael Rotondi's Carlson-Reges House, with its appropriation of scrap metal, and the curving residences of Franklin Israel opened up new possibilities for architecture. "It's true post-postmodernism, in the sense that Thom and Frank [Gehry], they all use the materials of modernism, but they pervert them, rearrange them," he says. "It becomes an architecture which is not about a unified whole."
Rendering of Mass Painting II, a pavilion for MOCA by Tom Wiscombe Design. Image courtesy of Tom Wiscombe
The show will also cover the influence of LA architecture outside LA, such as the Nationale-Nederlanden Building in Prague by Frank O. Gehry & Associates (Czech Republic, 1996). Image courtesy of Gehry Partners, LLP
Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Caltech, by Morphosis Architects (Pasadena, California, 2008). Photo courtesy of Roland Halbe
Formosa 1140, by Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects (West Hollywood, California, 2008). Photo courtesy of Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects; © 2009 Lawrence Anderson/Esto
Interior of Bloom House, by Greg Lynn FORM, in collaboration with Lookinglass (Southern California, 2012). Photo courtesy of Richard Powers