Many are familiar with Los Angeles's cool modernist architecture. But the LA area, especially downtown, also has a rich and unrivaled legacy of postmodernist buildings and landscape architecture. Unfortunately, you don't hear much about this hidden legacy—and, consequently, many of Southern California's postmodernist masterpieces are already under threat.
To raise the visibility of these sites, and the people who designed them, The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) has organized What’s Out There Weekend Los Angeles, which runs October 26 through 27. What's Out There will feature free expert-led tours of more than three dozen sites in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and Pasadena. A companion What’s Out There Weekend Los Angeles website includes downloadable information about all the locations and a schedule of tours.
Annenberg Community Beach House, Photo by Peter Figen, courtesy Annenberg Community Beach House
The Los Angeles area’s landscape legacy ranges from its Spanish Colonial roots to the present, including Asian, Hispanic, and African American heritages in its mix. The region's distinct modernist design legacy connected indoors and outdoors in innovative ways, and its unique postmodern history continued that tradition, melding architecture, landscape architecture, and art into one inseparable unit.
Maguire Gardens, Photo by Charles Birnbaum
LA Weekend is the foundation's first foray into raising the visibility of Los Angeles's unrivaled postmodernist heritage; it will include visits to the Los Angeles Open Space Network designed by Lawrence Halprin in the 1980s and early 1990s. These spaces (which include Wells Fargo Court, Bunker Hill Steps, Maguire Gardens, and Grand Hope Park), are rich in historical and environmental references specific to the sites and the region, a classic characteristic of postmodernist design. For example, the Maguire Gardens references a wide swathe of Southern California history, ranging from its prehistoric landscape to a no longer extant 20th-century fountain once located on the site.
Lawrence Halprin with a model of Wells Fargo Court; archival photo courtesy of TCLF
Detail of Bunker Hills Steps plan, courtesy of TCLF
Meanwhile, another Weekend destination, Pershing Park (a rare foray into postmodernist design by Laurie Olin and Richard Legoretta), is already slated to be replaced, illustrating the fragility of this recent heritage; and we’ve just learned that Byxbee Park in Palo Alto, by George Hargreaves Associates and artists Peter Richards and Michael Oppenheimer (winner of a 1993 American Society of Landscape Architecture Honor Award in Design), has been significantly altered. We’ve barely begun to assess this unique landscape architectural design legacy and the impact and import of these places, yet they are already under threat.
Pershing Square, Photo by Charles Birnbaum
Unfortunately, this pressure on postmodernist works of landscape architecture is not unusual and has happened (and continues to happen) with modernist works and those from earlier eras, because landscapes remain largely invisible or are viewed as places to put “stuff.” The level of awareness that these are “designed” is not equivalent to the level of awareness about buildings.
Open space is especially vulnerable. For example, there are proposals to move the Aluminaire House, designed by Le Corbusier disciple Albert Frey and Lawrence Kocher, into a rare, Progressive-era playground in Sunnyside Gardens in New York, along with other proposed new construction. Architects at a recent Landmark Preservation Commission hearing voiced support for the move because it would preserve the building. Completely lost in the conversation was the significance of the landscape’s design and the value of that open space.
City Hall East Mall, Photo by Kansas Sebastian
We also regularly encounter instances where a public park is slated to be razed because the physical condition is diminished due to poor or non-existent maintenance and people feel unsafe; therefore, the reasoning normally goes, the park must be at fault. Rather than rehabilitate the park, as we are inclined to do with buildings, we opt for tabula rasa. Why?
As noted above, we are hardwired to see, understand, and value architecture and its practitioners, and we have a vocabulary for this aspect of the built environment. Now we need to develop a similar awareness, value system, and stewardship ethic for landscapes.
Beverly Hills Civic Center, Photo by Laura Hartzell
Annenberg Community Beach House, Photo by Sarah Prikryl, Courtesy Annenberg Community Beach House
Hence, the Weekends—which have previously been held in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, andWashington, DC—and the What's Out There database, which has recently been expanded to include postmodernism as one of the 15 styles represented. To further the conversation, TCLF is also organizing a conference to be held in 2014 about postmodernism in Southern California.
Complete details about What's Out There Weekend Los Angeles, the What's Out There database, and other initiatives are available at the Cultural Landscape Foundation’s website.