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Passing of an Acclaimed Architect

August 16, 2017

Gunnar Birkerts, an acclaimed Detroit-area architect who designed major buildings throughout the Midwest, including the former Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and an addition to the University of Michigan Law Library, passed on Tuesday.

Birkerts was a Latvian-American architect who, for most of his career, was based in the metropolitan area of Detroit, Michigan. His designs include the Corning Museum of Glass and the Corning Fire Station in Corning, New York, Marquette Plaza in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Missouri, and the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela. In 2014, he designed the National Library of Latvia in Riga, Latvia (aka the Castle of Light), whose architectural form references and draws inspiration from Latvian folklore.

He was a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1970, and a Fellow of the Latvian Architect Association in 1971. Birkerts was the recipient of numerous individual awards, including a 1971 fellowship from the Graham Foundation, the Gold Medal of the Michigan Society of Architects in 1980, the Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize in Architecture of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1981, and the 1993 Michigan Artist of the Year award.

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Luxury Homes – The Most Expensive Are in Bel Air

August 09, 2017

Is it really a surprise that the most expensive home on the market in the U.S. is in Bel Air? Probably not. But, with the latest entry into the market, Bel Air holds the record now for having the top 3 most expensive homes on the market.

Bel Air is a neighborhood in the Westside area of Los Angeles, in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains. The community was founded in 1923 by Alphonzo Bell. He owned farm property in Santa Fe Springs, where oil was discovered. Bell bought a large ranch with a home on what is now Bel Air Road. He subdivided and developed the property with large residential lots. He also built the Bel Air Beach Club in Santa Monica and the Bel Air Country Club. Bell’s wife chose Italian names for the streets and subsequently founded the Bel Air Garden Club in 1931.

The newest entry in the Bel Air market is a property known as Chartwell. It hits the market at a price of $350 million. Chartwell was the estate of late Univision chairman Jerrold Perenchio. It sits on more than 10 acres, with a main house that measures 25,000 square feet. The property also includes a ballroom, a wine cellar and a period-paneled dining room. Perenchio purchased the home in 1986 and had it remodeled to more closely resemble the original design of an authentic 18th-century French chateau. Afterward, he bought many of the surrounding properties, expanding the compound to nearly 13 acres of land. The exterior of the home was used in shots of the hit TV sitcom “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

Bel Air has always been a district for the super-rich. Its Mediterranean architectural style and lavishly landscaped grounds quickly became the address of choice for LA society. Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor and Alfred Hitchcock were all residents of the exclusive Bel Air.

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Don’t Forget Pasadena When You Think of Architecture

August 02, 2017

When people think of architecture in Los Angeles, their thoughts go immediately to The Eameses, Frank Gehry, and Frank Lloyd Wright, among many others. They were drawn to the sublime light of Los Angeles and were inspired by it.

Like anything else, there are downsides to every attractive part of the city. First and foremost, the traffic! If you live in LA, you known traffic is always going to be a problem and parking is even worse. Then, you have to consider the crowds. Los Angeles is a top global destination for tourists. No matter what your site-seeing adventure in LA, there is going to be a crowd and lines. Wouldn’t be nice to avoid the mind-numbing traffic and growing crowds to take in some great design and architecture? Well, the real secret is…pay a visit to Pasadena.

Pasadena is just 15 miles northwest of Los Angeles, at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains. Incorporated in 1886, this city of 140,000 retains much of its 19th-century charm.

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Historical Architecture: Detroit Makes a Statement

March 16, 2017

The city of Detroit has gone through a major economic and demographic decline in recent decades. The population of the city has fallen from a high of 1,850,000 in 1950 to 701,000 in 2013. The city’s automobile industry has suffered from global competition and has moved much of the remaining production out of Detroit. Local crime rates are among the highest in the United States, and vast areas of the city are in a state of severe urban decay. In 2013, Detroit filed the largest municipal bankruptcy case in U.S. history, which it successfully exited on December 10, 2014. However, poverty, crime, and urban blight in Detroit continue to be ongoing problems.

With all of that said, Detroit established itself as the epicenter of innovation and industry in the United States in the early part of the 20th century. It left a legacy through its historical architecture that reflected the money, power and innovation the city represented.

During the 19th century, Detroit grew into a thriving hub of commerce and industry, and the city spread along Jefferson Avenue, with multiple manufacturing firms taking advantage of the transportation resources afforded by the river and a parallel rail line. In the late 19th century, several Gilded Age mansions were built just east of Detroit’s current downtown. Detroit was referred to by some as the ‘Paris of the West’ for its architecture, and for Washington Boulevard, recently electrified by Thomas Edison. Throughout the 20th century, various skyscrapers were built centered on Detroit’s downtown. Many areas of the city are listed in the National Register of Historic Places and included national historic landmarks. As the city grew, its wealth and power were reflected in the grand architecture of the time. The builders spared no expense and flaunted the wealth and prosperity of the city.

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French Architecture: Former National Library Gets A Decade Long Facelift

March 02, 2017

The National Library of France is a major research and conservation library. Its origins date back to the middle ages, when the kings started developing and expanding their private collections. Charles V was the first to formalize the National Library by installing the library in a tower of the Louvre in 1368. The increase in collections made necessary the modernization of the library in the 19th century. Under the guidance of the general administrator Léopold Delisle, in 1874 the cataloging of printed books was started, while the architect Labrouste built the reading room which bears his name and was used for the consultation of books until the transfer of the collections to the Site François-Mitterrand.

Getting a Ten Year Architectural Facelift
The French Government decided in the early 2000s that the aging building had become unsuitable for the demands of the 21st century, and a major overhaul was planned. The work started in 2011, with Bruno Gaudin’s architecture firm responsible for the project’s general management, while the restoration of the listed ‘Salle Labrouste’ was entrusted to Jean-François Lagneau. While keeping the library partially open, the renovation was divided into two phases, with the second stage set to complete in 2020.

In order for them to be as architecturally accurate as possible, the architects completed exhaustive historical and structural studies. While striking a balance between restoration and contemporary addition, the architects developed different typologies of ‘weaves’, which set up a variety of dialogs between architecture, history, and technique.

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Los Angeles Architecture: New Football Stadium Breaks Ground in Exposition Park

February 23, 2017

Located just south of Downtown Los Angeles, Exposition Park is home to a world-class collection of museums, sports facilities and recreational areas. Exposition Park also offers diverse cultural, entertainment and educational activities. The 160-acre site was founded as Agricultural Park in 1872 and subsequently renamed Exposition Park in 1910. The park has since become one of L.A.’s premier cultural and special event destinations.

The L.A. Sports Arena ended its life in March with a sold-out Bruce Springsteen concert, and now construction has begun on a new sports venue in Exposition Park. Since 1959, the L.A. Sports Arena has hosted a variety of sports and entertainment venues, notably the L.A. Lakers, L.A. Clippers and college basketball teams from USC and UCLA. It served our community well.

A new sports venue is arriving in LA! The new venue will be a $250-million Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC). Designed by architectural firm Gensler, it will begin its life in Exposition Park. Banc of California Stadium will be a 22,000-seat stadium, featuring a ‘European-style’ design. The new design will be an open-air venue with steeply-raked and sweeping style seating shaped around the field. The design will also put fans in a closer relationship with the playing field and significantly enhance their viewing experience.

The complex will also feature commercial and restaurant opportunities that will be geared towards the larger community. It will also welcome the community with generous pedestrian areas and tree-lined walkways which will lead to other attraction and venues in the park. The stadium joins a number of new attractions coming to the park area, including the recently-proposed Lucas Museum of Narrative Art (LMNA).

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Amassing a Great Archive of Architectural Photography

February 02, 2017

If you appreciate architecture and the photography of architecture, your architectural fantasy awaits you in London. Housed in a limestone-clad art deco style building in the heart of London, you will find the world’s greatest collection of architectural photography. This astounding collection contains more than 1.5 million items, including prints and negatives from around the globe.

The building that houses this mass collection is the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) is a professional body for architects primarily in the United Kingdom, but also internationally, founded for the advancement of architecture under its charter granted in 1837 and Supplemental Charter granted in 1971.

Upon going the RIBA in 1976 as the librarian, the late Robert Elwall immediately recognized the ability of photography to capture the energy and life of architecture. He spent the rest of his life preserving, protecting and championing architectural photography. Elwall also understood the aesthetic value and transformative power of architecture. The photography was the means he employed the protect the future and promote knowledge.

“What really made Robert special was his absolute dedication to sharing the photographs with the widest possible audience.” ~ Valeria Carullo, Curator, RIBA

Elwall had a strong desire to disseminate historic architectural photography to the wider public, not least in giving many talks, and in books written in an informative but very readable style. He produced a dozen or so monographs, and his 2004 book, Building With Light: the International History of Architectural Photography was nominated for the 2005 Bruno Zevi Book Award.

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German Architecture: Focusing on Health and Personal Well-Being

January 26, 2017

We define architecture as both the process and the product of planning, designing, and constructing buildings and other physical structures. Architectural works, in the material form of buildings, are often perceived as cultural symbols and as works of art. Historical civilizations are often identified with their surviving architectural achievements. The architect breathes life into a project. Their creation rises from the ground to inspire a certain message to the community for decades to come.

Düsseldorf-based Ingenhoven Architects, a pioneer of sustainable architecture, values the ecological use of resources and the achievement of a high degree of aesthetic quality and has created an inspirational structure that embodies the principles of health and well-being.
Today, Germany has one of the most comprehensive spa cultures in Europe, with the support of the German federal healthcare system. Their culture has focused on both individual well-being and the well-being of the environment. These values are embodied in every aspect of German culture. When you understand those values and priorities, you can understand the inspirational vocation of Ingenhoven Architects.

The architects at Inghoven has created the Lanserhof Tegernsee health resort in Marienstein, Germany. The resort succeeds in combining both personal well-being and environmental well-being. It’s an architectural approach that combines minimal use of energy and resources with high levels of user comfort, which includes allowing guests to rest, recuperate and regenerate, as part of a hotel’s function.

The floor-to-ceiling glazing in almost all the rooms with spacious loggias for panoramic views of the mountains and lake in the Tegernsee valley.

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Los Angeles Architecture: Amazing Examples of Stained Glass

January 19, 2017

Do you love seeing the most creative and artistic works of stained glass? Then it is time to get on a plane and visit England or France. But isn’t that just the problem? It is unreasonable to say that to appreciate fine stained glass work, you have to travel frequently to Europe to enjoy it.

The good news is, there are some of the finest examples of stained glass work right here in Los Angeles. You can find these works in many of LA’s most interesting churches, temples or other houses of worship. Many more can be found in hotels, theaters, fine restaurants, and financial institutions across the city.

Stained glass, as an art and a craft, requires the artistic skill to conceive an appropriate and workable design, and the engineering skills to assemble the piece. A window must fit snugly into the space for which it is made, must resist wind and rain, and also, especially in the larger windows, must support its own weight. Many large windows have withstood the test of time and remained substantially intact since the late Middle Ages. In Western Europe they constitute the major form of pictorial art to have survived. In this context, the purpose of a stained glass window is not to allow those within a building to see the world outside or even primarily to admit light but rather to control it. For this reason stained glass windows have been described as ‘illuminated wall decorations.’

Some of the finest stained glass work in Los Angeles has been imported from Western Europe. However, we are very fortunate to have many fine works on display from Southern California artists, such as Judson Studios.

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Los Angeles Architecture: Can They Save Our Landmarks?

January 13, 2017

Change is inevitable. Architecture is a landmark of ideas, hopes and dreams, a visual representation of the inspired (and not so inspired) thoughts of a glimpse of time. The architecture of Los Angeles tells us the story of our city. Some of those buildings remain an iconic vision, while others suffer the fate of the wrecking ball and disappear from our view.

In the middle of the traffic jammed flow of LAX stands an iconic representation of Los Angeles architecture. The space age landmark known as the Theme Building was constructed to demonstrate the futuristic vision of Los Angeles to all that transit LAX. Today, the retro cocktail lounge and restaurant have been closed to the public since 2013, but the observations deck is open to visitors. This iconic building has been part of a debate about whether to preserve or destroy some of the landmarks that make up Los Angeles. Fortunately, the building at LAX was designated as a historic-cultural monument since 1993 and thereby saved from the wrecking ball. No doubt, without that protective action, this landmark would have become a victim of developers wanting to free up valuable space in a congested LAX complex.

That is the challenge we face in Los Angeles. Our cityscape is filled with some of the finest examples of midcentury modern, Googie or Populuxe architecture. Those structures captured the streamlined form of L.A.’s aerospace ambitions. Think of the jaunty roofline of Norms on La Cienega Boulevard, which was saved from demolition last year. The diner sign, with its Jetson’s-style cometlike shapes, literally points to the optimism of the midcentury.

Our architecture tells the story of our city and is a tangible reminder of a slice in our historical timeline.

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Los Angeles Architecture: SoCal’s Futuristic Homes

November 24, 2016

For out of this world architecture, Los Angeles is the center of the universe with space age design. It’s really not the future of the city, however, because these futuristic styles were actually perfected in the middle of the last century right here in Los Angeles. These designs have stood the test of time and represented the most whimsical, space age design architects could have imagined.

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L.A. Architecture: U.S. Courthouse Floats in Mid-Air

November 17, 2016

Amidst the construction cranes dotting the L.A. skyline, a great glass cube floats up to make its mark. After marked political and financial delays, a new U.S. Courthouse has taken its place on the face of downtown Los Angeles in breathtaking style.

With judges moving in and the endless delays and end-fighting forgotten, the new U.S. Courthouse makes a breathtaking statement on the architectural style of downtown. Even though global financial dollars flow into the growing landscape of the area, it is still remarkable to see prime locations on the landscape standing empty. Walls of glass rise, sheathing a broad cube to a height of 10 stories. The design team of architects clearly created a symbolic statement representing solidarity, constancy and the rule of law. It represents the resilient and sturdiness of our republic and our values for the rule of law in the United States. The unique design gives the clear impression that the building floats above ground level, evoking wonder and power. The architects not only created a powerful statement in their design, they included attention to elements for sustainment of the environment. The top of the building is covered in solar panels, which will generate more than a half a million kilowatt hours of electricity annually and has a stormwater reserve cistern beneath the building that can reclaim 105,000 gallons of water. This new downtown landmark represents the government’s vision of lifting the architectural quality of their buildings nationwide through their Design Excellence Program.


Architectural Innovation: Trojans Design with the Homeless in Mind

November 12, 2016

Homelessness is one of the biggest social problems facing our nation. It is said that the face of homelessness is the face of your neighbors. Being homeless is not always about being irresponsible. Surveys tell us that almost half of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. We also know from studies that 62% of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. Half of Americans do not have the money to deal with a $400 emergency expense. The most devastating fact is that 30% of Americans have ZERO savings. With those daunting facts in mind, it is easy to see how homelessness can strike anyone at anytime. It takes one emergency or mistake and people find themselves living on the streets. These aren’t just individuals either. These include families with multiple children and single parents. There is an urgent demand to meet the needs of our homeless nation.

Los Angeles is in the middle of a homeless crisis. Homeless populations in Los Angeles are exploding, with tent cities popping up all over the region. The conditions of these homeless encampments are deplorable. City officials have put forward a ballot initiative that would build 8,000 – 10,000 units to help these homeless citizens of our city. Unfortunately, these plans could take years to build and provide any relief. The homeless population will continue to grow annually, so it may outgrow the effectiveness of the proposed housing before they are even built.

With these disturbing factors in mind, students from the USC School of Architecture have stepped forward with an innovative solution. They created a project called the Homeless Studio. These students are in their fourth year in the program, and have created solutions that range from temporary shelters to modular buildings that quickly deliver to locations around the city and in the San Fernando Valley. These shelters are low cost, easily constructed and simply maintained.


Museum of Narrative Art: The Vision of George Lucas

November 03, 2016

The vision of George Lucas is to build a Museum of Narrative Art, which reflects his innovative vision and creativity. After several setbacks in various locations, he is now presenting not just one, but two proposals, in two different locations for his futuristic vision. This is for sure a redoubling of his efforts, splitting his bets, to ensure the success of his project.
Instead of absorbing the defeat of previous attempts, George Lucas is more emboldened than ever to build his dream. His visionary proposal is offered for two distinctly different sites. The first is on Treasure Island in San Francisco. It would be a part of a new master-planned district facing the San Francisco skyline. It offers less outdoor space, but larger windows with a stunning view of San Francisco Bay.

The Los Angeles site is proposed for a narrow strip in Exposition Park along Vermont Avenue. It would sit just south of Jesse Brewer Jr Park and a stop on Metro’s Expo Line. The location is a short walk from the USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, which Lucas helped design and fund.

Both sites would hold between 265,000 – 275,000 square foot of interior space. Lucas has successfully paved the way for the projects by securing political support from the mayors of the respective cities. Mayor Garrett has expressed his strong support for the Lucas project.


The Bohemian Acolyte

October 27, 2016

Perched high above Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles, is one of the finest examples of expressionistic architecture by R.M. Schindler. One of the largest homes designed by Schindler hugs the contours of the canyon, with the angles nestled into the rocky landscape.

Rudolf Michael Schindler was born on September 10, 1887, to a middle-class family in Vienna, Austria. His father was a wood and metal craftsman and an importer; his mother was a dressmaker. He attended the Imperial and Royal High School, from 1899 to 1906, and enrolled at the Vienna University of Technology before attending the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, or Wagnerschule, graduating in 1911 with a degree in architecture. As his professional career developed, he enjoyed a relationship with the famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

While Schindler and Wright’s relationship ebbed and flowed through the years, Schindler was greatly influenced by the work of Wright. Schindler and Wright eventually had a falling out, and remained estranged for many years. During that time, Schindler’s designs and creativity established his credibility in the world of architecture. For over 30 years, Schindler’s designs impacted the landscape of Los Angeles and the world of architecture.

Our very own Gerald Olesker was also privileged to have worked on Wright-influenced architecture. He worked on the Mat House in Reseda, California, designed by Frank’s son Lloyd Wright and known for its distinctive angular, thatch-like roof. The house was granted historic landmark status in 1996.

This iconic home was influenced by the Pueblo Indian adobe houses of the Southwest. Schindler made a pilgrimage to the Southwest and was profoundly inspired by the clusters of adobe houses with rounded fronts, hanging in midair in places like Mesa Verde. These influences are clearly translated in this work above Laurel Canyon.


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