Case stud­ies in Los An­ge­les

Hit the mid-cen­tury de­sign trail in the City of An­gels

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - CHAR­LOTTE NEILSON

Com­mon­sense says that there’s more to Los An­ge­les than Dis­ney­land and that fa­mous Hol­ly­wood sign. The so-called City of An­gels can’t oc­cupy its pop­u­la­tion just with theme parks and the movie in­dus­try, but we don’t hear about much else.

You might not, for in­stance, think of Los An­ge­les as an in­ter­est­ing ar­chi­tec­tural des­ti­na­tion, but it could sur­prise you with its de­sign pedi­gree.

Los An­ge­les was ground zero of the Case Study House pro­gram from the mid-1940s to the 60s, a scheme spon­sored by Arts & Ar­chi­tec­ture mag­a­zine that was in­tended to bring mod­ern, cost-ef­fec­tive de­sign to the masses.

Cue an abun­dance of pure joy for fans of mid-cen­tury mod­ern de­sign as scat­tered across the city are uber-cool ex­am­ples of US post-World War II con­fi­dence de­signed by some of the big­gest names of the time, in­clud­ing Richard Neu­tra, Charles and Ray Eames, Pierre Koenig, Eero Saari­nen and A. Quincy Jones. Some of the houses are open for tours and, this be­ing LA, many have their own celebrity sta­tus.

The Stahl House by Pierre Koenig, House No 22, in the Hol­ly­wood Hills, has been used in count­less fea­ture films and mu­sic clips and is in­stantly recog­nised by movie fans. Its sin­gle-storey frame of glass and steel hov­er­ing over a blan­ket of city lights has come to rep­re­sent the life­style as­pi­ra­tions of its gen­er­a­tion and is still as im­pres­sive to­day. Faith­fully pre­served by the Stahl fam­ily, tours of the in­te­rior and/or the gar­den are avail­able.

House No 8 was that of Charles and Ray Eames, a now fa­mous study of vol­ume and land­scape. Its in­te­ri­ors fea­ture some of the fur­ni­ture pieces de­signed by the pair in their hey­day, in­clud­ing orig­i­nal ex­am­ples of the familiar Eames chair, which is still in pro­duc­tion. Lo­cated at Pa­cific Pal­isades, the in­te­rior and/or gar­den and grounds are avail­able for tours.

The Case Study House pro­gram was a suc­cess in that it not only pro­vided ex­po­sure of mod­ern de­signs to an emerg­ing mar­ket of buy­ers but in­tro­duced de­vel­op­ers to ad­vanced build­ing tech­nol­ogy; en­tire sub­urbs were built us­ing this new ap­proach. An im­pres­sive ex­am­ple is the Trous­dale Es­tate in Bev­erly Hills, which saw star clients, and their star ar­chi­tects, take this mod­ern ap­proach to the next level. Sprawl­ing flat-roofed homes fea­tur­ing loads of light and glass were built for the likes of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, and many of th­ese houses still re­tain their orig­i­nal charm. While the area fell out of favour dur­ing the 70s and 80s, the es­tate has had a resur­gence in pop­u­lar­ity in the past decade that has seen a host of de­sign-savvy celebri­ties move in, in­clud­ing Vera Wang, Jen­nifer Anis­ton and Ellen DeGeneres.

Also worth a drive-by is John Laut­ner’s Che­mo­sphere. This modernist master­piece, with its oc­tag­o­nal floor­plan and cen­tral sup­port, embodied a vi­sion of the fu­ture that struck a chord with popular cul­ture and be­came an in­stant clas­sic when it was com­pleted in 1960. It has been fea­tured as a set for movies and been ref­er­enced in many more, in­clud­ing Char­lie’s An­gels and the Iron Man se­ries.

Brought back from the brink of ruin in the 90s by Benedikt Taschen of the Taschen pub­lish­ing house, the build­ing has been com­pletely re­stored. It was built on a very steep block on Tor­reyson Drive in the Hol­ly­wood Hills but you need to be well down the street to get a view of its fly­ing-saucer sil­hou­ette against the hori­zon.

An­other favourite set­ting of the lo­cal film in­dus­try is Frank Lloyd Wright’s En­nis House in Los Feliz, which has a list of tele­vi­sion and film cred­its but is best known for its ap­pear­ance in Blade Run­ner. If you’re lucky, your trip might co­in­cide with one of the oc­ca­sional tours or­gan­ised by the Amer­i­can In­sti­tute of Ar­chi­tects, but for­ward bookings are es­sen­tial; the next tour day, May 3, is al­ready sold out.

If con­tem­po­rary ar­chi­tec­ture is more to your taste then Los An­ge­les also de­liv­ers. It’s home to Frank Gehry and you can trace his ca­reer by see­ing the house that first brought him ac­claim — the 1978 ren­o­va­tion of his res­i­dence in Santa Mon­ica. (Gehry’s first Aus­tralian build­ing, the Dr Chau Chak Wing of the Uni­ver­sity of Tech­nol­ogy, opened in Syd­ney ear­lier this year.)

Wrap­ping the orig­i­nal Dutch colo­nial house in Santa Mon­ica with hap­haz­ard lay­ers of glass, metal and chain wire did not make Gehry popular with the neigh­bours but did bring his work to in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion. Take a de­tour on the way to the Santa Mon­ica Pier, for a quick kerb­side look at 1002 22nd Street (cor­ner of Wash­ing­ton Av­enue).

While on the Gehry trail, check out the home of the Los An­ge­les Phil­har­monic, the Walt Dis­ney Con­cert Hall, which fea­tures his sig­na­ture ti­ta­nium cladding and or­ganic forms, in­clud­ing the shiny metal leaves that mir­ror the mu­sic cre­ated at its heart. This crescendo of metal and glass is a form of “built ono­matopoeia” in that it looks like it sounds. Gehry’s build­ings are al­ways a spec­ta­cle and are un­apolo­get­i­cally ex­pres­sive.

Slightly more out of the way but par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing if you are a fan of “de­con­struc­tion” is the Hay­den Tract of Cul­ver City, where there is a whole es­tate of schiz­o­phrenic steel by Eric Owen Moss, the re­sult of one de­vel­oper com­mis­sion­ing their favourite ar­chi­tect over and over. It’s un­usual to see such a mass gath­er­ing, as of­ten th­ese struc­tures are lone wolves, placed in sur­pris­ing places, such as amid his­toric cen­tres or ba­nal back­drops. Such a big group of ex­tro­verts com­pet­ing for at­ten­tion in Cul­ver City re­ally is a sight to be­hold.

Clock­wise from main: view from the Che­mo­sphere House; the build­ing’s ex­te­rior; the first house ren­o­vated by ar­chi­tect Frank Gehry; En­nis House de­signed by Frank Lloyd Wright; Gehry’s Walt Dis­ney Con­cert Hall

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