CHECKING OUT THE AN­CIENT BUILD­INGS OF MEX­ICO

Los Angeles Times - - ARTS & BOOKS - By Agatha French agatha.french@la­times.com Twit­ter: @agath­afrenchy

Long be­fore de­sign­ing the Wil­shire Grand Cen­ter, bet­ter known as the tallest build­ing west of the Mis­sis­sippi and the pin­na­cle of the Los An­ge­les sky­line, David C. Martin was an ar­chi­tec­ture stu­dent at USC who spent Fri­day nights on “ar­chi­tec­tural joyrides” in a Volk­swa­gen Bug, driv­ing around the city to study Vic­to­ri­ans on Bunker Hill or the in­te­ri­ors of Union Sta­tion. That sense of ex­plo­ration and ob­ser­va­tion stayed with him as he em­barked on more farflung jour­neys, in­clud­ing nu­mer­ous vis­its to Mex­ico to study mis­sions and plazas, cathe­drals, mon­u­ments and domes.

“For me, Mex­ico is fa­mil­iar and ex­otic, ac­ces­si­ble and out of reach,” he writes in “Joy Ride: An Ar­chi­tect’s Jour­ney to Mex­ico’s An­cient and Colo­nial Places” (ORO Edi­tions, $29.95). It’s also a re­cur­ring source of in­spi­ra­tion — “de­sign ideas I ob­served in Baja churches guided me as I cre­ated new sa­cred spa­ces” — that would in­form his work for decades to come.

Part notebook, part trav­el­ogue, part ar­chi­tec­tural his­tory and ur­ban plan­ning primer, “Joy Ride” is a vis­ual odyssey, full of sketches, pho­to­graphs, and, most ap­peal­ing, wa­ter­col­ors made while a young man in the 1970s tour­ing Mex­ico.

A third gen­er­a­tion ar­chi­tect, Martin was a de­sign prin­ci­ple of AC Martin, his fam­ily’s cen­tury-old firm. (His grand­fa­ther was a col­lab­o­ra­tor on L.A.’s City Hall.) Al­ready steeped in the ar­chi­tec­ture of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, Martin sought to im­merse him­self in an even deeper tra­di­tion in Mex­ico: “cen­turies of thought-pro­vok­ing ar­chi­tec­ture and town plan­ning” that “sig­nif­i­cantly al­tered (his) un­der­stand­ing of the his­tory of the Amer­i­can west.”

In “Joy Ride,” Martin re­counts both anec­dotes of his trav­els and ar­chi­tec­tural facts — he races cars in Baja, gets stuck in a river and cri­tiques the Jef­fer­so­nian grid — while his draw­ings of Mex­i­can plazas and mis­sions re­veal some­thing more in­ti­mate: a cre­ative mind in the throes of ab­sorb­ing its in­flu­ences.

“As artists work, they de­cide to in­clude and em­pha­size some as­pect of a scene while ig­nor­ing or elim­i­nat­ing oth­ers,” writes Martin. “In the old cities, I found my­self con­tin­u­ally de­cid­ing what mat­tered to me and what I wished to con­vey about their mes­sage for our fu­ture.” His later de­signs for the Wil­shire Grand, or the in­ter­faith chapel at Chap­man Univer­sity, con­tain echoes of what he deemed es­sen­tial: func­tion, com­mu­nity, a har­mony be­tween the pub­lic and pri­vate space.

In some sense, “Joy Ride” is a glimpse into the work an artist does when he’s not ex­actly work­ing, the many ob­ser­va­tions that be­come grist for the mill. “I feel that a paint­ing or a sketch al­lows the viewer great free­dom of imag­i­na­tion,” he writes — in other words, without the bur­den of per­fec­tion, a sketch can be a place to ex­plore. Of­ten, a sketch is a first step, a rough draft, the means to an end. At other times, how­ever, it’s the end in it­self, an ex­er­cise in ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and plea­sure, like riff­ing on a gui­tar.

“In sketch­ing and mak­ing wa­ter­col­ors… I was aware once more that I find these me­dia valu­able for what they do not tell us, as well as for the in­for­ma­tion they do im­part,” he writes. Some sketches don’t go any place in par­tic­u­lar; they’re joy rides.

David C. Martin ORO Edi­tions

MISSION San Ig­na­cio Kadakaamán in Mex­ico, from David C. Martin’s book “Joy Ride.”

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