From a public housing project in Madrid, Spain, and lofts near Venice Beach to a condo tower in Manhattan and a pavilion at a college in Pasadena, you can see the influence of UCLA Architecture and Urban Design’s program throughout the greater Los Angeles area, across the country and around the world.
Installation view of "A New Sculpturalism: Contemporary Architecture from Southern California," on view June 16–Sept. 16 at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA. Exhibit photos by Brian Forrest.
Or easier still, just head downtown to Little Tokyo and visit the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA to check out its recently opened show, "A New Sculpturalism: Contemporary Architecture from Southern California." The exhibit, which is part of the overarching Getty Museum-led "Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A.," runs until Sept. 16.
Featured at MOCA is the work of 38 Los Angeles-based architects who have shaped the field during the last quarter century. And of this highly select group of architects, 23 have either taught at or graduated from UCLA’s architecture and urban design program.
"I think what maybe people don’t realize is L.A. is an architectural hub in terms of thinking and innovation," said UCLA distinguished professor Thom Mayne, a Pritzker Prize-winning architect who also heads the Culver City-based Morphosis architecture firm. "This is one of the centers where innovation takes place, and there’s no question that UCLA is a part of that."
The promotional materials for the show say that rather than a rigidly defined aesthetic, the influence of Los Angeles architects has been an attitude of experimentation with form and innovative use of materials while keeping their work purposeful.
Mayne’s firm, which has 10 projects on display, designed a visually striking public housing project in Madrid that looks almost like a small city of white rectangular blocks and small towers, bordered on one side by a large wall made up of similar blocks. The design is meant to deviate from traditional impersonal public housing and encourage residents to gather in shared public spaces.
Other faculty featured in the show are Craig Hodgetts and alumna Ming Fung (partners in Hodgetts + Fung), who are showing four buildings, including the Sinclair Pavilion at the Arts Center College of Design in Pasadena and Mark Mack who designed five residential buildings featured in the show, including the color-accented cube lofts that stand out in the Abbot Kinney neighborhood of Venice. Representing the work of professor and architecture and urban design department vice chair Neil Denari is a 14-story angular steel-and-glass condo tower on New York’s High Line. Department chair Hitoshi Abe has two buildings in Japan on display — the Reihoku Community Hall and the Kanno Museum. And professor Greg Lynn’s work includes the Slavin house, a variety of models and samples of his work.
"UCLA has had a continual list of very powerful teachers and practitioners," Mayne said of the campus where he has taught since 1992. "It just has a very strong group of thinkers. They’re good teachers, and they’re highly regarded in the professional world."
Frank Gehry, who will be a visiting faculty member at UCLA in the upcoming academic year with SUPRASTUDIO, has an exhibit in a separate room that showcases his design concept, including sketches and models of the building and large pieces of a "translucent stone" his team developed, for the National Art Museum of China. Gehry's proposal came in second place in the competition to design the museum and will not be built.
"One of the things that would take place for the public would be an uncoding of the thinking process within the visual world of an architect," said Mayne, who emphasized that this show is for the public.
Throughout the exhibit visitors can see the architects’ original sketches, including a few drawn on hotel stationery, displayed on the walls and models on tables. To see photos of the finished built work, visitors need to use a smartphone (the museum has free wi-fi) to scan the QR codes next to the models. They can also watch architects being interviewed on videos, which were produced by Anne Marie Burke, administrative manager at UCLA’s Design | Media Arts and architecture and urban design alumna, who served as the show’s project manager. The videos are also available on MOCAtv's YouTube channel.
"A sketch could be a line and … you wonder what’s going on," said Mayne, who played a key role in shaping the show, which was originally conceived by guest curator Christopher Mount. "In that line is a huge amount of embedded information. And in many cases you could look at the built thing and see it."
But it’s obvious that architects follow different paths in getting from a sketch to model to a constructed building. "You’re going to see different architects have very, very different ways of arriving at their final work," Mayne said. "They’re going to range from something much more literal — an actual drawing that looks like the building — to something much more abstract."
"You could be 7 years old or 90 years old and you’d take away something from the show," said Mayne, who, as a 5-year-old, took apart and reassembled the family vacuum cleaner along with his brother. "And a 7-year-old might be just dumbfounded by the pure potential and creativity of making things."
Among the other UCLA-connected architects are: Michele Saee, a former faculty member in architecture and urban design program, who designed the massive, gleaming glass-exteriored Publicis drugstore in Paris; alumnus Patrick Tighe, whose firm designed Tigertail, an angular home in the Brentwood hills that looks like metal folded into a ramp; and former faculty member Wes Jones, who designed the electricity-generating co-generation facility across the street from the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
Visitors will also get a taste of how Los Angeles architects are steering the future of the discipline. At the beginning of the exhibit, visitors can interact with three walk-in pavilions by up-and-coming architectural firms headed by Tom Wiscombe and Elena Manferdini, both UCLA alumni, and alumna Georgina Huljich, who now teaches here.
It’s architects like Wiscombe, Manferdini and Huljich who will be confronting future challenges for architects — creating sustainable cities, Mayne said.
"Without any question the work we do at UCLA within the urban area absolutely represents the most compelling and urgent type of problems that will face us in this century."