December 4, 2002
Notes from Robert Ivy, FAIA, Editor in chief
The lobby of the Standard Hotel, Los Angeles.
A guestroom at the Standard.
Photos courtesy of the Standard
Hotel, Los Angeles.
LAs newest downtown hotel, is just too hip for words.
Suffice it to say that the evening I checked in, no one appeared
over the age of 27 1/2, the men all sported Van Dyke beards
or stocking caps, and the women were thinner than pencil lead.
(They were women, I think). The rooftop, a dizzying combo
of pool and martinis and projected movies under the shadow
of towering monoliths, draws the downtown crowd that stretches
around the block on weekends. Yikes! What was I, a grandfather,
doing in such a place? I would have felt odd pulling out pictures
of the baby (though hes a killer). I tried to maintain
my own brand of New York cool.
While the hallway, on the seventh floor, maintained the retro-nouveau
feel, awash in red, red, red, the room seemed totally new.
The bed hovered just above floor level, set on a carpeted
platform, ideal for radio, watch, and stuff; the mega-screen
video monitor hid behind a sheer drape. Surprise, the drapes
opened at the other end, revealing a huge soaking tub and
tiled bathroom in a single flowing space, mood-lit, ample,
perfect for the human body. But I was alone.
Thank God for architecture. The following day, I could plunge
into buildings , shaking off the cool. Ron Altoon, a local
architect, introduced me to Lana Turner, or her memory, leading
a tour through the renovated Bullocks Wilshire department
store, now superbly reconstituted into the library for the
Southwestern School of Law. Ironically, the names of former
departments still hold sway, prompting directions toward certain
books and periodicals that include Turn left at Ladies
Lingerie. You could envision the stars pulling up to
the couture showings and staying for lunch in the restaurant.
Then I abandoned the car. Downtown is coming back, and downtowns
demand foot traffic. Prompted by major institutions and courageous
developers like Tom Gilmore, Los Angeles is rediscovering
urbanity at its core. Two projects attracted me with particular
After lumbering uphill in the November sunlight, I had hardly
broken a sweat when Frank Gehrys American masterpiece,
the Disney Concert Hall loomed ahead. While I had visited
his office and familiarized myself with the early models,
this was to be my first encounter with the real thing. Oddly,
from a distance, particularly from a high point, the massive
concert hall shrinks in relation to its peers. A model, removed
from any surrounding context, overstates the scale, which,
in Los Angeles, includes huge, hunky buildings nearby.
From the street, in a car or on foot, however, the project
takes its rightful place, filling space with its own symphony
of wave-like undulations, a musical essay that translates
the chromatic spectrum into waves. Some curves even look anthropomorphic.
Blocked off by construction, partially finished and exposing
its irregular structure, nevertheless we already can gauge
the peaks and eddies, glinting beautifully in the California
light. We all await the first chords.
Down Grand, I joined step with a businessman who, like me,
intended to visit the cathedral. Wheres the front
door? he asked, as if I knew. We both conducted a puzzled
search, though every available portal seemed to be tightly
closed. Finally I hazarded a guess and walked downhill, where
I found the entryway, fully populated with visitors and guides
and blue-haired seniors in town for a visit. But my companion
almost had given up trying.
Suzanne Stephens, writing in our magazine, had got it right:
the exterior of Our
Lady of the Angels seems offputting and fortresslike.
But take one step inside and your concerns melt away. You
enter in a classic manner, processing in a long, high, austere
passage past chapels that establish a rhythm, the full sanctuary
glimpsed in slices to your right. On the end wall, a 16th
century baroque gilded altar establishes a datum.
One turn, a few steps, and the space explodes before you.
Moneo has created an interior masterworka holy void
in which light dematerializes thick concrete walls. Light
pours in, from cruciform shaped windows, tempered through
alabaster; from skylights abutting high walls that spill over
and warm the hard surfaces; from the juncture of roof and
wall. One floats within the solid vessel, removed from the
whirring world, focused on the distances.
My entry to the cathedral was enriched by the human voice.
As I made my way inside, a lilting contralto soared beside
me, its source unknown. I found myself as an unwitting participant
in a funeral, unfamiliar with the departed, whose adieus were
accompanied by the full spectacle: incense, organ, the human
voice, the comfortable words, the ministrations, the processions,
and the tears. This age-old ceremony animated the new building
and grounded a once-future building in the present moment,
bringing it to life for me, a neutral observer.
Outside, while the family gathered out on the plaza or in
the shadows that puddled around the edges, my only wonder
was, where were the plants? The huge, open plaza, paved in
masonry, glistened in noonday sun. November gave us all this
cool day, but in July? Exiting, I found the same businessman,
who had taken a different route. Smiling this time, he seemed
relieved we had persevered, sorting door from wall. Signs
could have eased our way.
The following day, I toured Eric Mosss elaborate urban
complex, a type of urban collage, in Culver City, and toured
the quarter-mile-long building for SCI-Arc, but that is another
to "From the Field"