Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Vegas Baby! Vegas! Part II

We got back from another trip to Sin City ! This time we stayed at the legendary Sahara Hotel. As part of my continuing exploration of "Vintage" Vegas I excitedly visited this property founded in 1952. Of course like most strip hotels there is nothing left of the original hotel. But they have begun marketing the nostalgia of the place, which of course usually means the wrecking ball is not too far away. The "legendary" Stardust got the nostalgic treatment the year prior to being imploded. But back to the Sahara, large photo murals of the property in glorious black and white line the halls of this otherwise inoffensive structure loosely inspired by North Africa. The exterior of several of the hotel towers show some midcentury charm , including some nifty concrete cantielevered sunscreens and interesting penthouses. For the most part though it is a fairly standard big hotel, with ordinary slightly comfortable rooms. We stayed on the 21st floor with a view of a lot of condos going up, including TRUMP Las Vegas; a tacky bronze box with giant gold roman letters on top. I am reminded of Donald Trump's retooling of the Conan O'brien show where the entire show was plated in bronze, the set, the characters, everything, even the host.

Took another trip to Fremont Street, see Vegas Baby! Vegas! Part I. And we spent some time at Star Trek: The Experience. I am a huge Trekkie and find moments of this attraction thrilling, others disapointing. We arrived too late to see the History of the Future Museum, or to go on the rides, but we had dinner at Quark's, and did some shopping at what used to be the Deep Space Nine Promenade. The fake second story has been enclosed and is now a function room for the what must be the booming themed Star Trek Wedding business they do. So now the "Promenade" lacks it's viewports and balcony ; replaced with a poorly plastered dropped ceiling. The walking characters are fun and try earnestly to stay in character. The huge models overhead are a treat, and the merchandise is fun. Every Trekker seems to walk out of there with a large bag of loot; rumors since it was built some 10 years or so ago are always that is about to close, but employees denied it. The shops have lost some of their luster but let's face it Star Trek is in a bit of a holding pattern right now. Things might look up next year with the new movie. When first built the attraction was built on a Next Generation/24th century foundation but it is interesting to note in Star Trek: The Next Generation's 20th anniversary year that The Original Series Merchandise out numbers anything else and sells better too. Classic Trek seems to have a staying power that the 24th Century is lacking.

Of Course maybe time will reverse this; Star Trek: The Next Generation wore out it's welcome with a series of lackluster feature films, and 18 years of constant production is bound to wear out most audiences. Maybe time and nostalgia by those who grew up with the sequel/prequel shows might propel a future revival. I think with the shear amount of films and television there is going to be a tremendous amount of good entertainment, and plenty of turkeys too. Overall I am a fan, and enjoy even the worst Star Trek sequel/prequel episodes, but "my heart yearns for starflight" that of the Original Series.

Friday, October 26, 2007

On the drawing board...

I have a commission for a series of interventions on a 23 year old estate in the Old Las Palmas neighborhood in Palm Springs. My clients are re-imagining the modern/post-modern house and have tried to unleash it's inner pure modern side while expunging the post-modern elements. I have a couple of sketches here for a pavillion in the garden. This is an exciting small scale design that has a long architectural tradition. The folly in the garden was a popular motiff of English neo-classicism as well among the staples of Palladian renaissance architecture. Here the modern language of the house is combined with this neo-classical tradition as well as with the abstract planar language of modern architecture. Eight pillars support a slab at the midpoint of each pillar, the entire composition sheathed in white smooth troweled stucco. To contrast with the stark lines and lack of texture a handmade crystal chandelier is suspended from the center. The only imprecise shape, surface and texture of the project. It is a simle, elegant composition for admiring the surrounding garden, adjacent pool and the distant vista of the borrowed landscape of the neighboring properties.

I am a Modernist, I don't see my work as the beginning of history and I am not reinventing the wheel. I devour books on modernism. I study the masters, how did they use the common materials around them to compose space, structure, and shape. I apply the lessons I have learned to the contemporary problem at hand. My designs are the interaction of planes in juxtaposition to each other to define space. The precisioned geometric plane is shorthand for the mastery of nature that is unique to man. It is the abstract language of the architect's tools, It is an outgrowth of simple construction. Wood stud, concrete block, stucco, this is the language of most California construction; it is the tradition I work with and within the skill level of most competent constructors.

I say this because we are in the midst of a revival that is rarely being acknowledged as a revival, there seem to be several camps on the issue, some try to distance themselves from the source of their forms. Their compositions are new, unique, dynamic, etc. but the form language is from a specific period of the past, specifically 20th century modernism, or mid-century modernism if you prefer. Designers will either say the are engaging in nostalgia, or they will try to deny any connection to the historical trend, typically they may engage in distancing themselves through declarations that sound like "my designs are an independent response to specific parameters, I am not a modernist, I am not reusing designs from the past,"etc. I think there is some truth to that but I don't see the need for the distance. I do not borrow/steal designs, re-hash, or engage in nostalgia, as I have said before I acknowledge precedent and try to apply infered lessons to a present problem.

I find it important to recognize that, even if it is unpopular, but I will admit it has gotten me into trouble. There is no visible reward to being transparent about your methodology, people want to think you are looking at history a new with every design, at least to pay lip service to that heroic artist ideal. I presented a design to a client once complete with a design statement that acknowledged my influences, the project was shot down for being too retro, Using the same design methodology I presented a similar project without acknowledging my influences and It was welcomed as being fresh. It was the same journey that brought me to two different places. Needless to say I don't connect the dots for people anymore, maybe that is what others do as well, but on my forum I want to share with my 2 readers the truth.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Quakers and Dingbats

Since moving to Whittier I have re-read one of my most favorite books; Los Angeles:The Architecture of Four Ecologies by Reyner Banham. Banham was an English Architectural Historian who wrote one of the most important appreciations of Los Angeles as a great city. I discovered the book while a student at Cal Poly, Pomona. A great deal of the curriculum is L.A. based as it should being one of a handfull of Architecture schools in the greater Los Angeles area. What is so unique about Banham's book is it takes what most people see as the negatives of a place like Los Angeles and uses them as a way of defining why L.A. is such a remarkable place. The book breaks down L.A. as a place formed by it's ecology, broken into Surfurbia, the Foothills, the Plains, and the Freeways. It examines the idea of L.A. as a region formed not by an increasingly growing city stemming from a vital urban core but by a vast network of communities born out of an extensive linear transportation network first, the railroads, to have been replaced by the boulevards and eventually the freeways. It was a unique idea in that it established L.A. as a series of settlements that grew together.

Our new home is in a city laid out not so much as a suburb of a booming metropolis but as a neighboring community; at first an agricultural colony by Quaker settlers. The city was named for the noted Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier, you'll find reminders in the street names "Greenleaf" "Whittier" (duh), "Philadelphia". "Penn", etc. At the heart of the town was a Quaker College bearing the name of the town. Eventually the Quakers left and now the college is a charming liberal arts school. It would not be unlike the Colleges established in nearby La Verne, Claremont, and further east in Redlands. Even the old hometown of Rialto was suposed to have a methodist college at it's heart. This was a established pattern of settlement in Southern California. Among the legacies of this are fantastic mature trees and landscaping and a rich Architectural traditon with all styles Victorian, Craftsman, and given the quaker connection a descent dose of east coast styles: Georgian/colonial/neo-classicism, which you don't usually find in Southern California.

"Dingbat" is a typographical term for the asterisk-sputnik like device you'd see in publications from the 1950's. it also shared the form with a type of lightfixture often found on the simply shaped box-like modernistic apartments that sprang up in Southern California in the sort of leftover spaces as the freeways and subdivisions filled in the space between the various towns and cities that make up L.A.. They are mentioned in the Architecture of Four Ecologies as a step toward densification in the leftover and older areas as the single family house propigated. They are largely simple structures with a designed front facade that might be highly articulated and adorned up front while presenting simple stucco boxes often on stilts above car ports at the sides and rear. As such they are a watered down version of the type of designs promoted by the great modernists, le Corbusier, Gropius, Vanderohe, as well as the Viennese emmigrants Schindler, and Neutra which are very much at the foundaton of Los Angeles contributions to modern architecture.

The complex we live in largely follows the conventions of the dingbat apartment ,and it was built on the remnants of a much older estate with a main house designed in a neo-classical style. The old house once crowned a hill with a spectacular view of the Los Angeles basin and commanded an ocean view. But by the 60's was being hemmed in by increasing development, as the newer ranch house subdivisions drew people away fron the old townsite. So the result here is an interesting mishmash of Victorian houses, Craftsman and Spanish Colonial Revival Bungalows, both freestanding and in "courts", scattered among these are the dingbat apartments built in the 40's-50's and 60's. Here the old estate was carved into several landscaped atriums lined wih Dingbat flats and townhomes. The main house was cut up into San Francisco like apartments and the stucco wings followed. The streetside facade is made up of brick facades with simple Tuscan columns, white trim and surrounds to recall the neo-classical detailing of the main house with it's brick walls, whitewashed colums, dentils, and cornices. I hope to detail the complex in a future post.

The result I think Is a unique and pleasant composition that relates in a simple apartment complex to both the rich local history as well as the spirit of the greater region.

Another move !

We have moved to "the big city", well maybe not THE big city, but within sight of it. I finally made the move out of San Bernardino County. Except for a month spent in Paris I have never lived outside of the "I.E.", and I am happy to have made the leap. Our new home is in a very cozy apartment complex located 15 minutes from my job in the foothills above Uptown Whittier. Whittier is a medium size city founded by Quakers in the 1880's. It was the hometown of President (and former Vice-President) Richard M. Nixon , who although was born and laid to rest in Yorba Linda actually grew up here.

Don't tell anyone but Uptown Whittier is a really, really nice place to live, it is an undiscovered gem(except for those who live here) whose reputation is attached to the overall city of Whittier and it's proximity to the "East side" of Los Angeles; this probably keeps most people away. But the rents are more than reasonable for quiet spacious accomodations in the heart of the Los Angeles basin. We are now minutes from everything. When we lived in Alta Loma we were 30-60 minutes from everything. When we moved to Highland we were 30-60 minutes from being 30-60 minutes from everything. Now we are 15-30 minutes from everything, but more importantly I have gained atleast 90 minutes a day with my family that I used to spend in my car.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Vegas Baby! Vegas! Part I

Just got back from Vegas after celebrating my 30th birthday. We spent it at the Hotel Fremont, which apparently was the location of the Vegas interiors from "Swingers" very cool, old school so to speak. The Casino is forgetable, except for a Brady Bunch Staircase in the lobby that has been badly carpeted over, but it is still cantielevered and could be rescued. To our suprise the rooms have been remodeled in vaguely retro-style. The hallways have been carpeted in a Googie style print. And the rooms are done in a swanky chocolate brown scheme with mod/googie prints and Hollywood regncy-ish lucite and wood lamps. The Plantation shutters mar the look but as far as budget accomodations go it has a fair amount of style and there is plenty to do on Fremont Street. It is still kinda seedy outside but hey, that is part of that Las Vegas Charm, right? I had always wanted to stay there as I love the vintage images of the hotel and wanted to imbibe all of that intact mid-century design downtown.

We spent alot of time downtown mainly because of the hastle of the Valet-only parking situation at The Hotel Fremont, but it forced us to take in plenty of Fremont Street. Binions next door formerly Binion's Horseshoe was wild west inside, but fantastic aqua and red outside. We dined at the Plaza, or as I like to think of it as "Biff Tannen's Pleasure Paradise" from Back to the Future 2. They have a new retro logo as well with "Plaza" in script against a guitar pick shaped background, and since it seems to have never been remodeled it has plenty of "Retro" (or is it "Vintage"?) charm. Be sure to check out the awesome Amtrak mural at the former gangway to the now defunct railroad station. It predicts the far off metropolis of the future complete with levitating Amtrak monorails probably set in the year 1999....

Some people think it's Hokey but I love the Fremont Street Experience, I dig the funky light shows and I appreciate that it turns the entire district into a place to hang out instead of scurrying about on tiny sidewalks. It also makes it tolerable during the day when it would be otherwise sweltering going from Casino to Casino. I think it is lacking an important element of public sculpture, it needs a convertible with a statue of Robert Urich placed along it as if driving through the credits of VEGA$, and it needs a red mustang on two wheels being chased by police cars ala "Diamonds are Forever" that would be the coolest thing ever...

Posting resumed!

I have returned from self-imposed exile and hope to engage in regular posting. I have settled into my position at my "new" job and have been there now for going on 10 months, the same amount of time at Modern Living Spaces, so the fingers are crossed until I hit 12 months!

I like my position, and have picked up lots of computer skills, but in addition to becoming CAD literate, I am especially excited at the fusion of traditional and computer illustration skills. I take my hand sketches and import them into the computer where I render them in photoshop. Quite a 20th Century leap for this stone-knives and bear skins kind of guy. Our firm specializes in photo realistic digital models, but this is an expensive and time-consuming process especially in the early design stages. My sketching skills come in handy at those times when the design is still in flux.

I have not fully embraced technology. I have found that the hand drawing involves the observer in a way that engages their imagination and allows them to fill in the details of a design. This can be valuable as the digital model demands perfection and anything less the reality often hurts the presentation.