from thePlant a Seed Department: An L.A. StoryAs I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog, for better or worse, L.A. is my home town. Spurred by the debate around the Abel project proposed for Sheridan Road recently, there has been some lively debate on the RP blogs about how contemporary architectural styles can co-exist harmoniously with older architectural fabric and the surrounding landscape. Here is a story about how they have sometimes done it right in L.A.(This story comes from the email newsletter of the site Design within Reach) Los Angeles is a breeding ground for modern residential architecture like no other place in the United States, and maybe the world. If you're one of those L.A. bashers who doubts this, consider the Case Study House program, and review Julius Schulman's photographic record of modernism.
It's no coincidence that the city has also been a destination and home for many modern designers, dating back to the '20s, when both Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra settled there. And Los Angeles continues to attract design talent. Two prime examples are featured at DWR this spring: Christopher Farr, a British rug and textile designer who moved to L.A. in the '90s, and architect Alberto Rivera, who moved there permanently in 1994 after being in L.A. off and on since the '80s.
The biographies of this pair of designers are available online and in summary below. But the fact that both live in Los Angeles gave me the opportunity to interview them together on their turf during a recent visit. The three of us toured the Schindler Kings Road House, an architectural treasure located close to La Cienega Boulevard, not far from where both Farr and Rivera have studios.
Any excuse to visit the Schindler House is a good one. Designed in 1921, it was a radical work of residential architecture, showing the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright, with whom Schindler studied. The house elegantly foreshadows the future of modernism, a concept then in its infancy (the Bauhaus was formed only two years prior, in 1919). The Schindler residence is actually not a house at all, but a compound for two families with studios and common areas–an experiment in communal living on a very human scale. Built economically using only five materials, it is something of a pioneering prototype for modern architecture. The connection to the outdoors is explicit everywhere, not just in views to the gardens, but in the rooftop sleeping porches that are just one step beyond camping.
Together with redwood framing, Schindler utilized concrete "tilt up" slabs to form part of the structure. This would have been radical enough on its own, but the architect included vertical window openings in the slab walls, resulting in a space-defining interior light that has an ethereal beauty. Tour the house and you will see many ideas that have become part of the classic vocabulary of modern architecture. The outdoor areas have a special architecture as well, making this a very complete statement. To learn more about this, and the other Schindler houses, get the book Schindler by MAK. Proceeds support the MAK Center for Art and Architecture, which we are fortunate to have as the steward of this treasure. Click here to see more of the Schindler house.
Farr and Rivera both had a strong reverence for the house:
Rivera: "The place is like a low-budget Barcelona Pavilion. Cheap construction, yet it's elegant and intimate at the same time."
Farr: "The fragility and modesty strike me, and a general sense of rigorous inquiry. You can almost see his notes and drawings scribbled down, adding to the impression I had of his excitement about being one of the first to turn up at the birth of the modern movement."
Farr and Rivera actually have a lot more in common than Los Angeles and their respect for Schindler's work. Both have families with two children. Both are highly educated designers with international experience, and each is a devoted student of the past. And despite their formidable successes, both are quite unpretentious. Other details of taste connect them: both wear simple Muji watches, favor the subtle work of Jasper Morrison over other more glitzy contemporary designers and drive Honda Elements. I quizzed them further about their favorite aspects of L.A.:
Christopher Farr: Cora's Coffee Shop in Santa Monica.
Alberto Rivera: Angelini Osteria in Hollywood.
CF: Downtown [where all the fashion and garments are made].
AR: The Sunset Strip at 7am.
CF: Blackman Cruz on La Cienega.
AR: The Chalet Gourmet.
CF: The Michael Maharam showroom on Melrose.
AR: The Central Market downtown.
CF: The Oscar Niemeyer house on La Mesa Drive in Santa Monica.
AR: Some of the early courtyard housing projects.
Film on L.A.
CF: Sarah Morris' Los Angeles, 2005.
AR: Roman Polanski's Chinatown, 1974.
Book on L.A.
CF: Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies, by Reynar Banham.
AR: City of Quartz, by Mike Davis.
Where you take friends who visit you in L.A.
CF: Up to see the view from Mulholland Drive at dusk.
AR: To the Chateau Marmont hotel for a drink, then driving for a couple of hours with no real destination.
Noteworthy living designer in L.A.
CF: Alison Berger.
AR: Michael Maltzan.