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11.02.2010
wHY Architecture's Makeover Magic at L&M Arts
An old WPA-era power plant finds new life as an art gallery
A WPA-era power plant is transformed into a modern gallery space.
Kelly Barrie

Just as LACMA’s new Resnick Pavilion opened, Venice inaugurated a much smaller building impressive enough to also have a profound impact: wHY Architecture’s new L&M Arts, which opened on September 25.

The gallery, spreading out along the south side of Venice Boulevard, features copious landscaping to soften the transition from the street, and to provide a garden setting—a rarity for galleries. And it manages to combine old and new in a way that “makes the old feel alive,” said wHY partner Kulapat Yantrasast.

wHY Architecture transforms a powerplant into an art gallery.
Ample landscaping surrounds the L&M Arts, providing a lush feel to the gallery.

The project is composed of three main elements. First, the adaptive reuse of a WPA-era brick power station, which the firm fitted with pristine white walls to contrast with the building’s existing concrete slab system. Second, a tall, diamond-shaped new gallery made from an irregular pattern of recycled bricks (taken from former downtown LA office buildings) that somehow looks older than the actual historic building. And third, a sleek linear bar, clad with richly textured exposed aggregate plaster and large horizontal windows, which connects the two and provides offices and a private viewing room for the gallery.

L&M Arts by wHY Architecture.   L&M Arts by wHY Architecture.
Natural and artificial light mix inside wHY Architecture's new L&M Arts gallery.
 

Inside, the galleries not only merge old and new, but natural and artificial light—an ethereal element that immediately draws your eye upward before you take in the art. The new building’s giant skylight, with its exposed steel frame, is complemented by uplights that delineate the space between the white walls and the wooden rafters. The older space’s long, central skylight is fitted with a scrim, evocative of a James Turrell Skyspace. Fluorescents inside augment and mimic that skylight effect at night.

Overall, it’s a huge step for a community that, while rich in artistic talent, has few world-class galleries to show for it. The first show—a controversial set of sculptures by artist Paul McCarthy—drew huge crowds. It’s a promising start.

Sam Lubell