What's Goin' On in LA Architecture

What's Goin' On in LA Architecture

Johnston Marklee’s View House.
Courtesy Oro Editions

A5 Los Angeles: Architecture, Interiors, Lifestyle
Edited by Casey C.M. Mathewson with an ntroduction by Frances Anderton
Oro Editions, $60.00

The new book A5 Los Angeles is a collector’s item—a contemporary architecture “greatest hits” for a city that definitely deserves one. It charts out 22 of the city’s most dynamic firms and vividly displays their most recent projects. And with the help of architectural journalist Frances Anderton, it also conducts a useful exploration of where LA architecture is, and where it’s heading.

A5 Los Angeles: Architecture, Interiors, Lifestyle.  

The book, put together by architect Casey Mathewson and edited by designer Ann Videriksen, is the first in a planned series about the architecture of world capitals built in the last five years (hence, A5). It features beautiful images and layouts, with the work of many of the most dynamic firms in the city, from wHY Architecture in Culver City to Lean Arch downtown. Many in the book are unknown outside of LA, while stalwarts like Gehry Partners, Morphosis, Eric Owen Moss, and Michael Maltzan are left out. It’s not entirely clear how the final list came to be, but Mathewson does point to firms “for whom construction matters.” And the constructions—from Johnston Marklee’s sensuous and light-on-the-landscape View House to Ray Kappe’s prefab, LEED-certified, but also uniquely elegant LivingHome—showcase both beauty and brains. The German Mathewson admits in his introduction that his original view of LA designers as architectural and structural lightweights was unfounded.

In her absorbing introduction, Anderton clarifies some of the wonders and paradoxes of LA architecture. Astonished by its “chutzpah and invention,” and impressed by its “formal abstraction and material experimentation that thumbs its nose at pallid gestures,” she also wonders about its limitations. While most architects here support small houses and multi-family housing to tame the sprawling metropolis, and most believe that the city needs to put more emphasis on public architecture (as Austin Kelly of Xten says, LA is remaking itself “with greater density and urbanism”), the best new work in the city still consists mostly of extra-large, single-family residences.

why architecture’s tyler museum of art.

A roundtable conversation at the back of the book, compiled by Anderton, dissects the contemporary scene particularly well. The architects discuss the evolution of architecture from the days of early modernism to now. Kelly, who is evidently a shrewd observer of tectonics and history, put it succinctly: “From Neutra, we learned how to separate a glass wall from a structural element, so that they read independently and slip past one another… From Schindler, we learned about interlocking spaces and the plasticity of surfaces… From Ray and Charles Eames, we learned about a collaborative and open-ended design process.” The major evolution from then to now, Kelly added, is architecture that is more complex, more irregular, and more precisely shaped by and tuned to its specific surroundings. Others mention more attention to detail and structure, and a new “warm modernism.”

Despite its plusses, two troubling aspects of the book are the dry project descriptions, most of which sound directly cribbed from official firm statements, and the fact that the book was sponsored by a number of local and national companies, many of whose projects fill the book. It makes me wonder how selections were actually made. But with money for book publishing so scarce, perhaps we’re lucky that someone was even able to produce a glamorous, useful record of what talented firms are doing here.

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