Meet the architects bringing a new way of living to Los Angeles, the birthplace of American modernism.
Like the desert floor springing forth with floral growth after the summer rain, the Los Angeles skyline of late is abloom with new construction. What was once just a flat expanse punctuated with brief copses of skyscrapers marking the business districts of Downtown, Wilshire, Westwood and Culver City, is now populated by bright orange, latticed-steel construction cranes. They lumber robotically, methodically adding vertical square footage, one I-beam at a time, as Los Angeles moves into the future.
Traveling on any Los Angeles freeway instantly reveals a fresh mid-city high-rise being clad in its final glass panels or an Arts District warehouse being repurposed into start-up office space. And though this kind of urban growth may seem typical for a global city like Los Angeles, here, in a metropolis that once favored width over height, it is a revelation.
While most of the architectural attention shining on Los Angeles recently has gone to buildings designed by architects based in other cities—Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s popular museum The Broad is a prime example—many of the new buildings redefining LA are the work of architects who live and work in the city, and who feel its aesthetic language in their bones.
Structures by LA architects including Leo Marmol and Ron Radziner of Marmol Radziner, Grant Kirkpatrick and his firm KAA Design, Steven Ehrlich of EYRC and Michael Maltzan are continuing to ensure that Los Angeles remains a global center for contemporary, boundary-pushing architecture.
“We don’t see ‘modern ideas’ as a relic of the past; we see the issue of modernism as relevant in today’s world,” says Leo Marmol, who with partner Ron Radziner has designed dozens of contemporary homes in Southern California. “We’re bombarded with the chaos of technology. Modernism is about simplifying the design environment to the core elements of beauty, scale and light; the elements we see as fundamentally human. In our architectural experiences, we’re hoping to provide a sanctuary from the chaos of that technology.”
Of course, ever since the birth of modernism in the early to mid-twentieth century, Los Angeles has embraced this aesthetic revolution. The city is awash with works by mid-century giants Schindler, Neutra, Ray/Charles Eames, Lautner, Koenig, Saarinen, and Ellwood, who all built residential and commercial structures in the LA Basin that continue to inspire contemporary buildings around the world, decades later.
Despite working from this tradition of modernity, LA architects are anything but rooted in the past. “There’s always a drive toward the future,” says
Marmol. “We’re focused on new technology, new materials and new ways of exploring modern ideas.” Homes may be comprised of familiar forms rooted in these traditions, but materials, technology, and interior flow are contemporary. “The need to move forward,” says Grant Kirkpatrick, whose homes along the beach and beyond are celebrations of those elements that make Los Angeles so unique, “and the experimentation of what works and what doesn’t are equally as important. We continually utilize new structural capacities and technologies.” Los Angeles architects have excelled by taking advantage of the unique combination of available space and moderate climate, as well as a city culture that rewards risks and celebrates creativity.
“California is one of the epicenters of design in the world,” says Kirkpatrick, “and has continually influenced not only architecture but food, fashion, car design and entertainment. The very essence of modernism is to be modern, of the moment, contemporary.” And though Kirkpatrick’s houses, especially those that dot the coastline, are recognizably contemporary, the use of timber, stone, and glass in his homes gives them a sense of being at once timeless and very much of the moment. Los Angeles’ seemingly opposing qualities—new and old, traditional and groundbreaking—together create a platform for architecture that continually evolves the craft.
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