Compelling case for gray at Pomona College's Studio Art Hall

The new Pomona College Studio Art Hall. (Laure Joliet / Pomona College)

There's a large room on the upper floor of the new Studio Art Hall at Pomona College, designed by the Culver City architecture firm wHY, called the "Gray Space." It doesn't have any fixed furniture. It's used variously as a studio, classroom and place for students to hang out; it has polished concrete floors and floor-to-ceiling windows offering dramatic glimpses of the San Gabriel Mountains, which this month are topped with an unusual amount of snow.

The room is also a pretty good stand-in for the architectural goals of the project as a whole. The building — which includes spacious, sunny studios for painting, drawing and other media as well as a lecture hall and two-room art gallery — is an extended exploration of various kinds of gray areas, conceptual and practical alike.

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Actually, it's more interesting than that: wHY's design argues, in part thanks to the stylistic and other constraints the architects were operating under, that grayness as an architectural condition can be as compelling as brightness, boldness and big gestures. It aims to find in the in-between, the undefined, the transitory and even the banal a kind of architectural staying power.

And it almost pulls it off. The effort alone, something of a high-wire act on a narrow line connecting the bold and the value-engineered, makes the building absolutely worth visiting, despite the imperfect results.

WHY, a firm co-founded in 2004 by Thailand-born architect Kulapat Yantrasast, has in the last few years become one of the most prolific midsized offices in Los Angeles. Yantrasast, who worked for seven years for the Japanese architect Tadao Ando, got a big break early in his career when the firm won the commission for the Grand Rapids Art Museum, which opened in 2007.

WHY, a firm co-founded in 2004 by Thailand-born architect Kulapat Yantrasast, has in the last few years become one of the most prolific midsized offices in Los Angeles. Yantrasast, who worked for seven years for the Japanese architect Tadao Ando, got a big break early in his career when the firm won the commission for the Grand Rapids Art Museum, which opened in 2007.

WHY, a firm co-founded in 2004 by Thailand-born architect Kulapat Yantrasast, has in the last few years become one of the most prolific midsized offices in Los Angeles. Yantrasast, who worked for seven years for the Japanese architect Tadao Ando, got a big break early in his career when the firm won the commission for the Grand Rapids Art Museum, which opened in 2007.

Yantrasast also has an interest in energetic form-making of the kind you'd never see in Ando's work. His installation design for "Samurai: Japanese Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection," an exhibition now at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is drenched in red.

Yantrasast also has an interest in energetic form-making of the kind you'd never see in Ando's work. His installation design for "Samurai: Japanese Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection," an exhibition now at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is drenched in red.

Yantrasast also has an interest in energetic form-making of the kind you'd never see in Ando's work. His installation design for "Samurai: Japanese Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection," an exhibition now at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is drenched in red.

Yantrasast also has an interest in energetic form-making of the kind you'd never see in Ando's work. His installation design for "Samurai: Japanese Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection," an exhibition now at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is drenched in red.

Yantrasast also has an interest in energetic form-making of the kind you'd never see in Ando's work. His installation design for "Samurai: Japanese Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection," an exhibition now at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is drenched in red.

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Yantrasast also has an interest in energetic form-making of the kind you'd never see in Ando's work. His installation design for "Samurai: Japanese Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection," an exhibition now at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is drenched in red.

Yantrasast also has an interest in energetic form-making of the kind you'd never see in Ando's work. His installation design for "Samurai: Japanese Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection," an exhibition now at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is drenched in red.

Yantrasast also has an interest in energetic form-making of the kind you'd never see in Ando's work. His installation design for "Samurai: Japanese Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection," an exhibition now at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is drenched in red.

Yantrasast also has an interest in energetic form-making of the kind you'd never see in Ando's work. His installation design for "Samurai: Japanese Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection," an exhibition now at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is drenched in red.

Yantrasast also has an interest in energetic form-making of the kind you'd never see in Ando's work. His installation design for "Samurai: Japanese Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection," an exhibition now at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is drenched in red.

Hunt was fond of big, overhanging roofs, but he never designed one quite like this. A composite of steel and wood (the original design called just for wood), it suggests a bird's wing and the San Gabriels at the same time; it also recalls recent examples of museum architecture, primarily Shigeru Ban's 2010 branch of the Pompidou Center in Metz, France.

Hunt was fond of big, overhanging roofs, but he never designed one quite like this. A composite of steel and wood (the original design called just for wood), it suggests a bird's wing and the San Gabriels at the same time; it also recalls recent examples of museum architecture, primarily Shigeru Ban's 2010 branch of the Pompidou Center in Metz, France.

Hunt was fond of big, overhanging roofs, but he never designed one quite like this. A composite of steel and wood (the original design called just for wood), it suggests a bird's wing and the San Gabriels at the same time; it also recalls recent examples of museum architecture, primarily Shigeru Ban's 2010 branch of the Pompidou Center in Metz, France.

Hunt was fond of big, overhanging roofs, but he never designed one quite like this. A composite of steel and wood (the original design called just for wood), it suggests a bird's wing and the San Gabriels at the same time; it also recalls recent examples of museum architecture, primarily Shigeru Ban's 2010 branch of the Pompidou Center in Metz, France.

Hunt was fond of big, overhanging roofs, but he never designed one quite like this. A composite of steel and wood (the original design called just for wood), it suggests a bird's wing and the San Gabriels at the same time; it also recalls recent examples of museum architecture, primarily Shigeru Ban's 2010 branch of the Pompidou Center in Metz, France.

Hunt was fond of big, overhanging roofs, but he never designed one quite like this. A composite of steel and wood (the original design called just for wood), it suggests a bird's wing and the San Gabriels at the same time; it also recalls recent examples of museum architecture, primarily Shigeru Ban's 2010 branch of the Pompidou Center in Metz, France.

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Hunt was fond of big, overhanging roofs, but he never designed one quite like this. A composite of steel and wood (the original design called just for wood), it suggests a bird's wing and the San Gabriels at the same time; it also recalls recent examples of museum architecture, primarily Shigeru Ban's 2010 branch of the Pompidou Center in Metz, France.

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Hunt was fond of big, overhanging roofs, but he never designed one quite like this. A composite of steel and wood (the original design called just for wood), it suggests a bird's wing and the San Gabriels at the same time; it also recalls recent examples of museum architecture, primarily Shigeru Ban's 2010 branch of the Pompidou Center in Metz, France.

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