Design Biennial gives architecture a try

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In a what-took-them-so-long bit of news, the California Design Biennial at the Pasadena Museum of California Art has added an architecture category for the first time.

The building projects in this year’s edition, which opened last weekend, were picked by Frances Anderton, the Los Angeles editor of Dwell magazine and host of KCRW-FM’s ‘DnA: Design and Architecture.’ Her choices include works by Los Angeles architects Frederick Fisher, Daly Genik, Lorcan O’Herlihy and the late Stephen Kanner, who died of cancer at 54 this month. (Anderton wrote this tribute to Kanner, who is represented in the show by his 26th Street housing complex in Santa Monica, soon after his death.) Bay Area firms are here as well, including the San Francisco office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, for its Cathedral of Christ the Light on the edge of Oakland’s Lake Merritt.


Seen purely from a formal point of view, the architecture in the show is pretty straightforward, even restrained. But it is ambitious in other ways, particularly in dealing frankly with history, as at Fisher’s Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica, or with social issues, as in affordable housing by Daly Genik (above), Kanner and Michael Maltzan. In that sense, a number of the buildings reflect the Biennial’s larger theme of using design to grapple with economic, political and environmental issues.

The Biennial — which has been around since 2003 and, in addition to architecture includes categories this year dedicated to transportation design, graphic design, fashion and product design — runs through Halloween. Anderton has more on her choices for the show here.

— Christopher Hawthorne