Room With Urban-Design View

The signs leading to the exhibit space in the California Museum of Science and Industry in Exposition Park were not particularly attractive or helpful. And when eventually found in the basement, the space also was neither well lighted nor was the initial exhibit there well designed.

But quite welcome was the space itself, christened The City Room by the Los Angeles chapter of the American Institute of Architects and to be used for exhibits of architecture, construction, transportation and urban and regional planning.

The City Room is part of an increased effort by the chapter, in association with the museum, "to stimulate discussion and to increase public awareness in the design of the built environment in Los Angeles and California."

It also, at long last, gives the chapter a public space in a public facility where various proposals and projects winning awards or stirring local debates can be displayed--in effect, a resource center for public information and education.

We hope the room will not be used for self-serving advertisements, such as the "Olympic Architects, 84/84" exhibit the chapter staged last year, and instead will be used to explore such pressing local issues as the future of Library and Pershing Squares, Metro Rail alternatives, the erosion of residential neighborhoods, improving pedestrian life and the need for affordable housing.

Like the museum of which it is a part, the space is going to need careful, continuing attention of those involved to develop into an identifiable "place" where the public will want to go to find out what is happening to their built environment, instead of just happening to wander into the room by mistake when searching for bathroom facilities.

The inaugural exhibit is entitled "American Architecture: Innovation and Tradition," and explores in excellent photographs and well-chosen words regional design. Unfortunately, the boards were not properly illuminated or organized.

Created by the Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture at Columbia University, the exhibit could have used, in addition to a better design and better lighting, a few supplemental boards developed by the local chapter or an architecture school looking at the Far West in more detail.

The exhibit is scheduled to run through Aug. 15 at the museum, 700 State Drive, and is open, free to the public, seven days a weeks from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In considering future exhibits beyond just local concerns, the chapter officers would do well to look at three now on display in the Bay Area that I viewed a few weeks ago while the AIA was holding its national convention there. One can take just so much of speeches.

Most impressive was "art + architecture + landscape," an exhibit featuring the drawings and models submitted by the five teams composed of architects and artists who were finalists in the competition to design Clos Pegases, a winery, sculpture garden and residence in Napa Valley.

The competition was sponsored by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and is on exhibit at the museum in the civic center through Aug. 25.

The competition was won by the team of architect Michael Graves and artist Edward Schmidt, which submitted exquisitely etched boards, supported by a surprisingly articulate narrative, illustrating a design blending various classical and vernacular architectural styles.

The total was indeed engaging, but from my perspective, violated the ancient Italian vineyard rule of avoiding when possible building on what you can grow on. The scheme just eats up too much of the tillable land, satisfying the art and architecture aspects of the competition, but not the landscape.

More site sensitive seemed to be the proposal by the team of Daniel Solomon, Ricardo Bofill, Patrick Dillon, and Barbara Stauffacher Solomon with Ed Carpenter. And more imaginative was the proposal by the team of Robert Mangurian with James Turrell, though unfortunately, their boards appeared incomplete.

Also shown are the works of Andrew Batey and Mark Mack, with Peter Saari; and Stanley Saitowitz, Toby Levy, and Pat O'Brien with Elyn Zimmerman.

The total was quite provocative.

Also provocative is an exhibition of architectural drawings and models focusing on the rebuilding of a historic section and the design of no less than five new museums in Frankfurt, West Germany. Shown in fine detail are the works of various noted architects, including Pritzker Prize winners Richard Meier and Hans Hollein, and Charles Moore.

On loan from the city of Frankfurt and sponsored in part by Lufthansa, the German airline, and the Goethe Institute of the United States, the exhibition is on display from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays in the offices of Gensler & Associates, 550 Kearny St. in downtown San Francisco.

It was an odd place to come across such an exhibit, but there it was, on view, free of charge, right down to the hotel napkins on which Hollein sketched his initial scheme for the city's new museum of modern art.

And across the bay in the Oakland Museum Oakes Gallery, at various hours Wednesdays through Sundays through July 28 (For more information, call 415/273-3401) is an exhibit aptly entitled "Precocious Houses."

The drawings, sketches, models and photographs of new houses by Thomas Gordon Smith, Glenn Lymm, Ace Architects, and Richard Fernau and Laura Hartman Architects, display an imaginative design process, from early schematics to completion, with some distinctive, if not strained, results worth a look.

Though not on public display, the recently completed design by Mark Mack of two floors of the Getty Center for the Humanities and the Arts "temporarily" housed at 401 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, deserves comment--if only to indicate the architectural tastes of those at the trust who will approve or disapprove the scheme now being sketched by Richard Meier for the $100-million-plus arts complex in Brentwood.

The design by Mack, formerly of the singular, studied firm of Batey and Mack, is indeed singular, and sensitive. No corporate look out of the Herman Miller or Steelcase catalogues for the Getty.

Instead, Mack uses a variety of raw materials, including cement block and corrugated metal for wall sections as well as marble and white birch for furniture, in a modest mix, softened by pastels, to produce a very pleasant environment for visitors and staff.

The ceilings and lighting also are handled with an informal, light touch, as is the separation of visitor and staff spaces made more complicated because of the center's strict security needs. It is all very softly functional, encouraging whispering and padding about on crepe soles.

Oddly, the only thing that looked out of place during a recent tour of the center was Mack himself, dressed in a baggy test-pattern outfit, his black-and-white stripped pants clashing against a black-and-white checkered sports jacket over a gray-patterned shirt. It was amazing that the combination did not set off the Getty alarm system.

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