Architectural Joys to Westwood Woes

Peripatetic Charles Moore was back in UCLA's School of Architecture and Urban Planning last week, if only for a night, to comment on his creations in his ingenuous, self-deprecating style. Genius does excuse a lot.

Now of the University of Texas, late of UCLA, Yale and UC Berkeley, Moore continues to be one of those exceptional architects who somehow has combined a successful career as an educator with that of a practitioner.

Usually academic institutions resent the melding; too much reality in the classroom tends to make the tenured faculty nervous. Hovering above are the ghosts of the three greatest architects of this century, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, none of whom ever attended architecture school.

Certainly, what makes Moore such an excellent teacher is not his rambling expositions but that most of his distinct designs have been realized. How much of this is due to Moore's ability as a designer, facilitator of talented colleagues or simply a charmer of clients, is hard to calculate.

The fact is the buildings are there for all to see--houses, schools, churches, museums and civic centers spread from coast to coast. No ideologue or mannerist Moore; he mixes in his designs theories and styles, adds a dash of the vernacular, a touch of the classic, a layer of post-modernisms, maybe a joke, then splashes on a regional hue and wanders off into the sunset.

At UCLA the other night, he lingered a bit over the slides of the troubled Beverly Hills Civic Center, which he and the Urban Innovations Group had fashioned in winning an international competition of note. It is now undergoing a redesign in which the theater has been dropped in an effort to save money and placate politicians.

With the center now in construction, what might be saved probably will be lost in the time and cost of the redesign and the posturing of local demagogues, of which Beverly Hills has more than its share. The exercise begs for Moore's sense of humor to salvage it from being a tragedy.

Moore also reviewed the design process that led to the rebuilding of St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in Pacific Palisades, which has to be one of the more engagingly serene structures of late, locally. The firms involved were Moore Ruble Yudell and Campbell & Campbell, with a little help from planning orchestrator Jim Burns.

If the project demonstrated anything, Moore indicated, it was that sometimes listening to clients can benefit all. He seemed to be saying that even in something as ego involved as architecture, humility pays. I suspect it was a point that might have slipped by the overflow audience of star-struck architecture students.

Nevertheless, it was nice to have Moore back in town, even if just for an evening. Los Angeles' architecture scene needs him.

Westwood Woe. Attending the Moore lecture at UCLA allowed one to suffer the traffic in Westwood and view the latest outrages in the area.

Of course, with the blessings of local councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, city planners have been revising the general Westwood Community Plan while private planners under contract with the city and in cooperation with local residents have been mulling over a specific plan for the Village.

But, as residents of other communities have come now to know, by the time the plans are finished and wend their way past various commission and council committees downtown to be approved, there won't be much left to plan in Westwood anymore. All will have been done somewhat more informally by a host of developers.

Shoulder to shoulder with Yaroslavsky, the developers will no doubt, after the horses are gone, close the barn doors with fanfare and nail up the plan and hail it. The ceremony is getting to be a Los Angeles tradition.

Actually, the Village itself is no longer a village with any semblance of of serving neighborhood needs. It has turned into a sort of pubescent paradise of movie houses, snack bars, junk food stands and record and clothing stores populated by peers. If you are a teen-ager, especially from the hinterlands, this is great. But if you are an adult living nearby it is, to borrow a word heard often on Westwood Boulevard, gross.

Westwood's north Village is a sadder story. It has been urban-strip mined over the last few years, with dozens of stolid apartment houses demolished and thousands of persons displaced to make way for oversized and overpriced new developments taking advantage of zoning loopholes.

A tattered Village residents association last summer successfully lobbied against a bevy of real estate lawyers for a moratorium, hoping that it would stop the strip mining. The effort was supported by Yaroslavsky.

But the moratorium has turned out to be "a piece of Swiss cheese," according to Bob Breall of the association. He notes that under a "hardship" provision, and with the blessings of Yaroslavsky, projects are still being processed. So far, five, totaling 281 units, have been approved.

The moratorium was supposed to give the community time to repair the planning and design process. What it seems to have done is to dissipate the protests while veiling business as usual in the City Council and at the building counter downtown.

Once a pleasant, well-scaled residential enclave, the north Village is just the type of area extolled by Moore and other architects concerned with creating more than just buildings, but a sense of place. According to Moore's writings and ramblings, that is the real challenge in architecture today, not monument building.

Linking what Moore talks about to the reality of the north Village--how it can be preserved--yet accommodate new, more sensitive development than it is now suffering--is what in large part architectural education should be about.

With the north Village adjoining the UCLA campus, one would presume that the link would not be hard to make, but it is. Reality has a way to expose what is of consequence and what is not; a test that many in the architecture and planning profession these days are not prone to risk.

It is a time of monuments, not places.

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