AIA Design Contest Victors Few and Divergent

Times Design Critic

A relatively few and divergent projects are this year’s winners of the annual Design Awards contest of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

No project won honors, the contest’s highest award category, only five garnered merits, the next level, and three received citations out of 120 submissions in what has to be one of the more frugal awards programs since its inception 13 years go.

In 1987, there were 11 awards, including two honor awards; in 1986, 13 awards, including seven honor awards. Also declining have been submissions.

According to some architects, entries have been discouraged in recent years by what they contend is the increasing predisposition of juries toward more easily identifiable projects previously spotlighted and the work of high-profile designers.

The jurors for the slim sheath of awards announced Friday by the AIA at a reception at the Getty Museum in Malibu were architecture critic Robert Campbell and architect and educator Rodolfo Machado, both of Boston, and architect Ronald Krueck of Chicago.


Winning merits were the firm of Morphosis Architects for a cancer clinic on the Westside; Eric Owen Moss for a warehouse renovation in Culver City; Frank Gehry & Associates for a sheet metal exhibit in Washington, D.C.; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill for an unbuilt office tower in Tokyo; and Gensler & Associates for an interior design of a local law office.

Citations went to Dean Nota for a single-family house in Hermosa Beach; Michael Burch for a renovation and expansion of a commercial loft downtown, and the firm of Johnson Fain & Pereira Associates for an urban design plan of the Highway 111 Corridor in Indian Wells.

Project Won Honor Award

The Morphosis design of the cancer clinic at the Cedars Sinai Medical Center, praised here when opened last spring and featured in July in a professional journal, was described by the jury as “memorable . . . spatially rich and with an impressive materiality.”

The warehouse renovation by Moss in association with Jay Vanoss at 8522 National Blvd. consists of combining and converting five structures into a single commercial building. The project has appeared in several trade publications and last spring won an honor award from the national AIA. Though here it has been criticized as an over-designed, overpriced indulgence that while photographing well does not appear to work well.

In giving the design a local merit award, Machado commented: “the inventiveness displayed in these rooms and spaces is exemplary; the materiality is remarkable and their execution seems to be very good.”

Another previously well-publicized and easily identifiable project that won a local merit award is the 65-foot-high Cubist collage of sheet metal Frank Gehry fashioned for the National Building Museum in Washington for an exhibit sponsored by the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Assn. It was described by Machado as a “splendid pile, obviously the work of a mature architect in control of his aesthetic.”

The design for an 18-story office building in Tokyo by the firm of SOM that won a merit was praised by the jury for its elegance, inventiveness, and formal interest. “It makes you wish such a building were more feasible in our cities,” declared Machado. A “pleasing and not pedantic recall of constructivist architecture of the past,” added Campbell.

“An elegant, crisp, largely black-and-white interior with great attention to detail,” was the jury’s comment in giving a merit award for interior design to Gensler & Associates. The design involved the corporate law offices of McKenna, Conner & Cueno, 444 S. Flower St., downtown.

‘Adequate and Sensible Strategy’

The Nota design that gained a citation was praised by Campbell for its balance between “stylistic inventiveness and responsiveness to site and program.” Machado called attention to the project’s ambiguities. “Is it an object building or an in-fill piece, or a whole or a series of pieces?” but nonetheless declared it “adequate and a sensible strategy for the kind or urbanism that surrounds the house.”

“A simple but memorable renovation . . . a metaphor of industrial architecture,” was the way Campbell described the Michael Burch design of the Jonathan Martin office and distribution facility at 1157 Crocker St., downtown, which won a citation.

The urban design plan for a highway corridor in Indian Wells by Johnson Fain & Pereira Associates that also won a citation was described by the jury as the “kind of study that is terribly important in bringing form to the sprawl of so much recent development.” Added Machado, “It is not usual to see suburban street design of this strength and clarity.”

In the jury’s general remarks, Campbell commented that he would have liked to have seen “more outstanding big buildings and more crazy small ones.” Machado declared that “clearly California is perhaps the only ‘place’ where a new regionalism has evolved.”

But Machado added that “signs of peril” are beginning to appear in the form of “excessive self-consciousness, sometimes too high a dose of regional mannerisms, maybe even a lack of freshness.” Krueck, the third juror, declined to submit any formal comments.

In summing up the jury’s actions and comments, awards committee member Larry Schlossberg noted that the many projects were rejected for using “worn-out cliches” in the view of the jurors. However, he added that “clearly, if this year’s jury can be considered representative, the rest of the country continues to look to California for invention and creativity in design.”

And maybe for some contradictions and posturing too, by both juries and some architects.