15 Architectural Projects Honored : Awards: Creative designs for community buildings dominate the winning entries in national institute's Orange County chapter competition.


Oh, well. Years from now, it's hard to imagine that anyone who attended the Friday night awards program of the Orange County chapter of the American Institute of Architects will care about the chilly weather at the Noguchi garden that sent women in sleeveless dresses scurrying for wraps or the inexplicably slow-starting program that lasted until almost midnight.

Buoyed by glowing praise from the judges--Peter Pran of Ellerbe Becket in New York, Mark Mack of MACK Architecture in Venice, Calif., and Richard Koshalek, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles--and a large number of winning projects (15) selected from the 67 entries, the 18th annual event was one for the record books.

Even the substantial presence of creative designs for community buildings (churches, museums, a school, a library, a community center), as distinguished from single-family residences and offices, seemed a welcome sign of increased attention to the broader social environment of Orange County. (Of the winning projects, eight have been built; the others are still "on the boards," in various stages of planning.)

LPA Inc. of Irvine took two honor awards (the top prize)--for the Saddleback Valley Community Church Interim Sanctuary and an 83,000-square-foot East Municipal Water District building for San Jacinto, designed to symbolize irrigation and gardening and generate interest in environmental design. The firm also won an award of merit for the El Camino Real Community Center in Orange.

The $2-million, 52,000-square-foot sanctuary in Mission Viejo was a top pick of the jurors "right from the start," Koshalek told the audience. The glass "Scripture wall" engraved with Bible passages that serves as the facade was praised for its simplicity, dignity, freshness and sophistication, and the way it gives "new life" to the standard "box" of modern architecture.

Laguna Beach architect Mark Singer, chairman of the awards committee, bagged three prizes: an honor award for the four-bedroom, 4,800-square-foot Contreras residence in Laguna Beach; an award of merit for the Mossimo residence, also to be built in Laguna Beach; and a jury excellence award for a bar stool design.

The jurors singled out the Contreras house, built on a long, narrow lot, for its "exuberant, poetic quality," attention to detail and the clear definition between strict, rectangular private spaces (bedrooms, the kitchen) and free-flowing public spaces.

The city of Laguna Beach itself was honored during the program with a foundation award--bestowed by the directors of the Architecture Foundation of Orange County--for "proactive community planning" that has resulted in a 16,000-acre open space reserve. Laguna Beach Councilwoman Ann Christoph, a landscape architect, accepted the prize.

Given the presence on the jury of a museum director who has overseen the design of two very different museum buildings (Arata Isozaki's MOCA building and Frank Gehry's Temporary Contemporary), it was particularly noteworthy that two museum projects won awards.


Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Partnership of Newport Beach snagged an award of merit for new facilities for the California Museum of Science and Industry building in Los Angeles (Phase One is scheduled to begin construction in fall, 1994). Bissell Architects of Newport Beach won an honorable mention for its enlargement and restoration of the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, which reopened last October.

Ralph Allen & Partners of Santa Ana garnered two prizes: an honor award for Century High School, also in Santa Ana, and an honorable mention for the Fountain Valley branch of the Orange County Library.

The jurors cited the fluidity of the concrete facade of Century High School, as well as the "coherent quality" of the building, which can accommodate 1,800 students on a 25-acre site. The school has a central courtyard and amphitheater and rooftop parking leading down to the gymnasium.

In a welcome acknowledgment that good design comes in small packages as well as large ones, Tim Krehbiel, a young associate AIA member, won an award of merit for a studio conversion in Laguna Beach--a 500-square-foot garage turned into a living and working space for an artist.

Bauer & Wiley of Newport Beach won an award of merit for a prototype of a Tennessee Valley Authority Customer Service Center in Knoxville. The Vee Collaborative of Irvine took home two honorable mentions: one for its own corporate offices, the other for the Word of Faith Family Church, to be built in Irvine. Donald R. Lee & Associates of Orange received a jury excellence award for a sculptural, free-standing wet bar for a private home in La Canada Flintridge.

William Blurock of the Blurock Partnership of Newport Beach won the president's award, a new prize given by the OC/AIA executive committee to "the architect or firm whose work best exemplifies the unique character of architecture in Orange County."

Accepting the prize, Blurock--a founding member of the 41-year-old chapter--quipped: "I hope we haven't screwed up Orange County too bad."

Whatever the jurors may have thought about Orange County's architectural past, they were practically gushing about its future, and overtly sympathetic to the plight of architects who cannot get jobs in the current economy. The 41-year-old, Costa Mesa-based chapter of the AIA has nearly 700 members. Koshalek said the entries were "of the highest level possible" and could "compare to any place in the U.S."

This year marked the first time the jurors' symposium, normally held the night before the awards program, was part of the festivities. The proceedings certainly were enriched in this way; Pran, in particular, expressed some provocative notions about forward-looking contemporary architecture versus the "glued-on classicism" of Michael Graves, Philip Johnson, Kevin Roche and others. But giving each juror only 20 minutes for his presentation was wishful thinking. Next time, how about starting early, proceeding briskly and allotting each speaker no more than one firm half an hour?

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