How often do you open up the morning paper to find the name of your friend and neighbor splashed all over the front-page? And the funny thing is, he didn't even need to kill, embezzle or get involved in a sex scandal for it. So what's the fuss? Well, how about the Pritzker Prize, the highest honor bestowed annually upon the most outstanding architect? This year that honor---which in the architectural world is equivalent to the Nobel Prize---went to Thom Mayne, a long-time resident of Santa Monica. For people in the know, his name is associated with SCI-Arc, the Southern California Institute of Architecture that, with five other architects, he founded nearly forty years ago. Around the same time, he and two friends founded the architectural firm Morphosis, responsible for a string of highly innovative and edgy architectural projects in Southern California, from the beloved Wilshire Boulevard caf- Kate Mantilini to the Diamond Ranch High School in Pomona. The last decade has brought his firm new visibility thanks to high-profile projects around the country, including the recently completed futuristic headquarters of Caltrans in downtown L.A., as well as the choice commission to build the in New York, whether the games are held there or not. It's not that unusual for many well-known architects to hit their stride relatively late in their careers. So Thom Mayne, who recently turned 61, can still be described as "the bad boy and angry young man of Los Angeles architecture."
It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that it's been a very good week indeed for architecture in Los Angeles. The celebrated Italian architect Renzo Piano---another Prizker Prize winner---came to town to deliver a lecture to an adoring crowd that packed the LACMA auditorium. Unique among today's architects for refusing to repeat himself, Renzo Piano can raise a ruckus with the in-your-face architecture of the Pompidou Center in Paris, or he can put you in a meditative state in the elegantly understated galleries of the Beyeler Foundation Museum in Basel. Here in L.A. he's been commissioned to build a new pavilion for LACMA to house the prominent contemporary art collection of Eli Broad. This collaboration has gone so well that in addition, the museum has asked him to upgrade and unify its existing six-building 20-acre campus. Compared to the controversial proposal by Rem Koohlas, which was adopted by the museum two years ago only to be abruptly cancelled, Renzo Piano's plans for LACMA's expansion are less revolutionary, less about him, and more about the museum and its collections---but in the end, it's more about our city and ourselves. You can see it in a two-part exhibition, which opened at LACMA last week. In the nothing less than a miracle transformation of the notoriously-difficult space of the Ahmanson building atrium, Renzo Piano presents the models and documentation from his most celebrated projects and does so with delightful flourish and operatic abandon. There is no doubt in my mind that in choosing this architect LACMA has made a very wise decision. Now, if only Mr. Piano would be kind enough to offer to redesign the unfortunate logo that LACMA introduced last year, the logo that looks soooo last century.
"On Tour with Renzo Piano & Building Workshop: Selected Projects"
Through October 2, 2005