5 Cool Architects Compete To Design LGBT Center

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Twenty years ago many architecture firms did not want to be associated with the L.A. Gay and Lesbian center. Now it is a sought-after client that has attracted some noted firms from Los…

Twenty years ago many architecture firms did not want to be associated with the L.A. Gay and Lesbian center. Now it is a sought-after client that has attracted some noted firms from Los Angeles and beyond in a limited competition to design a new campus: Michael Maltzan, Frederick Fisher, Predock Frane, MAD and Leong Leong. Hear CEO Lorri Jean talk about the goals for the center, and read about the shortlisted architects, below.

On this DnA, Lorri Jean, CEO of the Los Angeles LGBT Center (formerly called LA Gay and Lesbian Center) talks about how the oldest and largest social service center of its kind in the world has come a long way since its founding in the early days of the struggle for gay rights.

Now it has now embarked on a $25 million fundraising campaign to build an arts, educational and affordable housing complex on more than an entire city block in Hollywood, opposite its “Village” location at Ed Gould Plaza on N. McCadden Place, where services for both youth and seniors are currently located. Their other location, the McDonald/Schrader Building (shown above) provides health services; it was rehabbed ten years ago by Felderman Keatinge. 

On board are leading affordable housing developer Thomas Safran and five notable architecture firms who are jostling to win the commission: Michael Maltzan, Frederick Fisher, Predock Frane, MAD and Leong Leong.

Lorri at Podium 2Gay Community Now “Fashionable”

This is a sea change from two decades ago, says Jean (right, speaking at the launch of the campaign), when the center needed help building its Village site, and mainstream architecture firms as well as financiers were leery of association with a “queer” institution. Now she believes designers and businesses see the community as not only “fashionable” but worth investing in.

Concomitant with the vastly increased societal acceptance of LGBT people however, demand for the center’s services have shot up. This seeming paradox is partly due to a swelling group of LGBT seniors, many single and isolated from family support; and LGBT youth, who constitute a disproportionate number of young homeless people, says Jean.

The new campus is intended to provide housing and services for both groups as well as create mutually beneficial interaction between old and young generations.

Who Are The Architects?

The center reached out to a number of architecture firms, and finally arrived at a shortlist of four teams, each of which was given a stipend of $20,000 to develop a proposal. While the stipend is modest, that fact the center chose to offer one is seen by the architects as an affirmation of the client’s commitment to a high level of design. A fifth team, Leong Leong, of New York, chose to cover its own costs to remain in contention. Each firm will be interviewed next week and a decision will follow in mid-September.

Check out the firms, below; and listen to Lorri Jean, in the audio above, talk about the design goals for the center — and whether gay men prefer Modernist architecture while lesbians prefer Craftsman (a claim made by Los Angeles Plays Itself director Thom Andersen, also a guest on this DnA.

Will cool, abstract, white form win the day?

One Santa FeMichael Maltzan Architecture

Silver Lake-based Michael Maltzan has earned wide acclaim for the range of his formally expressive but calm buildings — from private homes and cultural institutions to housing for the homeless and urban-scale projects like the replacement 6th Street Viaduct. His latest to appear on the Los Angeles cityscape is the quarter-mile long residential and retail block One Santa Fe, currently nearing completion in Little Tokyo (above; photo by Iwan Baan).

Sunnylands terrace

Frederick Fisher

Frederick Fisher was one of L.A.’s bright young things in the 1970s and is now elder statesman of the shortlist, respected for his restrained new and adaptive remodels for museums, college campuses and homes designed at his firm housed in the former offices of (Quincy) Jones and Emmons on Santa Monica Boulevard. He has worked on several projects for the Annenberg family, among them the Annenberg Beach House, The Barn (Quincy Jones’ former home) and Sunnylands Retreat in Rancho Mirage (above, in photo by Mark Davidson, courtesy of Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands).


Predock Frane

John Frane and Hadrian Predock, newly appointed head of USC’s undergraduate architecture programs, work at the intersection of art and architecture, designing art galleries, experimental art installations and what they describe as “sensate, atmospheric” residential, retail and institutional buildings (Venice House above, in photo by Nicolas O. Marquez). Predock Frane helped raise support for the L.A. LGBT campaign with pro bono concept designs for the campus.

Chaoyang Park Plaza, MAD architects


An interesting entry into the field is MAD, the firm helmed by Chinese architect Ma Yansong that has only recently put down anchor in Los Angeles (in a countertrend to the past decade of Los Angeles architects setting up shop in China.) MAD recently scored the commission to design the Lucas Museum of Narrative Arts in Chicago. The firm, known for fantastical cityscapes of swirling towers, like the Chaoyang Park Plaza (rendering above) was reportedly chosen by George Lucas because of the firm’s “philosophy of connecting urban spaces to natural landscapes.”

Philip Lim

Leong Leong

Leong Leong is a young New York-firm founded by Napa Valley-born brothers Chris and Dominic Leong. Like several of the firms competing for the LGBT center project, their work straddles art and architecture and, like several of the firms, they show a tendency for cool, white, abstract forms. Having designed the fittings for the US Pavilion at this year’s 2014 Venice Biennale, and the L.A. store of fashion designer Phillip Lim (above, in photo by Iwan Baan), they are now working on an eighty-foot-tall, titanium-plated stainless steel facade for the Miami Design District, commissioned by LVMH and DACRA development group, to be completed later this year.

And make sure you check out this story from KCRW’s Saul Gonzalez about how gay neighborhoods are evolving as LGBT advocates continue to make gains.