Archives For los angeles design

Do you remember that scene in Terminator 2: Judgment Day when teenage John Connor is driving his mini-sport motorcycle only to become chased by the T-1000 in a Mack truck? Young Connor, thinking he can lose his much larger opponent, enters a sparse and menacing concrete area with a tiny patch of water running through it. Then, of course, in comes the T-800, the future real-life Governor of California, on his Harley wielding a lever-action shotgun in his right hand to save the day. The location for this shoot is utterly depressing, a perfect locale for such a morbid and terrifying exchange.

Yes, of course, this dismal place where robots from the future go to murder adolescents is the Los Angeles River Aqueduct.

In recent years though, the Los Angeles River Revitalization movement has made significant progress in changing all this. In 2002 an Ad Hoc Committee on the Los Angeles River was created, and among the most significant efforts to renew the area was the creation of the Revitalization Master Plan – a plan designed at adding value to local communities through the creation of a secure environment: parks and trails, along with environmental restoration, riverfront living and commerce, job opportunities, and increased neighborhood pride. The Value of Architecture understands that the purpose of good design is living with nature, not against it. This revitalization plan marks an important movement in cities—that, no matter what, we must cohabitate with our natural environment and not force humanity’s hand on nature, no matter how densely populated the area is.

The Los Angeles River Revitalization movement has attracted the attention of some of the top architecture firms in the world: Gruen Associates, WSP, and Mia Lehrer + Associates, to name a few. Recently an Archdaily article offered up plans that include sculpture gardens, promenades in elevated parks and walkways, overlooks and cascading gardens, art installations and galleries, bike paths, and eateries. It’s a reminder that the purpose of architecture and design is to improve the quality of life of citizens. It’s a reminder that even the most affluent of cities, there’s always room for improvement.

LA River Ecosystem Restoration. Source:

No matter what the average Angeleno thinks, the Los Angeles River is the first creator of life for the city. For centuries this was the home of the Tongva and, later, the European settlers first made home there. Today, the Los Angeles river flows through 51 miles of urban areas, through the San Fernando Valley, in Burbank and Glendale, Griffith Park and Elysian Park, through Downtown LA and then through some of LA’s most ethnically diverse neighborhoods, such as South Gate, Lynwood, Compton, Paramount, Carson, and Long Beach.

The Los Angeles River Revitalization is a vital step in creating a livable Los Angeles for the future.

By: David Plick

One night in 1934, the Oscar nominated director of Shanghai Express, Josef Von Sternberg, stayed up far too late into the evening with Richard Neutra, whom he had commissioned to design his home, because he couldn’t stop speaking passionately about the intersections between film and architecture. This was not an atypical moment, though, in the life of the Richard Neutra. Meetings with Universal Studio executives, with the surrealist director Albert Lewin, with the Hollywood elite of the era—Charlie Chaplin, Marlene Dietrich, and Mae West—Richard Neutra hardly lived the life of an average architect.

It was in his Strathmore Apartments, now a featured property at the Value of Architecture, where Orson Welles and Dolores Del Rio began their very public love affair. At Strathmore, Neutra could allow his creativity to truly run wild, as he funded the project himself, and used it as a palette for his more avant-garde urges. Inspired by the Pueblos of the southwest and 20th century garden courts, Neutra sought to fuse public and private life. Even though there is the open garden in the center, Hollywood royalty used it as a getaway. The actress Lily Latte told her partner Fritz Lang—director of the groundbreaking film, Metropolis, to never contact her there because it was her refuge.

Neutra was known to have deep relationships with his clients. To them, he wasn’t just an architect—he was their therapist, confidant, and friend. They would open up to him about their personal lives and he would listen, using these conversations as the backbone of his work. Because of these numerous relationships he had, and of course his designs, which live on today, he’s a large part of Los Angeles history. It’s truly hard to imagine Los Angeles without Richard Neutra’s influence.

By: David Plick

Courtesy of Holger Ellgaard

Before I get to Los Angeles midcentury modern, where did the term “midcentury modern” even come from?

Since movements are rarely named while they’re happening (unless you’re Andre Breton and write a manifesto), but rather, have scholars name them decades later, it is unsurprising that the term “midcentury modern” was first coined by Cara Greenberg in her famous book published in 1984, Midcentury Modern: Furniture of the 1950s. Because of the book’s popularity, and the resurgence of interest in mid-century design, marketers in the industry and the general public started using the term to describe the period of post World War interior, architectural, furniture and graphic design.

Rooted in Bauhausian minimalism and the functionality of the International Style, American midcentury modern’s ultimate goal was comfort for everyone, for the 1950’s middle-class families fleeing cities for the suburbs, and artists fleeing suburbia for California. In architecture there was also the influence from simple Scandinavian lines & symmetry, yet also the free-flowing texture of Oscar Niemayer’s work. In California, this meant square, geometric shapes amidst open floor plans, abundant windows to allow sunlight to stream into the house, and the movement from indoor to outdoor space. It was a square, but it moved, ya dig?

Why was Los Angeles Midcentury Modern so prominent?

While there are many reasons for the rise of Los Angeles midcentury modern, including post-war real estate booms, the influential design trends that led up to it, the weather of Southern California, the Hollywood film industry, the vibe that something special was happening in California, something that widely goes unnoticed, which also happens to be the primary reason for its success, was the presence and influence of the American military industrial complex in the region. As the US entered WWII approximately 60% of American manufacturers of aerospace products were located in Southern California, mostly in Los Angeles and San Diego. All of this wartime production meant a lot of money was streaming into the area—$70 billion in federal funds to be more precise. Los Angeles emerged as a military production hub and the city grew. Among the beneficiaries of US military funds was Charles Eames, who was commissioned to build plywood splints for soldiers, a modification of his innovations on plywood furniture.

Money, time, people, and space (mostly money)—that’s what makes a movement. Trends come and go, but a movement will always come back. Think about it: in any movement, there were just too many of them doing it, too many people that took part and wrote essays, articles, pieces in The New York Times fifty years later called “Why Won’t Midcentury Design Die?” for it not to make a continual impact. It’s true that we have short attention spans and we forget. We also have a tendency to reject what the previous generation loved. But a movement will always come back. Sometimes it just takes a show like Mad Men to remind us that it was all so cool.

By: David Plick


Water and steel. Two natural elements that seem like utter contrasts, which is perhaps why they work together so well. In this Los Angeles architecture spotlight, I’m talking about Case Study House No. 21, designed by Pierre Koenig for the renowned psychologist, Walter Bailey, which was completed in 1959. This property is currently featured here at The Value of Architecture.

The house came about because Koenig was commissioned by Arts & Architecture magazine and their editor, John Entenza, in the Case Study House Program, which was designed to create innovations in Los Angeles architecture through the use of industrial materials. The program was intended to create inexpensive homes after the Great Depression, and also foster dialogue between architects and the general public. Other homes in this program include: Omega by Richard Neutra, Fields House by Craig Ellwood, and the Eames House by Charles and Ray Eames. Case Study House No. 21 is a registered Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument (#669).

Koenig’s entry into the program came about when Walter Bailey came knocking on Entenza’s door, requesting a 1200-1300 sqaure foot home for him and his wife. Entenza immediately set him up with the young architect Koenig, whom had been working extensively with steel.

The rest of the story is this:

Simple, straight lines.


Open, expansive design that creates a sense of movement.

Water and steel.

By: David Plick

001front“Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles.”

—Frank Lloyd Wright

Los Angeles is the kind of place that people love to hate. There are the obvious attacks which have become boring—the pretension and exclusivity of the film industry, the traffic, and the superficiality of the people; while on the other side, for the people that love it, the obvious go-to defense is the amazing weather. But for those that live, work, and create in LA, there’s something untouchable, indescribable in the atmosphere. Is it the fact that this is a new and international city that lacks Rome and Athens’ ruins (or even the pre-war buildings of New York)? Or does contemporary Los Angeles architecture come from the west-coast mentality of progressive thinking? Is it the cultural diversity or the film industry that people love to complain about? These are all factors, but there’s still that other thing that people can’t put in words—the feeling, that artistic symbiosis that is created when you put all these crazy and talented people together in one place.

That’s the feeling that Sean Briski, the CalArts trained painter and architect, is describing when he talks about Los Angeles. He took some time to speak to TVOA about his artistic approach and philosophy in the creation of his project at 2358 Silver Ridge Avenue, which hit the market this week.

The Value of Architecture: With exposed steel on the exterior, Silver Ridge feels industrial and futuristic on the outside, yet is also very comfortable and inviting all around. Do you have any architectural influences in terms of futurism / deconstructionism?

Sean Briski: I work part time for Eric Owen Moss, and he is a major influence in my work. Eric has been “disruptive” long before the term became popular.

I don’t often think about the future or the past. I try to recognize the contemporary. For this reason I like Los Angeles a lot. The city is a strong influence because there are so many different points of view that it starts to be unknowable. This makes LA amazing.

The Value of Architecture: What do you mean that Los Angeles is unknowable?

Sean Briski: LA is so geographically large it’s not possible to visit all the neighborhoods. It’s also culturally diverse. It’s hard to get the opportunity to get to know most of the cultures in any kind of significant way. So it is literally & culturally very hard to get a complete picture. The unknown is always present.

The size & space allows it to remain unknown. The lack of history gives more freedom. This is very true for architects.

I don’t know of many similarities between LA & New York.

The Value of Architecture: Something striking both visually and environmentally is your use of found materials to construct the house. How did you select the materials to use, and how much did the materials influence your design decisions?

Sean Briski: The shredded tire is a riff on early greenhouses which were made out of tires. Tires are a waste disposal problem. So, by showing that they can be beautiful in the right context, trash is made beautiful. The window next to the stairs is a display window, and the tires are the display object.

The Value of Architecture: In terms of the design process, did you have drawings for a house like this before you saw the site? Or, did the slope in which the house stands force this design upon you?

Sean Briski: I’m not sure how the site could not be a big influence? The house has four floors because that is what was needed in order to connect the backyard to the street. I would have preferred a smaller house but then there would not be the connection to the backyard. And of course, the view is terrific.

The Value of Architecture: Is Silver Lake still a progressive neighborhood architecturally in LA?

Sean Briski: Silver Lake has gotten very expensive. As things get more expensive there tends to be less experimentation, but Silver Lake is still a great place to live.

The Value of Architecture: You’re a trained painter. How does painting inform your architecture, and vice-versa?

Sean Briski: I was an artist who made paintings. I like art that is very grounded in conceptual ideas. I like art or architecture that that make the common seem unfamiliar.

The Value of Architecture: What is architectural modernism to you? And how does contemporary Los Angeles architecture factor into it?

Sean Briski: Architectural modernism is a historical style that spanned from 1920 to 1960. I’m more interested in contemporary architecture.

There should be many futures & access to be able to choose your future. Currently, choice is a real luxury. In the future I hope this is not the case. Architecture should allow people to do things that are currently not a choice. This is why I put basketball hoops in the living room. It’s about more choices. There are 3 hoops because it’s more choice.

By: David Plick

ebd42c8f0a9d6d9204e29e6e0449f0711434566078After having designed homes for celebrities such as the notorious Chris Brown, and completed other impressive projects such as the ambitious and wildly successful Hollywood Colony, architect Jay Vanos knows a thing or two about collaboration. In fact, it’s his firm’s ethos. JVA is “collaboration based . . . and believes that architectural design is a community activity, and that [their] best projects and ideas are the result of vigorous conversations among highly motivated individuals.”

And this collaboration pays off. JVA’s most recent work in Agoura Hills, CA, bordering Santa Monica Mountains National Park, is a post and beam design estate, a reinvention of previous work by the legendary Los Angeles architects, Buff + Hensman. This dream home, recently put on the market, is full of natural light with high ceilings and plenty of open spaces, inside and outside the house. Check out more exciting pictures here.

From the Sweetwater Mesa Residence, which brings unparalleled elegance to a desert setting, to the Browning Residence he did in Hawaii which looks like a treehouse from heaven, Jay Vanos has shown that his ability to create living dreams has no boundaries. He is a cutting-edge Los Angeles architect. Plain and simple.

By: David Plick

0c408dcf721ea40f4b537009e80faeab1424797018Cara Lee and Stephan Mundwiler are Los Angeles modern architectural design innovators, and artists in every sense of the word. Their work, from the plans for the Iraqi Ray of Hope, to their modern homes, breathing buildings and the Dapeng Geology Museum and Research Center, is simulteanously visually stunning, culturally relevant, and forward thinking. It is both globally conscious yet deeply intimate and human.

Most recently the couple’s studio was a WAN Awards Winner for Civic Buildings, for the Dapeng Geology Museum, but recognition was not new to them. They have won AIA awards for urban design, housing, and in 2011, they won the Emerging Practice Award. They have been successes in their industry since the mid-1990’s, yet because they are so visionary, it seems like they have only just begun.

The Value of Architecture is currently teamed up with Lee+Mundwiler in selling their award-winning Coconut House in Mar Vista, and had a chance to talk with the couple about their past, present, and future in LA architectual design, and the rest of the world.

TVOA: You two met in the mid-90’s while pursuing Master’s degrees in architecture at SCI-Arc. Did you collaborate on a project while studying? What was the first project you collaborated on?

Lee+Mundwiler: The first project we collaborated on was the Hornli Cemetery, Riehen, Switzerland in the summer, 1994. By then Stephan already had won the competition of the Swiss Government Piazza collaborating with graphic designers from Basel. Stephan and I met at Vico Morcote in Switzrland, SCI-arc’s branch campus in 1993. It was my first semester and his last semester doing his thesis. The following year after two semesters of staying in Vico, I needed to come back to LA to take the rest of my classes to get the degree. I was in a hurry to finish my education that I decided to take a summer course as an independent study, which SCI-arc gratefully allowed. I was looking for a subject for the independent study at that time and Stephan mentioned one interesting competition—a cemetery near Basel needed to be redone due to being old and running out of burial space. It was a fascinating subject to us that involved urban planning, building and landscape design, all in one pot that had to be dealt with human emotion; morbidity, death, grief, reflection within architectural content and context. The city was looking for the best solution for that matter and we were up to this challenge!—just kidding, I was just happy to utilize the material to get on with my studies.

While I was in LA and he was in Basel, we’d communicate design progress through fax; a dawn of civilization. And it was one week before the due date when we made our decision to enter the competition for the heck of it, so I was losing my sleep for one week to wrap up the design to meet their submission requirement, and sent it out to Stephan. He had to translate it into German and deliver it to the city in person: no Fedex overnight. We took our vacation afterward, and completely forgot about the competition. When we got home Stephan almost fell from his seat when he heard the voice from the answering machine: the guy from the city directly called and informed that unfortunately they chose another project as a winning but our project was compelling enough to give out as Archive, which was a higher prize money than 2nd prize.

TVOA: So your first project together never ended up being made?

Lee+Mundwiler: No, but they really appreciated our design. Their regret was our project wasn’t developed enough to build the cemetery right away, which would take months to work on details and they were in hurry to build for the need. We were disappointed yet elated by the validation of our design approach. The concept was to contour all of the cemetery land, which was located on a hillside, as a gradual descendent and ascendant approach respecting existing topo. The distant view of Basel city as descending and the forest view as ascending was the magnitude of people’s field of view to calm the mind/body down. The slow and gradual move was sync’ed with people’s emotional and physical condition. The chapel and urn storage were tucked in under this landscape as earthy touch/consolation. I imagined myself in it, how my body would slow down if I were in shock. For visitors, mainly elderly in wheelchairs, it would be easier to access with this approach. We still think the design is the best solution even if the cemetery was built with the other one, but I still hope it has a second chance someday.

TVOA: Your firm, Lee+Mundwiler, has worked on a total of 88 projects. Do the two of you always collaborate on every project? Are there times when you work individually, but still bounce ideas off of each other? Is it always different or do you have a “process”?

Lee+Mundwiler: Our blessing or curse on some occasions is we both have a similar taste in liking things around us, yet there could be a rebel coming from either side. In sum, we are turned on by an object, concept, and ideology that get to the point. We know by our experience, the conciseness is intrinsically different from simplicity or being minimal, that how it is to be that way needs to be thought out in a much deeper level to resonate to intellectual latitude with no frilled appearance. That said, we are the cruelest critics during our design process and we both are pretty much in it for the design process all the way; some with no drama, some with a huge commotion, a project gets done while one smiling, one grieving.

TVOA: Your Swiss Pavilion project seeks to “simulate the way a living organism’s skin, or a living cell would respond to environmental stimuli.” You also are interested in the way a “Thing Breathes.” What is your interest in cellular biology and organisms breathing? How does it relate to architecture?

Lee+Mundwiler: While most of our projects are in line with the lineage of established architecture, progression has been always in our mind. Yet, we are not interested in installation or sculptural objects. As much these can be footing for the next development in architecture, for most cases, these are the architect/designer’s end goal rather than their first goal.

The way the public responds, thus diluting their understanding of architecture, has been a trouble for us to digest. At the same time, we are conscious about the fact that the architecture field hasn’t progressed much more than on the conceptual level with few viable new building materials. Thus, at the right given time, we’ve tried to experiment with our idea of “what if?”.

The first one we were into was the sand panel with House of Sand—that’s another story. 2006-2007 was our prolific time before the 2008 economic downturn. In 2006, we were participating in another competition—the Swiss Pavilion for the 2010 World’s Fair in Shanghai. We won two AIA National Awards and we were recognized at the AIA national convention in LA. Coconut House was awarded the AIA National Housing Award and included in the convention tour for architects. Soon, it was published in The New York Times as an Eco Green building. Plus, Bundesplatz, Swiss Government Piazza, also won the honor award. This was in about ten years of our practice and after four years of Stephan’s California architect’s license. We got deep into our vigorous process of making buildings 24/7, at least for the two of us. Around this time, we went for the test of our “what if”.

We’d been developing a design concept: what if a building being static, becomes dynamic, responsive to its environment in same way a living thing animates by nature? And we explored this premise step by step from a very elemental stage to a complex setup. We thought of the World Fair, the global event of introduction, of assumingly the most progressive technology and ideology among nations, as the optimum platform to introduce our idea. We plugged this concept into the real project proposal—the Swiss National Pavilion. Our design was chosen to be one of the twelve finalists and went on to the 2nd stage that engaged in serious level of reality. The outcome of the competition was, ours was the highest scored but took 3rd place with a mysterious reason: still we don’t know the answer. We were very disappointed by missing an opportunity for R+D on this concept. A German magazine nominated our design as one of the most advanced façade technologies right after the competition. We were told that our idea was ten years too early. Again, we are hoping to get into serious R+D with this concept and are still waiting for a right opportunity.

TVOA: As you just mentioned, your work is futuristic and progressive minded. What do you think is the predominant social and/or environmental issue that will shape the design and operation of future buildings?

Lee+Mundwiler: Both of us are more into getting to the point, and believe that the level of talking and reasoning of many in the architecture field is deceptive, and misleads the public in a damaging way. This should be stopped, especially with the sustainability and environmental issue. We need to see the big picture, cause and effect, not just prescriptive measures. Many do this for economic and political gain, and not for collective interest. The issue we are talking about should be a given thing for architects from the beginning, not an opportunity for flaunting. Further, what architects should engage actively in is any aspect in the process of making. Currently, the majority, in my opinion, underestimate their power and influence as an architect. I always believe that the intensity of architecture education can get anyone through any complex situation and I wish school teaching and practicing architects were involved more in bigger scales than of object making: in infrastructure such as the Mojave Desert Solar Power Station, water conservations, community building, city making, name a few. Further, many should be into the R+D in architecture based on reality.

TVOA: You have offices in both Basel, Switzerland and Los Angeles, California. In your opinion, what does America need to learn from European design, and vice-versa?

Lee+Mundwiler: One thing US can adopt from Europe is leveling the playing field. There is no system of opening up to truly talented designers unless you are a big firm or established name. These are very few and they are loaded with resources, while the rest are just getting by. Now, Europe is changing as well that RFQ, Request for Qualification, or invited competition, is usually only for a few. You can name them, and it becomes a norm.

I am very sympathetic to the talented yet struggling architects that we’ve been lucky enough to have a footing in due to Stephan’s home base. Also, I think if you could build a good residential building, you can build a museum, a hospital, an education facility, etc, with an army of consultants around. The fundamental issue for an architect/designer is the same as of a single family home: sensitivity to human condition. I am always muted by the question, “What kind of buildings do you design: residential or commercial?” Duh . . . I don’t know, if I said we design everything, they look at me suspiciously, and I am OK with that.

TVOA: Who’s the tougher art critic out of the two of you?

Lee+Mundwiler: Both. We don’t let the other win. It’s either the project gets built with one window or no window! And we call each other BS and shallow or “Bobby Trendy.”

TVOA: What are some museums you love to frequent—for the design of the building, or the art hanging on the walls, or inspiration?

Lee+Mundwiler: Dia Art: Beacon . . . envious of that space!!

TVOA: Where is your favorite travel destination?

Lee+Mundwiler: Any place related to good food.

By: David Plick