Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

Portfolio | Tongva Park

Quick thoughts on Tongva Park by James Corner Field Operations, which opened in Santa Monica in 2013.

Pros. For the New Yorker, it is fascinating to see Field Operations working in a West Coast landscape vocabulary. Both the High Line and FO’s losing entry in the Governors Island park competition have a brooding, British heath quality that would have been entirely inappropriate in southern California. At Tongva Park you get the meandering paths and super-textured plantings, but the visual palette is entirely different. I also appreciated the incorporation of similar design elements in playground and grown-up park. There’s no reason kids zones have to be ordered from a catalog and look the same everywhere you go. The comfort stations, designed by Frederick Fisher and Partners, are among the nicest I’ve seen in a public park, and kudos for not defaulting to a variant of pink and blue. The paths, whose plan is supposed to mimic the structure of a leaf (West 8 has a similar rationale for those on Governors Island), do indeed offer opportunities to cut through to Santa Monica’s pretty City Hall, to get lost at the margins of the park, or ascend the stucco ramparts for a view of the ocean and the pier.

Cons. Those alien portals, which serve as as street-front billboards for the park, are really weird. I am told their form refers to baskets made by the Tongva people for whom the park is named but, like the leaf structure reference, this reads as ex post facto rationalization. The idea of a structure to float people up in the air is smart, but these provide neither adequate shade nor seating for a social group. The fountain that runs along the entrance path is pretty, but it seemed to be doing less than it could to cool its surroundings. It felt like there was room for more water in the park, either in the form of a bigger fountain or more fountains. I was there during the heat wave, but I’m also hoping in a few years there will be more shade. Several sad picnics under the few fleshed-out trees. Overall, there was something rather polite about the whole park, which is probably suitable to its setting and yet — amidst Santa Monica’s proliferating neo-modern condominiums — I think something wilder could work.

Further reading: Christopher Hawthorne’s review in the L.A. Times. The park’s own site with a helpful abstracted plan (see, it’s a leaf). And, because this is a new amusement, Yelp.

The Great Playscapes

Photo by Martha Clifford. Courtesy Herman Miller.

On September 27, Isamu Noguchi’s 1976 Playscapes reopened in Piedmont Park, after a restoration funded by Herman Miller Cares via Park Pride, and coordinated by the City of Atlanta’s Office of Cultural Affairs and Office of Parks. Playscapes, a set of colorful, architectural and flexible metal and concrete pieces set in a clearing in the wooded park, is the sculptor and Herman Miller designer’s only built playground in America, and the expression of decades of thinking and tinkering about the best way to get children moving, thinking, and exploring the natural world. Originally sponsored by the city’s High Museum of Art and the National Endowment for the Arts, the playground also demonstrated a commitment to bringing art to the people and to public spaces that resonates with the way we are making and remaking cities today. In projects from the High Line, which includes a children’s area in its recently-opened third phase, to the ubiquitous “splash pads” incorporated into center-city parks, we see Noguchi’s ideas at work. As art critic Thomas Hess wrote of one of Noguchi’s unbuilt projects, this “playground, instead of telling the child what to do (swing here, climb there), becomes a place for endless exploration.”

Portfolio | The Broad

When I was in Los Angeles last month, I was able to set up a hardhat tour of The Broad, the contemporary art museum, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, now under construction one block over from the Disney Concert Hall and across the street from MoCA. When completed, the museum will house the 2,000 works in Eli and Edythe Broad’s collections, with a select number on display in a top-floor gallery. The carapace of the building, called “The Veil” is made of a series of molded fiberglass-reinforced concrete panels, that come down to the ground and go over the top. The building’s floors, storage and circulation are housed in “The Vault,” a poured-concrete wedge that cantilevers up and over the lobby, and is pierced by a glass elevator, a theme-park escalator, and a cavernous staircase. Windows from that staircase will offer a glimpse into the paintings storage, and a sense of the depository physically and conceptually beneath the upstairs gallery. Even three-quarters finished, that room seemed to float.

The museum was originally supposed to open by the end of 2014 (and indeed, I could get a pretty good sense of the architecture and spaces on the tour). Construction delays and a lawsuit have put off the opening date. I suspect a big party this time next year. Despite not always being a fan of the work of DS+R, I’m excited to see how it turns out. As I walked around, I did not see the potato-chip lawns, drop-down windows and stair wedges that have cropped up a few too many times. Well, in the garden next door, there is a little dished green. But the outdoor stars are a set of 100-year-old olive trees that are sculptures unto themselves, and seem to correspond to the underground vocabulary of the concrete Vault. The visual references I scribbled in the margins of my notebook were divertingly various: Marcel Breuer, The Hobbit, Carsten Holler. It feels like they will avoid the most obvious critique of any architecture who tried to build next to a Gehry — that it looks like the box that the concert hall came in.

Visit: Thread Lines

William J. O'Brien. 'Untitled,' 2013. Courtesy the Artist + Marianne Boesky Gallery.

Thread Lines at the Drawing Center in Soho through Dec. 14 is a perfect small show. One gallery, simple premise, incredible richness and variety. Curator Joanna Kleinberg Romanow has assembled work by 16 textile artists … but “textile” can mean so many different things. William J. O’Brien’s felted play with positive and negative space, Jessica Rankin’s shimmering metallic stitches on organdy, Anne Wilson’s environmental work, weaving neon threads between the cast-iron columns of the former weaving factory. It includes unusual pieces by artists who often work in other media, like Louise Bourgeois’s simple (albeit spidery) quilts, and stunning work by some younger artists new to me. I was particularly taken with Monica Bengoa’s ongoing installation, which floats scintillating still-life embroideries, fragments of a feast, on a wall where the rest of the party is drawn in pencil. In her work in particular, the common ground between the pencil and the thread becomes perfectly clear.

Houses Built on Gossamer Wings

“How much does your house weigh?” Buckminster Fuller asked in the 1920s, showing off his three-ton hexagonal Dymaxion House. He believed the technology used to mass-produce cars may as well be applied to houses, driving prices down and increasing mobility. Since then, many designers have wrestled with the size, cost, manufacturing and, indeed, heft of homes. In Superlight: Rethinking How Our Homes Impact the Earth (Metropolis Books, $35), Phyllis Richardson offers a global, contemporary perspective, highlighting recent projects from Chile to Vietnam. She also reconsiders what makes a project “light,” expanding the definition from pounds or kilograms to impact on the site, energy consumption (or generation) and the ability to cope with climate change. She spoke from London, where she lives in a Victorian house — with a polycarbonate and aluminum addition.

Portfolio | L.A. Rainbow

Top to bottom: Claire Falkenstein, St. Basil’s Catholic Church; Ricardo Legorreta, Pershing Square; “Big Quilts in Small Sizes,” LACMA; Jorge Pardo, LACMA Latin American Art galleries; Alvin Lustig, private house; Field Operations, Tongva Park; Art Deco tile, The Wiltern; Moore Ruble Yudell, The Seychelle; Frank Gehry, Disney Delft fountain; Claud Beelman, Eastern Columbia Building; Jim Walrod, The Standard Downtown; Eliot Noyes, IBM Los Angeles (now Otis); Virgil Avenue vernacular.


On Twitter

On Instagram