Culver City Maverick

A book review by Michael Webb

Eric Owen Moss: The New City. Rizzoli International, $75

Eric Owen Moss Architects/3585. Series editor: Todd Gannon. Applied Research + Design Publishing, $29.95

Form Moss coverTwo takes on the transformation of the Hayden Tract in Culver City and neighboring sites. The first is a dense accumulation of photographs, drawings and commentary by Moss and others; the second is an erudite and elegant paperback that focuses on two of the fifty projects. Both offer a welcome contrast to the last Moss monograph: an unsightly volume, disguised to resemble a plumber’s manual, that was produced in China.

A stranger to LA, browsing the Rizzoli volume, might suppose he had picked up an architectural guide to Mars, or a portfolio on the latest sci-fi movie, so strange and unfamiliar are the forms. Warehouses are cut away as though with an Exacto knife and they morph into fractured geometries. Every element seems to be in motion–tilting, torquing and tipping. Simple forms are wrappped or explode into a skein of pipes and slumped glass. A tower leans one way and another, projecting moving images, and vortexes coil and spin.

All of these interventions and ground-up buildings are the product of a three-decade collaboration between Moss and developers Frederick and Laurie Samitaur Smith. The Smiths realized early on that they could lure premium tenants by enhancing generic warehouses, and they have created a uniquely adventurous zone. Ideas, illusions and inventions are produced within a zoo of exotic forms that have transformed an industrial wasteland. It demonstrates the power of a vision, relentlessly pursued. What makes this project so remarkable is the interplay of commercial calculation and architectural experimentation, customizing buildings to suit a specific tenant and branding a block to lure others. Most developer-driven projects are formulaic, especially in LA; this breaks all the rules. Half money-machine, half playground for techies, Hayden Tract is a triumph of free thinking, and the main street should be renamed for the architect who designed it.

The paperback is the ninth of a series to emerge from seminars at Ohio State’s Knowlton School of Architecture. It includes rambling reflections–ranging from Immanuel Velikovsky to James Joyce–by the polymath architect and a detailed account of the Cactus Tower and Waffle, two buildings that evolved over the past 15 years and share a triangular site at 3585 Hayden Avenue. The steel frame of a former industrial press supports a flying cactus garden, warehouses become offices, and a slumped tower of waffle-grid steel houses a four-story restaurant. This scheme began as a cluster of ten towers and evolved, through many alternatives, into its present form. Sketches and models illustrate the different stages, and Moss comments on the choices that were made and the pressures that had to be accommodated.


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