Friday, September 5, 2008

Brian A. Murphy in Cross Town Traffic

I don't surf. That does not mean I am not from shore somewhere. Indeed, I was born in a harbor city and was never more than three irregular blocks from the sea. The ancient Smyrna, the contemporary city of Izmir, Turkey. The salt of the water unifies people as they say. The sand of the beach and the salt of the water were my first nature friends.

However, this story is not about me...

This is about Brian A. Murphy, often called BAM among friends.
Brian is an architect whose work proved to pass the test of the time and whose work has chipped out a niche of its own, which is hard to do in a profession with a large 'pool of talent.'

Many years ago, I remember him say, “If my architecture can put a smile in somebody’s face, I feel I have done a good job.”

As natural as a smile feels, architecture is not an art form one can easily dare to attempt and achieve it just like that. Putting a smile on somebody’s face is not an architectural style they teach you in school and give you a license for. That kind of building concept is a pure intuitive invention. It is rare. It requires originality, courage and expertise. I often wonder if sea salt contains those virtues!

2; 00 pm

In this warm November afternoon Brian and I are going to drive Mt. Washington area North of Downtown Los Angeles, in a combo trip, taking care of few things at once and create a script for this article.
I knew this was going to be a special few hours to look at the city, drive by buildings, take pictures and talk about the world in general.
Original plan was to drive to Newport Beach and see a project BAM is recently working on. That did not happen partly due to the absence of his Prius hybrid car, which is on loan to his brother Tim who in turn left his big truck for him to drive around.
Yes, a large spread on a journal like this was less important than a carbon print with a Dodge truck, or something like that! Take note.
Nevertheless, this is even better. Myself, as a few miles radius max. city dweller, I haven’t been in Mt. Washington for a long time.
This city is 'so close far away' sometimes.
Los Angeles is one of those cities that you can see its other parts from distance, reminding you that you are a part of a much larger metropolis.
Before we start driving towards our high destination, we did cover few anecdotes on architecture itself, ie.;
The definition of sustainability according to Brian, is using his paper coffee cup on average one week per cup. The same coffee cup, that is.
Landfills, pollution and two men chorus quickly moving onto politics.

I took few snapshots picturing some waterfront culture related elements in and around his office, which is located half a block from his beloved Pacific Ocean on Channel Road, in Santa Monica Canyon. I shot his picture and he smiled as he did when I photographed him with his mother some years ago.
The office is surrounded by potted urban planting, piles of tumbled brick and glass Brian collects from the beach, turning his office a well-known icon on the last stretch of Channel Road just before the surfers and the beach goers hit the PCH underpass to the ocean.

For those who do not know who Brian Murphy is as an architect, let me just briefly remind;
He is one of the stars of Los Angeles School of architects who were spearheaded by Frank Gehry in the 70’s and throughout the following decades all the way to today.
A genre which featured names like Thom Mayne, Michael Rotondi, Eric Moss, Robert Mangurian, Coy Howard, Fred Fisher and others. All of them helped to shape the architectural landscape here in So Cal, and, yes, abroad. Los Angeles school showed the world that it supported free moves. I saw it all, it happened here. The Venice Beach, to be more precise.
Brian Murphy’s transition from being a lifeguard to carpenter to a well known architect was no accident, he could ride that wave because of his artistic talent. His work among the other names I have just mentioned was a total outsider coup.

How an architecture school dropout could be considered among the ground breakers, ivy school graduates, grid busters, stucco cannibals and space chasers? I know few others tried hard in the group, but for Brian, it was mainly being himself. How great is that for an architect...

The original bad boy, named for his ironic moves of transparent walls, undulating roofs, charcoal drawn fireplace surrounds, ‘s’ curved concrete walkways defying direct line, drafting triangle sconces, clip on chandeliers, see through glass floors, was quickly picked up by no other than ultimate badling Dennis Hopper, at that time almost forgotten between Easy Rider and Blue Velvet, to design his house/studio/workshop in less than glorious inner Venice.

Alright, let’s start the drive...

I offer,
“I can drive but we have to stop and get some gas.”
“No, let’s just go, I’ll drive. You be the author”

Off we go. First PCH then 10, switch to Pasadena Freeway get off at Exit 52.
In between;
W Bush cook and shoot out,
Downtown Cesar Pelli skyscraper window details,
Really bad KPF designed Wedbush Building with several Greek temples on top is thrashed by architects like us.
We talked about my mother and his and I asked how the lemon tree that I gave Brian after his mother passed away is doing. It is apparently doing great.
We talked about his late father showing up as a dolphin when he surfs. I asked him if he has seen him recently. He said, “yes,” he did.
As we approached Downtown, I brought up my article partially titled “La Citta Capitalista Revisited” and as we approached Chinatown, the conversation switched to
Pasadena Freeway itself and its impact on Los Angeles. If I tried to transcribe this fast shop talk about architecture and urban planning, you’d have to insert four more pages here between the Convention Center and Lincoln Heights Exit. Fast talk...

It was like a couple of architects talking in crosstown traffic.
Call it ’Asphalt Chats.’

Around BAM's office and on the road to Lincoln Heights

3;00-5;00 pm

Around Lincoln Heights, the scale of architecture changed as we exited the freeway and start to talk about smaller parcels, unique whiff of the neighborhood, roof overhang details, strange but original residential architecture conditions, yards, entrance doors, building colors, drainage configurations and folk art.
Once again, the built environment as an endless gallery of conversation pieces. Architecture does provide those for you.
Brian has very keen eyes to pick on the bizarre, expressive, human and real stuff.

Suza's House, she built herself on a shoe string budget

We go to our friend Suza’s house, which she built herself. Nice house, great job. Great use of economy, she is East German. There, we meet the Irish framing contractor who takes us to a beautiful house he is framing nearby. For Brian and I, it is like going to a gallery show. In no time, he picks couple of framing detail conditions that is almost impossible to see to most trained eyes like me but I recover my brownie point by pointing to a hard to see plumbing mishap.
Ah, the beauty of architecture before the wrong furniture arrives.
The house is beautiful and perfectly sited. We appreciate that. And, still don’t know who the good architect is...
The construction of the house is looking over the train yards and away to West. Again, the scale of architecture changes along with the sunset time light bouncing as reddish gold from the construction grade press board sheathing, volumes become exaggerated perspectives. BAM points to the patch of ocean view from the cardinally located Mt. Washington.
That means it is time to go home.

Beautifully sited nice house looking over train tracks

We hit the road before Los Angeles starts its Saturday night partying.
If you ever do anything with Brian, you can be rest assured that you will never be late anywhere, you won’t get caught in the traffic, and you will leave the party on exact time that you should.

As we pass by the limos and slowly accumulating rush hour back up, all the buildings we talked before are turning their lights on.
I offer driving back but he is too nice of a person to let me not enjoy the passenger seat and keep talking about Istanbul...
I have been driving around town and looking and talking architecture and other things with Brian many a dozen times, each conversation transversing a great range of territories with their own energy.
This time, I was going to write about it.
We both had to laugh when I remembered that my digital recorder was running all three hours.

On the way back...

5;00 pm

Back in West Channel Road;
“See you later Brian, thanks for driving. I really enjoyed the afternoon, you guys call me when you want me to bring tacos from Gallegos for lunch”
“Si, Gallegos... Say hello to Tina”

By Orhan Ayyüce, Nov. 2007. Photos by the author.
Originally written for 'aborted' Spring 2008 edition of H2O Magazine

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