Thursday, January 22, 2009

Drive by: LAUSD The High School for the Visual and Performing Arts

arts highschool3

When working for Los Angeles Times, Nicolai Ouroussoff, the architecture critic now writing for The New York Times, called it, "The proposed design for the LAUSD's new arts academy is a boisterous vision for downtown's blossoming cultural landscape."" In his article dated June 8, 2003, Mr. Ouroussoff also called the original version designed by A.C Martin, "a model of banality." Perhaps rightly so...

old ac martin version of arts high school"a model of banality."

Without much anticipation, I have taken pictures of unofficially completed building from my car knowing that the building's pictures, when opened, will probably be everywhere, without a doubt.
Rumors are; there is no operating budget for the iconic high school in these trying times.

arts highschool4"The glass lobby resembling an enormous faceted crystal, a piece of jewelry built on an urban scale."

arts highschool1

arts highschool2Back wall of the Cathedral, freeway below, palm trees and the Arts HS, a gateway to "LA's arts district"

arts highschool5Art Bubble Economy Depicted

Following is my overall commentary about this building, developed while driving back to my office. It gets optimistic and pessimistic depending on the westbound traffic!

I think it is a beautifully massed complex of structures. However, I have a hard time to superimpose an arts high school's integration onto it. First it was the iconic museums and now the iconic art schools. I wonder if a civic building would be a public success if there were no pedestrians in the vicinity? I wonder if the centralized model can ever win in a city of vast spread? I wonder if it is a good thing to spend millions for a school and then have operating budget issues unresolved. I wonder if the priorities of LAUSD is determined by educators or the local developers eying arts fueled gentrifications for the public face of their investments in the area. Sure, who can argue against an educational facility, specially the one involving arts.
I wonder what other uses could be appropriated for the building, let us say there is no money to operate as a school. Would a hospital, a hotel or a mall work? We already know it is not good for artist lofts, the ultimate name for any building no longer functions for its intended use...
But that was hardly the architects' decision in the prior rosy economy.
Given the program and the client, Austrian architects, Coop Himmelb(l)au delivered an overbudget building.
Perhaps one has to ask what other schemes needed to make billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad's downtown dreams? If in fact he is still dreaming multi faceted crystals in the neighborhood or wants to move to Beverly Hills, and say the hell with downtown...
Of course none of these help the opening time of this building after all the hardships and political wrestling went into it.
I also think, once above issues are resolved, and if ever in the near future, the economic recovery is underway, the building's legacy will be well appreciated in the long run. And, if the building not converted to some other function by then, like a new age church...

But for me, after all, it is an art school and it will shape many kids' lives, and the community's hopes in a positive way, assumed it remains a public school and not an art institution for the privileged.

Imagine what if this wasn't aborted? few hundred yards down the freeway.

Critics of the high school from the formalist angle, count your blessings that the steel cloud is not upon us and Los Angeles was not symbolized by a pile of steel however it was stylish in its days.
As for the comments regarding the spiral ramped tower, just imagine taking a group of art students up there and ask them to describe in any medium what they have observed. I would...
One more point before I pull into my parking spot; I am curious how much of this campus will be accessible to public? The Public has just paid too much effort to be cut from this space. I hope it will be accessible to visitors and there will be plenty of open programs to make the building complex function as a true public education center and be appreciated by all.

arts high0 copy

2 comments:

namhenderson said...

Orhan,
Nice review.
As always particularly like your questions/points regarding public interest/Politics (in the big sense).
I do think it is one of Coop's best works to date. Perhaps because it isn't just one building but a whole campus allowing them to articulate a unified/total vision?
I imagine the opearting budgetary issues were not problematic when first planned/approved. Hopefully the public is allowed it seems to have fairly open access. aLthough i suppose that depends less on the actual built environment and more on LAUSD policies.

Orhan Ayyüce said...

thanks nam.
will see the future operation of this building. i will follow it up periodically.