Names in bold give Los Angeles a new cultural hub


LOS ANGELES – On a clear December morning, Los Angeles’ biggest hits glow from the roof of the Audrey Irmas Pavilion: You can see the Hollywood Sign, the Griffith Park Observatory, even a snow-capped Mount Baldy, all without squinting.

The pavilion, a futuristic three-story trapezoid with a paneled event center, sunken garden and rooftop terrace in the center of town, will serve Koreatown, which is one of the city’s densest and most diverse neighborhoods.

But it is first and foremost a community space for Wilshire Boulevard Temple, the Byzantine-Romanesque domed synagogue next to the pavilion – the last room in the temple’s long expansion plan.

The dome of the temple was modeled on the Pantheon in Rome. It crowns the sanctuary, whose 1929 construction was supported by heavyweights like the Warner brothers, Universal Pictures founder Carl Laemmle and MGM co-founder Louis B. Mayer, who made an enveloping donation murals by the artist Hugo ballin, coffered ceilings, celestial oculus and stained glass windows.

But in the 2000s, as the congregation shrank and the grounds deteriorated, some temple leaders and members thought it might make sense to sell the building.

The temple’s senior rabbi, Steven Leder, spent six years raising $ 120 million. In 2011, there were renovation plans for the temple of the architect Brenda Levin, and two years later, Los Angeles’ oldest glass workshop, Judson, had restored the shrine’s Gothic Revival windows, sculptor Lita Albuquerque had designed a memorial wall and artist Jenny Holzer had designed a series of benches.

The pavilion was next, in an adjacent parking lot belonging to the temple, but Rabbi Leder needed the right architect: a modernist respectful of tradition.

Enter philanthropist Eli Broad, who reshaped this city’s cultural imprint and left its future in question after his death last year.

Broad, the billionaire developer who spent decades promoting the city with his wife, Edythe, met Rabbi Leder in 2015, a few years before retiring. Rabbi Leder said: “I asked Eli, ‘Will one of the world‘s greatest architects design a building for a synagogue?’ He looked at me and said, “For this shrine on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles?” They’re all going to want to do it.

The pavilion was therefore born. Designed by the Metropolitan art office – the company founded by Pritzker Prize winner Rem Koolhaas – the project also paved the way for another donor, Wallis Annenberg, to realize a long-held vision she had for the city: a center to help people seniors to find a community.

In previous years, clashes with Broad had cost Koolhaas two chances to work with the philanthropist: designing the downtown museum, the Broad, and remodeling and expanding the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Broad, administrator of LACMA, initially supported a structure proposed by Koolhaas, but later changed his mind. He went instead with Renzo Piano, how would actually become the Large Museum of Contemporary Art of LACMA.

“We won the LACMA offer but Eli kicked Rem out and hired Renzo,” Shohei Shigematsu, longtime Koolhaas partner at OMA, said in an interview.

Koolhaas, 77, is known for his theories celebrating urban chaos and works as the headquarters of China Central Television in Beijing, a skyscraper that some saw as glorifying a Chinese propaganda machine but only criticized in New York. Times called it “one of the most alluring and powerful works I have seen in a lifetime of looking at architecture. Artist and architect Hiroshi Sugimoto recently described Koolhaas’ approach as full of” wrong. will “.

But, Koolhaas said in an interview, provocation is no longer his goal. “Maybe 20 years ago,” he said.

It “now feels a bit out of place given that there are so many pressing issues to consider,” he added.

Koolhaas calls Los Angeles a favorite city – he lived here in 1974 when he was writing a screenplay. Commenting on his rejected design, he said, “LACMA may be something that hasn’t been really appreciated. “

Joe Day, a designer and architectural theorist in Los Angeles said: “Koolhaas has often fallen prey to having a compelling idea and the world or its patrons are struggling to catch up.”

Broad had other disagreements, most notably with the architect Frank Gehry, who refused to finish a renovation of the Broad House. (Yet years later, Broad backed Gehry’s design for Disney Hall.)

For the pavilion, Broad advised in 2015 to hold an international competition, which he paid the bill for.

A 15-person panel was assembled for this competition and it narrowed it down from 25 companies to four, which Broad paid $ 100,000 each.

Then OMA was chosen. The temple then received a pledge of $ 30 million from the philanthropist Audrey Irmas, after the Sale of $ 70.5 million of his “blackboard” painting Cy Twombly, and Rabbi Leder continued to fundraise.

Shigematsu, now 48, said: “It was a strange turn of events.”

Recalling the failures leading up to the competition, he said, “To be invited to the temple competition by Eli – and to be selected. We were surprised. “

Koolhaas called his interactions with Broad for the temple’s cordiality, his support “extremely important.” But when the company’s plan was announced, temple worshipers feared Koolhaas’ style would diminish the traditional domed building.

Six years later, the pavilion, which cost a total of $ 95 million, is warm and vibrant, with 1,230 hexagonal fiberglass reinforced concrete panels that create a kaleidoscope effect. But perhaps the most interesting for some would be that the Broad-Koolhaas collaboration does not involve a Koolhaas building.

“A lot of people are confused,” Shigematsu said. “OMA is in a period of transition. It used to be Rem as a leader, but now it’s a partnership. I’m the design manager here. Unfortunately, most people write that this is Rem’s building.

“In this case, he wasn’t really involved,” added Shigematsu. “He designed the mezuza,” on the door frames of the pavilion, “and it was a way of showing that we can work together in the partnership – and the temple was very happy.”

Koolhaas, who had been unable to leave Europe for a long time due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, said: “I have been involved from a distance”.

“The obsession with architecture as the work of one genius – I think it’s completely out of place,” he added.

Doug Suisman, architect author of “Los Angeles Boulevard“, called the result of the collaboration” a generational shift within OMA, from the cheerful aggressiveness of Rem Koolhaas to the almost contemplative calm of Shohei Shigematsu. “

Koolhaas said, “My partners have a lot of independence and in a way I have a lot of independence now. It’s a pretty intense effort to inject your vision into every project.

In 2018, the OMA’s design for the pavilion was disclosed, and as philanthropist Wallis Annenberg leafed through her article, she read about the temple project and its architects, location, and direction. “Focus,” she said.

For years, she said, she had wondered, “What if I was alone without a support system?” “

“Even at a young age, I noticed old people alone in restaurants, theaters, parks, and it broke my heart,” she said, citing psychologist Erik’s concept of development. Erikson extending to old age. “Why don’t we integrate these people into a community? “

Annenberg contributed $ 15 million to complete the pavilion and an additional $ 3 million for a 7,000-square-foot third-floor creative center, called GenSpace. It is a cultural space for the elderly.

“Lectures, films, experiences – that sets him apart and that’s what older people want,” said Lila Guirguis, Managing Director of the Karsh Center, a non-profit organization founded by the temple for disadvantaged people of all ages in partnership with GenSpace.

Membership is $ 10 per month, with a sliding scale, and courses have already been offered online. (The release of the Omicron variant delayed the abrupt opening of GenSpace.) The center feels like a start-up, with a firm interior design Stadler &, interactive art of the Japanese collective teamLab, and Maira Kalman wallpaper, as well as a workout studio and rooftop terrace.

Annenberg, 82, is the president and president of her family foundation, who has donated over $ 1 billion to approximately 3,800 nonprofits since she took over in 2009. “I have the opportunity to thrive, to live a semi-living life. and connect with people of all ages, ”she said.

“But,” she added, “I slowed down a lot; I have big mobility problems. I think the pandemic has taught us all how critical connectivity is. “

Annenberg’s grandfather, Moses, came to America in 1885 and founded a publishing empire. Her father, Walter, started the foundation which has helped countless educational, artistic, medical and environmental projects.

Wallis, which has in a Vanity Fair interview jokingly reminded people that her name is not Wallet, is an heiress, but her life has not been carefree: her brother, Roger, committed suicide; her marriage fell apart and she lost custody of her children for a time.

Today, 27 institutions in the Los Angeles area bear his name (even more bear the surname). She sees GenSpace as “a role model for people to follow.”

Longevity and the care of the elderly are growing issues. More than 7,000 Californians turn 65 every week, according to recent state report master plan on aging, and the state has the second highest life expectancy in the country. Director of GenSpace, Jennifer wong, who was a co-author of the blueprint, said she anticipates conversations at the center that transcend ethnic and generational lines. The center also has a mission to fight against the prejudices and isolation that older people may face.

As for Annenberg, she sees this as part of her legacy – a job that will continue after she leaves. “I’m not going to be here forever,” she said.

“Older Americans are not the past,” she added. “They are the future. You have to open your eyes. ”


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