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L.A.’s New Icon Academy Museum of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences

Los Angeles has a new icon: the spherical Geffen Theater, a state-of-the-art place for film projections designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano. It is part of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, inaugurated last September.

 

The City of Angels is not short of icons, but few have visual clarity. The most explicit are the Theme Building at LAX, the Hollywood Sign, the Watts Towers, and the Disney Hall. To these, the Geffen Theater marks a significant addition. It becomes even more important because it is linked to the adaptive reuse of the May Company Building of 1939, now renamed the Saban Building.

 

The Geffen Theater, a concrete-and-glass sphere -150 feet in diameter – on the north side of the museum, seems to be suspended in space like a spaceship from another planet that just landed. It was first called “Death Star,” like the space station and galactic superweapon featured in Star Wars. Piano detests that label! He suggests “Dirigible,” “Zeppelin,” “Spaceship,’ “Flying Vessel,” “Soap Bubble.” I would call it “The Geffen Sphere.” Geffen means grapevine in Hebrew. The theater’s shape relates to the spherical grapes that produce the human finest drink, wine.

 

Context

Museum’s context: building, art

The museum is amid eclectic surroundings. The neighboring Pavilion of Japanese Art, designed by Bruce Goff and realized by Bart Prince, is the jewel of the lot. But there are others. The functional yet not exiting Resnik Pavilion, also designed by Piano; Michel Heizer’s “Levitated Mass,” intended to be a “large-scale” 340-ton granite megalith that in reality will remain minuscule in relation to the surroundings; across the Saban Building, the exhibitionist Petersen Automotive Museum red box structure wrapped in a series of convulsing steel ribbons; the now-under-construction $750-million LACMA Museum expansion, designed by another Pritzker Prize-winning architect, Peter Zumthor; and further away, the La Brea Tar Pits Park and Museum define a prehistoric area in total contrast to the Geffen Sphere’s modernity.

 

Some Details

 

The new 300,000 square-foot new museum includes 250,000 square-foot exhibition areas, the 288-seat Ted Mann Theater, the 1,000-seat David Geffen Theater, and the cascading glass-covered Dolby Family Terrace, where guests have stunning views of the LA skyline and the Hollywood Hills. Additional uses include the Shirley Temple Education Studio, the Debbie Reynolds Conservation Studio, the Fanny’s restaurant and café, and the Academy Museum Store.

 

The museum Director and President, Bill Kramer, was pivotal in the puzzle of coordinating the design team. It included Renzo Piano Building Workshop, executive architect Gensler, preservation architect John Fidler, structural engineers Buro Happold, general contractor MATT, and the exhibition’s designer, Kulapat Yantrasast, from Thailand, founder of the LA-based firm wHY. Yantrasast worked closely with Academy representatives and more than a dozen curators. They wrangled the Academy’s extensive array of film artifacts and memorabilia into immersive experiences rich with diverse narratives.

 Piano stripped the former May Co. department store to its bones. Then he created an atrium that contains the escalators and the elevators. A glass curtain wall entirely replaced the north façade of the Saban Building. The two parts of the building are connected by filigree steel-glass bridges. The bridges consist of glass roofs and parapet glazing. The museum’s massive, 690-panel theater is supported by four columns with seismic isolators and can move freely up to in an earthquake. The Geffen Sphere is covered by a steel-glass dome that has been manufactured and installed by the German firm Gartner.

 

“The idea of the sphere,” says RPBW project architect Jonathan Jones, “was to create an otherworldly object that transports you, as movies do.” With most of its form hovering above a pedestrian plaza, the sphere was envisioned, explains RPBW partner Luigi Priano, “almost like a spaceship—levitating above the ground, as if ready to take off as soon as the movie starts.”

 

Unlike many famous architects, past and present, Renzo Piano is not a mannerist of his style. He confronts projects open-mindedly, relating to the surroundings in many different ways. In the building that made him famous, the Pompidou Center, Piano and his British partner, Richard Rogers, approached the Parisian project through total contrast. On the other extreme, at The Fondation Jerôme Seydoux-Pathé, he developed the building inconspicuously, behind an entrance made by young August Rodin. In my film As We Saw It- Paris Builds, you may appreciate the contrast between this poetic project and Paris’ new huge Palais de Justice.

 

Beyond becoming a new icon in Los Angeles, the Geffen Sphere is a new landmark of architecture from now on.

Fairfax Mishmash Disjointed Places, Events and Architecture

Mishmash: a confused mixture of things.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Fairfax Avenue is an excellent example of an urban mishmash of disjointed places, events, and buildings. The documentary visually shows many of the incongruities and contradictions that characterize our time.

The contrast between the long line of colorful young people hoping to find a deal at the funky Dolls Kill store, and the background of a historically Jewish neighborhood since the mid-1900s, couldn’t be stronger.

Zigzagging along a three-mile stretch of Fairfax Avenue, my scanning included:

  • The now-defunct Silent Movie Theatre, aka Cinefamily, Fairfax Cinema, Brain Dead Studios.
  • The Directors Guild of America, at Sunset Blvd., and Fairfax.
  • The Writers Guild of America West, at Fairfax and Beverly.
  • The Raoul Wallenberg Memorial.
  • CBS Television City.
  • Samy’s Camera.
  • The Original Farmers Market and The Grove.
  • Little Ethiopia.
  • The Petersen Automotive Museum.
  • The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.
  • The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, LACMA.
  • Some examples of street art.

Around the intersection of Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard, we encounter three architectural works that resemble a conference of monologues in different languages without translations.

 

The Petersen Automotive Museum is an adaptive reuse of a building designed by Welton Becket in 1962. In 2015, the architectural firm Kohn Pederson Fox wrapped it with stainless steel ribbons in the act of large-scale exhibitionism.

Pritzker Price-awarded Renzo Piano’s design of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, soon to be inaugurated, is more subtle. While maintaining the facade of the original May Company building, it reshaped its six floors from within. Inside there will be immersive permanent and temporary exhibition galleries, an education studio, two state-of-the-art theaters, and public special event spaces. The sphere-shaped theater in concrete and steel will float above the ground floor level.

The original LACMA buildings were designed by William Pereira in 1965 and by Holzman Pfeiffer Hardy in 1986. Neither were gems of architecture. However, the decision to demolish them and substitute square footage with a new one designed by the Pritzker Price-awarded Peter Zumthor is an act of brutality and lack of imagination. The Amoeba-shaped plan, which reminds Oscar Niemeyer’s own house built in 1951, is far less organic when reviewing its poor use of space, at a tag of $750 million.

Is intellectual hubris better than political hubris? Time will tell.

Filmmaking Resume Segments of Documentaries Shot over the Course of Several Years

This documentary is titled Filmmaking Resume as a reference to short bits of architectural footage shot over the course of several years, and published in Architecture Awareness, Cultural Weekly and in this website.

 

Although I have also created short films on art, politics, and cultural events, my focus here is on architecture-as-space, the essential language of architecture. This short documentary illustrates fragments on the works of twenty recognized contemporary architects. As such, it expresses how good design can resonate on a much deeper level and lead to a higher quality of life.

 

In dealing with the human condition in the 2020 decade, some of my future films are likely to focus on topics such as housing, sustainability, and open urban spaces.

Photo © R&R Meghiddo, 2018. All Rights Reserved.

As We Saw It – Part 5: Berlin 1 – Architecture Contemporary Architecture Landmarks in Berlin

Berlin is regarded as one of the most exciting architectural experiments in the world, with a cultural life second to none. On our first visit to Berlin since its reunification, our goal was to try to understand why the city has become a mecca for artists, a place of attraction to architects and filmmakers, internationally […]

Photo © Rick Meghiddo, 2018. All Rights Reserved.

As We Saw It – Part 2: Paris Builds Recently built: Louis Vuitton Foundation, Foundation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé, New Palais de Justice, The Canopy of Les Halles

The four recently completed architectural works that accompany the documentary “Paris Builds” send powerful messages of what is possible to elevate the quality of life in the city.

Side View

Gehry’s Louis Vuitton Foundation is not only an architectural masterpiece and a new icon in a city where icons abound, but it also brings an example of what is possible to cover urban spaces, an alternative to Buckminster Fuller-like geodesic domes.

Renzo Piano’s Foundation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé is a hidden gem that exemplifies what is possible in a small site surrounded by historic buildings.

Paris’ new Palais de Justice, also designed by Renzo Piano, responds to a very complex program – ninety new courtrooms built vertically – while confronting sustainability and the creation of new green spaces on roofs.

Also, the Canopy of Les Halles, designed by architects Patrick Berger and Jacques Anziutti, sensibly responds with daring technology to an urban place crossed daily by tens of thousands of people, in a historic location that Emile Zola called “The Belly of Paris.”

The Louis Vuitton Foundation

Commissioned by Bernard Arnault, head of the LVMH luxury brand empire, the complex houses his collection of modern and contemporary art and hosts temporary exhibitions. Built on public land with private funds, it will be given as a gift to the city in 55-years time.

Inserted in the middle of Bois de Boulogne’s woodland park, the building is an assemblage of white blocks, so-called “icebergs,” clad in panels of fiber-reinforced concrete, surrounded by twelve immense glass “sails” supported by wooden beams. The sails give Fondation Louis Vuitton its transparency and sense of movement while allowing the building to reflect the water, woods and garden, and continually change with the light.

The ground-level entrance hall is designed as an active social space, featuring a restaurant and bookstore. The ample, multi-purpose space directly adjacent to the entrance hall may be used as an auditorium accommodating 350 persons, an exhibition space, or an event venue.

The upper floors accommodate straightforward gallery spaces. Of the 11,000 m2 across which the building spreads, just 3,850 m2 are exhibition rooms. More than 3,600 glass panels and 19,000 concrete panels that form the façade were simulated using mathematical techniques and molded using advanced industrial robots, all automated from the shared 3D model. The new software was developed specifically for sharing and working with the complex design.

The structure of the glass roof allows the building to collect and reuse rainwater and improves its geothermal power. Besides, the Foundation has attained its overall goal to reach HQE (Haute Qualité Environmentale) certification noted as Très Performant. The steps taken to achieve this level of certification could be considered equivalent to LEED Gold.

The Foundation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé

The new headquarters of the Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé, by architects from Renzo Piano Building Workshop, is an unexpected presence, a curved volume glimpsed floating in the middle of a courtyard, anchored on just a few supports. It is complemented by a group of birch trees, a floral island set in the dense mineral context of the city.

This “organic creature” is located in the courtyard of a 19th-century block that includes a complex of historical Hausmann-era buildings. This structure houses the headquarters of the Foundation Jerôme Seydoux-Pathé, a foundation dedicated to preserving the history of the French film company Pathè and to promote cinematography.

The 839 m2 headquarters are located in Paris’ 13th arrondissement and their construction has been completed in September 2014. The clever use of the site includes a main entrance on a restored and preserved facade along the Avenue des Gobelins which features sculptures by Auguste Rodin. This stone-made building is not only a historical landmark, but also an icon and symbol for the Gobelins area of Paris.

New Paris Palais de Justice

Since the Middle Ages, Parisian justice has been dispensed from the famous building that surrounds the Sainte-Chapelle on the Île de la Cité. However, over the years an increasing shortage of space has resulted in many good offices having to be located in a multitude of locations spread out over all four corners of the city. The new Paris law courts at the Porte de Clichy will enable the judicial institution’s courtrooms and offices to occupy the same building.

The new law courts stand 160 meters high, has an internal area of around 100,000 m2 and accommodates up to 8,000 people per day. The building’s facades are fully glazed. On the three blocks of the tower, fine blades extend the glazing beyond the facade, exalting its verticality. The building’s primary structure, robust and orthogonal, ensures flexibility over the long term that will be able to accommodate future requirements and any changes in the way the justice system operates.

In developing the scheme, the architects sought to reduce the apparent scale of the building by breaking it down into four volumes of decreasing size.

50 desks within the reception areas minimize visitor waiting time, while three atria ensure that space is filled with natural light. A system of vertical and horizontal circulation routes lead to the 90 courtrooms above. The subsequent three volumes, which contain around ten-story each, include offices and meeting rooms: the second is the domain of the magistrates, the third of the public prosecutor’s offices, and the fourth and final volume houses the presiding judges.

The stacked system results in large roof terraces — around a hectare in total — which have been landscaped and planted with trees and other vegetation. From an environmental standpoint, the project employs a range of strategies including the use of natural ventilation, the incorporation of photovoltaic panels on the façade, and the collection of rainwater.

The Canopy of Les Halles

The long-awaited cultural center and metro station created by architects Patrick Berger and Jacques Anziutti on the site of a historic Paris marketplace is now a new urban reality. The design at Les Halles is known as the Canopy due to its enormous umbrella-like glass roof, which comprises 18,000 pieces of glass supported by 7,000 tons of steel.

Construction on the €1bn (US$1.42bn) project, funded by the City of Paris, began ten years ago following several architecture competitions to choose a design popular with both politicians and the public.

The completed Canopy and the center below replaces a deeply unpopular concrete shopping complex – nicknamed ‘the hole of Les Halles’ – which was built in the place of the market’s original 19th-century glass and iron buildings designed by architect Victor Baltard. They were demolished in the 1970s in an act many critics have described as cultural vandalism.

The new center features shops and high-end retailers, some of which are located underground, and these combine with leisure facilities such as a new library, a conservatory for the arts and a hip-hop center, all underneath the 270,000sq ft (25,000 m2) roof – described by Berger as a “translucent envelope”.

Explaining the design, Berger said: “The shape, its spaces, and its materialization arise from a confrontation between the state of things and the emergence of new energy to Les Halles. “The Canopy is designed as a substance. The ceramic glass material means that light diffuses in the day and it becomes a chandelier at night. It’s also a shelter at an urban scale against the weather, protecting a global space where one can travel at all times and in all seasons. The morphology of the architecture is the result of a balance between the building’s program and its dynamic location.”

Renzo Piano and Kerry Brougher at theThe Samuel Goldwyn Theater

Architecture + Cinema + Hollywood Work-in-Progress: The Academy Museum of Motion pictures in Context

Rendering of Academy Museum. Courtesy of Renzo Piano Building Workshop

The work-in-progress of the Academy Museum in Los Angeles, designed by architect Renzo Piano, is scheduled for opening in 2019. In “Architecture + Cinema + Hollywood”, the three are connected through images of the museum’s construction at the present time, historic and contemporary examples of architecture, mementos from classic movies, metaphors of Hollywood, and segments from my previous films.

We live immersed in architectural spaces throughout our lives. Filmmaking tells us stories through space, light, motion and human scale. The Acadamy Museum of Motion Pictures offers an opportunity to make tangible the connection between the two sisters’ arts.

 Both crafts have many things in common. They both are realized with the help of a team guided by a creator. On both disciplines, a spatial sequence is critical. In architecture, we perceive space as we move. In cinema, the spatial movement comes to us linearly, as may have been defined through editing.
Both disciplines interact with the other arts. Both must control sound, operate at different scales and deal with significant costs for their realization. Both create stages, one for everyday life, the other as a background for a story.
Architecture’s fundamental difference lays in its materiality. It deals with the law of gravity and with the nature of materials: strength, weight, texture, color, shape, durability. Yet the thinking process of architectural design and filmmaking is the same: we first dream, then we program/script, then we design/shoot, then we build/edit and finally we occupy/distribute. Criticism follows!

Architect Renzo Piano

Prof. Bruno Zevi

What does the museum’s “program/script” tell us? There are two main components: exhibitions and movie screenings. The exhibitions will be housed within the 1939 May Co. building, at the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard. The main screenings will be presented in the new 1,000-seat state of the art theater.
To emphasize the contrast between the existing building and the theater, Piano chose to formalize the later with a sort of molded sphere “suspended in space,” mostly cantilevered, standing on mayor pillars. This approach reminds me both Michelangelo’s structural support of Saint Peter’s dome and John Johansen’s Mummers Theater in Oklahoma City, more than Bucky Fuller’s dome.
The overall context couldn’t be more eclectic. Within the LACMA campus, old and new “connect” only by adjacency. Michael Heizer’s “Levitated Mass” , reminding us that we are still standing on the Earth, is in total contrast with everything else. The Petersen Automotive Museum, at the opposite corner of the intersection, wraps around with metal ribbons a Bernard Tschumi-like red box, bringing to the scene a sort of caricature of adaptive-reuse. In a way, the whole area represents ultimate Los Angeles’ exiting disjunctions.

Using filmmaking techniques to communicate architecture, short of providing the physical experience of moving through space, can bring to the viewer much more than a succession of single frames. It can create associations with other places or stories, it allows for multiple perceptions in seconds, it can use drawings, photography, and art to illustrate a point. The film at the top of this blog tries to express that.