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This is the new $242 million arts high school in downtown Los Angeles. I don’t know what the giant spiral thing-a-mabob is supposed to be: to me, it looks like a nightmare water slide that will send children plummeting out of its airborne bottom end to their deaths:

Whhhheeeeeeeee … Splat.

Designed by the award-winning Austrian architecture firm of Coop Himmelb(l)au, this public high school is alongside the Hollywood Freeway. It’s right across from the Roman Catholic LA Cathedral that was erected a decade ago by an award-winning Spanish architect in the style of a secret police headquarters. From the east, the new high school (unsurprisingly, billionaire busybody Eli Broad was intimately involved in its creation) looks like an invading robot from Planet Japania that’s aiming to torch the Cathedral with its flamethrower:

Not surprisingly, the new $242 million high school is a political football. At a time when LAUSD is laying off math teachers, race is getting in the way of doing anything with this expensive boondoggle. The LA Times reports:

A tug of war erupted last week over L.A.’s new downtown arts high school, with some of its biggest supporters declaring that they had given up on the Los Angeles Unified School District and wanted the $242-million campus turned over to a charter school organization. In response to the critics, who included philanthropist Eli Broad, Supt. Ramon C. Cortines shot back: “There is not a for-sale sign on it.”

The tension had been building for months, fueled in part by the district’s plan to reserve most of the school’s seats for students from the surrounding neighborhood rather than open it up to the most talented students districtwide. It bubbled over after two star principals from the East Coast turned down offers to take charge, leaving the school leaderless less than six months before it opens in September.

It’s been totally forgotten in the mania for starchitects, but Southern California has a 200-year-old indigenous architecture style that would make its heavily Hispanic population feel much more at home than these theory-laden monstrosities by cutting edge European architects. Here, for example, is the Santa Barbara Mission, built 189 years ago:

Personally, I would like to see more public buildings in the Spanish Mission style than in that high school’s Piranesi’s Handicap-Accessible Wheelchair Ramp of Death mode.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Architecture 
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The Southern Poverty Law Center has worked tirelessly to eradicate the last vestiges of poverty, Southern or otherwise, in the lifestyle of founder Morris Dees (a member of the Direct Marketing Association Hall of Fame) by smearing people like Dick Lamm, three-times Democratic governor of Colorado. Some of the moolah raised from the affluent saps Dees has terrified has gone into building this expensive but godawful-looking headquarters building in Montgomery, Alabama. The design was perpetrated by Erdy-McHenry Architecture. Yes, I know it looks like a high-rise trailer, but, trust me, it cost a lot of money to build something that ugly. The design won an AIA Gold Medal.

James Kunstler recently visited Montgomery, and reflected:

Here and there around the rest of the downtown, other weird experiments in American post-war anti-urbanism presented themselves, most notably a “building” designed to look like a small-scaled Death Star, all black reflective glass, canted concrete and steel walls – which turned out to belong to Morris Dees’ renowned Southern Poverty Law Center …

Joseph J. Levin Jr., an SPLC executive, wrote back to Kunstler to complain about their headquarters being criticized, and to enlighten Kunstler with a detailed explication of the complicated aesthetic and political theories behind the design. Kunstler responded:

The issue is what you did on the site you chose. (And by the way, in case you wonder, I am a registered Democrat and a New York Jew, not a conservative.) You put up a building that looks like the Fuhrer Bunker. It dishonors the site and it even dishonors your mission of social justice. The design of the building makes social justice appear despotic.

Aw, c’mon, Mr. Kunstler, you should give the SPLC a break for engaging in truth in advertising. Granted, the SPLC’s headquarters looks like a Secret Policeman’s Training Academy out of the movie “Brazil,” but, hey, form follows function.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Architecture, SPLC 
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From the New York Times:

Why Are They Greener Than We Are?

When it comes to designing buildings that are good for the environment, Europe gets it.

What the hell is this? A giant periscope? A robot octopus’ tentacle with a big sucker on the tip?

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Architecture 
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By the way, perhaps I’m just being naive, but most of the vast amount of new construction on college and prep school campuses going up these days looks pretty good stylistically to my eyes, in contrast to the 1950-1980 Modernist eyesores nearby.

Awhile ago I visited the Claremont Colleges, which consists of a few lovely Spanish Mission buildings from before the War, when everything went to hell architecturally, a whole bunch of bland-to-bad postwar buildings, and a few extravagant new buildings. There was one incredibly awful building, a brutalist concrete nightmare from the 1970s that looked like they dug up Hitler’s Bunker and reassembled it above ground in the San Gabriel Valley. Not surprisingly, it housed the Art Department. If Claremont had an Architecture Department, it would probably be located in something equally calamitous, maybe a building inspired by the basement of the Lubyanka secret police headquarters in Moscow.

Anyway, most of the brand new campus buildings I’ve seen in the last couple of years look rather impressive, although maybe in 30 years they’ll look just as bad as the postwar stuff. But I don’t think so, since they are typically designed to fit in stylistically with the pre-Depression buildings on campus. While the postwar buildings were intended to be both a sharp stick in the eye stylistically, and cheap to build, the dominant aesthetic theme of the new edifices appears to be: Just like the old buildings on campus that you love, only much, much more expensive.

Perhaps the evident costliness of the construction makes them even more appealing?

In Tom Wolfe’s novel I Am Charlotte Simmons, the old aesthete drops in a bombshell of a paragraph cynically summing up what he’s learned from his lifetime’s obsessions with architecture and status about why we love beautiful buildings. Poor Adam Gellin, the much put-upon undergrad intellectual, has fled from the gay rights rally he was intimidated into attending into the gothic majesty of the Dupont U. library (Dupont is more or less Duke U., which has perhaps the most extravagant architecture of any American college):

“He stood in the lobby, just stood there, looking up at the ceiling and taking in its wonders one by one, as if he had never laid eyes on them before, the vaulted ceiling, all the ribs, the covert way spotlights, floodlights, and wall washers had been added … It was so calming … but why? … He thought of every possible reason except for the real one, which was that the existence of conspicuous consumption one has rightful access to — as a student had rightful access to the fabulous Dupont Memorial Library — creates a sense of well-being.”

This might be a little too reductionist even for my taste. First, it seems to take as a given that elegant conspicuous consumption is even more conspicuous than crass conspicuous consumption, but you need a cultivated a sensibility for that to be true. I suspect that It’s also hard to say how crucial the “rightful access” clause is since I generally haven’t broken and entered into too many architectural landmarks. Switching from architecture to golf architecture, I snuck onto the exquisite 15th hole at Cypress Point, and I recall, 30 years later, feeling pretty good, but I suspect I would have been ecstatic if I’d been there rightfully, playing the course rather than just skulking about, so perhaps Wolfe is onto something in pointing out the multiplicative force of aesthetics combined with status.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
Steve Sailer
About Steve Sailer

Steve Sailer is a journalist, movie critic for Taki's Magazine, columnist, and founder of the Human Biodiversity discussion group for top scientists and public intellectuals.

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