LA Times architecture critic, Christopher Hawthorne (another all too recent arrival in LA), last Friday June 10th, proposed that the dispute between SCI-Arc (alas, misspelled - endlessly - in the 'LA' Times as... Sci-Arc) and its landlord be resolved by SCI-Arc leaving its present home and joining the Related Companies Project along Grand Avenue on Bunker Hill. Read the above linked full article, but below are a few of his thoughts:
"Over the last few weeks, two seemingly unrelated architectural dramas have been playing out in downtown
Inside Department 18 of the Los Angeles County Superior Court, the Southern California Institute of Architecture, or Sci-Arc, has been fighting a nasty legal battle over the fate of its single-building campus on the eastern edge of downtown. A decision in the case is expected shortly, perhaps as early as today; a victory for Sci-Arc, allowing it to buy the renovated rail depot it's been leasing for five years, appears unlikely.
Meanwhile, along Grand Avenue, New York-based developer Related Cos. has been working to flesh out and win final approval for a plan to build two huge mixed-use commercial parcels to accompany a 16-acre park. The $1.8-billion project doesn't include a single educational or cultural component or, at least so far, any prominent local architects to complement its roster of established and largely risk-averse firms from
Remarkably, there's an attractively simple solution to Sci-Arc's real estate woes and the Related plan's essential conservatism that no one has suggested: Dedicate one of the publicly owned parcels in the new
In a single stroke, the gesture would give Sci-Arc the permanent home it has been seeking downtown and offer an early sign of reassurance that Related is committed to more than the bottom line. It would bring to the heart of the new development hundreds of architecture students, not to mention audiences for evening lectures, exhibitions and other Sci-Arc events that are open to the public.
More than that, the move would provide the youthful and architectural energy that the project is now lacking.
Sci-Arc's 450 students and 80 faculty members, once in place, could help transform the development from within. Their presence could help attract a diverse mixture of retail outlets as well as, in time, residents who might not otherwise consider living there."
Now while I very much like Christopher Hawthorne as a writer, as an architecture critic and as an urban critic (which are three very different things), he is operating under a considerable handicap.
As someone new to Los Angeles, much less downtown, he is not yet fully able to understand the differences between the two neighborhoods (other than the obvious) the cultural history of SCI-Arc (or even how to... spell its name), the financial aspect of the Grand Avenue deal, certain political realties or the true nature of the relationship between Richard Meruelo and SCI-Arc.
To begin with,
I know he must have read in the textbooks about Gehry and the artists and the car culture in
Nor is it likely that Hawthorne fully appreciates how the loft buildings in the Arts District are places where young architects can afford to live and set-up their practices long after they leave their dorm rooms and thus form a true rather than a merely transitory community; a community where they can daily interact with their peers within the living and working spaces of other visual artists and architects and designers - something that could never happen on Grand Avenue.
It is also unlikely
It is obvious that no one could - or would - ever again build a building this way again in the heart of the city - thus making it a uniquely oddball place perfect for human interaction where everyone has to walk through and share and experience everyone else's space to get any where.
No high rise or traditional low rise could or would ever create the sense of community that SCI-Arc now has within its walls; its own community within the heart of a true urban arts community.
As for the Bunker Hill option,
And that synergy is why Colburn belongs on
As for the non-social issues of Grand Avenue, Hawthorne seems to be unaware that the land on Bunker Hill is being sold to a developer - and so it can not be given to SCI-Arc by the Country or the CRA.
(UPDATE! - After talking to some more people, it is not impossible that the County could arrange a land gift, but not in the first phase; this still does not, though, make the project any more financially feasible as SCI-Arc would have to build a very expensive campus - far more expensive than buying their existing building. This fact alone fully negates the reason for the move. It simply makes no financial sense to do this, anymore than it makes any social sense.)
There are also a number of other observations and conclusions about Bunker Hill and the Related proposal in the article that are not valid, but my main objections to the site those already stated.
Lastly, the present courtroom antics and the adversarial role playing between Meruelo and SCI-Arc described in the article, makes the true dynamics of what is going on among the principals impossible to know without a first hand knowledge of the players and their pasts, much less their past and present interactions - or their long term goals.
Again, a newcomer to the city can hardly be expected to parse out what is really going on here - much less what is really likely going to happen - as opposed to what is going on in public in the press and in a court room.
Now this returns this cowboy to a well ridden theme - how the ceaseless purge of LA voices from the LA Times by a
However, on the other hand, when on the very rare occasion where a fait of corporate deus ex machina does give us a true advocate for serous architecture, great urban design - and true urban communities (such as Christopher Hawthorne), at least we can be grateful for that.
In closing, as I said up front, Christopher Hawthorne has a wonderfully thought out idea in proposing to move SCI-Arc to Grand Avenue - other than the simple fact that he's completely and totally wrong.