Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Continuing Lies, Ignorance And Hypocrisy Of Nicolai Ouroussooff!

In a staggering display of shamelessness even by his standards, Nicola Ouroussoff, former architecture critic of the Los Angeles Times and the current despoiler of that post at the New York Times, demonstrates he is still completely cluelessness about even the most basic physical and cultural realities of Los Angeles and that there is no lie he is not willing to tell to hide the truth from his readers.

First, for those of you with cast iron stomachs, lets look at parts of his article:



HOW to find meaning in a centerless world? For a half-century, that has been the question facing the strip of corporate towers, cultural landmarks and undeveloped lots known as Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles. Time and again the avenue has been the focus of grandiose proposals by civic leaders who dreamed of transforming it into a cultural Acropolis. Angelenos watched the progress from the comfort of their suburban enclaves, mostly with bland indifference.

That all began to change with Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, completed in 2003, which raised the level of architectural ambition for Grand Avenue. Next month the Los Angeles City Council and the county Board of Supervisors will review revised plans for a retail, residential hotel and entertainment complex that may reveal just how willing the city is to address the deep social rifts beneath the area’s newly polished surface.

Designed by Mr. Gehry for the New York-based Related Companies, the master plan for the site, a choice parcel directly across from Disney Hall, provides a case study for one of the most pressing issues in architecture today. Can the bottom-line world of mainstream development produce something of architectural value at enormous scale? Or is Mr. Gehry simply there to provide a veneer of cultural pretension?

The project also offers a lens on the conflicts that continue to define the identity of downtown Los Angeles today: the tension between the fortified cultural and business district at the top of the hill and the vibrant Latino district to the east; between traditional East Coast planning formulas and this city’s informal urban landscape; between its high-culture aspirations and its pop-culture ethos. How Mr. Gehry negotiates all this could determine whether downtown Los Angeles will ever matter to anyone but civic boosters and curiosity seekers.

If any one other than Nicolai is delusional enough to believe that Gehry's design of a few blocks around Grand Avenue will determine the future of Downtown Los Angeles and the deep social rifts of Downtown - they are probably blood relatives of his.

In addition, Nicky still has zero understanding of the area directly east of Bunker Hill. It begins with Hill Street which has government buildings, a Japanese hotel, increasing numbers of lofts, the Grand Central Market - which has a largely Latino clientele - and after that, the vast majority of the street is filled with jewelry businesses run largely by Middle Easterners, Israelis and Europeans.

Then comes Broadway which used to be a vibrant Latino cultural destination with live music concerts, films and highly ethnic specific stores - but which is now a glorified suburban style swap meet/shopping center no different than dozens of others around LA. While there are great Latino shopping/cultural districts in LA - it's been decades since Broadway was one of them.

Then comes Spring and Main which are now almost exclusively lofts or office buildings (and some affordable housing buildings) with many of the people living and working in them being the demographic that will be using the cultural facilities of Grand Avenue.

And - surprise, surprise - many of the art galleries, web design companies, ad agencies, restaurants, furniture design stores, clothing boutiques and other creative businesses (many of which I brought into the area, pro bono) - are run by... Latinos. Latinos who will also be using the cultural resources of Grand Avenue. But since they are upwardly mobile, upper middle class and culturally inclined, they, of course, no longer count as 'real' Latinos in the pages of the New York Times.

The downtown area’s decline dates from the late 1920s, when the birth of the Miracle Mile on Wilshire Boulevard heralded the triumph of a new motorized culture. For decades since, promoters of downtown Los Angeles have struggled to stem the exodus of businesses to the palm-lined streets of Old Town Pasadena, Westwood and Beverly Hills.

The redevelopment of Grand Avenue has been the most significant effort so far to reverse that trend. It also ranks among the most misguided.

Both statements are moronic.

Building several high rise condos and a hotel hardly even qualifies as an effort, much less the most significant effort to reverse the movement of businesses from downtown. However, no matter what one might think of the architectural end results, the original development of a dozen plus high rise office buildings in the Bunker Hill area did keep many corporate headquarters Downtown and created millions of square feet of class A office space. Now that qualifies as a significant attempt to keep businesses downtown.

And even today, the far larger Staples/LA Live Project will being far more businesses downtown than Grand Avenue ever will.

And if Nicky wants to count new residential as bringing in business, the adaptive reuse ordinance today opens more new residential units in some single months - than will be built on all of Grand Avenue.

In architectural terms the avenue said as much about the city’s cultural insecurities as its growing ambitions. The Music Center’s barren concrete plinth and fusion of classical and modern decor are an unoriginal takeoff on New York’s Lincoln Center; the generic corporate towers mirror those found in every American city, sleek corporate citadels devoid of imagination. Yet the architecture also masked an insidious social agenda: like other cities seeking to make themselves palatable to squeamish suburbanites and tourists, planners walled off the new cultural and business district from the rest of downtown.

Totally false.

If Nicky had ever actually walked Bunker Hill with his eyes and his mind open and if he ever knew anything about its history other than the delusions of Mike Davis, he would know the Bunker Hill plan started in the 1930's - long before the 1950's - and the whole goal was to level the hill as much as possible to better connect it with the rest of downtown - the exact opposite of walling it off from Downtown. And on all four sides of Bunker Hill the pedestrian access to Bunker has been greatly increased at every single stage of development - the exact opposite of the claim Nicky falsely makes.

And even today, Second Street is being extended to Grand Avenue to provide even easier direct pedestrian access to old Downtown.

That history began to turn with Disney Hall, which unlike its neighbors is woven into its immediate surroundings. Its sweeping steel facade, which unfurls like a ribbon along the avenue, echoes the curved facade of the Chandler Pavilion next door, its forms lifting up to allow the life inside the lobby to spill out onto the avenue. Grand stairs climb to a verdant public garden that wraps like a necklace around the rear of the building.

Again, totally false. Disney Hall is a great building; one of the finest every built not just in LA - but in the entire 20th Century. But it is also an art object set onto its site so that it almost totally ignores its surroundings. On three sides the pedestrian is confronted by a blank stone wall just as - or more - oppressive than any of the commercial buildings he earlier rails against. And the lobby is a muddled failure and does anything but spill out onto the avenue.

And as for the verdant public garden - now we're talking shooting fish in a barrel time!

It is totally and completely hidden from public view at the top of a steep, steep staircase - and it is totally inaccessible to the public unless one knows the the secret code to get there. It is easily the most hidden, inaccessible 'public' space in downtown.

Great architecture, amazing auditorium and acoustics - but horrible city planning.

When Related hired Mr. Gehry in 2005 to design its entertainment and retail complex too, it seemed like a promising step. Few architects are as familiar with the avenue’s history or have played a bigger role in shaping the city’s architectural legacy. And although the project did not seem nearly as glamorous as Disney Hall, it was viewed as critical to the avenue’s success. Situated on the east slope of Bunker Hill alongside the Colburn School of Music and the Museum of Contemporary Art, it presents one of the last opportunities to repair the fractured link between the new cultural district and the old city center.

Total bull shit.

There never was any link - fractured or otherwise - to repair. The new cultural center was built on top of a hill that had been graded down from a far steeper, far more inaccessible hill. There simply never was any link to 'repair' and every stage of development has made the two areas increasingly physically accessible to each other.

Yet in some ways the project represents a return to the predictable approach long favored by large-scale urban developers across the country. Related has now decided that the Mandarin Oriental Hotel will occupy the lower half of the south tower. (Bill Witte, president of Related’s California division, said the hotel’s cachet would help “brand” the residential condos.)

Now here's where Nicky's naivete gets real scary. By putting quote marks around "brand" he is likely showing his skepticism and - possibly - even mocking those who would buy a condo just because it is branded by a luxury hotel. But if Nicky knew anything about how the real world operates (and I'll pause here until the laughing stops), this "branding" means that anyone who buys a condo there, will be able to utilize the services of a five star hotel - on a daily basis in their own home.

And that is a major selling point. Also, when Nicky earlier pointed out how business has fled to Beverly Hills - one of the many reasons is that Beverly Hills has five star hotels - and LA does not. So this new five star brand hotel will bring tourists who will shop and spend money in LA rather than in Beverly Hills - which of course, is an example of why this project is so 'misguided' in bringing back business to downtown, according to Nicky.

The developers also plan to include more than a half-dozen restaurants, a bookstore, health club and a boutique supermarket, the staples of today’s high-end shopping mall. It’s the same formula the developer used for the Time Warner Center, the vertical mall that seems so out of place on Columbus Circle.

OK. Nicky claims that for any residential community to have a gym, a variety of restaurants, a place to buy books and a place to buy food - that this is is a very bad thing because these are services that might... shudder... be found in a mall. May I please have a show of hands on who agrees with this?

Nicky also neglects to mention that the layout of these stores and restaurants are NOT in an upper story vertical mall, but are instead wonderfully scattered around the project and take full advantage of the California climate. It is the opposite of Time Warner Center.

And it is an example of how much Gehry has grown as an architect and as an urban planner since he designed Disney Hall. This will be a great urban experience.

Meanwhile Mr. Gehry and Related have engaged in a quiet tug of war over how open the development should be to its surroundings. In an early version of the design, the two residential towers were set at the site’s northeast and southwest corners, visually framing the complex and anchoring it into the surrounding skyline. A series of two- and three-story retail buildings, loosely stacked upon one another like a child’s building blocks, were scattered along Grand Avenue, creating an informal street wall that served as a counterpoint to the flowing stainless-steel forms of Disney Hall.

These forms broke apart to allow street life to flow into the retail complex. Inside, the blocks framed small open-air courtyards overlooked by terraces. A staircase cascaded down from one of the courtyards to the corner of Olive and Second Streets, a gesture intended to open up the complex to the more chaotic street life farther down the hill.

Over the last year, as Mr. Gehry struggled to contain rising construction estimates, his boxlike forms became more static, lending the design a more formal symmetry. The proposed facades of the two towers (one 22 stories, the other 45), which originally included fractured planes of glass that gave the impression that they were coming apart at the seams, are also less dynamic, forming a polite backdrop to Disney Hall across the avenue.

Mr. Gehry added a large terrace above Olive Street so that visitors strolling down from Grand Avenue would pass under an elevated walkway to a sweeping view of the downtown skyline to the east. But in a major reversal, the developers forced Mr. Gehry to remove the cascading staircase that was the project’s main link to the life at the bottom of the hill, a bustle that spreads from Olive Street to Broadway’s Latino shopping district and beyond, to Little Tokyo.

Again - total bull shit.

First, there is zero bustle on Olive Street! Zero!! It is almost totally avoid of retail or restaurants or anything that is open to the public in any way - except for amenities such as a... copying shop.

Plus Olive is up on the Bunker Hill - it is NOT at the bottom of the hill. It is also probably the single most uninviting street anywhere in downtown. Additionally, the cascading staircase was the type of monumental gesture that looks great on paper, but which - due to the steepness of the steps - would never be used. And the extension of Second Street also provides direct practical access to Grand Avenue.

Mr. Gehry has tried to compensate for this by anchoring the corner with a restaurant and packing more stores into Olive Street. He has also decorated his boxlike buildings with swirling canopies to pump life back into the restaurants and shops above.

Again, typical Nicky hypocrisy. Replacing an unusable staircase with street activating uses - and adding interior escalators that create real world access to the upper plaza is not compensation - it is progress.

But the towering block-long facade that faces Olive Street is an eerie echo of the clifflike 1980s-era corporate plazas just to the south.

There is zero resemblance and there is also... no plaza!

And he still faces the challenge of overcoming the social apartheid of downtown Los Angeles: high culture separated from low, upper-middle-class concertgoers from working-class Latino shoppers.

And here we come to Nicky's biggest of all his many lies. First, right next to the Grand Avenue project is one of the largest senior housing project in the city - Angelus Plaza - housing over 1,300 racially mixed seniors. Yes, 1,300 low income residents are already up on Bunker Hill right next to this project.

Second, Grand is the only high rise condo project being built Downtown that will have 20% of its units as permanent lower income rental units mixed in with the high income condos. Yes, the real big story about the Grand Avenue Project is its mixture of income levels!

So first, we have 1,300 low income residents next to the this project on the hill, second, 20% of the Grand Avenue units are low income rentals and, third, also right next to Grand Avenue the Colbun School is just finishing a high rise tower of heavily subsidized student housing! And yet in a discussion of 'social apartheid' on Bunker Hill - Nicky hides all three low income and/or subsidized projects from his readers who - as usual - must be protected from the truth.

And, just to show that nothing he writes can be trusted, regarding the 'social apartheid' of Broadway, almost every block of Broadway has loft conversions on it or under construction creating yet another very mixed neighborhood

So why all the lies?

Why all the deception?

Well, Nicki wanted to write an article about a noble architect who is the victim of an evil developer. And to write that article, all it took him was a lot of lies, a lot of hidden truths and a willing architect to play the game with him.

No comments: