MOSSticism in the Hayden Tract
The Smiths and Moss never had a master plan; instead, they moved from one point to another intuitively. In that way, crisscrossing the Hayden Tract and moving into South Central Los Angeles beyond, they created a unique new topography.
Moss thrives on organic contradiction. His work—which he has attempted to explain through prose that is often confusing and meandering, but which is also poetic and at times brilliant—is personal, open-ended, and complicated. He calls it a "gnostic" architecture.
Moss's gnosticism provides "experiences" which contain both lyrical and intellectual aspects: "paradigm(s) of conflicting points of view," as he puts it. For Moss, the "lyric" always supersedes the intellectual.
The "lyric" perhaps belongs more to the spatial experience, or the sublime, whereas the "intellectual" might speak about formal manipulations of geometry and mass. Regardless, Moss's work has always embodied all sorts of intense contradictions.
Moss's early works in the Hayden Tract, including his first intervention at 8522 National Boulevard and his redevelopment of the Ince Complex, are not as interesting architecturally as what comes later. They are more decorative and less transformative.
While Moss's scalpel does cut into or combine existing fabrics and structures with not a small degree of force, the results are composed of smaller, detail-driven iconic pieces attached to existing skeletons and appear almost timid in the light of more recent buildings.
In transitional projects such as the Samitaur Building and The Box, and the newer ones including 3535 Hayden Avenue, The Umbrella, Slash/Blackslash, Stealth, Beehive, and Pterodactyl, the existing has been subsumed and tamed to a much larger degree than before.
The resulting architecture is more athletic and muscular, confident and explosive. Given changed budgets, changed attitudes (of politicians and potential tenants alike), and changed financing structures, it is more sophisticated as well.
Tenants such as Kodak, American Online, and Ogilvie & Mather have signed up or already occupy large amounts of space in these buildings. For them, the interior spaces which provide very profitable income are left for the most part clear and free of obstruction. But in several notable instances, such as inside the lobby of 3535 Hayden Avenue, the new and old come together in surprising ways. However, it is on the exteriors of the buildings where much of Moss's formal experimentation takes place.
Moss's strategy on all of his exteriors involves the creation of what he calls "anomalies" — architecturally significant volumes which, aside from defining special interior spaces, give each building its meaning. They are formally interesting enough that the balance of the buildings can remain somewhat neutral.
In The Box, a twisting, cubic plaster volume rises above an existing one-story warehouse. It hovers aggressively over everything in its vicinity.
The Beehive, just down the street, is a curvilinear counterpoint to The Box, and is the anomaly for a 10,000-square-foot (930-square-meter) industrial building. Its centrifugal form contains a conference room and roof deck reached by a winding stair. Then there is What Wall?, a volume made of concrete blocks and faceted glass that literally bulges out of an existing facade.
At 3535 Hayden Avenue, an existing industrial bow-string truss building is transformed by the addition of three steel-framed stories above it. This project supports several anomalies: the twisted cylinder of the interior lobby and a rotated cube that forms a second-floor conference room. Another occurs when existing bowstring trusses rhythmically emerge out of the south facade of the building, clarifying the relationship between new and old.
It is in the Samitaur Building, Stealth, Slash/Backslash, Umbrella, and Pterodactyl, however, that the largest anomalies occur. Samitaur, Moss's first entirely new building in the area, is a 328-foot- (100-meter-) long block that sits in the air above an existing road connecting three warehouses. The new building sports two idiosyncratic end pieces.
However, unlike the anomalies described above which are attached to existing buildings, they are not materially differentiated from the body of the building. Samitaur is finished entirely in troweled plaster, and thus the figural pieces at either end are distinguished by their form and the shadows they cast, rather than by a change in material. The resultant effect is more fluid, indicating a new direction in Moss's work.
Stealth, a new 325-feet- (99-meter-) long building (an anomaly in its entirety) that stretches along Hayden Avenue, is a sleek, aggressive 50,000-square-foot (4645-square-meter) office building that acts as a gateway to a large open-air courtyard bounded on its other sides by Slash/Backslash, The Umbrella, and Pterodactyl.
These projects are fluid; taking their cues from Samitaur, there are no longer any abrupt changes in materials or the same kind of jarring anomalies that we have grown accustomed to seeing.
Slash/Backslash receives its name from slanting glass facades that face the courtyard. They are downright elegant, a word not previously ascribed to Moss's architecture.
The Umbrella is similarly appealing, exhibiting a corner composed of existing and recycled trusses combined with a new steel frame, all of which is covered by laminated curved glass to form a canopy for music performances.
Pterodactyl, a new structure, comprises four stories of parking below two levels of glassed-in office spaces with a stepped lounge in the middle that hangs over and practically drips down the facade facing the courtyard. These buildings are individually striking. More importantly, they work together to create a strong spatial and urban fabric.
As the architecture has evolved, the proposals for future projects have become bolder. City officials, in recognizing the positive benefits of Conjunctive Points, have bent rules in remarkable ways, raising the building height limit from 48 feet to 230 (from 15 meters to 70), allowing modifications for parking and open space requirements, changing zoning codes to accommodate new uses.
As a result, seven more projects that are currently on the boards are likely to come to fruition: these include twin towers along Jefferson Boulevard, another on Hayden Avenue, and The Palindrome, an ambitious experimental project involving the remake of a mile-long, 50-foot-wide (1600-meter-long, 15-meter-wide) railroad corridor into a greenbelt with pedestrian thoroughfares and mixed-use office and retail spaces floating 60 feet (18 meters) above the ground.
The development of the Hayden Tract is clearly unique, given the confluence of one ambitious developer's imaginative vision, a highly idiosyncratic architectural spirit, and a very particular geography. It is questionable whether what has been achieved in Culver City could be replicated elsewhere.
But, just as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain showed governments and developers how architecture could transform politics and economics and spur urban revitalization, so does Conjunctive Points, though coming at the challenge from a different direction.
One thing is certain: without Moss's particular, peculiar, and intense architecture as its driving force, Conjunctive Points would not have its present distinction, nor its iconic power. It would not have grabbed the attention of the companies and developers that have participated to date in the experiment.
But is this the new definition of a city? Is it true that, as Moss himself characteristically asks in his book Gnostic Architecture, the "exception that proves the exception doesn't have to remain an exception, but becomes the new rule"?
It is only over time, and through thoughtful examination of other redevelopments around the world, that the true impact of Conjunctive Points as an urban force will be known.
Alice Kimm, AIA, is a partner in the Los Angeles firm John Friedman Alice Kimm Architects.