Wednesday, May 18, 2005

the mayne event

on mon john and I braved the inscrutable parking regulations of westwood to see thom mayne speak at UCLA. apparently the school had booked him months ago, before he won the pritzker, into perloff hall, (where john and I saw neil denari speak several months ago) but expecting capacity crowds post-pritzker, the school wisely moved him into royce hall - which was filled to capacity.

the bulk of the lecture was about his completed projects - such as diamond ranch high school, caltrans, university of toronto graduate housing; as well as his current ones - cooper union in new york, olympic village in queens, and the university of cincinnati's student center. what he omitted was perhaps more interesting - the possible cancellation of the juneau, alaska capital building, his latimes editorial and the controversy over sci-arc's land, and his annointment as the goverment's favorite architect. he addressed none of these issues, and surprisingly, they didn't come up during the Q&A either.

sure, like most architects he is vainglorious, egotistical, even totalitarian (as he makes pronouncements that he is completely uninterested in "beauty") but he was also surprisingly candid, articulate, intelligent. he complained honestly about losing the WTC and LACMA commissions. he even seemed to take some perverse pleasure in koolhaas losing the lacma commission after he won it. I didnt take notes so most of this is from my already fuzzy memory but it was the Q&A that provided the greatest insight into mayne's mind.

john and I had wondered if the nytimes' interpretation of caltrans was correct - was the "death star" meant to read ironically? was mayne mocking caltran's monolithic power? it became clear there was not a shred of irony in mayne's design. he claims he's uninterested in aesthetics, only in function, but its a disingenuous claim. as slate succintly put it:

Originally uploaded by emily geoff.

Thom Mayne's taste tends to the shocking; if he were a filmmaker, he would be Roger Corman. His buildings have jagged, fractured forms and haphazard compositions that make them look, at first glance, as if they were not quite finished—or were falling apart. This is a subterfuge, of course, since they are solidly built and carefully detailed, but their appearance leaves the distinct impression of chaos.

he also discussed the impact being in LA has had on him - the standard "LA is a city obsessed with creating its own future" answer. and he laid out the professional trajectory of most architects - early promise, stagnation around the age of 40, you must leave your home and culture behind, oversee projects elsewhere, then return - anointed, by someone like him. his "recipe for success" was laid out in front of his project managers sitting in the front row, as they nodded silently in agreement (or was that quiet desperation?).

in either case, it's pretty clear LA isn't only a city obsessed with its future, its also a city obsessed with design, as the large crowd for mayne demonstrates. john and I have a debt of gratitude to UCLA for lining up this free speakers series, as opposed to the upcoming libeskind lecture where the "cheap seats" are $45.


At 3:45 PM, Blogger Jessica said...

Thanks for the lecture rundown. That's pretty much what I'd expect, but 'tis a pity the lecture wasn't in Perloff (I have a weird soft spot for that building), and he didn't talk more about the Sci-Arc controversy.


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