Friday, March 26, 2010

"The L.A. Twelve": A Snapshot of Los Angeles Architecture in 1976

The 1976 "Los Angeles 12" exhibition at the Pacific Design Center had its genesis in 1974 as a senior project co-initiated by Charles Slert and his faculty advisor, Bernard Zimmerman of the Cal Poly Pomona Architectural Department. Through this project Slert desired to acquaint himself with Los Angeles architects and their design philosophies. Slert and Zimmerman devised a strategy of selecting a group of architects to interview and document the process which gradually evolved into the subject exhibition.

Initial selection criteria centered upon choosing 12 architects who had been practicing 12 years and had designed 12 projects through which some commonalities might be examined.  After some modification in approach, the exhibition became a reality in May, 1976 when the "L.A. 12" opened in exhibition participant Cesar Pelli's newly opened Pacific Design Center. (see my January 14, 2010 post).

(Click on images to enlarge)
Exhibition poster (see above and below)scanned from "Jerrold E. Lomax, FAIA: The First 80 Years" a MODAA exhibition catalog published by Studio Pali Fekete Architects. (Zoltan Pali was a former Lomax employee). Originally published in the May 1976 issue of L.A. Architect. (from my collection)

The twelve architects featured in the exhibition were Roland Coate, Daniel Dworsky, Craig Ellwood, Frank Gehry, John Lautner, Jerrold Lomax, Anthony Lumsden, Leroy Miller, Cesar Pelli, James Pulliam, and Bernard Zimmerman. Not all are all household names in the field today but at the time were more than an adequate cross-section to provide a snapshot of what was happening on the L.A. architectural scene.

An all-day conference was held in the Pacific Design Center on May 22 in conjunction with the exhibition. Julius Shulman presented a slide lecture "Los Angeles - The Early Years" followed by morning and afternoon panel discussions featuring half of the participants. (See schedule below). The conference was reported on by Shelly Kappe in the July 1976 issue of L.A. Architect. She included some interesting quotes from British architectural critic Charles Jencks and noted Chicago architect Stanley Tigerman who were both in attendance.


L.A. Times staff writer John Dreyfuss provided an in-depth review of the exhibition in the May 23, 1976 issue of the Los Angeles Times titled "Work and Philosophy of 12 Architects." He reported that each architect was provided a 75-foot-long, 5-foot-high rack on which 13 20-inch-square panels provided project photos and firm information. The exhibition also included two slide projectors flashing images of the architect's projects and two videotape machines providing five-minute discourses on the design philosophy of each participant. Several models augmented the overall display. Dreyfuss also commented on the work and philosophy of each participant. The exhibition traveled to the Aspen Design Conference and Cal Poly Pomona and the 1977 national AIA convention in San Diego.

The Architectural Record published a 10-page review of the traveling exhibition "And then there were 12...The Los Angeles 12" in August 1976 issue (see below). The article, an in-depth look at L.A. architecture announced that "in thought and in deed, architecture is alive and well in the city of angels." The profile included Julius Shulman photos of the Bradbury Building by George Wyman, Dodge House by Irving Gill, Freeman House by Frank Lloyd Wright, Raymond Kappe's personal residence, the Bank Bumi Daya in Jakarta by Leroy Miller, the Heidemann Residence by James Pulliam, a photo studio by Bernard Zimmerman, the Wiltern Building, a Greene & Greene house and works by R. M. Schindler.


Dreyfuss followed up with an article on August 14, 1977 in the L.A. Times titled "The L.A. 12: Good Idea Which Has Gone Nowhere." Dreyfuss lamented on the lost opportunity formation of this group provided such as: bringing recognition to Southern California architecture, bringing architects together to discuss their work, encouraging and inspiring young architects, generating articles in the professional journals and popular press, and organizing conferences within the AIA and with architects from other cities and countries. Dreyfuss cited as an example how much the 12 architects had learned from each other just by participating in the exhibition and related discussions.

Dreyfuss continued stating that "There is a lack of communication among Southern California architects, a gap that could be filled if the L.A. 12 continued to meet." This was seconded by Cesar Pelli who left L.A. to become Dean of the Yale University School of Architecture who said "In the East, architects are in close contact with each other. They exchange ideas frequently, both informally and through organizations. This is the key thing. As your thoughts develop, they are being examined."

"12 Los Angeles Architects" edited by N. Charles Slert and James R. Harter, Photographic Consultants: Julius Shulman and Marvin Rand, 1978, Cal Poly Pomona. (from my collection)

The publication of "12 Los Angeles Architects" (see above) in 1978 coincided with a year-long lecture series "Twelve Architects / Twelve Months" in the Knoll Showroom at the Pacific Design Center sponsored by the Architectural Student Forum of the Student Chapter/AIA of Cal Poly Pomona. My partner Beth Kudlicki fondly remembers this series as she was showroom manager for Knoll during this period. Each of the 12 architects featured in the "The Los Angeles 12" exhibition lectured in the series. This was possibly a response to the previously-mentioned Dreyfuss article in an attempt to keep the idea of the "L.A. 12" alive. The above book is extremely scarce and prized by collectors. It includes roughly 15 to 20 pages on each of the participant's work including transcribed interviews following a brief bio.

In the book Slert divides the 12 architects into four groups: "the Expressionalists" including Roland Coate, Jr. Anthony J. Lumsden, and Cesar Pelli; "The Constructionists" including Craig Ellwood and Raymond Kappe; "The Rationalists" including Daniel L. Dworsky, Jerrold Lomax, Leroy Miller, James Pulliam and Bernard Zimmerman; and "The Experimentalists" including none other than Frank O. Gehry and John Lautner.

Nicholas Pyle's insightful foreword analytically compares the similarities and differences of the L.A. 12 with the New York 5 (Meier, Hejduk, Eisenman, Graves and Gwathmey) and the Chicago 7 (Tigerman, Booth, Nagle, Weese,  Freed, Beeby and Cohen). He characterizes the New York 5 as "jockeying for a favorable position in the great cultural free-for-all while the Chicago 7 were trying to attain a separate identity from their city's monolithic architectural establishment."

Pyle continues, "The L.A. 12, however, are not trying to achieve either an established style or an anti-establishment coup. They are already designers of considerable influence and achievement, including in their number heads of schools of architecture and principles for design in large established firms. They might be said to exemplify the highest ideals of the architectural mainstream. Their crusade, such as it is, seems not to be on the behalf of themselves. Rather it is to illustrate their conviction that the profession of architecture can without overthrowing its traditional values successfully serve the interests of the marketplace."

He closes with "The concern that the L.A. 12 express in this book is an appeal both to the decision-makers that are overseeing the increasing disarray of our world and to the designers and future designers who are beginning to feel adrift in it. The role of architects is still to provide the physical world with beauty and order."

The L.A. 12 were a somewhat random selection of architects which gave us a snapshot of Southern California architectural design sensibilities in the mid-1970s. In future blog posts I intend to revisit a series of other historical California architectural exhibitions and the architectural discourse they might have generated in their day. Stay tuned.