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Venice Update

News of Venice, CA and Marina del Rey CA

Venice Design Series Features Architecture — a Little of the New and a Little of the Old

By Jack Prichett

The 2017 Venice Design Series, which bills itself as Architecture + Experience, blends architecture with design, art, cuisine, and performance into a series of uniquely Venice events—rich in local culture, fact-filled, and intensely personal.

Take the just completed Culver City Architectural Tour. On Saturday, May 6, some 30 tour goers, led by the city’s Vice Mayor Thomas Small, met with the founders of Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects (EYRC), Eric Owen Moss Architects, and Morphosis, three firms which make the city a hub of contemporary visionary architecture.

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Pterodactyl building designed by Eric Owen Moss. Above a parking garage in Culver City

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Emerson College in Hollywood designed by Morphosis.

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(Photo courtesy of Jack Prichett.)  Architect Steven Ehrlich(left) describes the plan for The Culver Steps, a green mixed-use development that will replace a barren parking lot in the heart of Culver City.


These three firms embody the state of today’s architecture, fusing artistic vision with the immense capacity of today’s computer modeling, structural analysis, and virtual reality, to design buildings of flamboyant curves and angles, covered with skins ranging from fiberglass to metal to stone.   Although all three firms operate internationally, a good number of the tradition-shattering buildings are in Los Angeles and Culver City, itself. Eric Moss’ Pterodactyl spreads its wings in the semi-industrial expanses of Culver City. The Morphosis-designed Emerson College building scintillates along an otherwise dreary section of Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.

EYRC was named the 2015 Architectural National Firm of the Year by the American Institute of Architects.   In the award and model-filled studio, founder Steven Ehrlich, a long time Venice resident, described his sophisticated style of Modernism. Evolving partially from Ehrlich’s Peace Corps experience in Morocco, his style—now EYRC’s—seamlessly integrates architectural volumes with the light, air and water of the surrounding environment, while stressing space for people to encounter each other.

One EYRC project, the Culver Steps, a mixed-use development soon to rise in the heart of Culver City, exemplifies the approach. Filled with trees and airy walkways, the project will replace a dreary parking lot currently blighting the city center. “Culver Steps combines retail and outdoor dining with three stories of creative office space rising above, plus a grand stair and elevated plaza that is meant to be a public gathering place” Ehrlch says.  “It will become the beating heart of Culver City.”

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(Photo courtesy of Jack Prichett.)  Sylvia Aroth enjoys a virtual reality tour of a project still in the works at EYRC.

The EYRC visit also highlighted the role of computer technology in today’s architecture. Virtual reality headsets allow clients to experience projects in design as if they were already built, “walking” from room to room and onto tree-surrounded virtual terraces.


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(Photo courtesy of Jack Prichett.) Design Series tour members inspect Moss’ nearly completed building for the soon-to-open Vespertine restaurant.

Later, the tour group spoke with Eric Owen Moss, creator of many striking structures, several of which have transformed Culver City’s once decaying Hayden Tract and nearby areas into a thriving area that attracts talent to flourishing businesses. The nearly completed Vespertine restaurant building half a block from Moss’s office is a perfect example . “We are fascinated both by individual buildings and that evolving inter-relationship between building and city.” Point well made.

That social mission has always driven Moss’s work and lies at the heart of a project now taking shape in Venice. The Venice Median project, for which he is the architect, working with two non-profit agencies, will convert a City of Los Angeles-owned parking lot near Venice Beach to an imaginatively designed complex of affordable housing, shops, walkways along a Venice canal, and artists’ workplaces. Reflecting that mission of social architecture, Moss says, “Building has an obligation, always larger than itself, to the city and the culture it intends to join.”

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(Photo courtesy of Jack Prichett.) Pritzker-prize-winning architect Thom Mayne proffers his thoughts on architecture and innovation.

The tour concluded with a visit to the headquarters of Morphosis, which sits in the shadow of the Expo line. Co-founder Thom Mayne, winner in 2005 of architecture’s highest award, the Pritzker Prize, hosted a round-table Q&A with participants. Frequently seen around Venice, Mayne designed the 72 Market Street building, hosting Tony Bill’s restaurant of the same name, just off Ocean Front Walk, that became a 1990s hotspot. Relaxed and informal on Saturday, Mayne stressed the need for technical and creative innovation. He also expressed concern over the United States’ declining investments in infrastructure in a rapidly developing, highly competitive world.

Earlier in the day, the tour offered an inside look at three of Culver City’s historic landmarks: the Ivy Electrical Sub-station built in 1907 and now home to the Actor’s Gang, an experimental theater company founded in 1981 by actor and director Tim Robbins; the Culver Hotel, flatiron classic built in 1924 by Harry Culver; and Culver Studios, whose sound stages and sets provided for filming of Gone with the Wind, as well as for King Kong, Orson Wells’ Citizen Kane and Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound to name a few.

Ivy Electrical Substation, built in 1907, was built to supply electricity for the streetcars.

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Culver Hotel, originally called “Hotel Hunt” is famous for housing the Munchkins during the filming of the “The Wizard of Oz.” The hotel, which has had several owners, was purchased and completely renovated by Maya Mallick ten years ago. Charlie Chaplin once owned the hotel and legend has it that he lost it to John Wayne in a poker game. Wayne donated the hotel to the YMCA. The hotel was built by Harry Culver in 1924.

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The studio was built in 1918 by silent movie producer Thomas Ince and through the years was owned by Cecil B DeMille and RKO Pictures (at one point that studio was owned by Howard Hughes), Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball’s Desilu Productions, and Grant Tinker and Gannett, who renovated the property in 1986. Sony acquired it in 1991 and held on to it for 13 years.  Hackman Capital Partners now owns the property.

At the end of the day, Thomas Small and the hosts at the six sites had woven a cogent narrative linking Culver City’s past with the present and with the future buildings and complexes taking shape in three major architectural studios. The Venice Design Series is proving again its ability to showcase Venice’s key role in architecture, culture, and the experience of the 21st century.

The 2017 Series ends on the evening of May 20, with a giant Playa Vista party at the ad agency 72andSunny. Tickets and more information about the Venice Design Series is available at venicedesignseries.org. Proceeds from the Series go to support Venice Community Housing, a 29-year- old Venice organization that provides affordable housing and social services.

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