I just love the new Santa Monica Civic Center Parking Structure with colored glass! At night, the structure glows from within by means of one-foot-wide, U-shaped channel glass fins with neon lights installed behind. The colored glass is held in place via steel outriggers, and the cantilevered glass canopies project colors onto the ground, even during daytime. Colors range from blue-green-orange-red-yellow, reflecting ocean, sky, sunrise and sunset. How psychedelic! The illuminated six-story, 882-car, precast concrete parking structure by architects Moore Ruble Yudell on Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica is a veritable light show. The only criticism I can offer is the wire mesh screen in front of the colored glass opposite the Police Station (north elevation) appears to be unnecessary. With electronic signage displaying the number of available spaces (I have never seen less than 665 spaces available), I am hoping construction of the planned Civic Center Park at the corner of Pico and 4th Street is not far behind, but I wouldn’t bet on it soon, given the nearly 30 years needed for the City to complete Virginia [Avenue] Park at the corner of Cloverfield and Pico boulevards.
Compare this exemplary project with some other recent public projects around town, most notably CCSM’s (Community Corporation of Santa Monica) three most recent low-income projects (residents generally earn less than $25,000 annually; residents reporting income above this threshold are asked to leave). The first on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and 26th Street is a crisply modern 44-unit structure creatively employing color and individual unit balconies to achieve a cohesive and distinctive style. The building consists of three- and four-story massing with horizontal bands of windows, and the façade along 26th Street features a three-story entranceway with an adjacent glass curtain wall. Designed by Kanner Architects, having recently relocated to Santa Monica (in a facility previously housing the Museum of Architecture and Design), this low-income project is well-sited on a busy arterial thoroughfare, and is accessed via automobile from the alley. The architects integrated commercial grade window frames, cement board siding, horizontal screens enclosing ground level private patios and a colorful mural into a handsome example of modernism with its clean lines and rectilinear geometry. This project has been recognized by the California AIA (American Institute of Architects).
Also receiving recognition by the architectural community, but probably not to everyone’s taste, is Pugh and Scarpa’s CCSM project at the corner of Broadway and 15th Street. Pugh and Scarpa also designed the single room occupancy (SRO) building at the corner of Colorado Boulevard and Fifth Street for CCSM, and having received numerous architectural awards for design and energy conservation for this project, CCSM apparently gave the architect carte blanche during design of this 41-unit project at 1424 Broadway. The architects tilted and folded the ochre-toned stucco façade at various locations and wrapped angular perforated metal screens around other areas to add interest, I surmise. Various exterior stairways provide open access to the units, and the ground floor façade along 15th Street includes colorfully whimsical blocks manufactured from recycled aluminum cans. Driveway access is also from the alley, and natural light spills into the subterranean garage via a 12’ by 12’ opening in the courtyard. The project has rather large window openings, but I feel the architects could have done a little more with the spare courtyard. Visual acceptance of the unusual design may increase with time and familiarity, but the project remains over-scaled in relation to the largely single family neighborhood, due to the increased density allowed by law and necessary to make low-income projects financially feasible.
Unfortunately, CCSM’s 44-unit project at the corner of Pacific and Main streets in Ocean Park, designed by Fred Fisher Partners, has received no such professional recognition, and demonstrates the difficulty of developing a project opposed by local residents with design input from the City’s Planning Commission and Architectural Review Board. Architecturally, the building’s Main Street and Pacific Street facades appear inconsistent and chaotic, as if they belong to separate projects. Built with inexpensively finished stucco and vinyl frame window, the building looks like a low-income project, as evidenced by the stripped-down or unadorned bay windows. Neither Kanner Architects’ nor Pugh and Scarpa’s projects look like low-income housing. Evidence of cheap construction (and poor oversight) can be found in water staining (this condition will worsen with rain) of the upper stucco walls along Pacific Street due to the inadequate sheet metal drip screed at the roof line, and what appears to be exposed painted cast iron sprinkler pipe at the first floor ceiling running the full length of Main Street. Given the strong community opposition and political maneuvering and manipulation by the City, which caused various re-designs of the building, I suspect Mr. Fisher lost interest in the project and delegated its completion to lesser talents in his office. Compare the quality of this project with the apartment buildings at the corners of Main and Bicknell streets, constructed by private developer Archstone with no public subsidy, and one can see why Pacific and Main is lacking in design quality and vision. For the most part, architecture cannot be designed by committee, and more importantly, buildings cannot be designed by politicians with a social agenda and ideology.
Jeffrey Weinstein, AIA