A brutal walk in the sun First Site

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A brutal walk in the sun

A brutal walk in the sun

First Site : 2017-06-07

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Now that I’m back in Los Angeles, I’ve been walking around looking for signs of Brutalist architecture. There are certainly plenty of ugly buildings in L.A., some of them brutal with a small b, but I’m not sure how many classify as genuinely Brutalist in the grander sense.

The website for the Royal Institute of British Architects has a section labeled,What to look for in a Brutalist building,” and goes on to list:
1. Rough unfinished surfaces
2. Unusual shapes
3. Heavy-looking materials
4. Massive forms
5. Small windows in relation to the other parts

No mention there of concrete, which surprised me: Brutalism supposedly got its name from Le Corbusier who spoke of “breton brut” – i.e. raw concrete, and L.A. certainly has concrete buildings. Various local online pundits also offer lists of Brutalist buildings in L.A.. These vary considerably and include: The American Cement Building:

The La Brea Tar Pits Museum:

The Japanese American Cultural & Community Center:

Even Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House.

I’ve walked past, and around, and even inside, all of these at some time or another and I never thought they constituted Brutalism. They all strike me as rather friendly buildings, but maybe Brutalism gets softened by the California sunshine, the blue skies, the palm trees.

However, I recently a walk I recently did from Hollywood to Larchmont Village (5 or 6 miles round trip) pitched up some examples that might get a person thinking about the real meaning of brutality in these matters.

This apartment block on Bronson Avenue certainly has heavy-looking materials
and strangely small windows in relation to the other parts; no unusual shapes though:

These buildings on Santa Monica Boulevard have no windows at all, but they do have mass, and certainly have heavy looking materials, although one of them is decorated with those elongated stars which would be unthinkable to Brutalist hardliners:

This carpet warehouse on Gower Street looks brutal as all getout, and I believe is made of concrete blocks:

But I can see that you might argue these things are scarcely architecture at all, they’re just buildings, and not so much brutal but just crude. However, just above Beverley Boulevard, on Larchmont Boulevard, is the Larchmont Medical Building, built by Welton Becket and Associates, “real” architects too be sure, completed in 1965.

Welton Becket was also responsible for the Capitol Building and the Theme Building at LAX – so not the most committed to Brutalism but I think this building fits the bill pretty well: big, concrete, blockish, the forms not so much unusual as uncompromising, but again rather friendlier than hardcore Brutalism.

I like it a lot. It’s also a place I’ve been to have root canal work, I seem to recall the main entrance lobby being tiled in blood red marble, but my memory made be failing me there. I was expecting brutality in the dentist's chair, and it turned out to be considerably less brutal than you might imagine.

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