Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The 70s Science Fiction Landscape of California

This is cross-posted to my California travel and outdoors/trail running blog, MDK10 Outside.

The Theme Building at LAX, from theinterrobang.com

The same guy (William Pereira) designed all of these buildings. In order roughly from south to north:

San Diego: San Diego Airport, Grossmont Hospital, Scripps Clinic, and Geisel Library at UCSD

Irvine: the entire city more or less, including UC Irvine

Newport Beach: the entire city more or less

LA: USC's campus (he was a professor there), and that weird central building at LAX

San Francisco: SFO, and the TransAmerica Pyramid

Geisel Library at UCSD. The first time I saw this I literally stumbled across it, and I started looking around for Gort and Clatu.

Pereira was a major science fiction fan and intentionally designed things to look futuristic. Talk about life imitating art. (And some of these buildings ended up being used later in science fiction movies - that's the UC Irvine campus at that last link.) That said, a lot of these buildings do look pretty dated; to paraphrase the Simpsons, they look like what they thought the twenty-first century would look like in 1970.* But it's amazing that one person is responsible for so much of the iconic construction of this state, and more amazing that he's not more famous. One of Pereira's students also went on to some fame - Frank Gehry.

The whole state of California is named after a fictitious country in a sixteenth century science fiction novel, so maybe this kind of reification isn't so surprising.

*Ah, you read the footnote for more architecture-bashing! Excellent. Modern architecture in general often gets dated quickly because the ways it tries to be original become inextricably linked to a very narrow era - you don't look at a medieval cathedral and think "Oh my gosh, that's so tacky, it just screams fourteenth century." Another mid-to-late twentieth century American architect was Eero Saarinen, and his best-known works are probably the Arch in St. Louis, the international terminal at JFK, and the terminals at Dulles (you know, the ones that require a custom-made land-crawler as a shuttle. Stupid.) Note that of these, only the Arch has avoided looking dated, at least from outside, probably owing to its basic geometricality. Even Saint Wright suffers from this to some degree. Probably the worst offense in all architecture is here in San Diego, the Salk Institute, perpetrated by Louis Khan. Horrifyingly, every day one can find packs of drooling architecture students visting from Europe and Asia, memorizing this Golgotha of right angles, excited to return home and desecrate their own cities with a similar pile of cinder blocks. Just as with Wright's work and that of other famous architects, the bathrooms in the Salk are awful. (RE Wright, in Falling Water they're bad but in the Beth Shalom synagogue in Philadelphia they're criminal. Tiny, dungeon-like, insufficient for the facility, their function damaged by their size and remoteness - seemingly not an afterthought, but the victims of deliberate malice. The bathroom is the most important room in the building!)

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