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Rapturous ruptures.

Two new projects by Eric Owen Moss for Culver City's dislocated downtown demonstrate an imaginative and useful cannibalisation of existing industrial structures.

The rupture of the box -- that great preoccupation of American architects from Wright to Gehry -- sees a potent manifestation in the projects of Eric Owen Moss. Moss has been dismantling and restructuring a series of warehouses in La's Culver City with geometric aplomb, eroding tenebrous corners to allow light to shaft in and popping new volumes through the skin of the old to hergid a contemporary presence. Whereas Wright's goal was the fluility of planar space towards ideal nature, Moss's aim is to connect the complicated programmes of today with the entirety of their contexts. Moss plays with the perception and partial encompassment of space about a given condition. This condition might either be fabricated by the architect (as with the T&L House in Brentwood) or found as are these industrial sheds well to the south of Beverly Hills.

At the precise corner of Hayden Avenue and National Boulevard, 3520 Hayden has its abutting walls and roof removed in an act of exemplary extraction. Behind canted sheets of clear acrylic, the guts and tissue of the interior structure (railings, bolts, the original steel joists) are visible while a spindly broach of threads and steps is pinned to the outside. The acrylic rests against the cavity to deliberately expose it, looking as temporary as the secretaries and couriers and entertainment types who work within. It is the intervention of the stairs folding up through the interstitial skin which somehow holds the total assemblage. I n that favourite Moss condition of partially in -- partially out, the stairs lead towards the corner apex and a contained black cut-out -- the head and fedora of a film noir character, a cop or hood -- which represents the client organisation.

If at 3520 Hayden the public manifestation of Moss's intervention is transparent and to do with subtraction, then that of his other recently completed project is opaque and additive. While the former is an almost disingenuous conflation of front, reception and company logo as a vitreous billboard, the latter down National at 8520 is a wrapped vertical extrusion, assuredly symbolic but without programmatic information. Named The Box, this other rupture onto the Culver City skyline is a dirty-grey chamber rearing like a small mechanical monster -- a bronco attic -- to peer out onto its neighbourhood. Over National, an imaginary cube is cut from the projecting corner of The Box in alignment with the straddled normative geometry below. Its transparent hood is butt-jointed to dematerialise in light and overlaps the cut orthogonal tb The Box itself.

This exterior action of Moss and of his client Frederick Smith is evidence to passers-by of interventions in the precinct. Inside the warehouse -- a typical array of trusses with central posts and a linear lantern -- The Box springs from above an eroded stuccoed drum, from the exoskeleton of a hypothetical sphere visible through a skylight of regular two by fours. Access is via a double f light of outside/inside stairs, first within the cylindrical wall leading to a small external balcony beneath the belly of the Box; and second splaying upwards into that protuberance to fall almost vertiginously against a second voided corner. Originally intended as the party room for a restaurant, this remarkable interior shifts and splays: the lower window leans back towards Culver City, the higher -- from on tiptoe -- offers views of palm foliage against the ridge of Beverly Hills.

A restaurant may never in fact occupy the space: it could house another production company or, perhaps, an innovative research outfit. The strategy of the development team -- already fruitful at the 8522 National complex (AR September 1992) -- is to upgrade and provide spatial articulation without enforcing a programmatic diktat. What is vital is the co-occurrence or overlapping of geometries and the simultaneous adjacency of programmatic event. Notice how, allowing for adaptation below, the reflected ceiling plan is usually the most dynamic element. And examine how, once past the floating spook in the foyer, the layout of 3520 verges on the deliberately ordinary. Not quite, but almost; for the partitioning of floor area into cellular off ices is for Moss architecturally less important than the resonances from interface between old and new structures. Entry to 3520 is not through its oriel screen but by an adjacent hinged metal leaf -- a stage door right under the marquee -- which further erodes the corner. Disused traintracks run into this nexus. Simultaneously, perpendicular steel beams (exposed by surgeon Moss as twin amputees) continue at right angles within the building as an inherited assembly line of steel frames. In a previous age they shunted engines out onto the rail system but now they reconfigure the circulation and gathering space of our Cybernetic Age. Within this is a vast timberframed network of saw-toothed north lights. Then deep inside the matrix, there is another insertion, or excavation: that of a 100ft-long void. 3520's business is music and film and these departments are separated by the court but joined, with spartan rhythm, by the pre-existing trusses continuing through. With many doors, there is here the possibility -- in this era of invisible communications -- of casual personal encounter. The final layer of intervention is the 2500 [M.sup.2] office layout, studwall corrals dividing up the workspace to create another series of unorthodox intersections between old and new, between the existing warehouse, the requirements of the tenant and the plot of the designer. The shed has had its intestines remodelled so that, while breaking out into the public realm, the interiors are boxed into something like a kasbah. The infestation of material verges -- as does the total urban ambition -- on the labyrinthine but the use of tall corridors for informal work stations and the insertion of lounges as well as the court instigate a communal sensibility. 'The difference', 3520 executive Jay Boberg told the LA Times, between a conventional office building, which is conformist, and here is the difference between suffocation and spontaneous combustion.' In the dislocated downtown of Culver City, Moss and Smith envisage a creative, conscious society in perpetual growth.
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Title Annotation:Place of Work; architect Eric Owen Moss' designs for Culver City, California
Author:Ryan, Raymund
Publication:The Architectural Review
Date:Dec 1, 1994
Previous Article:Squaring the circle.
Next Article:Modest model worker.

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