Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Coop Himmelb(l)au's High School No. 9 in Downtown Los Angeles

Wolf D. Prix loves teasing law-abiding Americans. He does not part with his signature cigar even in no-smoking places. On a construction site, when asked to put on a safety helmet, he puts it on backwards, like a teenager with a baseball cap. Unlike American architects, for whom going to a gym is almost a professional duty, he proudly carries around his non-athletic body. And, of course, statements like "lying and pretending is more interesting than truth" do not usually go well with the American audience.

Considering this, the fact that his High School No. 9 in downtown Los Angeles sometimes provokes a very negative reaction should perhaps please the architect. The Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez called the school “a towering absurdity”. I used to like Steve Lopez’ column, so I sent a letter to LA Times asking Steve if he preferred “provincial nondescript junk” of a standard LA high school. He replied that he perhaps should not have used the word “absurdity”.

The major victory of law-abiding Americans over the Austrian enfant terrible was the refusal of the fire and safety authorities to allow access to the observation point – the central element of Prix’ design. This observation box with its spiral walkway has become a mere ornament.

Meanwhile, Los Angelinos keep getting angrier. Here is a recent letter to LA Times (June 7): “Am I supposed to be happy that this is the result of the board spending more than $230 million of taxpayer money on a project budgeted at $87 million? I thought the school board's job was to educate our children. Instead, we have a palace to "the arts" and teachers who are being furloughed, schools that are virtually uninhabitable and a dropout rate of 35%. The real value of this monstrosity is that it is emblematic of the dysfunctional school board, providing little in the way of real education, and indifferent to budget overruns of appalling size.”

Prix with his Los Angeles structure has managed to provoke almost the same reaction as Eric Owen Moss did with his Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia.

See my interview with Wolf Prix

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