Mimi Zeiger

Critic, editor, curator and instigator.

Architecture photographer Wayne Thom lived at the Bonaventure hotel for a week in 1977 as preparation for taking one of his most iconic images. To shoot the sculptural elegance of John Portman’s building, Thom woke at 4 a.m., positioned himself on the offramp of the 110 Freeway and readied to catch the sunrise. In the resulting photograph, the hotel’s cylindrical forms rise Oz-like from downtown Los Angeles, the curved facades reflecting the colors of dawn.

“I light the building with sun behind it, which illuminates the clouds,” Thom said when asked how to capture the dazzle of mirror glass. Retired and living with his wife, Aesook Jee, in the San Gabriel Valley community of Rowland Heights, 87-year-old Thom still approaches his craft with well-honed technique and poetry in equal measure. “You are photographing the reflection, not the building. The building is just a frame for the reflection of the sky.”

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“LACMA belongs to the people of Los Angeles County and it should reflect the tremendous diversity, creativity, and openness to change that can be found here,” reads a headline on the buildinglacma.org, a website ostensibly tracking the design and construction of the controversial, squiggle of a proposal by Swiss architect Zumthor.

Such marketing copy, written by the voice of Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) director Michael Govan, is meant to rally support (public and financial) under a banner of shared values. But that last phrase – openness to change that can be found here – is suspect on two accounts.

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Squeezed between the Los Angeles International Airport’s ever-honking traffic and its jam-packed parking lots, the iconic spacecraft-shaped Theme Building peacefully overlooks the chaos. Designed by architects William L. Pereira and Charles Luckman (with Paul Williams and Welton Becket) and one of the last original pieces of the airport master plan, the building opened in 1961. Its architects envisioned it as the centerpiece of the airport, a jet-setting gateway to the futurist city of Los Angeles. Today, you have to dodge a few shuttle buses to get to it, and its retro cocktail lounge and restaurant closed in 2013. Still, the space-age structure stands as a worthy destination for those daring enough to make their way to its observation deck. Designated as a Historic-Cultural Monument by the city in 1993 (a move that protects it from demolition or substantial changes), it’s an essential piece of architectural history. Read More …