Mimi Zeiger

Critic, editor, curator and instigator.

Genoese architect Renzo Piano would prefer it if you didn’t call the imperial sphere that his firm, Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW), realized for the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures “the Death Star.” Indeed, the Star Warsreference is too on-the-nose for a bulbous structure meant to celebrate Hollywood history. Too self-referential even for an industry that loves a reboot. As if the architecture itself might break the fourth wall and mug for the camera, begging to be blown to smithereens in next year’s biggest blockbuster.

“Call it a dirigible, a zeppelin,” Renzo Piano said correctively to the press ensconced in the plush, red-carpet red, 1,000-seat Geffen Theater, snug in the belly of the monumental vessel (surround sound courtesy of Dolby). Better yet to refer to the 26-million-pound precast concrete, steel, and glass addition to the landmarked May Company building as he does: “a soap bubble.” Read More …

For the Audrey Irmas Pavilion at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Rabbi Steve Leder, senior rabbi of the Los Angeles synagogue, commissioned Rem Koolhaas and Shohei Shigematsu to design a mezuzah to grace the doorways of the new 55,000-square-foot building, a cockeyed honeycomb caught between the historic temple and Brutalist St. Basil Church. As this was OMA’s first religious structure and first mezuzah, neither architect was particularly familiar with the ritual object: a reliclike enclosure for a small scroll inscribed with a prayer. They set about fabricating a design from colored resin and aluminum foam, a material familiar to the office and used to great effect at Fondazione Prada in Milan. Read More …

When SOM’s federal courthouse opens in downtown Los Angeles, the 633,000-square-foot civic edifice will feature a monumental new artwork from L.A.-based artist Catherine Opie. Over the course of her career, Opie has taken on many architectural subjects: freeways, modernist interiors, and even lonesome icehouses. The General Services Administration commissioned her six-panel photographic mural of Yosemite Falls, which is installed in the multi-story atrium of the boxy glass building. Mimi Zeiger spoke to Opie about architecture, nature, and justice. Read More …

Shelter. Let’s start there. It’s a basic need. The root of architecture— Marc-Antoine Laugier’s enlightenment frontispiece offers up the primitive hut as reason over nature. A right, right? We’d like to think so. But globally and nationally, the simplest of human acts of shelter are elusive, politicized, and pushed to extremes. In architecture building types conventions split along economic lines: house versus housing. The former is a client-driven expression of taste, while the latter requires a systematic juggling of multiple units and services. Read More …

Architecture of Life. There’s nothing retiring about the ambitious title of the inaugural exhibition of The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA). When the new building by Diller Scofidio + Renfro opens at the end of January, the sweeping survey curated by museum director Lawrence Rinder will fill all of the galleries with an imaginative, interdisciplinary, and international collection of some 250 works drawn from art, architecture, and science. Read More …

While putting the finishing touches on this combined west and southwest issue, AN received word of the passing of Edward Soja. According to colleagues, he had been ill for some time but I was unprepared for the news and was left mulling the death of one of Los Angeles’s critical voices at a time when questions of equity and identity— topics that he often wrote about—still need addressing.

A professor emeritus at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs, Soja was considered part of the L.A. School, a group that also includes Mike Davis. His 1989 book, Postmodern Geographies, came with the chunky academic subtitle “The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory,” yet its ideas influenced architects and students well into the 1990s. For my generation, the use of “deconstruction” by Soja and others opened up new ways to understand, write about, and practice in the city. Read More …

If the West Coast has a 2015 tag line—something to be read in a deep voice at the end of a movie trailer or epitaphically carved in granite—it’s certainly Oscar Wilde: “To be natural is such a very difficult pose to keep up.”

Our nature is certainly unruly—a parched region bracing for Santa Ana winds, El Niño, and earthquakes—but there’s nothing wild about Wilde’s sentiments. Susan Sontag used the line (quoted from the playwright’s An Ideal Husband) in her pivotal essay, 1964 “Notes on Camp,” to underscore the artifice, effort, and exaggeration required to approximate something authentic. In Los Angeles, we have a very loose relationship to what is natural or genuine. Reyner Banham clearly had his tongue lodged firmly in his cheek when he famously wrote “I learned to drive in order to read Los Angeles in the original,” as he searched out the city’s ecologies. Read More …

The McMurtry Art & Art History Building opened on the Stanford University campus in early October. The 100,000 square-foot building is the second of three Diller Scofidio + Renfro designs to open on the West Coast. Squeezed between the red carpet opening of The Broad in September and the ribbon cutting for the Berkeley Art Museum early next year, the McMurtry is not a museum, but instead is dedicated to a pair programmatic twins: fine art and art history. Read More …

“You can’t rehearse what you ain’t invented,” said Frank Gehry in an interview in this month’s issue, offering up his favorite quotation from jazz musician Wayne Shorter. For L.A.’s most famous architect, the line speaks to improvisation, invention, and the vast possibilities of art and architecture. Vernacular in its delivery, it recalls Gehry’s early experiments with everyday materials. But so much for unrehearsed; he’s quoted it before—most recently to critic Oliver Wainwright when speaking about the Foundation Louis Vuitton, a project as couture as its client. Read More …

During the opening days of the Chicago Architectural Biennial, as first the press and then the public (including some irascible architects) filed through the Chicago Cultural Center to see the dozens of projects on view, AN’s Mimi Zeiger sat down with Joseph Grima, co-curator of the inaugural exhibition, to discuss the urgencies of architectural practice. Read More …