April 18, 2006

Is this the My Name Is Earl House?

Is this the My Name Is Earl House? While this ramshackle residence may look like it was nailed together by Jason Lee's white trash TV character from random slabs of discarded industrial materials ("corrugated aluminum metal siding, plywood, glass and chain-link fencing"), he'd picked up alongside the highway while serving a drunk & disorderly sentence (click on the image to see a larger picture that does it even more justice), this apparent shantytown eyesore is actually the famous Gehry House. It is the home in pricey Santa Monica of the most celebrated American architect, Frank Gehry, designer of UFO-crash museums and concert halls from Bilbao to downtown LA.

The Great Buildings website elucidates the the greatness of the Gehry House thusly:

"With the original house almost intact formwise, Gehry, in effect, lifted back the skin to reveal the building as layers, with new forms breaking out and tilting away from the original, to create a forerunner of the Deconstructionist spirit of the eighties. It is almost an idea of 'wrapping' à la Christo, but where Christo seeks through a veil to transform the original to a new sense of being and meaning, Gehry rather produces a discontinuous juxtaposition where one system collides with another resulting in, to quote Bernard Tschumi, a 'super position or disjunctive disassociation.' Where Johansen assembles technological-like elements freely seeding dialogue through the combination, Gehry, through collaging, also basically (but with a different aesthetic) derives an approach to design from the methodology and respect for construction and its architectonic potential as a form maker and space generator."


Can you imagine living across the street and having to look at this every day?

The problem with Westside of LA architecture in general is too much creativity and individualism. While there are some good buildings, there are almost no good streets, because neighbors won't cooperate to subordinate their own tastes to a general "theme with variations" for the entire street. So, you find a lot of streets of dueling fantasies: one movie mogul got the guy who designed the sets for The Ten Commandments to whip him up a a little pharaoh's palace, while the studio executive next door took the concept of an ivy-covered cottage in the English countryside and blew it up to 12,000 square feet, and on and on down the block.

When I was a young man, I used to like the look of LA because, visually, it was the funniest city in America (although Las Vegas probably has taken that title away), but my taste for irony has declined. The eclectic local architecture drove Nathanael West to dreams of destruction in The Day of the Locust: "But not even the soft wash of dusk could help the houses," he wrote. "Only dynamite would be of any use against the Mexican ranch houses, Samoan huts, Mediterranean villas, Egyptian and Japanese temples, Swiss chalets, Tudor cottages, and every possible combination of these styles that lined the slopes of the canyon."

Still, while the usual expensive Westside street is a stylistic hodge-podge, the typical individual house is at least trying to be attractive, unlike Gehry's rigid digit of a house flipping off the neighbors.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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