Friday, January 8, 2010

The Shock of the New

Habitat 825, 2009

If you’ve picked up anything about me from reading this blog, you should know that I am easily entertained by interesting buildings.

When I set out to visit the Schindler House in Los Angeles a few weeks ago I had no idea I’d discover an unexpected architectural gem right next door.

Because there was a lot I wanted to do on my one free day in LA, I arrived at the Schindler House early. Too early, it turned out, to tour the house. I walked back out to the street and was drawn to a brightly colored building next door.

Habitat 825, as it is known, is a real shock-of-the-new structure. Designed by LA architect Lorcan O’Herlihy, it’s is a cluster of connected two- and three-story structures housing 19 residences in a Chinese puzzle configuration of multi-story floor plans. At first glance, it looks like a bunch of brightly colored children’s blocks thrown around the edges of a platform just a few feet above street level. (There’s resident parking underneath.) No two of the structures are alike. They’re arranged around a courtyard that, along with bright light wells in each of the blocks, allows light to enter each of the residences from several directions. (You can get a sense of the Habitat 825’s interiors here.)

There was a lot of controversy about Habitat 825 when the neighbors first heard that an old Regency style residence on the site would be demolished to make room for it. The traditionalists didn’t want to see the old place go. The purists swore that Habitat 825 would cast shadows on and ruin the small, one-story Schindler House next door.

I can safely say that Habitat 825 does none of these things. Its design is bold, to be sure. But it’s no more daring that R.M. Schindler’s house must have seemed in the early 1920s. If anything, Habitat 825 borrows from and complements Schindler’s aesthetic. So much so that one critic commented:

“Chances are that in another 82 years, there would be howls of protest should new plans for the neighborhood including demolishing and replacing Habitat 825 – which by that time might itself be considered a treasured example of 21st century Modernism.”

1 comment:

  1. I love your photos of it! It sounds wonderful.