The Coolest Architecture in Los Angeles

by Tony Chavira

The Last Definitive List of Anything You’ll Ever Need

Before I turn the world of architecture against me by leaving out someone’s favorite house or interior, let me preface this article with the scenario:

It was about 5:45 pm and all of the architects and designers were sitting in our office working on their projects before they scurried home. I turned around from my desk to grab everyone’s attention and said simply, “I want to write an article on the ‘coolest’ architecture in LA.” And boom, the office exploded. Houses, buildings, interiors, huge to tiny structures ... friends were being emailed for more input, the Internet was being surfed in case something vital was left out, and ideas were being boosted and rejected all around the room, while everyone turned to me with a stern tone, “But Tony, you need to give the history of these structures also,” as if I had inherently no respect or real understanding of the true significance of this list. Especially hard was defining what “cool” meant, which was never really clarified so I’m not even going to bother writing any more about it.

Hours and hours of debate later, here’s the final list ... starting with a few ...


Honorable Mentions

Disney Concert Hall – Cool or not, Frank Gehry’s shining jewel on Grand Avenue in Downtown Los Angeles is probably one of the most photographed structures in the city now, and to some degree represents the sentiment that some have toward the brilliance (literally and figuratively) of neo-futuristic architecture. Here’s an original sketch to show you Gehry’s thought process(?).

Gehry sketch

The Capitol Records Tower – Let’s be honest, Hollywood is a pretty trashy spot. It might not have anything to do with the music industry anymore, but this landmark is on our list as an honorable mention because it’s both iconic and original, both for its time (completed in 1956) and when we saw it collapse in 1976’s faux-epic Earthquake.

Capitol Records Building

The Bonaventure Hotel – In the 1970s, the Bonaventure hotel was the place for filming space epics. Why? Because it was seen as the post-modern building of the future! Buck Rogers in the 25th Century had it right though: this structure is crazily cool, especially if you love the way that the past saw the future.

Bonaventure Hotel


And here we go, starting with Number 10 to make the countdown more epic ...

10. Bradbury Building – Cast iron interiors, original brick masonry, skylit atriums ... any place that’s been the original setting of the film Blade Runner is cool in my book. Finished in 1893, the Bradbury Building wasn’t even designed by an architect. Instead, the drafter was a dude who had this “amazing” vision of what the world would look like in the far-off year of 2000, based on the book Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy.

Bradbury Building

9. Getty Villa – Originally J. Paul Getty’s home (which he jam-packed full of antiquities and art from his acquisitions around the world), the Getty Villa in Malibu is a complete, life-size, material-for-material replica of a Roman house destroyed in the volcanic eruption at Pompeii. It’s like stepping into the past, incorporating cleanly into its surroundings while showing off the massive collection of ancient antiquities.

Getty Villa

8. Union Station – First opened in 1939, Union Station in Downtown Los Angeles is still as insanely cool as it was back then. You get a feeling for what Los Angeles used to be in the 1920-1930s in our full-blown deco glory. Writing about it is cheap; go for a visit and just walk around in your sunglasses, scarf and 1930s scenester garb to really understand it.

Union Station

7. Bullocks Wilshire Building – People pass this building all the time without really giving it a good look, but the Bullocks Wilshire Building in Koreatown is a testament to the Art Deco style. But the building itself isn’t cool just because of its history (which is infused with celebrities from Hollywood old and new); instead the building is awesomer than ever because it’s been completely restored and recently opened as a historical monument to the monolithic deco style which is in desperate need of renovation through historic LA. Seriously, check it out!

Bullocks Wilshire

6. Lovell Beach House – Until the architect Rudolf Schindler designed this house in Newport Beach in 1926, there was literally no such thing as “The California Home.” He developed a sort of skeletal system for the building which kept it strong and light AND added a bajillion windows because what’s the point of beachfront property without a kickass view of the ocean?

Lovell Beach House

5. Wiltern – People go to the Wiltern all the time, but does anyone really take the time once the concert’s ended to walk around the space and really admire the detailing in its interiors? The interior designer, Lansburgh, went crazy with deco tiling, decorative plaster, and murals by the painter Anthony Heinsbergen. I put it as #5 on the list because the Wiltern is both kickass and still in use. I’m going to go see The Editors there in February in case you want to meet up for drinks and talk about artistic detailing.


4. Gamble House – Nothing can stop the Gamble House, it is way too freakin’ cool. Head to Pasadena for a tour when you have a free weekend: Greene & Greene kept it warm, inviting, elegant and organic all-in-one, and its Pasadena location gives you the impression that it’s tucked away in a world of its own, a sort of Zen log cabin. I feel like a brochure, but you should really check it out before I babble on any further.

Gamble House

3. Wayfarer’s Chapel – Lloyd Wright’s structure in Rancho Palos Verdes is insane, hyper-geometric and almost neo-futuristic. Walk in and see the angled glass and beams and you can’t tell me that this isn’t the chapel of the future. Whether or not you decide to pray there, you’ll feel the biblical awesomeness of good engineering and modernist influences.

Wayfarer’s Chapel

2. Case Study 22 – You’ve seen this house in a TON of movies, especially ones where the main character is some sort of entertainment industry mogul. Although it was built in 1959, you might take a walk though and still feel the architect’s original intention: blurring the line between indoor and outdoor, being one with nature and all that new-aged jazz. Check it out for yourself and you’ll be surprised at how refreshingly close to that feeling it really is.

Case Study 22


And the number 1 coolest building in Southern California is … A TIE (mostly because no one could make up their minds) ...

Chemosphere! – With a name like “Chemosphere” you know it’s gotta be damn cool. In fact, it looks like a flying saucer lodged in the trees of the Hollywood Hills and that, in and of itself, is a total selling point. One picture cannot do this building justice: click here, I COMMAND YOU! Man, I love The Jetsons.


and ...

Eames House – The first fully pre-fab home in California, it was both a take on a Mondrian painting AND assembled in huge parts on-site. Charles and Ray Eames were (both statistically and in fact) the coolest people in Los Angeles from the 1940s to 1980s without question, therefore their house needed to be at least as cool as they were. BEHOLD! Light! Color! Geometry! Nature! Order! Chaos! ART!

Eames House

There’s so much great architecture in Southern California, sprinkled amongst our landscape, that we tend to forget that we live in such a diverse community. Take a weekend and visit just ONE of these places, and ideas and visions for alternative living spaces will flash before your very eyes. And if you need more recommendations, by all means feel free and e-mail me! Trust me, the office list was a lot longer, and if I left them to their own devices I’m sure I could accumulate a list of hundreds.

Tony Chavira is the President of FourStory, a nonprofit organization that promotes fairness and social justice through strong writing and storytelling. He is also the Program Developer at RACAIA Architecture, writes and posts comics at Minefield Wonderland, and teaches Business Report Writing at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.


greatest hits of LA

2011-11-9 by Darrell

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