Mad Hats, BritWeek and “Titans” of LA Design

Mad Hatters Tea PartyHaving chosen to move to this country in part for its meritocracy (however flawed), this past Friday’s Royal Wedding provoked profoundly mixed feelings, but no such ambivalence about the architecture and design side of my native country: Westminster Abbey, in all its Gothic glory and (not visible on TV) its uniquely English hodgepodge of headstones and statues of famed poets and politicians, scientists and soldiers; the bride’s modern regal dress by Alexander McQueen’s Sarah Burton, who also created Michelle Obama’s stunning outfit for the State Dinner for the Chinese Premier; and of course the hats! The country that spawned The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party simply excels in truly, wonderfully, eccentric headgear.

Which brings me to the reason for this belated blog about a wedding (that has been completely trumped by President Obama’s triumphal news): to let you know this is Britweek in LA, an annual celebration of Britain’s cultural “contributions” to LA through music, fashion, art, film and, Wednesday (today) design. Today the Pacific Design Center hosts a Salute to British Design; one of the events is a panel featuring expat luminaries Anthony Haden-Guest, Michael Apted, Minnie Driver and Martyn Lawrence-Bullard, (named by Architectural Digest as one of the worlds top 100 interior designers last year, and heard on this DnA). It starts at 4pm,  I’ll be moderating and, with renowned wits like Lawrence-Bullard and Haden-Guest in the line-up, it should be entertaining.

The Wild Beast at CalArts, by Hodgetts + FungA primary reason for moving to LA, however, was its design and architecture — also delightfully eccentric at times, but, in keeping with its role as a place unencumbered by 100s of years of tradition, often novel and experimental. You can get a reminder of LA’s distinctive design tradition in a list of “50 Titans of Design” just assembled by Los Angeles Times Magazine.

 The magazine has selected a cross-section of designers past and present (Wallace Neff, Thom Mayne), from craft to industrially inspired (Sam Maloof, Pierre Koenig), from cool to characterful (Fred Fisher, Hodgetts + Fung, whose Wild Beast performance space at Cal Arts is shown, right). The list is intriguing in part because of which projects the Times chose from their “titans” (Frank Gehry’s Norton House but not the Disney Concert Hall, for example). But it is worrying for how few of the younger generation of designers gets a look-in (Michael Maltzan is one of the few). Why not? There is plenty of young talent here. But there are questions about architectural patronage in LA. One wonders, for example, why Eli Broad did not invite young local talent to compete for his new museum? I’ll be pursuing this on a future DnA. If you have any thoughts about it, do write a comment.