LAX – Theme Building

William Pereira, Charles Luckman, Paul Williams, Welton Becket, James Langenheim, LAX Theme Building, 1961

After an eleven-hour flight the pilot would say a few words to prepare us for the landing in Los Angeles. He would give us some information about the weather in LA and the baggage claim at the airport. After wishing us a pleasant stay, he would then will bring us back to earth. Meanwhile I would look out of the window. In case of clear sky, I would maybe have a chance to take a glance on the roll field and the terminal buildingsand a strange construction right in the center, beside the control tower. As if there were not only planes to land in LAX, but also UFOs. Is the building between the international and the regional terminals an interstellar gateway?

This could be a possible first impression of Los Angeles. And first impressions are the most important ones as there is no second chance for a first impression. They shape our view on persons and places. They are the initial point for every other judgement of impressions in the future. If the first impression is a bad one, the whole level of expectations will be low.

The fact that we will land at the airport sets the place of our first impression there. It is the first and probably the last impression we will have. This could also be a thought of Paul Williams. He and Welton Becket, James Langenheim, Charles Luckman and William Pereira are the architects who were involved in building the LAX Theme Building in 1961.[1] It is a construction between the regional terminals.

It stands secluded on a roundabout traffic. In its ground level it has a round one story building. This base of the building is hard to see, because the building is surrounded by a wall. This wall is made of bricks, which are comparable with William Krisel’s Shadowbricks in his Palm Springs houses. In the middle of the building stands a post of blue colour. On its top is another one story level. This part has a circumferential glass front and a large roof, which is connected to the arcs. These two crossing arcs support the construction .

The futuristic design of the Theme Building is probably a good first impression of the architectural Los Angeles: solitary modern architecture surrounded by traffic. If you refer o Reyner Banham’s essay on the so-called four ecologies of Los Angeles, this building is his theory in short.[2] It also fits with his burger restaurant comparison.[3] By  this, Banham describes an crucial evolution of architecture in Los Angeles. He argues, that there were buildings, which also functioned as landmarks, especially restaurants. Their architecture was extravagant and draws the attention of the pedestrians to the building. They needed no signs or lights. This changed in Banhams opinion. The architecture became more and more simple and the restaurants began to put signs in their front, which overlaid the architecture. For Banham, the Theme Building would probably be a good example of detached architecture which does not need any signs and lights to draw somebody’s attention to it.

Beside this theoretic aspect, there stands also an architectonical reference in the Hollywood Hills: the Malin Residence, the so-called Chemosphere, by John Lautner from 1960,[4] finished just one year before the Theme Building. Its structure is kin to Williams’ restaurant building. Lautner also conceived a round, one-story house on a post . But the construction site and the use of supports instead of arcs is quite a difference. Both seem very futuristic and give the impression of an UFO.

The Theme Building is therefore not only a landmark for its own, but a symbol of the architecture of its time and place. So, if Paul Williams’ aim was also to create a good first impression of his city, it might be accomplished.

 

[1] Gazey, Katja: Architektur A-Z, 2010, p. 404.

[2] Banham, Reyner: The Architecture of Four Ecologies, 2001.

[3] Ebd., pp. 93.

[4] Campbell Lange, Barbara Ann: Lautner, 2005, p. 45.

Julius Emmel

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