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Audrey Irmas Pavilion

An Inspired Trapezoid

OMA New York

Audrey Irmas Pavilion
By Michael Webb -

The Audrey Irmas Pavilion, named for its lead donor, is a major addition to the public realm of Los Angeles, and a brilliantly inventive complement to the monumental Wilshire Boulevard Temple (WBT). The contrast between the richly ornamented grandeur of the old and the skewed cube to the east could not be greater, but they are subtly related. The three architects of the synagogue that this
long-established Jewish community commissioned in the 1920s found inspiration in Byzantine churches and the hemispherical interior of the Pantheon. Nearly a century later, rabbi Steve Leder envisioned a gathering place that would enlarge the role of the complex - which includes a school, a sports center and social services - as a place of community for the congregation and impoverished immigrants in the surrounding neighborhood.

In its competition-winning design, the New York office of OMA has interpreted the program for a stack of meeting spaces as radically as the architecture practice reconceived the fashion boutique for Prada in Beverly Hills two decades ago. An equally bold design for the L.A. County Museum of Art went unrealized, as did a residential project in Santa Monica, so this is a long-delayed breakthrough for these architects.

Their struggle is hardly surprising. Most developers and institutions in L.A., and especially the universities, are deeply philistine, and usually settle for the second-rate. Building regulations are labyrinthine and discourage innovation. Great architecture requires an impassioned client, and credit here is due to Richard Koshalek, former director of MOCA and ArtCenter in L.A. and the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, who works behind the scenes to promote excellence. He championed Frank Gehry’s design for the Walt Disney Concert Hall in the face of concerted opposition and has quietly influenced several other key selections. As architectural advisor to WBT, he encouraged the board to raise their expectations...

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