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Architect Mayne discusses Emerson LA design


Architect Thom Mayne of Morphosis with Sunny Park and James Oh, architects who attended his talk at Emerson Los Angeles on March 11. (Photo by Dan O'Brien)

You can tell by looking at the new Emerson College Los Angeles that its designer, Pritzker Prize–winning architect Thom Mayne, is no traditionalist.

And he isn’t shy to explain how he’s run into creative disputes with clients while designing aesthetically modern and futuristic buildings.

But that was not the case with Emerson Los Angeles, he said.

“It’s iconic. It has to be,” Mayne said in a lecture at ELA on March 11. “[It is] a school that’s extremely well known in Hollywood, producing its employees and employers.”

Mayne’s lecture, “Thom Mayne: Emerson LA from Concept to Completion,” was well attended by alumni and dozens of architects from the Los Angeles area.

Mayne called Emerson one of his best clients, and sang the praises of Emerson President Emerita Jackie Liebergott, who spearheaded the five–year construction project.

“Unlike a lot of conversations I’d been having [on other projects], they weren’t at all startled,” Mayne said. “Jackie in particular is just kind of remarkably open. It was always, ‘Where did you come up with that idea? That’s interesting.’

“Artistically, it was more like being in Europe: We’re the architects. Do what you do best. They kind of left us alone.”


Architect Thom Mayne of Morphosis giving a lecture at Emerson Los Angeles on March 11. (Photo by Dan O'Brien)

Mayne is highly regarded in the architecture world. A few architects even asked for his autograph after his talk, which included a few questions from the audience.

“It’s the perfect building for the creative soul,” said performer Mamie-Louise Anderson ’77. “The first time I came here, I had a visceral, organic reaction. If I were a student here now, I’d be so uplifted and stimulated.”

Mayne discussed two points that influenced his thinking behind the Emerson LA building design: its prime location in the heart of Hollywood; and the realization that the facility is for students coming from Boston, which has a different social, cultural, and architectural vibe than Los Angeles.

“The site was absolutely essential,” said Mayne, explaining how the views of the Hollywood sign, city skyline, and its location on Sunset Boulevard define the site’s iconic location.

“It definitely had some effect on the project; the idea of Boston students coming to LA,” Mayne said, “and how interesting it was to make an environment that was very LA.”

However, he said that the open–air meeting spaces and other aspects make the building “Boston-like.”

“We’re making a little town,” Mayne said. “We’re looking at uniqueness and not repetition.”

“Wherever you look,” he said, “there’s something different. That’s going to be part of our history.”

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