Los Angeles is rich in architecture and design from Hollywood’s Golden Age – we are the film capital, after all – as well as some new classics. Renowned architects like Renzo Piano, Richard Meier, Frank Lloyd Wright and Rudolph Schindler have all taken on LA as their muse. This article features a top ten of architecture sights in LA but is by no means exhaustive. Beyond these ten monoliths are plenty of other incredible examples of Los Angeles architecture to be discovered and explored. However, this short list should inspire you to fashion and launch your own architecture tour of LA.
LAX Theme Building
On arrival in LA at the Los Angeles International Airport, one of the first architectural sights people associate with the city is the Theme Building, designed by architect Paul Williams. It was erected in 1961 and–as you can see from this classic black and white image–represented the promise of a new futuristic city lifestyle. It’s an example of Googie architecture and houses The Encounter Restaurant and Bar.
Capitol Records Building, Hollywood
Another structure that has helped define the LA skyline is the famous Capitol Records Building in Hollywood. Who hasn’t seen its needle-like top pop up in so many film scenes through the years? The building dates back to 1955. It stands 13 floors high at 1752 Vine Street. Its base is made up of an impressive pop culture mural by Richard Wyatt which features portraits of Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole and other jazz legends.
Walt Disney Concert Hall by Frank Gehry
Second to the spacey looking Theme Building at LAX (only due to its later inception date), theWalt Disney Concert Hall also gives LA a jet age look. Designed by legendary architect Frank Gehry, it was unveiled in 1991. Apparently Gehry paid homage to elements of his very own style from the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (in Spain) in his design of the arts building.
No tour of Downtown LA, or Los Angeles in general for that matter, is complete without mention of the Bradbury Building, at 304 South Broadway. It was constructed in 1893 (and that’s seriously old in LA years) and showcases Italian Renaissance Revival and Romanesque Revival styles. Designed by architect George H. Wyman, it was designated a national landmark in 1977.
Hollyhock House by Frank Loyd Wright
Another architecture superstar to leave his mark on Los Angeles is Frank Lloyd Wright. He completed the Hollyhock House–located in Barnsdall Art Park–in 1921. The home was built for theatre director and heiress Aline Barnsdall. Stylistically, it features nods to one of Wright’s favorite styles: pre-Columbian. The Hollyhock House has another distinction vis-a-vis Los Angeles history: it was the famed architect’s first LA project.
A hub for amateur astronomers for decades, the Griffith Observatory in Los Feliz was first opened and dedicated in 1935. Fashioned in the Art Deco style of its day, it was designed by John C. Austin, who also contributed to the designs of Los Angeles City Hall and the Shrine Auditorium. In 2002, the observatory was temporarily closed for renovation. It reopened in 2006 and even after its expansion (it gained a theater and a cafe), it managed to retain its Art Deco look.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art by Renzo Piano
A major competition was held to secure the architect for LACMA’s renovation. Despite Rem Koolhaas originally getting the nod, it was prize-winning Italian architect Renzo Piano who ultimately helmed the project. The renovation was completed in 2008 and included the BroadContemporary Art Museum (BCAM)–a three-story, 60,000 square foot space for post-war art, and a new entrance plaza and walkways.
Most of the structures that made it onto this list are in Downtown or Hollywood. The Watts Towers are the only architectural sight located in South Central. Beyond this distinction, theirs is a magical story. They were constructed by Italian-American sculptor and designer Simon Rodia over a period of 33 years and completed in 1951. The towers are made up of found objects such as 75,000 seashells, truckloads of broken bottle, and 7,000 sacks of concrete, and were built to last. Rodia constructed and designed (with no formal plan) the towers alone using only hand tools and window washer equipment.
Getty Center by Richard Meier
One of the great boons for LA’s art and architecture reputation was the construction of the Getty Center–a stunning hillside arts structure in Brentwood. It opened in 1997 and was designed by ‘star-chitect’ Richard Meier. The site is also home to a central garden designed by artist Robert Irwin. The total project cost was estimated to have been $1.3 billion.
Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels
The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels is the mother church of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. It’s also an outstanding example of post modern contemporary church design. Fashioned by award-winning Spanish architect Rafael Moneo, it also boasts bronze doors and a statue of the Virgin Mary by acclaimed late LA artist Robert Graham.