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Curbed LA Interviews: Lorcan O'Herlihy Speaks

Today we launch a semi-regular series of Curbed LA interviews with the architects, planners and thinkers who are shaping the future of this great city. Our first interview subject: Lorcan O'Herlihy of LOHA, who is currently building three housing projects in West Hollywood, won recognition for the Jai House in Calabasas and has accumulated an impressive list of projects in Southern California. Now he takes on his greatest challenge: answering why so many Southern Californians love faux-Tuscan architecture.

Let’s start with the bane of Curbed LA’s existence. The problem that has been plaguing us from the beginning: Why is there such a proliferation of faux-Tuscan architecture in LA?

“Faux-Tuscan” style, with its thick walls, recessed windows, patios and porticos, asserts that it is appropriate for our arid climate. Unfortunately, it is the new style for sprawl in Southern California and the environmental sensitivity is the “Red Herring”. When architecture is driven by style and not ideas “faux-Tuscan” can be the result.How long have you been in LA and what brought you here? What makes LA an exciting city in which to practice architecture? I was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland and came to Los Angeles at 15 years old. After graduation from University I worked back east with I.M.Pei and Partners on the Louvre Museum and Steven Holl Architects. When I decided to open my practice I came back to Los Angeles as it is a place for innovation and is in constant flux. An architect can develop ideas and test them with a client base who is equally inspired in the belief that Architecture can enrich their lives. Dream house: beach or hills? Beach. The ocean is an edge condition which I’ve always been drawn to and makes Los Angeles unique. Not many large cities have an ocean as it’s back yard.Which do you predict will happen first in LA: more race riots or catastrophic earthquake?We’re due for an earthquake.After the jump, Lorcan offers more predictions, including his pick for a caged match between Schindler and Neutra... A follow-up question: Why can’t urban planners and architects just get along?

It depends on who the urban planners and architects are.
I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion about L.A. NOW at the A+D Museum. L.A. NOW were investigations by Thom Mayne’s research studio at UCLA Dept of Architecture and Urban Design which looked at developing proposals for downtown Los Angeles. These proposals were productive explorations into how to tackle the challenges of the downtown area as Los Angeles's grows. Everyone got along? In certain projects in the office we have developed strong productive relationships with urban planners.

West Hollywood Urban Designer John Chase and the planning department are also changing the face of West Hollywood for the better by collaborating with good architects and progressive developers in re-thinking the city. As single-family residential units become a limited commodity, there must be a redistribution of housing typologies, in favor of multi-unit housing. Smart growth is key.

Most underappreciated neighborhood and why? It surprises me that, in such a culturally diverse city, people are still so deeply divided. People won't drive over to check out another neighborhood. There are many under appreciated neighborhood’s.Favorite building or landmark in LA?The Chemosphere House; it has a great spirit.Favorite public space in LA – park, farmer’s market, mall, beach, whatever? Venice boardwalk? it has artists, street performers and a vibrant atmosphere.If you could choose any architect, living or dead, to design your dream house, who would it be and why? And no, you cannot choose yourself. Herzog & de Meuron? Their success is a result of their skills in revealing unfamiliar or unknown relationships through familiar materials.Where are all the developers with a sense of adventure in LA? How can we encourage them? As developers realize that buyers are seeking out thoughtful and inventive design the tide will begin to turn. We are working with a number of them now who agree with this premise. Preferred mode of transportation? A car for now? one that relies on petrol. I hope to change that someday. Our office is beginning a collaboration with Dan Sturges, who as an entrepreneur, led the effort to create the Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV), the first new vehicle on U.S. streets in over three decades. His low-speed supplemental mini-car is now owned by DaimlerChrysler, which has produced more than 20,000 of them. Favorite meal at 2am?

I’m a big fan of Italian food?at all hours! When will Habitat 825 be done? Let’s talk about the controversy over Habitat 825. How does a growing city like LA balance between the need for more housing and development with a need to preserve parts of its architectural history? It should be completed February 2007. For major cities the strategy of re-densification provides a key alternative to sprawl and its many challenges. Older European cities like Madrid seem to have managed to find a way to preserve historical structures without treating them like museums and have no qualms about updating them with new programs. Younger cities like Los Angeles, are still trying to figure out how to do this within the context of a post-industrial city.

Which reminds us – caged match between Schindler and Neutra – who do you put your money on? Schindler was more unpredictable?he takes the match. There’s some controversy over the name of the new rail line from downtown to Culver City. Its proposed name is Aqua or Purple. Bernard Parks wants Rose. What would you name it? NRL (new rail line). Fuck, Marry, Kill - Eric Owen Moss, Thom Mayne, Frank Gehry? I’m a polygamist. Marry them all. For the aspiring architect in Los Angeles, where do they begin, what should they expect, and is there any place better than LA at the moment to be doing architecture? As I mentioned earlier, there are great opportunities in Los Angeles?very nurturing for a young architect. It is a place where architects can speculate on the future of Architecture. This speculation can be tested in small but inventive way by working on additions, houses and retail stores with progressive clients. The opportunity to do important large scale work which address cultural, political and social issues must be found elsewhere. Hopefully that is changing!