Wednesday, September 01, 2010

An "information tower"

The recently completed Samitaur Tower, a 72-foot-high weathered-steel structure designed by Eric Owen Moss for a site at the corner of National Boulevard and Hayden Avenue in Culver City involves revolutionary thinking.

The tower is a campanile — an unorthodox and modestly sized one, to be sure — for a new stage of urbanism in Southern California, which thanks to the slowly growing transit network, among other cultural shifts, is beginning to emerge as a less atomized and more public place than the old clich├ęs would have you believe.

The tower will overlook the new light-rail Expo Line, which is under construction from downtown through Culver City and will open next year. (A planned second phase would extend the line to Santa Monica.) A section of the rail line runs alongside National Boulevard, practically at the tower's feet, with a pair of stops within easy walking distance. The tower's developers, Frederick and Laurie Samitaur-Smith, see it as a prototype and hope to build seven more along the Expo Line.

The open-air tower, which according to the Samitaur-Smiths won't open to the public until early next year, consists of five platforms wrapped in screens made of translucent acrylic. The screens are designed to display a range of video and artwork, making the structure, which Moss has called an "information tower," an island of alternative signage in L.A.'s sea of commercial billboards.

Once it's fully in operation, it will likely play host to a mixture of parties, art exhibits and openings, as well as serving as a symbolic gateway to the Hayden Tract, a former industrial area that the Samitaur-Smiths, with help from Moss, have been patiently and inventively redeveloping for more than two decades.

Part monument and part building, the tower on its second and third levels bulges out toward National Boulevard, only to be cinched back in one level above that. The rear elevation, facing the Hayden Tract, features an open-air staircase with landings cantilevered out from the main tower on five levels. Seen from that perspective, the tower looks like a set of emergency-exit stairs no longer attached to the larger building from which it was designed to provide escape.

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