“Where monumentality meets entertainment.”

Transcribed conversation between four friends at the rooftop cocktail lounge of the Westin Bonaventure Hotel. Post­Modernism, LA Culture, City Planning: If You Build It They Will Come (or Not), the Future, Utopianism, the 1980s, Architectural Theory and the Image.

Amanda Dellevigne: So I guess, as spark notes for the readings,1 Jameson talks about this building as a total world in and of itself. The exterior is purposefully reflective so when you’re on the outside you only see the city around it. It becomes this mirage, hidden in the city. Once inside it’s a miniature city, that is perhaps a replication of Los Angeles or a world of its own that you are unprepared to understand or navigate – a postmodern hyperspace.

Patrick Geske: The whole thing is a kind of dislocation to your sense of place really, at least sense of belonging to the city. The elevator ride coming up through the roof, you are actually physically separating from the building. The whole thing resists anything sedentary.

AD: It has all the signs of moving, but you aren’t going anywhere. Especially downstairs, there are all of these elevators and stairs and escalators, but you are just staying in the same space.

Spencer Daly: So many journeys to be had, just in this building.

Josh Herman: Yeah, and also critically, the experience of the elevators, in that dynamic of not being able to look in from the outside, the movement that you experience in the building is that the inside becomes outside because there is this promenade and there are these levels and the shops face inwardly and there is no air that touches them. It’s pumped in air. Going up the elevators, you shoot through a glass pane but you are still inside glass.

AD: There is always this barrier, the way they separate the space, the atrium is one giant volume but it’s also not. It’s fragmented into sections of private space, and while you can see other people, you can’t actually physically interact with them, which is again this car culture and voyeuristic LA culture, wanting to see everything that’s going on, but being protected from actually having to physically interact with it.

JH: So much of the theory is negative and critical of the building, you know “a carceral hyperspace”, it’s the embodiment of the city that is unfeeling and vacuous, fake and simulated, fractured and chaotic. But even Soja2 admits it has its appeals as well and I wish that could be more focused on. If you are in a space and it’s entertaining you, this to me is a very entertaining space, it’s hard to be pessimistic about it. It’s amazing that it exists.

AD: I can’t imagine anyone walking into this building and not thinking there is something really strange about the layout of the first six floors. You are looking around and there are too many of things that you recognize, there are too many columns and too many towers and too many walkways, there are too many stairs and sections, there is no need to have all of that. It just seems like it’s a tight space to have the repetitions to the point of confusion, especially navigationally.

JH: It almost seems like a joke, there is some self­awareness to the building.

SD: It almost seems to offset the LA where you never walk, never figure out where anything is, and directions are always there. It’s almost compensating so much that it overcompensates and exaggerates those things, the journey is so complex that it is confusing, benches are put in the middle of nowhere, too many restaurants. It seems to convince people who aren’t from LA that we have all of these things in abundance, but to me it feels specific to LA and fitting the needs perversely.

JH: I think it tries to create needs and then fill them at the same time. The idea that someone in the city would be attracted to a single space that meets all of their needs, like an all encompassing place, you don’t have to step foot outside you can experience it all in exaggerated extents. The strange thing is that on paper it has everything it should have to be an incredible destination: It has a rotating rooftop bar with 360 view of LA, that’s unbelievable, but then there is the standard and the ace where young people go, so this becomes an overpriced Applebee’s. That’s the vibe to me. It’s not sexy up here, but it has every reason that it should be. This could be used so amazingly, but maybe not, maybe it has set itself up in this way that it’s catering to a nonexistent need. Maybe it’s a mute point to complain about pedestrians when there aren’t any, that was possibly never a consideration, but there is so much optimism for those pedestrians.

AD: As the strip on Grand grows, and this museum row is built up, this area becomes a tourist destination. If you come here almost any day at this point there are people on the street between Walt Disney [Concert Hall], and you know, two blocks down. It’s not a huge area, but there are people here that would like to walk around and see a few things, especially tourists. This [hotel] is primed and connected via all of those walkways to be linked in with the redevelopment of this area as a cultural destination, but whether or not the Westin has those merits, to an average person, is probably non­existent”

JD: They just need a dance floor.

AD: Better lighting, less white light. I don’t know, was it cooler at some to be hanging out at a booth like this and you know, doing some coke and drinking martinis and that was all you needed to go out on the weekend?

PG: I think for a lot of people it still probably is.

AD: For me, when this hotel was made it had a purpose that was in line with the time, and even though philosophers looked at it as a building of the future, actually in hindsight it was very appropriate.

JH: I don’t know, my gut impulse is that it was never appropriate. Again, trying to future guess what people want and create a new ideal, which is a cool idea, but was it successful?

AD: Do you think this building just becomes more and more dated to the point where it’s just going to crumble into nonexistence? Has it already? We’re just catching the tail embers.

JH: For me it’s really endearing right now, all the gross qualities I find to be so of its time, and again of its imagined future, that it becomes sweet to me. I like coming here because it’s so transportive to this mentality that makes no sense but it is an optimistic mentality, that we can create this ideal performative, fun space. The floor revolves, what more do you want? There is chex mix! All that you want. Someone here has a really good attitude and I don’t know who is making these decisions but they are a fun person, great sense of humor and nice to hang out with.

AD: Do you think there is something more genuine about the imagined version of the future in the past than the imagined version of what the future is now? That’s what you like about this place more than say the ace hotel.

JD: Oh yeah, the ace hotel is not an optimistic space. It is the opposite, and whoever is designing it is cynical and gross.

AD: I mean, there has been a general rejection of mall culture, especially by the demographic that you are not seeing here, and also I think hotel bars used to be a cooler concept. The Ace and the Standard are the new trendy concept hotels and perhaps this was that cool concept hotel in 1977, but it’s not anymore. It’s not old enough to be classic, it’s in that weird middle ground.

[Collective sigh at the beauty of the bottomless glass of chex mix.]

AD: So, this hotel has been claimed to be the building of the future, but that was 35 years ago, is it still of the future or is it now past, was it ever contemporary?

JH: Strangely I think the idea solidifies and calcifies to that time [in the 1980s]. We are somehow from our perspective to think of them as thinking it’s futuristic and that in itself is a temporal idea that stagnates and you can leave it as the 80s idea of the future. Isn’t the pace at which architecture moves supposed to be ten years ahead of any other field or at least trying to be?

SD: I find that a lot of the theory is ten years behind. The conception and the images, what architecture is trying to project visually is futuristic, but the theory will lag, for instance as far as post­modernism, that will catch on later than literature or art.

JH: That definitely has been true since post­structuralism, that happened in literature and came to architecture. I feel like architecture’s at a weird point where I’ve been in literature classes that have read architect’s to try to explain more clearly an idea. So I guess it ebbs and flows and the weird thing about it is having to pick a discipline that becomes the mark of what is contemporary.

SD: Architecture does take time to build and seems to be more invested in contemporary, that is a word that I hear more in architecture than a lot of the arts “how to be contemporary” at least studying in my classical background in literature, you are not really invested in contemporary, but because a lot of architecture is being built and is very contemporary in the way that it’s completed, I guess I was asking a question that seems to be something that architecture does uniquely, it projects a future and it can be ten or twenty years in the future without necessarily having that theory to back it. At least, getting back to how the Westin fulfilled that desire for the future.

JH: But it also seems riskier than another creative object in the spatial, infrastructural, monetary consequences of a building in its immediate moment. There are more parties dependent on it being successful where as someone goes into their room and you know writes a book, they are the only ones who suffer the consequences of taking that risk. The appeal of future is financially a good move in building, people like it, they think it’s sexy. This is an incredibly sexy building that must have been incredibly sexy to sell to whoever bought it.

PG: It’s funny, architecture is very concerned about the future, but even that concern is in itself an old concern, like what you are saying about this building existing as the future of a tenable past that never became a future. Maybe we are mistaken in thinking that there are some fundamental decisions that we make that the future is going to be somehow different in a strikingly visual way, but maybe that’s not true. I think that’s kind of like what LA is in the movie Her. The future looks like a cleaner version of where we are now.

SD: Living in LA for a long time, I always looked at this building as insignificant and kind of odd and outdated, from the outside. This totally reminds me of what I grew up with, the typical rubric of hotels like Hiltons and Hyatts, I think this happens in lots of cities, maybe not those that are highly dense, but there is a sense of wonder in walking in this place and these streams of water spouting and all the elevators. There is something fictional and fantastic about it. It feels so narrative to me. I think that’s what I like about Los Angeles is that sometimes it doesn’t know how to be really efficient, it will take you on a circuitous path. A lot of LA is telling people stories they don’t needto hear, and in this building there is no Point A to Point B.

JH: I think that’s part of the joke, how inefficient it is. There are four elevators, but only one elevator takes you to the top and it’s not well labelled.

AD: There is something nice about not making it how easily you can get from point a to point b. Not just this building, but bunker hill and all of these public walkways and parks that just exist here without use. For those of us that come from walking cities it is very strange to see so much built environment.You walk around and it’s unbelievable to see a downtown city space with lots of pedestrian areas and no one in them. Its really spooky. It makes you feel like you are not supposed to be there and you are the person it is intended for.

PG: Yeah, I agree with you, I think that’s somehow a failure of the city. I don’t know if you can say it’s the place necessarily, it’s something that is certainly endemic of downtown LA. It’s hard to say who is at fault for something like that. It does seem to me that this building succeeds much more as an image than it does as an actual place where people are.

JH: The building is very opposed to the outside right, it’s closed off, it’s mirrored on its surface, but it’s set up with retail space and a ton of it, wouldn’t it be in the buildings best interest to be a more democratic inviting space? Isn’t that the basic premise of public space is that is attractive to the user and inviting? I feel like there is a huge part of
the building’s failure is that weird idea that maybe you can be menacing to the pedestrian and still require the pedestrian. There is nothing inviting about this place.

AD: But that is also because of when it was made. The idea of an indoor contained mall where you were protected from the elements and had air conditioning, you didn’t have to leave and could just go to the shops that were here. That was the best thing you could have, going to the mall was fucking awesome.

PG: Yeah, that is the model of LA. The island basically, every place you go to is enclosed to pedestrian traffic. Its really funny to walk around and have a city of gates, you get out of your garage and go to the place you are going to and in the process of doing so you pass through a gate, it’s very much passing from interior to interior.

JH: Yeah, like when I leave tonight, my car is under the building and I’ll drive all the way home, I won’t effectively see the outside until I get there, which is nuts. There is something very LA about that, the movement from car to garage to building, always interior. There is that demand in LA for personal space, this building is one that needs a ton of personal space, and it has it, it’s so loud from the outside.

SD: It’s the most voluptuous.

JH: Surely. Definitely a female building.

SD: Are you kidding me? It’s just so curvy and there’s just like, I think these are all dudes around. And that’s why it’s turning around it’s twirling for them, you know it’s like shiny.” *

JH: It’s more of a venus, figure, sassy woman.

SD: It has to be with all these stiff guys to hold its own.

PG: All these Johns.

SD: That’s the way to do city planning.


*Sometime later I realized, this is what it is to be a woman. To be glowing, voluptuous. To be watched, surrounded, to know you are watched, and to seduce. The image, this is how a man understands a woman. These men, well­-read and well­-intentioned, they saw the characterization of woman defined by the male author. The surface, the role the woman is cast to play. I saw her too. The mirror to reflect, the mask to disallow the gaze to penetrate the world unto its own within. The life of the interior, sensual and active, but hidden. This is what it is to be a woman.
This is the Westin Bonaventure Hotel

AD: Amanda Dellevigne
PG: Patrick Geske
JH: Josh Herman
SD: Spencer Daly

April 2016

1.  Fredric Jameson Postmodernism, Jean Baudrillard America

2.  Ed Soja, The Postmodern City