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Exhibition: Visualizing a New Los Angeles/ Architectural Renderings of Carlos Diniz, 1962-1992 Print E-mail
Friday, 15 August 2008 19:00


Through to September 28th 2008


Edward Cella Art+Architecture , 10 E. Figueroa Street, Suite 3, Santa Barbara, California

As explained by Guest Curator, Nicholas Olsberg:

"This exhibition explores – through the drawings of one of the most important architectural illustrators of his time – the transformation of Los Angeles as it matured from a loose conurbation into something like the city we know today, a more self-conscious, consolidated, and monumental metropolis."

Carlos Diniz: Theme Building, Century City, 1963
Welton Becket, Architects
Screenprint on paper


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CARLOS DINIZ (1928-2001)

Carlos Diniz grew up in Los Angeles, studied Industrial Design at Art Center College and then joined Victor Gruen as part of a team developing promotional materials for the large-scale planning and shopping center schemes that Gruen pioneered in the Fifties.

He left the firm six years later to found his own studio, collaborating with Art Krebs and other printmakers to produce the often-elaborate visual documents employed to propose and promote new projects. With his work for the giant firms of SOM San Francisco, HOK St Louis and Minoru Yamasaki (whose World Trade Center Diniz portrayed in 1961), his practice rapidly expanded to a national level. He was soon providing promotional renderings for mega projects throughout the world. By the 1980s, his picturesque approach to the downtown ‘festival place’ projects of the Rouse Company and his efforts to historicize and humanize massive schemes for London, Chicago and Boston made an enormous contribution to defining the urban aesthetic and sensibility that has marked the booming development of the last thirty years.


Commissioned to portray sometimes quite rudimentary planning schemes as they might appear in final form Diniz proposed how their densities, siting and choreography would be perceived; and how their social patterns of occupancy and interaction might work. Precisely fleshing out a more or less exact architectural framework, his pen and ink drawings – made in preparation for the final prints or painted panels that would seduce investors, planning agencies, and public into backing the schemes – are magnificently fluid, using movement, shadow, a touch of color, and the peopling of space to animate a static design.

From the vast archive of Diniz’s practice, the exhibition selects examples of these perspective drawings, showing how they worked with architects and planners to establish the great-city aspirations of Los Angeles from the final plan of Century City in 1962 – when the downtown core moved out – to the Grand Avenue schemes of 1980 – when after many false starts it began to move back in.  Los Angeles in these years sputtered through successive phases of growth and decay, expansion and constraint, but we can see the city steadily moving first toward the unabashedly vast panoramas, open plazas, and soaring scales of the Space Age and then retreating to the busy arcades, articulated layers, and street like settings of the end of century.


Screen prints from the Krebs studio show Diniz’s work early in the Sixties when, with the Hollywood studio system in free-fall and the city’s major industries beginning to drift away, new projects began looking toward a denser city, with new aspirations toward metropolitan style and grandeur. Minoru Yamasaki’s enormous Century Plaza hotel (1961-66) was conceived at an entirely new scale, anchoring the western edge of Century City, a vast new office park on the backlots of a major studio. There, in Welton Becket’s master plan, clustered high-rises sat above a huge mound of garage space, isolated on a rectangular platform of their own, for the first time breaking the linear tyranny of the fifty foot boulevard street fronts that had determined the city’s business zones for over forty years.  

Carlos Diniz: Century Plaza Hotel - Lower Level View, 1964
Minoru Yamasaki & Associates Arch.
Silkcreen on paper

The Hollywood (c.1960) – never built – was a housing and office complex designed primarily by Paul R Williams. Oriented away from the street into an interior courtyard, the three thirty-one storey towers created a controlled envelope within a dense commercial grid. Marked by outdoor mezzanines and sunken plazas, a heliport, five thousand-car garage, air terminal, hotel, theaters, restaurants and shopping center it was to have been the largest single complex on the West Coast. In setting up a balanced fusion of metropolitan living with entertainment, meeting, tourist, business and retail spaces – a city center within a city – the project also anticipated, though in a much more persuasive language, the new live-in malls (Paseo Colorado, Americana on Brand) of the present day.


As the city stretched out on to virgin ranchland, developers discovered that planned-through suburbs with a consistent aesthetic program could build long-term profits far in excess of the traditional market in lots and parcels. In one example, Diniz’s drawings for Simi Valley envisaged a new suburb settling lightly on the land.  Set beside a planned freeway on the remains of a movie ranch, and named El Pedregal, it conjured up with its rocks, its cowboy reminiscences, corrals and bridle paths, a dream of the suburb as ‘Rancho California’. Westlake Village straddled two counties, flooding an entire valley to establish the lake that would give it its character, its open vistas and its focal point.

This  “city within the country, with country within the city”, nestled high in sunbaked canyon country, was conceived with the aesthetic vocabulary of a maritime community. Proposing a mix of dense townhouse clusters, office and light industry parks, communal parking, harbor front single lots, and waterfront services, Westlake’s openness, pedestrian piers and walkways, and limited roadways lent the project a genuine sense of the suburb as a pleasure resort. It remains a spacious pioneer of the tight little lake-and-canal-based suburbs that have dominated the new southwestern landscape in the past ten years.

Carlos Diniz: Westlake Village - Albertson R. Restaurant Bar - Boat Club, 1966
McIntire and Quiros Engineers
Ink on tissue paper

With outer suburban growth rampant, tiny outlying town centers found themselves serving vast new residential communities, and were overwhelmed by the demand.  The City, Minoru Yamasaki’s carefully named new commercial and service center for the historic town of Orange, addressed this problem by concentration. Unlike the horizontal shopping centers of the Fifties, the ‘City’ is essentially dense, layered and vertical, with towers above the street and covered and uncovered plazas below, so that public walking space is secluded from traffic. Welton Becket’s new town center for Diamond Bar (1964-66) also turned its back on the idea of a linear mall, looking to more intimate urban models like the hill town, its pitched roofs and staggered open plazas making a layered topography which Diniz then flavored with a Mexican palette.


Strategies for development in the years from 1962 looked toward concentrating energies in more intense spaces, and to making their presence bolder and more conspicuous within the loose framework of Los Angeles there by suggesting the elements of a monumental city.

Since the mid-fifties, the city’s once-absent cultural buildings had been promoted as a means not only to service art, music, theater and design but also to punctuate the city’s wide horizon with symbols of a new sophistication. Such is Welton Becket’s unbuilt Theme Building for Century City (1962), which its developers actually described as  ‘both cultural center and landmark’ and which Diniz therefore depicts as a shining beacon of light.

Carlos Diniz: Santa Monica Bay Village - Water Level View, 1968
Cesar Pelli and Tony Lumsden for Daniel, Mann, Johnson & Mendenhall Arch.
Ink on tissue paper

The boldest of these projects unites the central features of the ‘redevelopment’ era: Cesar Pelli and Anthony Lumsden’s 1968 project, with DMJM, for Santa Monica Bay.  Here a string of enclosed structures with different functions and expressions – from dwelling to work to culture – would stretch out into the ocean to rise in a transparent cylindrical tower. It is a set of discrete, dense units organized into a campus, climaxing in a dramatic landmark that celebrates the bay, whose monumental presence Diniz emphasizes through the Giacometti-like figures.

Diniz shows Pelli’s huge ‘blue whale’ – the first phase of his Pacific Design Center (designed 1972-1974) – with heightened perspective, capturing the impression of a skyscraper on its side, its horizontal lines anchoring a great plaza that sets it off from the street.  Similarly, Craig Elwood’s Art Center College – an entire campus folded into a single covered bridge – is drawn as a great line across the hills, at once a testament to the persistent horizontality of Los Angeles and as a landmark, like the PDC, of the city’s new sense of itself as a generator of new arts rather than a repository of the old ones.


In the face of the urban panic and energy crisis that marked the late Sixties and early Seventies, strategy for center city revitalization dwelt on dense, massive, securable envelopes organized as walled superblocks, largely blind to the street. As at the Bonaventure, space, energy and freedom were enclosed within, and the city presented only high above street level as a distant panorama.

Charles Luckman’s Broadway Plaza (now Macy’s Plaza) of 1973 is compressed into a tight stack of barely differentiated brick clad forms. The city appears only in the revolving restaurant on top; yet the wide descending interior streetscape is a powerful one – a sort of Piranesian crystal palace whose glass falls only at streetside, Diniz’s vignette of the interior showing how its constructive geometries animated the space below them.

Carlos Diniz: Santa Monica Bay Village - Water Level View, 1968
Cesar Pelli and Tony Lumsden for Daniel, Mann, Johnson & Mendenhall Arch.
Ink on tissue paper

Gehry and Gruen’s Santa Monica Place, designed with the Rouse Company from 1973-80, was proposed to reached across a number of busy city blocks in an effort to give density to a depressed zone near the pier. Setting up a mix of buildings and uses, streets and pedestrian plazas, it conveyed that sense of intensely animated outdoor space that marked James Rouse’s urban thinking.

Only the enclosed shopping center – a set of high, arcaded promenades that spoke to a more traditional, Beaux-Arts sense of the streetscape – was built. But the idea that a highly articulated, colorful and varied parade of street fronts might bring the city back to life persisted in the rejected proposition of the ‘All-Star’ team for Bunker Hill’s Grand Avenue (1980).

This visionary promenade, its streetscape designed by Charles Moore and Lawrence Halprin, was rejected; but it fit Los Angeles perfectly – a festival place in the Rouse tradition, but devoid of historical reference, sentiment and reassurance, stretched out in a horizontal line and fusing as if by chance a confrontational mélange of buildings and materials at different scale. It is perhaps the last great imaginative flourish in a generation’s symphony of dreams for a city with a sense of grandeur.  


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