Art Center, Santa Monica
Design Research Project, 1982

     This proposal for an art centre in Santa Monica formed the subject of a design studio at the School of Architecture, USC. The project was of a hypothetical nature and therefore free from actual constraints and conditions; the site was the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Ocean Avenue.
     The programme called for exhibition spaces, lecture/seminar rooms, studios for artists, an open-air amphitheatre for lectures, musical and theatrical performances, dressing rooms, a coffee shop/bar, administration and supporting functions.
     The galleries have been located on the lower levels, to give an elevated podium plaza on two levels above. The amphitheatre is set in the centre of the plaza, facing the ocean. Around it on three sides are studios for artists and a bridge coffee shop/bar.
     Raised 40 to 60 feet above street level, the plaza forms a unique civic space, where splendid views of the coastline and ocean may be enjoyed without commercial trappings. During the day. it can be used by the public independently of the lower gallery levels - it is a space that can bring some of the urban feeling of the Piazza di Spagna in Rome. Lectures, concerts and stage plays can take place during the evenings.
     A pedestrian bridge from Santa Monica Mall to the Palisades Park passes through the building in order to strengthen its relationship to the existing context.
     The complex is constructed in reinforced concrete and faced In ceramic tiles the colour of burnt umber. The circulation galleries facing Wilshire Boulevard are clad in glass.
     This was Kenneth Frampton's critique: 'The Art Centre ... is another hypothetical proposal which once again serves as a didactic device. The point is not only to address and involve Koulermos' immediate student collaborators and colleagues, but also to appeal to society at large; to point out what vestiges of our urban fabric may still be sustained if only we are able as a collective body to recognize their extant virtues and to build urban monuments whose prime purpose is to strengthen these values. The most poetic element in this particular design is the public forum and amphitheatre which the author elevates 40 to 60 feet into the air in order to afford spectacular views over the ocean. As Koulermos puts it in his laconic description, 'the plaza ...is a space that can bring some of the urban feeling of the Piazza di Spagna in Rome', but in many respects the panorama here promises to be more ecstatic than the commanding view from the Spanish Steps. The intent here is closer to the exuberant vision incorporated into Le Corbusier's early works, for this is a marine vista across the boundless sea. One is reminded of the prospect of the Alps from the rooftop restaurant of Le Corbusier's Palais des Nations or of the panorama of the Mediterranean from the Corniche of Algiers ...it is no accident that the prime element in this elevated space is a Greek amphitheatre; in fact, the very same form that affords the terminal prospect over the canal in Koulermos' Venetian Recreation Centre. For clearly this element has become the symbolic nexus of Koulermos' thought, the still centre to which we will have to return, if we are ever to recover our lost urban culture.'

(From Context + Response, exhibition catalogue, Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, 1982.)

Below : Second, first floor plans