FROM A PLACE FOR SECRET ORGANIZATION’S RITUALS TO A HOLLYWOOD MOVIE SET, THIS TEMPLE HAS DONE IT ALL EXCEPT BE A HOUSE OF CONTEMPORARY ART
Who would have thought that before the Marciano brothers, the founders of GUESS, had their hands on an old building that has been known as one of real-estate white elephants of Windsor Square back in 2013 and decided to have Kulapat Yantrasast and the team of architects of wHY renovate it into Marciano Art Foundation, the latest addition to Los Angeles’ art scene recently opened in May 2017, this Scottish Rite Masonic Temple building had its own history since the day when the construction was completed in 1961 from the mind of Millard Sheets, who is one of the most important members of the California Regionalist School.
If we were to talk roughly about the background of the building, the history can be dated back to when it was used as a place that hosted gatherings and rituals of the famous secret society, the Freemasons, whose origin goes back as far as the early 18th Century. The building later housed the National Guard troops during the 1992 riots and had been used for funerals of police officers. It was also a venue that hosted several boxing matches and the set of the 2004 movie National Treasure that stars Nicolas Cage. What we find to be even more interesting than these stories is wHY’s approach toward the renovation that chooses to improve and preserve the building’s original sense of place instead of turning it into an ordinary white cube.
From the two-headed eagle, the gigantic travertine stone sculpture of the people who are (believed to be) the members of the Freemasons include historical figures such as King Solomon and George Washington to the four masonic values, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity and Devotion, found at the Scottish Rite branch of the Freemasons on Wilshire Boulevard may seem somewhat unusual for many, especially when informed that this is the very place that exhibits the works of contemporary artists from the 1990s onward. Nevertheless, it’s a perfect reflection of the architect’s respect towards Sheets’ iconic architectural creation. The upgrade Yantrasast brings to the building is the management done on the building’s system, which may not be visually observable such as the water and humidity prevention, or the elimination of toxic materials. These methods are parts of the architect’s conservation approach that aims to extend the life of this 50-year-old building, which includes the preservation of some of the original architectural compositions, the miscellaneous details such as mosaics and existing roof structure, making the renovation particularly interesting, especially when considering the 10,000-square-meter capacity of the project. The white space of the exhibition area is highly flexible and merged as a part of the building’s original structure. The clash between the historic setting of the architectural structure and the contemporary art space is the perfect mixture for the status and vibe of the ‘art playground,’ which is something Marciano Art Foundation is going for.
WHAT WE FIND TO BE EVEN MORE INTERESTING THAN THESE STORIES IS wHY’S APPROACH TOWARD THE RENOVATION THAT CHOOSES TO IMPROVE AND PRESERVE THE BUILDING’S ORIGINAL SENSE OF PLACE INSTEAD OF TURNING IT INTO AN ORDINARY WHITE CUBE
For one to turn an old building into a creative space, stories of the building that have been passed on through time, or even fragments of memories that are left behind are some of the first elements that are used to create and bring that idiosyncratic value and experience to the new space. But there are times when we found that the project’s owners’ requirements and the architect’s design aesthetic are imposed upon without any respect for the original space, causing its sense of place to disappear. Ultimately, the dialogue that a particular piece of architecture might have had with its surrounding context and the society it was a part of during a specific time period was lost. wHY’s latest project, however, is an interesting example of the way the old and the new sophisticatedly and stylishly meet and mingle.
What wHY has done throughout its 14-year practice, especially with the museum projects, is design that shows great respect for the context surrounding a building’s physical and societal presence. One may find that it isn’t always the case for architecture to shout out its existence or demand interest from those in its surroundings or who are passing by, for sometimes, being a neutral space that effectively serves its intended functional proposes is enough reason for a built structure to be conceived. If we were to contemplate such detail, it helps explain a great deal why we often feel that Yantrasast’s architecture has never, even one bit, devalued or overshadowed the works of art or objects exhibited under its roof.