Beyond Buildings


Too Late for Fickett's West Hollywood Library

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Courtesy: HaverKate


It’s too late. Between the moment when I first wrote this post and posting it, the City of West Hollywood, of which I once was a proud citizen, has torn down a fine example of modernist architecture. Edward Fickett’s West Hollywood Library is no more.

Courtesy: HaverKate


Edward Fickett gets no respect. For many years, he was a prolific builder of apartment buildings, commercial structures, and homes throughout Southern California. His widow claims he once had the Guinness record for the most amount of building permits issued to one architect. For all that, nobody noticed his work. Now one of his few civic buildings has been torn down, and people are finally noticing, with a few activists organizing a last-ditch effort to preserve the West Hollywood Library before it was torn down to make way for a park.


Courtesy: Movoto


I have a special affinity with Fickett because I once owned a unit in a condo building he designed. It was a marvel of interlocking volumes grouped around partially sunken parking and a swimming pool, with the front building bar rising up to a steep roof where our unit seemed to sail out over the L.A. Plains. You have seen it in movies like LA Story and the second Bill and Ted episode.


Fickett was not the most refined architect, nor the most original, but he had a clear understanding of how to adapt a modernist aesthetic of interlocking geometries, thin planes, abstract forms and a lot of glass to the realities of standard building technology and financing. He managed to wring a great deal of expression out of minimal means.


Courtesy: HaverKate


So it was with the West Hollywood library. A single-story structure, it hid beneath a thin screen that separated it from the large scale of the adjacent boulevard. Brick and glass walls alternated to define its rectangular volume. Beyond that, there was only a roof that consisted of folded plates, their origami forms resting lightly on what was already a thin structure. There was little complexity to its spaces, and there was certainly nothing that communicated its civic nature in any kind of monumental manner. It was a service building that for many years no longer adequately served its community, and it will be replaced by a much larger and more dramatic structure, designed by Johnson/Favaro, that just opened next door.


There was a delicacy to this design that came from the modesty of its means and forms. I am afraid that there was not much rightness for its place or function any more, and many renovations had leeched some of the delicate delight out of the Library. Open civic space, moreover, is always at a premium, and we should delight at the new park. Having said that, I was hoping that this little gem would be preserved, if for no other reason than to remind us of the hope architecture and government together represented that they could create an efficient and beautiful place for us to gather and learn. I also believed that new function and attention could preserve what is a very well-designed and essentially flexible little structure. Now we will get a pleasantly designed collection of civic functions next to a large library that, too me at least, says little about what West Hollywood was, is, or wants to be.



Comments (2 Total)

  • Posted by: Fabio Pradarelli | Time: 4:00 PM Sunday, October 02, 2011

    May be Fickett was not a talent like Beckett orAbell, but surely part of a cultural movement that made the difference in the West Coast (and not only) during 50s and 60s. Too bad that such a nice little bulding has been cancelled, to make space of what..?? ...function is not the only mean to destroy cultural efforts..I agree with Betsky, architectural criticism do not demolish buildings, superficiality does.

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 3:03 PM Saturday, October 01, 2011

    Well Mr Betsky perhaps we have moved on from modesty and delicacy in architecture in the past 10-15 years to an obsession with celebrity and structural pyrotechnics. Courtesy of the architectural criticism industrial complex I might add.

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About the Blogger

Aaron Betsky

thumbnail image Aaron Betsky is the director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and in 2008 he was director of the 11th Venice International Architecture Biennale. Trained as an architect at Yale, he has published more than a dozen books on art, architecture, and design and teaches and lectures about design around the world. Aaron worked for Frank O. Gehry and Associates and Hodgetts & Fung Design Associates as a designer, taught for many years at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and between 1995 and 2001 was curator of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. From 2001 to 2006 he was director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.