Hall of Records (2014)

A nearly abstract detail of the Los Angeles County Hall of Records, as seen from Grand Park. The late-afternoon light emphasizes the various textures of the building’s facade.

Completed in 1962, the Hall of Records was designed by Modernist architect Richard Neutra. The louvers covering the facade (on the left) originally moved throughout the day, to save energy and admit natural light. When the mechanism that moved the louvers broke down, County officials decided not to repair it, leaving the louvers fixed in place.

The screen to the right of the louvers is an unusual work of decorative art that also serves the functional purpose of concealing ventilation ducts. It’s the work of ceramic artist Malcolm Leland. A salient characteristic of Modernist architecture is its austerity and absence of ornamentation. But in designing the collection of Modernist government buildings in Brasilia— the planned capital of Brazil, inaugurated in 1960— architect Oscar Niemeyer included artwork and decorative screens. Inspired by Niemeyer, Leland contacted Neutra about creating a decorative screen for the Hall of Records. The screen is made of hundreds of identical ceramic forms in various orientations, all securely attached to the building with steel rods.

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