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Los Angeles: Eight Architectural Highlights

by andrew May 2011 - last edited February 2013

Our Los Angeles route celebrates its 21st anniversary this week, and as we're unable to be there right now, we thought we'd at least take a virtual tour of one of our favourite cities. Being such a sprawling and diverse metropolis, LA is naturally home to some great architecture including many works by some of the world's most famous and respected designers. Below are just eight of our own favourites which are really just the tip of the iceberg; there's a whole lot more to LA than Disneyland and shopping...


Hollyhock House

During the 1920s, America's most famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright made his mark on Los Angeles with a series of unique residences. The famous Hollyhock House, built for oil heiress Aline Barnsdall in East Hollywood was the first of these. Sat in the middle of the lovely Barnsdall Art Park, the house comes across like miniature temple with its central courtyard and leaning exterior walls that take their inspiration from ancient Mayan architecture. After Hollyhock, Wright worked built a number of similarly Mayan-inspired pre-cast 'textile block' structures across LA, one of the best being Ennis House, whose exotic features have cropped up in many a movie.



Hollyhock House by trekandshoot at Dreamstime.com

Hollyhock House © trekandshoot | Dreamstime.com



The Chemosphere

When Leonard Malin inherited a rather steep plot of land on Torreyson Drive off Mulholland Drive, he was determined to live there, no matter what. Enter architect John Lautner, who realised Malin's dream in spectacular space-age style. A one level octagonal house, supported by a giant concrete pole and accessed via its own funicular, The Chemosphere's eccentric sixties sci-fi shape makes it look as if its about to take off, but this is a sturdy structure that's stood its (elevated) ground through plenty of extreme Californian weather. Currently the home of German publisher Benedikt Taschen, you can't visit the house's interior, but you can get a good view from the street.



The Chemosphere by IK's World Trip on Flickr

The Chemosphere by IK's World Trip on Flickr



Crystal Cathedral

Function, controversy and financial woes aside, Garden Grove's Crystal Cathedral has the ability to inspire wonder merely on the strength of its appearance. Constructed from over 10,000 panes of silver-tinted glass, you could be forgiven for thinking its main building was some kind of giant greenhouse rather than a place of worship - the gleaming 236-foot spire next door does give the game away though. While utterly modern, the grandeur of the $20 million structure harks back to a time when churches were second only to palaces in their opulence.

Crystal Cathedral by Yu-he Zhang | Dreamstime.com

Crystal Cathedral © Yu-he Zhang | Dreamstime.com



Yamashiro Restaurant

In a town synonymous with fantasy it's not that surprising to find an ancient Japanese Palace overlooking the city. OK, it's not actually ancient, but the building that houses Hollywood's Yamashiro Restaurant does have an interesting, chequered 100-year history and was built as an exact replica of a real palace in Kyoto. The architectural features, interior garden courtyard with koi pond and neighbouring 600-year-old pagoda (brought from Japan) draw visitors as much as the 'CalAsian' cuisine, but the real prize is the view. Book a table or grab a spot at the Pagoda Bar around sunset and watch Downtown LA light up.

Yamashiro Restaurant interior courtyard

Yamashiro Restaurant interior courtyard © Yamashiro Hollywood



Walt Disney Concert Hall

Having received massive international acclaim for the 'organic' appearance of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Frank Gehry knew he was onto a good thing. The Walt Disney Concert Hall continues in the same style with a titanium shell twisted into colossal curves (seemingly placed at random) catching and reflecting the Cali sun. Though the building is home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic and has been highly praised for its acoustics, it will always be the exterior that garners the most attention.



Walt Disney Concert Hall by lightmatter on Flickr

Walt Disney Concert Hall by lightmatter on Flickr



Frank Gehry's Venice

Gehry's Venice Beach House by annieo76 on Flickr

Gehry's Venice Beach House by annieo76 on Flickr


Long before international fame and the Walt Disney Concert Hall, LA's great 'starchitect' had established himself with a number of unconventional buildings around California. Some of the most remarkable Gehry creations are in the Venice area, including residences like the Spiller House (39 Horizon Avenue) and The Venice Beach House with its multi-levelled, multi-coloured adventure playground feel and lifeguard lookout post.


Even more eye-catching is the building at 340 Main Street, built in 1991 for advertising agency Chiat/Day. Its outrageous post-modern façade uses three completely different styles, the centrepiece of which is a massive pair of binoculars which serve as the building's entrance.

Chiat/Day Building by IK's-World-Trip on Flickr

Chiat/Day Building by IK's World Trip on Flickr



The Getty Center

While more sober and thoughtful in its design than Gehry's spectacles, Richard Meier's Getty Center is no less breathtaking. Complementing the nature of its hilltop environment, the complex is positioned on a natural ridge and surrounded by beautiful landscape gardens by artist Robert Irwin. The buildings themselves are clad in textured travertine limestone giving them a classical, almost ancient air, while the shapes remain thoroughly modern. Well worth a whole day of exploration, the location also affords visitors incredible views of both the ocean and the city. 45-minute architectural tours are available Tuesday-Sunday.



The Getty Center by Mariusz Jurgielewicz

The Getty Center © Mariusz Jurgielewicz | Dreamstime.com



Griffith Observatory

The jewel in LA's Art Deco crown, the recently refurbished and expanded Griffith Observatory is a symbol of the city and has appeared in numerous movies from Rebel Without a Cause to The Terminator. The iconic status of the triple-domed structure was taken into consideration during the renovation, with most of the new exhibition spaces being constructed underground. The Griffith remains the city's best-loved public space combining state-of-the-art exhibitions with timeless architecture. And the views of the city basin below are as good as those of the sky above.

Griffith Observatory by Lam's Photo on Flickr

Griffith Observatory by Lam's Photo on Flickr


If like us, you just can't get enough Art Deco, a visit to Glendale's magnificent Alex Theatre is also highly recommended.


And if you have time, don't miss...

For those with an interest in history, a leisurely stroll admiring the 800-or-so 'craftsman' homes of Pasadena's Bungalow Heaven makes for a great day out.


California is also home to many buildings by Richard Neutra including the famous Lovell House at 4616 Dundee Drive, one of the defining modern West Coast residences.

Thanks to Flickr photographers IK's World Trip, lightmatter, annieo76 and Lam's Photo.

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About the author: andrew

Andrew Bowman

Andrew is an occasional contributor to the Virgin Atlantic blog. He lived in the Japanese countryside for two years until he could no longer resist the pull of London's galleries, pubs and clubs. He likes to pretend he can speak Japanese and also sometimes writes about music.