the caltrans building on foot

Thursday, August 19, 2004, at 12:28PM

By Eric Richardson

I took a walk today at lunch. From my apartment I went up Spring to 1st, and then from there headed a block east to take some pictures of the new Caltrans Building. My opinion of this building is altered a little bit each time I see it, but I think in general I'd say it gets refined more than changed. Check out my pictures starting here to see an admittedly low-quality view of what I'm talking about.

I think the building looks a lot less ominous when you're farther away. You get a sense of perspective that you can't get when you're right down under it. The Main St. fronting courtyard should be nice. It's still fenced off while under construction, but it looks like it'll be some open space that the building really needs to not flat out overpower you.

I've mentioned before that this building really made me sit there thinking I just didn't get it -- I just didn't understand. Today was a great example of this. It wasn't until I was standing across 1st, looking at a side-view of the building, that I first understood some of the crazy angles in the bottom of that black metal mesh covering. If you look at my third picture you can see a little of how the mesh is supposed to bunch up, looking a bit wrenched from its flat shape. From the front you can't see that. It just looks like weird angles.

The rear of the building, the side facing Los Angeles St, has a much poorer street presence than does the front. Here you do get those nice blank concrete walls directly across from the New Otani. Again, it's a question of how the structure interacts with the space it's given. All the lines on this building are horizontal, and pretty much all ornamentation is above the high-side ground level. As the gentle downhill runs its course, the building stays unchanged, its lines just moving farther above the street level. Yeah, it's a parking garage down there, but at least give the wall something. I mean you sheathed everything else in metal, why not that?

As always, it's still to early to judge what everything will look like once the finishing touches are in place and the construction fences come down. And as with all architecture, it'll end up being a matter of personal preference. My preference, though, is that I like the classic old downtown buildings. What happened to stately or sleek? When did those go out of style and give way to abrupt and jarring?