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Walt Disney Concert Hall|©Harshil Shah/Flickr
Walt Disney Concert Hall|©Harshil Shah/Flickr
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A Tour of Los Angeles' Postmodern Architectural Landmarks

Picture of Juliet Bennett Rylah
Updated: 19 June 2017
Los Angeles is home to many architectural styles, perhaps most notably Art Deco. Yet the many mid-century modern homes and postmodern offerings, advanced by architects like Los Angeles-based Frank Gehry cannot be ignored. Postmodern architecture emerged in the 1960s as a response to modernism, and became a prominent style by the 80s and 90s. Characteristics include futuristic, sometimes fragmented buildings with lots of geometric shapes. Sometimes they come in bright colors, and occasionally, they have a sense of humor.

The Postmodern KFC

One of the oddest examples of postmodern architecture in Los Angeles is a Kentucky Fried Chicken located on Western Avenue in Koreatown. Built in 1990, it looks like a KFC from a dystopian future where everything is run by corporations: a large, gray bucket with fins, topped by a cube with the Colonel’s face. From some angles, it looks sort of like a robotic chicken. The building was designed by architect Jeffrey Daniels of Grinstein/Daniels Inc. at the behest of franchisee Jack Wilke, who had asked Daniels’ partner, Elyse Grinstein, to help put his KFC on the map. According to the L.A. Times, this was “the first architecturally avant-garde Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet in the United States, and the famous franchise’s first break with its own rigid formal tradition.”

Kentucky Fried Chicken, 340 N Western Avenue, Los Angeles, CA, USA, +1 213 386 7222

Kentucky Fried Chicken
Kentucky Fried Chicken | ©Juliet Bennett Rylah

Walt Disney Concert Hall

Designed by Frank Gehry and opened in 2003, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles’ is one of the city’s most notable architectural landmarks. The building is one of several on the L.A. Music Center campus, and it’s also the home of the L.A. Phil and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. According to the Library of Congress, the building is covered in over 12,000 stainless steel panels, which, if laid end to end, would stretch for 49 miles.

Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Walt Disney Concert Hall
Walt Disney Concert Hall | ©Giuseppe Milo/Flickr

Loyola Law School

The Loyola Law School was designed by Frank Gehry in the late 1970s, then built over the next several years. Gehry was hired for the project before he was a big name in architecture due to the suggestion of Professor Robert Benson. According to the LA Conservancy, “Gehry created an award-winning group of unique yet complementary buildings in a compact, plaza-centered plan, drawing on classical settings like the Roman Forum to visually evoke the history and weight of the legal profession.” The campus consists of multiple buildings and a parking garage, the most visually arresting being the Fritz B. Burns Academic Center. It is the campus’ largest structure and is a vibrant yellow in color. Watch a guided tour of the campus in the video below.

Loyola Law School, 919 Albany Street, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant & Japanese Garden

Located in Van Nuys, this water treatment plant has doubled as Starfleet Academy in Star Trek thanks to its sleek, futuristic design. The plant was built in 1984 and designed by architect Anthony J. Lumsden, while the Japanese garden below was designed by Koichi Kawana. The idea for the garden came from the plant’s namesake, Donald Tillman, who thought a garden that used reclaimed water from the plant would be a positive design element to incorporate. The beautiful garden is 6.5 acres, consisting of three separate areas and a tatami mat teahouse. It is open to the public, and general admission is $5.

Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant & Japanese Garden, 6100 Woodley Avenue, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Westin Bonaventure Hotel

The Westin Bonaventure is hard to miss, being that it’s comprised of four towering, reflective cylinders. Built in 1976 and designed by architect John Portman, the L.A. Conservancy called it a “postmodern icon, isolated from the larger metropolis and operating by its own strange spatial rules.” Inside, water features and glass elevators share space with a lobby bar and a number of shops and restaurants. It’s possible to get a cocktail, dinner and a haircut here. The hotel has also played itself in a variety of TV shows and films, perhaps most notably True Lies, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger rides a horse into one of the building’s elevators while pursuing a bad guy on a motorcycle.

Westin Bonaventure Hotel, 404 S Figueroa Street, Los Angeles, CA, USA, +1 213 624 1000

Westin Bonaventure
Westin Bonaventure | ©prayitno/Flickr

Bunker Hill Steps

The Bunker Hill Steps are 103 in number, and are cut in half by a sloping water feature that connects a fountain at the top to a basin at the bottom. They were designed by landscape architect Lawrence Halprin and constructed in 1990. Christopher Hawthorne writes in the L.A. Times, “In romantic as much as literal terms, Halprin’s design is meant to recall the Spanish Steps in Rome, a debt that makes this project a textbook example of postmodernism in landscape architecture.”

Bunker Hill Steps, Bunker Hill Avenue, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Bunker HIll Steps
Bunker HIll Steps | ©Jim Winstead

777 Tower

The 777 Tower is one of the tallest buildings in Los Angeles. It is a 53-story, neutral-toned skyscraper that, according to the L.A. Conservancy, “epitomizes the Postmodern use of a stretched skin style with reimagined classical details in a simple and elegant design.” It was designed by architect Cesar Pelli and built in 1990.

777 Tower, 777 S Figueroa Street, Los Angeles, CA, USA

The 777 Tower is visible here as the off-white tower looming over the reddish high-rise
The 777 Tower is visible here as the off-white tower looming over the reddish high-rise | ©Vicente A./Flickr

MOCA

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), designed by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki, opened in downtown Los Angeles in 1987. It is a distinct reddish color, with pyramids rising out of the top. Though it is surrounded by high-rises, much of MOCA is actually below street level. Outside, visitors can find Nancy Rubins’ sculpture, Chas’ Stainless Steel, Mark Thompson’s Airplane Parts, About 1000 Pounds of Stainless Steel Wire, and Gagosian’s Beverly Hills Space.

MOCA, 205 S Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA, USA, +1 213 621 2766

MOCA Los Angeles
MOCA Los Angeles | ©yosoynuts/Flickr

Binoculars Building

Yet another Frank Gehry building, this one features something the others do not: a giant pair of binoculars. Located in Venice and built over the course of the 90s, this office building features a jutting, slanted awning protruding from a dark brown fortress and a white, boxy building, with the binoculars connecting the two. Cars may drive between the lenses of the binoculars to access the parking garage.

Binoculars Building, 340 Main Street, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Binoculars Building
Binoculars Building | ©Hrag Vartanian/Flickr