In praise of follies

Samitaur Tower.jpg
At the corner of Hayden Avenue and National Boulevard in Culver City and across from the new Expo light rail line from downtown rises the near-rhyming Samitaur Tower. It's nearly a visual rhyme, too, with its echoes of Vladimir Tatlin's never-built Monument to the Third International. As Frederick and Laurie Samitaur-Smith clearly intended, architect Eric Owen Moss' corkscrew tower is a wayfinding marker on the floodplain of Ballona Creek.

(With Moss, the Samitaur-Smiths have been patiently developing a former industrial zone called the Hayden Tract on National Boulevard for more than twenty years. New media producers, graphic artists, and their service providers have moved in to a mix of post-modern buildings and work spaces designed by Moss and other architects.)

The Samitaur-Smiths may build as many as seven free-standing towers, post-modern evocations along the route of the Expo line of the switching towers from which yardmen directed the flow of trains or maybe the towers that lined the English coast in anticipation of Napoleonic invasion.

Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne calls the Samitaur Tower a campanile - in the contemporary sense of a free-standing structure that's typically more decorative than useful. Moss has done a better job balancing those values. The Samitaur Tower is intended to be a lookout perch, but also to house a multitude of purposes, some of them at least partly commercial.

This being Los Angeles, where outlaw supergraphics warp around freeway adjacent buildings, the prototype Samitaur Tower, partly wrapped in translucent plastic, is a tower you will watch rather than watch you. It's supposed to display signage for what Moss has called an "information tower." According to Moss:

(T)he tower will symbolize the advent of this important new urban development, provide a changing art display for local viewing, and offer a variety of graphic content and data on its five screens concerning coming events and current achievements of the tenants who occupy that part of the city.

The Samitaur Tower also is, as Hawthorne points out, partly an intentional ruin. The street facing portions are complete. The reverse is a skeleton of braces, rusted steel panels, and balconies poised between construction and demolition.

Ruin and reverie - the Samitaur Tower is a folly, and I mean that in a good way. In 18th century England, an eccentric architectural ornament would dropped into the grounds of a country house to evoke romantic melancholy or Gothic gloom or just 18th century weirdness. These simulated places are called follies.

The Samitaur Tower has greater ambitions, but its core purpose is to amuse. And that's not a small thing, really.

The photogrpah on this page was taken by Flickr contributor Michael Daines.
It is used under a Creative Commons License.

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