Traveler's Joural

Mayne man
Matthew Jaffe

After Thom Mayne won the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the design world's answer to the Nobel, I revisited his most recent Los Angeles work: the Caltrans District 7 Headquarters (above).

Across from the towering Los Angeles City Hall, the Caltrans building sends a direct message: Transportation looms large over Los Angeles. It's as cuddly as an intergalactic troop transport, menacing too. Martians famously destroyed city hall in 1953's The War of the Worlds, and, given the headquarters' futuristic styling, I imagined a phalanx of gigantic robotic aliens ― maybe wearing orange safety vests ― emerging from the Caltrans building's armored flanks.

Close up, the Caltrans building is less intimidating. The plaza's canopy is reminiscent of exit ramps, while the light installation's red neon details reminded me of lines of brake lights, perhaps because I had just driven in on the Hollywood Freeway. The building's skin of perforated aluminum screens open and close to control temperature and light, creating a sense of life and movement. After dark, the panels seem to vanish: The building glows and the humanity within is revealed. It's a building whose beauty is not immediately apparent. Caltrans may be the tenant, but this is hardly drive-by architecture. The Caltrans building is at 100 S. Main St. in L.A. Visit www.morphosis.net for more information on Thom Mayne.