Last year, images of a dramatic five-story white cube with a hollowed out center started circulating through the architectural press.
Here was a bold design statement, but also a curious one: What exactly was this building? At a glance, it looked like some kind of new museum or arts center, a big-budget project for the well-to-do.
But what was most remarkable about this remarkable project was that it was none of these things, and perhaps their opposite. The Six, as it is known, is an affordable housing project for homeless veterans, and it was built on a slim budget for the Skid Row Housing Trust by the Los Angeles architects Brooks + Scarpa.
Larry Scarpa, principal of the firm, will deliver the keynote lecture on the Physical City at the Dallas Festival of Ideas, which will take place on April 7. (For more information on the Dallas Festival of Ideas, visit thedallasfestival.com.)
Larry Scarpa, principal at the Brooks + Scarpa architecture firm in Los Angeles, will be a keynote speaker at the Dallas Festival of Ideas. Photo taken in 2008
Along with Michael Maltzan and Lorcan O’Herlihy, Scarpa is among a group of influential Los Angeles architects who have managed to infuse the development of housing — market rate and affordable — with creative design while maintaining budgets and achieving the highest environmental standards.
"Larry Scarpa has been for a couple of decades the kind of architect we have too few of in Los Angeles, producing at real volume the well-designed, cost-efficient medium-density housing that is scarcer across the region than I’d like to admit," says Christopher Hawthorne, who recently left his position as architecture critic at the Los Angeles Times to become that city’s chief design officer.
"His work — first with Pugh + Scarpa and now with Brooks + Scarpa — values sustainability without fetishizing it; something similar might be said about its attitude toward new materials and technology and formal innovation."
In the week following Scarpa’s appearance at the Festival of Ideas, O’Herlihy will present his work at the Magnolia Theater. The April 11 lecture is sponsored by the Dallas Architecture Forum.
Together, the two talks will present visions of what contemporary housing can look like when approached as something more than just a generic, consumable product.
At a glance
The Dallas Festival of Ideas is 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 7 at the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library, 1515 Young St., Dallas. The event is free. To register and for schedule details, go to thedallasfestival.com. It is held in conjunction with the Dallas Book Festival.
Mark Lamster is the architecture critic of The Dallas Morning News, a Loeb Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and a professor at the University of Texas at Arlington School of Architecture.