Lights, Camera… Aluminum!: Materiality and Monumentality in Welton Becket’s Masterplan of Century City, CA

Kiely, Joss

Ngā Pūtahitanga / Crossings: A Joint Conference of SAHANZ and the Australasian UHPH Group

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The scale and ambition of the masterplan doesn’t fit neatly in either architecture or urban planning, and therefore, the history of master planning as a practice, its aesthetics and its ethics have long existed at the margins of both disciplines. In the postwar period, masterplan proposals designed by architects committed to high modernist ideals reimagined cities as orderly and aesthetic agglomerations – but with considerable anticipation of large-scale growth and development – both in the United States and abroad. As architects moved away from solely designing buildings to spearheading larger scale planning projects – straining their disciplinary expertise to the border of urban planning – an important transition took place. This shift might be best understood as a blend of omniscience and naivete, a stance that required architects to suspend specific knowledge to champion broad visionary pursuits.

This paper considers an important aspect of everyday life: leisure time. Much touted by the tenets of high modernism, the ability to carve out time to “play” was largely a modern luxury, and this played out in a variety of projects worldwide, from beach resorts in Hawaii and ski resorts in France, to reimagined cities within cities, such as the masterplan for Century City, California in the Los Angeles Basin. Welton Becket’s 1963 urban vision called for the replacement of Hollywood studio lots with a composed entertainment, shopping and living centre focused on the needs of the Southern California entertainment industry. The ultimate buildout includes projects by a wide variety of late modernist architects, including Minoru Yamasaki, Charles Luckman and I. M. Pei, and it joins a long list of projects that champion leisure aesthetically expressed through architecture and planning schemes. Taken together, such projects underscore the increase in leisure, vacation time and conspicuous consumption that occurred after World War II and continues into the present day.