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The LAist Interview: Lorcan O'Herlihy, Architect

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The vast majority of contemporary architecture aims for the middle, or winds up satisfying few elements of collectively desirable criteria. Then there's the rare architect whose work advances distinctive style and material innovation, along with as-crucial intangibles (think timelessness and elements of context).

Discussion centered around the "Los Angeles school" of architecture has now thankfully moved past Gehry and Meier to include other resourceful, inspired builders and designers in our midst. Among those at the forefront is Lorcan O'Herlihy. O'Herlihy draws from his background as a longtime Angeleno (he spent many of his formative years in Malibu) with an increasingly global perspective to design structures which speak to the Zeitgeist and invoke modernist sensibilities without being overly tethered to place and time. His own home, Aras an Tur, or "tower house" in Gaelic -- described by Dwell magazine as "another West Coast Venetian wonder" -- looks to its site, the broader context of Los Angeles, and experimental materials in order to arrive at a multi-layered residential environment that defies strict aesthetic and programmatic categorization. Numerous other residential and commercial projects by his firm, Lorcan O'Herlihy Architects, continually prove to do the same.

O'Herlihy has exported his vision of humanistic modernism to other American cities and abroad. Nor are his creative interests confined to bricks and mortar, as evidenced by the opera set LoH designed for La Fille du Regiment by Donizetti (pictured after the jump). O'Herlihy's firm collaborated with internationally renowned opera direction Nicola Bowie for the production staged at the Cal State Long Beach OperaInstitute.

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Age and Occupation:

45, but I don’t look a day over 40. Architect, Artist, Lecturer.

Where in Los Angeles do you live?

I have lived in Venice, CA for 10 years.

Before that: London, New York, Dublin. I have always been drawn to urban centers.

What in particular for you makes this an exciting city in which to practice architecture?

Opportunities to be inventive. A client base who are equally inspired in the belief that Architecture can enrich their lives.

Which other cities have you worked in and which others would you especially like to?

I have worked in New York and Paris while working on the Louvre Museum extension with I.M. Pei & Partners. I taught at the Architectural Association in London. The time I spent in Europe was wonderful as I was born and raised in Dublin and Europe has always been close to my heart. We have projects in Tokyo and Beijing and seeing that part of the world has broadened my understanding of different cultures. To continue to learn about different cultures through architecture is all I can ask for.

Which neighborhoods do you most enjoy designing buildings in?

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My fascination is with the emerging global city where diversity, conflict and change reflect qualities that belong to our time.

With the price of basic construction materials rising, what might the future hold in the way of innovative inexpensive materials?

Materials take on a will, As an architect it’s our job to discover that spirit. Finding conventional materials such as wood slats, concrete, off the shelf hardware and window systems and applying them in new and unconventional ways is important. Making the ordinary extraordinary.

If you had to pick one iconic building or development that epitomizes the history and spirit of Los Angeles, which would it be?

The Chemosphere house; it has a great spirit.

What's your preferred mode of transportation?

Anything but the car. It’s tearing this city apart.

How often do you ride the subway or light rail?

Very rarely. I wish that wasn’t the case.

What are your favorite LA-based movie(s) or TV show(s)?

LA Confidential. It is refreshing to see a film that is well written.

What's the best place to walk in LA?

Venice Beach. It has everything you need for a good walk.

It's 9:30 PM on Thursday. Where are you coming from and where
are you going?

This particular Thursday I will be watching the rehearsal of an opera set I have just designed.

If you could live in LA during any era, when would it be?

The 20’s would have been fascinating.

What's your beach of choice?
Venice Beach

What is the "center" of LA to you?

At present Venice. It is an edge condition not the “center,” but Venice history is still being written.

If you could live in any neighborhood or specific house in LA, where/which would you choose?

I am an architect and am presently living in a house I designed for my wife and myself. Building your own house can be a daunting experience but I am relieved to say it works for us.

What is the city's greatest secret?

That’s a tough one. It’s pretty much an open book.

Drinking, driving. They mix poorly, and yet they're inexorably linked. How do you handle this conflict?

It’s tough… but so far so good.

Describe your best LA dining experience.

Sona restaurant on La Cienega Blvd. was excellent.

Do you find the threat of earthquakes preferable to the threat of hurricanes and/or long winters?

Not really. I was born in Dublin and lived there for many years. The long winters were part of the fabric of that city and I had no problem with it. I think I could handle hurricanes better than earthquakes

Where do you want to be when the Big One hits?