Growing pains, gains


In this 1958 rendering of LAX’s Theme Building, it looks as weird as it does today. (Luckman Salas O’Brien)

Welcome to Los Angeles, home of movie stars, earthquakes, tar pits, revolutionary urban architecture and innovative, if flawed, infrastructure.

The latter two are the subject of “Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940-1990” at the National Building Museum, a look at how the City of Angels became the influential, traffic-choked place it is today.

The exhibit — photos, maps, sketches, videos and models — is neither “a celebratory exercise in talking about how L.A. is great and glamorous, nor an indictment,” senior curator Martin Moeller says. “It’s a balanced picture of how and why L.A. became this rich center of architectural history in the mid- to late 20th century.”

Much of L.A.’s development trajectory was due to the city’s swift expansion between 1940 and 1990, when it went from being the fifth-largest U.S. city to the second.

Moreover, the variety of industries concentrated in the city — aerospace, oil, entertainment, higher education — brought in not only a lot of money, but “people willing to take some risks and fund some innovative architecture,” Moeller says.

“It’s also a really creative area and implicit in that is this is an area that had a certain informality, a sense of individualism and freedom. That gives people the sense that they can try something.”

National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW; through March 10; 202-272-2448. (Judiciary Sq)

Kristen Page-Kirby covers film for The Washington Post Express.
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Marc Silver | October 24, 2013