Apr 19 2024
Design Dispatch
Frank Gehry’s bet on Los Angeles, a Malaysian bar that feels like a woodfire, and too many Barbie collabs.
“When I create, I only trust my intuition.”


Frank Gehry’s Creative Bet on Downtown Los Angeles

What’s Happening: The Bunker Hill neighborhood near downtown will soon boast the highest concentration of Frank Gehry–designed buildings in the world, but the starchitect insists there’s even more work to be done in revitalizing the area’s image.

The Download: Bunker Hill, a former residential area near the western edge of downtown Los Angeles that’s home to glitzy cultural institutions, office towers, and five-star hotels, has its share of issues. The neighborhood is dogged with homelessness, and office building occupancy still hasn’t bounced back to pre-pandemic levels. Neither of these problems have discouraged Frank Gehry from believing and investing in the neighborhood where he inaugurated the career-defining Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2003. With the completion of The Grand, a giant mixed-use complex across the street, as well as an expansion of the Colburn School, it’s soon to have the world’s largest concentration of Gehry-designed buildings and further cement its foothold as a key cultural hub in the city.

The transformation began in the 1990s when Gehry teamed up with civic leaders and late developer Eli Broad on the Grand Avenue Project to rejuvenate the area. That meant building not only the concert hall but thousands of apartments and condominiums, which soon attracted upscale bars, restaurants, and stores. The pandemic may have thrown a wrench in the neighborhood’s trajectory, but key projects like The Grand and the adjoining Conrad Hotel, a 305-key property with interiors by Tara Bernerd, are keeping the momentum strong. José Andres plans to open a Bazaar Meat steakhouse and Massilia, whose menu fuses Italian, French, and Moroccan cuisines, later this year. Ditto for the nearby Angel’s Landing, a $1.6 billion complex by Handel Architects that spans hotels, apartments, and retail. At 63 stories, its tallest tower will transform the skyline.

The area’s cultural institutions are also gearing for an upgrade. The Broad Museum recently announced a major expansion by architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro that will increase its gallery space by a whopping 70 percent—not a bad call given current attendance hovers around triple the museum’s early projections. (As critic Christopher Knight points out, seeing a lengthy queue of antsy visitors waiting outside along Grand Avenue isn’t an uncommon sight.) The Colburn School also recently broke ground on a $335 million expansion that includes a Gehry-designed concert hall expected to be in near-constant use and accommodate up to 200 events per year. That’s a lot of foot traffic, but Gehry is optimistic the neighborhood can handle it. He’s already thinking about what else can be built on some nearby parking lots.

In Their Own Words: Gehry put the area’s transformation in simple terms. “Now Disney has context,” he told the L.A. Times on a balcony at the Grand overlooking the home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. “For me, it all fits now. Disney Hall doesn’t look like an outlier.”

Surface Says: It looks like Los Angeles could be making strides to accommodate the influx of visitors expected for the 2028 Summer Olympics.


What Else Is Happening?

Check-Circle_2x A24’s new AI-generated apocalyptic posters for the movie Civil War spark backlash.
Check-Circle_2x Tech workers are continuing to leave San Francisco for cities like Austin and New York.
Check-Circle_2xWeiss/Manfredi finishes a subtle yet sweeping renovation of the Tampa Museum of Art.
Check-Circle_2x Rikers Island unveils a mural by Dindga McCannon that aims to uplift outgoing inmates.
Check-Circle_2x The National Portrait Gallery reveals the shortlist for its prestigious annual painting prize.

Have a news story our readers need to see? Write to our editors.



1-54 Fair Returns to New York

From May 1-4, the Starrett-Lehigh building will host 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, the premier fair dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and the continent’s diaspora. The fair was founded in 2013 by Franco-Moroccan entrepreneur Touria El Glaoui and hosts international editions in London and Marrakech, giving North American collectors the best opportunity to acquire works from its star artist roster. This year’s exhibiting artists include Prince Gyasi (work pictured), Sara Benabdallah, Zanele Muholi, Slimen Elkamel, and more.

Surface readers are invited to register for the New York City edition starting now.



Malaysia’s Bar Kar Plunges Visitors Into the Heart of a Woodfire

To some, meandering through the mirrored, wood-stacked entry hall of Bar Kar might evoke a primal image of walking through a tinderbox. Once past the threshold, interiors by Spacemen Studios keeps diners in the hot seat. Sunbaked, stucco-clad environs harken to traditional earth ovens and provide an evocative backdrop for the decadent cuisine. The menu comes on strong with starters like uni toast with a smoked egg yolk and fresh truffle—and continues the momentum with a plethora of dry-aged proteins such as short rib, wagyu, lamb, and truffle corn-fed chicken. Take it all in from the travertine-topped chef’s counter, and try not to get waylaid by the flamelike mesh sculptures that seem to dance from the ceiling. Top off the experience—and it is an experience to dine at Bar Kar—with a dessert course of sweet potato and clotted cream before calling it a night.


Our weekly roundup of the internet’s most preposterous headlines, from the outrageous to the outright bizarre.

Some Lunchables Contain Lead and Other Heavy Metals, Consumer Reports Warns [Today]

Porch Pirate Dresses Up As Trash Bag to Steal Package Worth $10 [HuffPost]

No, Thank You, I Do Not Want to Sleep Inside El Bulli [Eater]

Piece of ISS Battery Pallet Crashed Through Florida Home, NASA Confirms [Gizmodo]

“Mostly Felt Like a Speed Bump”: U.S. Man on Getting Vasectomy Amid Earthquake [The Guardian]



MOCA’s Gala Offers a Glimpse Inside a “World Without End”

On April 13, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles celebrated its 2024 gala at The Geffen Contemporary. More than 1,100 patrons, artists, and cultural figures turned out for the evening, which was presented by Bvlgari and featured vivid immersive environments by local artist Max Hooper Schneider, whose creative direction offered guests a glimpse into a “world without end” as the night’s theme. During the seated dinner, St. Vincent performed ahead of next week’s release of her new album All Born Screaming before heading into the after-party, which was headlined by DJ sets by Kilo Kish and Kitty Ca$h. The event raised $3 million for the museum’s exhibitions, programs, and education initiatives.

When was it? April 13

Where was it? The Geffen Contemporary, Los Angeles

Who was there? Ava DuVernay, Kim Gordon, Miranda July, Keanu Reeves, Catherine Opie, Doug Aitken, Karon Davis, Shepard Fairey, Jennifer Guidi, Sterling Ruby, Kenny Scharf, Charles Gaines, and more.




When: Until June 14

Where: Wexler Gallery, Philadelphia

What: In her latest show, the Mexican artist offers a bombardment of visual, thematic, and in her eyes, sonic “fury.” Campos refers to her spectacular show of paintings as a visual feast of sculptures and anthropomorphic figures and a “pre-Hispanic bacchanalia” teeming with noise, and as the show’s title suggests—the vortex of the creative process.


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Member Spotlight:
F05 Studio

The detail-driven minds behind F05 Studio seek to instill architecture with meaning, achieving harmony and functionality in the built environment. An ever-evolving practice, F05 works in the pursuit of creating timeless spaces that emphasize seamless interactions between people and their surroundings.

Surface Says: As a full-service interior and architecture studio, F05 approaches spaces with a nimble and fresh point of view, with the versatility of experience and perspective necessary to execute anything from modern minimalism to Brutalist-inflected futurism.



Today’s Attractive Distractions

An overdue book gets returned to a Fort Collins library after more than a century.

An immersive museum in Kansas City lets kids explore their favorite books.

Orlando Whitfield shares his story about being best friends with Inigo Philbrick.

Almost a year after Barbie hit theaters, how many brand collabs is too many?


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