Breaking Ground: Chinese American Architects in Los Angeles

Breaking Ground: Chinese American Architects in Los Angeles
Choy Residence © J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute (2004.R.10)

Breaking Ground: Chinese American Architects in Los Angeles (1945-1980) at the Chinese American Museum (CAM) is an exhibition that focuses on four Chinese American architects that have transformed parts of Los Angeles with iconic buildings and distinct design styles. The work will be on display until June 3rd 2012 and feature architects such as Eugene Choy, Gilbert Leong, Helen Liu Fong and Gin Wong.

Breaking Ground is part of Pacific Standard Time, a collaboration created by Getty in which sixty cultural institutions will tell the story of the birth of LA art scene over the course of six months beginning October 2011. Breaking Ground at CAM LA tells the story of the skyline and the changing built environment through the perspective the four prominent Chinese American Architects.

More after the break.

Breaking Ground will feature original and reproductions of photographs, blueprints, renderings, and drawings of works produced by the featured architects. Exhibit highlights include six three-dimensional stereoscopic slides of landmark Googie buildings by Jack Laxer, nine original photographs by Julius Shulman, and a hands-on Design-Your-Own-Dream-Home gallery interactive.

Eugene Choy designed a range of buildings from small residences to large scale industrial buildings.  Despite racial prejudices, Choy was able to build a home for himself on a 50-foot-wide hillside lot which attracted attention from national architectural magazines.  He is best known for the Cathay Bank Building.  It mixes his own sensibilities of the International Style of Modernist Architecture with traditional and cultural nuances in the details, at the request of the clients.

Cathay Bank: Photograph by Dan Kaufman / Studio Kaufman

Gilbert Leong had a strong role in developing the architecture of Chinatown in LA.  He is best known for the Bank of America building and the Kong Chow Family Association and temple.  CAM writes, “the sheer presence and scale of both of these buildings illustrated the permanent establishmnet of the Chinese American community in Los Angeles.

Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association: Photograph by Dan Kaufman / Studio Kaufman

Helen Liu Fong designed for the commercial architectural firm of Louis Armet and Eldon Davis,  helping develop the style that is known as Googie Architecture, which blends a modernist and futuristic approach to form, borrowing from car culture and using cantilevered roofs, boomerang angles, an elaborate pallet of colors, lighting typography and signage.  Her work was characterized by the unique interiors that she produced for coffee shops, bowling alleys and other commercial buildings that have the roadside architectural style.  See Denny’s or Bob’s Big Boy Restaurants for examples of the “immortalized of this style” in a brand.

Norms Restaurant: Courtesy of Jack Laxer/Armet Davis Newlove Architects © Jack Laxer Photographer, Pacific Palisades, CA.

Gin Wong of Gin Wong Associates, has a long history with the development of Los Angeles’s built environment. He was pivotal in the design of the original Los Angeles International Airport, developing a satellite system that moved arrivals, departures and baggage terminals efficiently – a system now considered the blueprint for airport design. His work is known for blending technological innovations with practical design. He has designed buildings in US, China and the Pacific Rim.

Arco Tower: Courtesy of Gin Wong Associates

CAM LA is located at 425 N. Los Angeles Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Museum hours are Tuesday – Sunday, 10am – 3pm. Visit for more information.

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Cite: Irina Vinnitskaya. "Breaking Ground: Chinese American Architects in Los Angeles" 13 Apr 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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