Atelier Hitoshi Abe exhibition at the SCI-Arc Gallery

len-tic-u-lar-is a new exhibition by Los Angeles and Sendai-based architecture firm Atelier Hitoshi Abe (AHA), will be on view from July 30 to September 12, 2010, in the SCI-Arc Gallery at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc).


Lenticularis [len‚tik·y?′lar·?s] is a lens-shaped cloud formation that occurs at high altitudes as strong winds blow over and around rough terrain and mountains. This tension between moisture, changing wind conditions, and the rugged terrain below produces a myriad of atmospheric phenomena, but a very particular formal effect characterized by often striking symmetry, ephemeral smoothness, and transparency. Each cloud formation is a unique visual index of the dialogue between the atmospheric conditions, geography, and terrain of a particular place at a particular moment in time. In this sense, the lenticularis mediates between the sky and the ground, and unites them.


The first architectural subject that AHA will tackle in Los Angeles is the design of a new large-scale roof over the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (JACCC) Plaza, designed by Isamu Noguchi. For this plaza, Noguchi created a singular landscape inspired by a Zen garden that isolates itself from the surrounding townscape. Although a very important place for the community, the JACCC Plaza is too exposed to the climate of Los Angeles to host various activities, and the walls that enclose the plaza conceal it from the neighborhood and make it invisible to the city.

A roof is proposed to enhance the functional and symbolic value of the JACCC Plaza to the community by providing a climatic shelter that expresses the existence of the plaza to the urban condition. In order to accomplish these objectives, what needs to be realized is a large-scale roof floating above the plaza that will not touch Noguchi’s Zen garden, nor isolate Noguchi’s terrain from the Los Angeles sky, but instead mediate them.


The proposed scheme is an extremely lightweight membrane structure that behaves, in concept, like a bicycle wheel. This lenticularis-like giant roof spans 186 feet and includes a 50-foot overhang, which makes it possible to cover half an acre of the plaza’s surface without touching Noguchi’s work. It consists of a 520-foot-long perimeter ring beam, supported by four sets of columns that fall outside of the area of the plaza. Fifty-six tension cables extend from the ring beam and are gathered at a central sprocket, surfaced with mirror-polished stainless steel panels creating a “Cloud-scope.” The Cloud-scope provides visual transparency towards the sky and enhances the openness of the plaza, while its unique sectional profile reflects both the sky and the terrain and fuses the boundary between them.


Exhibited at the SCI-Arc Gallery is a 1:7 scale model of the proposed roof structure. len-tic-u-lar-is has been developed in collaboration with Buro Happold Consulting Engineers.


A discussion with architect Hitoshi Abe and SCI-Arc Director Eric Owen Moss will take place at 7:00pm on Friday, July 30, followed by a reception for the exhibition opening.