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County Collection

Los Angeles County Hall of Records

Artist:
Malcolm Leland
Date:
1962
Region:
Downtown LA
District:
First
Location:
Los Angeles County Hall of Records
320 West Temple Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Architect:
Richard Neutra, Robert E. Alexander, James R. Friend, Douglas Hommold, and John Rex
Department:
Internal Services Department

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Project Description

In 1957, as Modernist architect Richard Neutra designed Los Angeles County’s new Hall of Records building, he was approached by ceramicist Malcolm Leland with an innovative idea to wed artistic design with architecture.  Art ornamentation had once been ubiquitous in architecture but had almost disappeared with the advent of the minimal twentieth century trends of Modernism and the International Style. Leland was a ceramic potter with no previous architectural experience, but he was greatly inspired by Oscar Niemeyer’s designs for Brasilia, the new capital city of Brazil.  Built in the 1950s and 60s, Niemeyer’s architecture for the new city was in the Modern style but also incorporated artworks, including large-scale screens into some of his designs.  Leland thought the same could be done in Los Angeles, ushering a new approach to the bare bones functionalism of Modernism.

Neutra was intrigued by Malcolm Leland’s ideas and asked him to investigate how a large scale ceramic screen could be built.  Leland visited Gladding, McBean, the well-known ceramic factory which had manufactured architectural terra cotta works before Modernism’s heyday.  Gladding, McBean no longer made decorative pieces but still produced extruded terra cotta industrial forms (such as pipes).  Leland decided to develop a terra cotta art object which could also be extruded.  Neutra, Leland, and the Hall of Records’ engineer worked together to make Leland’s design structurally feasible.  The final work consisted of one form, repeated hundreds of times and anchored to the building by metal hooks on steel rods.  It concealed Neutra’s ventilation ducts while at the same time allowing air to flow freely.  Leland’s form was also able to be attached in two ways, creating an interplay of texture and light.  The overall work is nearly as tall as the building itself, covering eight stories.  The building was dedicated on May 18, 1962.

About the Artist

Malcolm Leland began his artistic career as a potter and ceramicist.  He studied at the Jepson Art Institute and won the Good Design Award from the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 1955 for his innovative ceramic bird shelter.  In the mid-1950s he became interested in working on a larger scale and he sold off his pottery to devote a year to researching architectural ceramics.  He designed art elements for several prominent Los Angeles landmarks such as the American Cement Company Building on Wilshire Boulevard and the Pomona College Clock Tower.  Malcolm Leland currently lives in Arizona and recently had a 2007 solo show at the Cardwell Jimmerson Gallery.