“Steel Cloud” Los Angeles, California

"Steel Cloud" in Los Angeles, California by Asymptote, 1988

Envisioned as a west coast equivalent of the Statue of Liberty, the 1988 West Coast Gateway competition was won by Asymptote, New-York based architects Hani Rashid and Lisa Ann Couture. The design attempts to give a physical form to the contemporary nature of the city and the importance of information and technology in our lives. Straddling a freeway in Los Angeles, the (regrettably) unbuilt project consists of multiple uses: galleries, libraries, cinemas, parks, plazas, and an aquarium. This conglomeration of uses and their intentionally disconcerting scale acts as a monument to late twentieth-century life and its characteristics: the linearity of the freeway and its inherent movement, airplane as mode of movement for immigrants (as opposed to water for the Statue of Liberty), and the importance of technology as a cultural link.

The Steel Cloud's location above one of LA's major downtown freeways gives the project an impetus for its dynamic structural response to site. The movement of the freeway below is translated into various linear structures extending into the distance at different angles. Different functions become apparent to drivers below, acting as billboards. Outdoor cinema projections give brief glimpses of one of the uses of an otherwise dead zone above the freeway. Or this may have been the case, except for the controversy surrounding the project after Asymptote was announced as winner and shifts in funding will keep the Steel Cloud unbuilt.
This is an architecture for the territories devoid of perspective, depth, frames, or enclosure.   -Hani Rashid and Lisa Ann Couture
In the competition's unbuilt nature lies its potential. It will become a piece of architectural influence and history, as much as Piranesi's imaginary views, Ledoux and Boullee's fantastical projects, Antonio Sant Elia's futuristic cities, Le Corbusier's League of Nations project and Rem Koolhaas's entry for the Très Grande Bibliotheque in Paris, among many others. The power of these projects lies in their strong conceptual clarity and ability to see beyond the present constraints of architectural practice. Recently many architectural competitions have become generators for ideas (some actually only existing as "idea competitions"), but when these ideas confront with a potential to be built they remain ideas and are carried through into the architectural continuum.

The Steel Cloud is significant in many respects: its symbolic representation of life at the end of the twentieth century, it's forward-thinking architectural vocabulary (almost without precedent), and especially its attempt to mend different parts of the city together by utilizing typically unusable space above a part of the city that has acted as a separator as much as it has a connector.