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Downtown Marriott Building: Lights Are On but Nobody’s Home

January 14, 2010

Last night was the official opening ceremony for Downtown’s newest skyscraper: the Ritz Carlton/Marriott building, a hotel and condo complex connected to LA Live and the Staples Center. To celebrate, the building’s owners organized a show in which all the lights in each room were turned on simultaneously; as you might expect, it was pretty dull. Yet, it cost $100,000 to pull off, leaving me angry that they didn’t give any of that light switch flipping loot to me.

The Marriott Building, which looks like a giant electric razor made of glass, is an impressive addition to the downtown skyline (crappy light shows notwithstanding). On a superficial level, Downtown’s slowly expanding skyline makes me happy as it means the city is moving away from the negative stereotypes which have dogged it in the past. Yet it takes more than simply throwing up buildings to make the city a better place. In addition to looking majestic from afar, a new skyscraper needs to be a pleasant place to visit. The LA Live complex as a whole is fairly accessible, despite its unpleasant aesthetics and nauseating array of chain outlets. But the addition of the Marriott Building is not necessarily a net positive; it somehow always seems sterile and distant, like a space station orbiting some alien planet. It doesn’t help that the north end of the complex on Olympic is completely cut off.

I’m becoming more and more convinced that the best skyscrapers in Los Angeles are the comparatively modest 10 to 15 floor buildings directly to the east. They may not have fancy light shows, but there’s an intimacy to the ground level stores and detailed facades which new buildings downtown would do well to replicate.

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