Art and Design Combine as Festival Unveils New Grand Entrance
Visitors attending the Festival of Arts and Pageant of the Masters this summer in Laguna Beach will be surrounded by artistry even before they enter the Festival grounds. A new façade and entryway for the Festival, constructed at a cost of more than $3.5 million, will be finished just in time for the 83-year-old premier art exhibit’s opening the first week in July.
Even before construction had begun, the design for the façade had already received an award. Last fall, Newport Beach-based Bauer Architects won an award of merit from the American Institute of Architects’ Orange County Chapter for its innovative and thoughtful design.
According to Festival Board President Fred Sattler, the need for a new entryway had become a major priority. Since 1997, the existing entrance, constructed of painted plywood and carved Styrofoam, had always been considered a temporary solution. It was the product of theatrical sleight of hand. In 2002, the temporary design inspired by that year’s Pageant theme, “Heroes and Heroines,” provided the superstructure for the façade for more than a decade.
But, on October 13th, 2014, after the city signed off on the Bauer design, the Festival board happily donned hard hats and picked up sledgehammers to officially launch demolition of the existing façade. It was high time, President Sattler acknowledged. “Even the most aggressive cosmetic surgeons we could find have refused to work on it. They offered no hope, not one more year,” he said.
The design put forward by Bauer Architects was challenging in many ways. From a purely practical point of view, it contained almost no straight lines, and the project’s proximity to a major roadway created very complicated logistics in terms permitting and of coordinating the efforts of different crews and heavy machinery in very tight confines. In addition, the key components of the design utilized non-traditional materials in unique and creative ways. In fact, many of the contractors were selected for their ability to approach their individual challenges not just as builders, but, as artisan-type craftsmen.
Bauer’s approach to artistry and an informed sensitivity to the surrounding environment is readily apparent, including their choice of rammed earth walls created on site by Brad Mimlitz of Rammed Earth Builders from Park City, Utah. The walls consist of undulating layers of colored soil and other materials that are poured by hand, then tightly packed in forms – literally “rammed” – until they take on the hardness of sandstone. At the same time, a glance at the hillside directly across Laguna Canyon from the Festival, and one sees how the rammed earth walls subtly echo and complement the natural beauty of the setting.
It’s easy to understand why Bauer’s design has garnered so much attention and praise. In one of the façade’s most dramatic elements, the use of patinated, laser-cut metal panels across the top of the entryway suggest the trunks and leaves of the trees in the vicinity. Here again, the architect’s design provides a modernist interplay with Laguna’s abundance of natural beauty. And in another example of incorporating natural materials for both functionality and practicality, large boulders placed along the exterior of the façade not only create a natural safety barrier for pedestrian traffic but also offer informal seating areas for visitors.
Construction Supervisor Doug Hood brought both a personal interest and professional responsibility to this ambitious project. Coordinating the efforts of workers facing both structural and aesthetic responsibilities, Hood brought more than 20 years experience to his efforts. But, Hood had an additional vested interest in the success of the undertaking. He and his wife Kathy are Life Members of the Festival of Arts, an award they received for volunteering backstage at the Pageant of the Masters.
For 19 years at the Pageant, Doug has served as a Cast Caller, his announcements backstage letting cast members know when it’s time to start the process of getting into costumes and makeup for their appearance onstage. It’s a responsibility Doug takes seriously since precise timing is required to make certain everyone gets where they need to be. In other words, Doug is very good at telling people what to do and where to go, skills that also proved invaluable in assuring that the Festival’s new facelift was completed on time. He also made a very real commitment to translating the lyrical architectural metaphors and environmental echoes of Bauer Architects’ design into the artful and functional realities of the new frontage and entryway of the 2015 Festival of Arts.