Hansen: Curvaceous peace in architecture

February 07, 2013|By David Hansen
  • This building, at 883 S. Coast Hwy., is the newest design from Laguna architect Horst Noppenberger. It will be home to the Obagi Skin Health Institute.
This building, at 883 S. Coast Hwy., is the newest design… (DON LEACH, Coastline…)

There are a few ramshackle stretches of Coast Highway in Laguna Beach cluttered with tired buildings and bad imagination.

You become immune, driving by in a daze because there's nothing much to look at.

But then you notice the curve. It's an organic, perfectly undulating S shape that takes your breath away.

Located at 883 S. Coast Hwy., the building is the latest creation of Laguna architect Horst Noppenberger, and it will be the home to Obagi Skin Health Institute, set to open later this spring.

"The architecture actually begins to speak to what happens inside the building," Noppenberger said. "The concept that we came up with was to replicate the contours of the human body in stone."

Perhaps it is this inherent intimacy that attracts your attention. Or it could be the location: squeezed between a kind of Dutch Colonial Revival-style clothing store and a 1960s-era bead shop with brown shingles and patchouli oil.


"I think what really sets Laguna apart from other communities is its willingness to embrace diversity in the architecture," Noppenberger said. "You probably would not be able to do these types of creative buildings in many of the other communities around us. For me, the diversity, the eclecticism, of Laguna makes it unique."

No doubt this quirky juxtaposition is what helps define Laguna. It's also what sometimes causes friction. Not everyone understands or appreciates modern architecture.

In fact, many people in Laguna would be perfectly happy if the city stayed in 1972.

Historically, the city has had a reputation among architects as being parochial in its design criteria, favoring the status quo. But that's changing, according to Robin Zur Schmiede, who has been on the Design Review Board since 2009.

"There isn't a design review against or for modern; it's only in the context of neighborhood compatibility," she said. "I think you may have seen some people say, 'Well, we can't do great architecture in this town because of design review.'

"In my experience, we often have the architect at the end say, 'Because of design review, our design is better.'"

There are, indeed, many homes in Laguna that are modern, particularly along the beach and packed onto the hillsides. And there is the famous neighborhood next to Alta Laguna Park that is almost exclusively modern.

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