The Void at the Center


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If desolation, emptiness, and gigantism are attributes in architecture, then the buildings around the Van Nuys Civic Center achieve glory simply by virtue of their nihilistic presence.

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For here, on the streets bounded by Van Nuys Boulevard, Calvert, Sylvan and Tyrone, is a void at the center of Van Nuys.

As a real place it functions only as a photographic metaphor for enormous potential wasted in sheets of concrete and glass.

"L'Ecclisse" (1962)
“L’Ecclisse” (1962)

Michaelangelo Antonioni’s “L’Eclisse” (1962) set its alienated characters inside the vacated EUR district of Rome, Italy dreamed up during Mussolini’s time. Our Van Nuys, the post-war place of big government, benevolent institutions and perfect planning, came of age at the same time.

But it’s all a miserable failure, a disfigurement, a monstrous banality.

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In the middle of the day, there are barren plazas, empty arcades, ribbons of cleared sidewalks.

But even dying, there is a weak, faint cry to just do something. It is chronically ill Van Nuys asking, begging, pleading…. for resurrection and recognition.

In its empty post office, in the blank walled State Office Building, in the rows of vertical windows slit into the yellow brick mass of the James C. Corman Federal Building, in the vast parking lot of gravel, chains, walls and a NO ENTRY sign behind The Superior Court Building, the whole mass and substance of the district is on the gurney in the ER hoping for resuscitation.

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At the center of Van Nuys, in the historic heart of the San Fernando Valley, in a place that is now 105 years old, nobody willingly visits . They arrive, instead, in handcuffs or carrying legal papers. They are under subpoena, on jury duty, in custody, filing a complaint or reporting a crime.

And that is our civic center story.

 

 

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