SurveyLA Citywide Historic Context Statement: Late Modern, 1966-1990


Daniel Paul


Senior Architectural Historian, ICF


Newsletter, special edition, 70s Turn 50
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This theme is a component of Los Angeles’ citywide historic context statement and provides guidance to field surveyors in identifying and evaluating potential historic resources relating to Late Modern architecture. Refer to for information on designated resources associated with this theme as well as those identified through SurveyLA and other surveys.

Theme Introduction

This historic context provides an overview of Late Modern architecture, its character-defining features, and selected subtypes. Though select residential examples are identified and Late Modernism's general features could apply to all property types, the focus of the narrative is on large-scale commercial and institutional buildings, primarily designed by notable large, multi-service architectural firms working for highly visible clientele. Architectural historian Charles Jencks in 1977 first codified the term “Late-Modern” through a specific set of architectural design ideas and elements. (1) However, the term still gets applied to any variety of postwar works, while others have questioned the existence of Late Modern as a standalone design movement. Though this context adopts this relatively young style term, insofar as it helps to provide an understanding of what Late Modernism may or not be, some of the nomenclature matters will be addressed. This context has a certain focus on subtypes, including the all-over reflecting glass skin: Los Angeles' primary contribution to Late Modernism.

The Late Modern tendency toward exaggerated Modern design elements is coupled with – to borrow a word used by Los Angeles Late Modern architect Anthony Lumsden – “mutation” to Modernism, as opposed to the clearer break from Modernism seen in Postmodern architecture. This mutation includes that of form – Late Modern buildings, particularly towers, are often sculpturally handled and box-breaking. Minoru Yamasaki's triangular Century Plaza Towers (1972-1975, 2029 and 2049 Century Park East) are an example of this, as are Lumsden's own Marina City Club condominium complex (1971-1975, 4333 Admiralty Way, Marina Del Rey): a boldly composed cluster of 17-story semicircles. Where the box is retained, it is handled like Minimalist sculpture; art world references abound in Late Modernism. Though still Modern in its formal character, features, and materials, this “Late” movement of Modernism is akin to, according to Jencks, “Late-Baroque” or “Late-Gothic” works that “extend an already existing set of styles and values.”(4) Late Modern work is mannered work. Late Modernism was not only a U.S. phenomenon, but was present in countries across the Western and developed world, including Japan, which to Jencks was a primary location for Late Modern architecture.(5)

According to Jencks, “There are many ways to characterize Late‐Modern architecture and most of them can be reduced to the single notion of exaggeration. Late‐Modernism takes Modern architecture to an extreme in order to overcome its monotony and the public’s boredom with it.”(2) Examples, among many, of exaggerated aspects of Modernism present in Late Modernism include: the modernist curtain wall becoming an all-over, hermetic and smooth-gridded glass enclosure; undeviating monochrome and wrapping of a single cladding material; open plans becoming “extreme isotropic space” (Isotropic: having the same properties in all directions); the machine references of Modernism becoming future-forward “High Tech,” and scale – Late Modern buildings are often large scale, imply large scale even if they are not, or are scale-less. Related to exaggeration is a quality frequently seen of extreme repetition, and paradox, wherein for example, a building of all glass enclosure has no operable windows.(3) Generally speaking, Late Modern works are differentiated designs intended to stand out.

In 1986, Jencks revisited his “Late-Modernism” definition with the understanding that other writers, including the cultural theorist Frederic Jameson who in a widely read work analyzed the Bonaventure Hotel, were consistently referring to Late Modern work as Postmodern.(6) Jencks articulated his original definition, stating that “Late-Modernism is mostly “late” because it is still committed to the tradition of the new,” and unlike Postmodernism, “does not have a complex relation to the past, or pluralism, or the transformation of Western culture – a concern with meaning, continuity, and symbolism.”(7) Ultimately, according to Jencks, “Late-Modernism” is “pragmatic and technocratic in its social ideology and from about 1960 takes many of the stylistic ideas and values of modernism to an extreme in order to resuscitate a dull (or clichéd) language.”(8)


  1. Although coined as “Late-Modern” by Jencks, for the purposes of the Los Angeles Citywide Historic Context Statement, the terms Late Modern and Late Modernism do not include a hyphen, in-line with common parlance today.
  2. Charles Jencks, Architecture Today (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 1988), 21.
  3. Marcus Whiffen, American Architecture Since 1780: A Guide to the Styles (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999), 285.
  4. Charles Jencks, Late-Modern Architecture and Other Essays (New York: Rizzoli, 1980), 8.
  5. Jencks, Late-Modern Architecture, 98-129.
  6. Frederic Jameson, Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Duke University Press, 1991), 39-42.
  7. Jencks, “Postmodern vs. Late-Modern,” in Zeitgeist in Babel: The Post-Modernist Controversy, ed. Ingeborg Hoesterey (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991), 16.
  8. Jencks, “Postmodern vs. Late-Modern,” 15.

About the Author

Daniel Paul is a senior architectural historian with the global consulting firm ICF. He holds a master’s degree in Art History from California State University, Northridge. The subject of his master’s thesis was the advent and early context of the Late Modern glass skin: a common motif in western world corporate architecture from 1970 to 1990. Daniel has presented this subject on multiple occasions, including recent lectures at the Architectural Association in London, and the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument applications authored by Daniel include the Capitol Records building, Griffith Park, and a draft nomination for the Westin Bonaventure Hotel. His successfully listed National Register of Historic Places nominations include the first post-World War II Ranch tract listed in California (Pegfair Estates, Pasadena, CA), the desert ufology site known as the Integratron (Landers, CA), and all U.S. Border Inspection Stations constructed between 1931 and 1943. Other recent projects include his work as landmark nomination content editor for the first Postmodern interior listed in New York City (the public interior spaces of the UN Plaza hotel); a history of gold mirror glass published by the Architectural Association of London’s colour journal “Saturated Space,” and work for Docomomo US as guest editor of “Peak Cambrian,” a series of essays for the context and preservation advocacy of 1990s architecture.