Lorcan O’Herlihy opens up about ‘Amplified Urbanism’

Renowned architect Lorcan O’Herlihy speaks with students and faculty at a lecture on Wednesday. (Emily Smith | Daily Trojan)

In a lecture at Watt Hall Wednesday, renowned architect and adjunct professor Lorcan O’Herlihy spoke about his exhibition “Amplified Urbanism” at the Harris Building in downtown Los Angeles. USC adjunct professor Lawrence Scarpa delivered introductory remarks, acknowledging O’Herlihy’s award-winning architecture and design company, Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects, for completing over 100 projects across multiple continents.

“[O’Herlihy] advances the tenants of modernism in unexpected and provocative ways,” Scarpa said, attributing O’Herlihy’s success to his ruthless optimism. “[This success] is contextual and civic-minded, but not commonplace. It inspires hope and optimism, but it is not wishful thinking.”

Upon taking the podium, O’Herlihy credited his childhood love for cities like Rome and London as the reason he became an architect. Growing up in Dublin, O’Herlihy said his father’s career as a film actor allowed him to travel the world.

“Sometimes it’s really about where you come from or what you like personally,” O’Herlihy said.

After settling on the East Coast for eight years to work for Kevin Roche and Steven Holl, among others, O’Herlihy took on the project of designing the Louvre Museum in Paris. Several years later, he moved to New York to immerse himself in the ’80s contemporary art scene where he briefly pursued a career as a painter, a phase he said was very formative in his architectural career.

O’Herlihy then went on to discuss several urban projects he’s pioneered over the last several years, but prefaced this with the philosophies he always applies to his projects.

“I believe that architecture is a social act,” O’Herlihy said. “It’s not so much about how to design a building as an object, but how to use architecture as a tool for gauging its politics.”

He acknowledged the inevitable complexities that confront an architect working with urban landscapes and said that the density of cities, particularly Los Angeles, encourages him to design spaces that foster human interaction by utilizing “dynamic solutions.”

O’Herlihy cited the current digital climate as another major challenge for architects — he believes that social media is a public space. Because of this, he seeks to foster a “third space,” which he views as connective tissue between the private and public spheres.

“With that in mind though, we are being isolated by those very tools,” O’Herlihy said. “It is more critical than ever to design spaces that bring us together.”

O’Herlihy went on to discuss some of his firm’s past and current projects, which he said exemplify the concept of “advanced urbanism” after which his book and exhibit are named. The goal of the book, according to a wall text in the exhibition, “was to provoke conversations about how cities can become more dynamic, sustainable and productive environments for all.”

“It should be across the board … it doesn’t matter where the resources are,” O’Herlihy said.

Throughout the lecture, O’Herlihy emphasized that he views projects through social, artistic, political and economic lenses.

“These things — embrace them with ruthless optimism, and hopefully that will happen to produce greater architecture,” O’Herlihy said. “And that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Following the lecture and subsequent Q&A session, attendees moved to the Verle Annis Gallery to enjoy refreshments and view the exhibition, which will be on display until Nov. 16.