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From Conception to Realization

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The end of the story returns to the beginning, to the church where the boy first dreamed of the Pyramids and the treasure awaiting him, and he knows his destiny is to return home, a changed man from the boy he was when he first set out on his quest to understand the world and himself.

– Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

Upon returning home to LA in 2012 after 25 years abroad, I felt as lost as Irving Washington’s Rip Van Winkle and yet as about to be reborn as Santiago in Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist.

Though in some ways perhaps not as immediately noticeable as Poland’s transformation since the era of Communism that I personally witnessed, LA too had changed radically, as had the United States. The positive was in the redevelopment of city centers from downtown LA to downtown Santa Monica, which in some areas had become almost as rundown as the Poland I saw in 1989. The negatives, in terms of infrastructure redevelopment was, first and foremost, the terrible traffic congestion, rated worst in the US, that has become nearly paralyzing during several hours of each workday.

Another dubious distinction for which LA comes in first place in the US is the homeless population, which is now of epidemic proportions. Simultaneously, LA had become wonderfully diversified more than ever by new blood from around the world. This was most noticeable in the neighborhood where I was raised. What in my childhood was a country road ambiance of post-WWII one-story homes had become an architectural hodge podge of modern two-story mini-mansions and older buildings. Some have become replicas of the same cookie cutter model, while others run the gamut of unusual eclectic design styles.

It was the last thought on my mind upon returning to the surroundings of my childhood upbringing to make such a contribution to the community, but this is what has since transpired.

If I had one great regret, it was that the vision I had for the complete restoration of a medieval tower in Poland as I envisioned, and fought for to the bitter end, never saw the light of day, or the illumination of the evening, for that matter. Never before had the first name I had chosen, La luz (“The Light,” in Spanish), seemed more appropriate. A crazy idea began to form in my mind thanks to having sent back home the complete architectural drawings of the historical building, as well as the 3D renderings of my vision for what Baszta could have become. I began to fantasize building a literal duplication, an actual replica of a 13th-century tower, yet with a 21st-century sensibility. But where or how to do something so crazy?


When my father passed away in late 2013, this question was answered. Where I would finally realize this dream could not have possibly come any closer to home than right smack in front of it! I started to think of what I could do to add a 21st century element to still another unique period piece: the house of the 1950s where I was raised, that he had built with both his hands and those of his father, who was a building contractor.

To this day there are no other wall-to-wall windows on the street like this

The house was not at all like anything that my grandfather had ever constructed. As the concept reflected my father’s own design sensibility, it was quite advanced for its time, featuring wall-to-wall windows, both in the front and back of the house. Built on the last available vacant lot on the street, the modernist design was completely out of step with the more traditional post-war, single-story dwellings that were constructed nearly ten years earlier, in the mid 1940s.

My father's balsa wood house model, 1955, and Norms Coffee Shop, 1957

The sleek contour of the rooftop is reminiscent of the space age Googie coffee shop design style of the late 1950s and early ’60s, for which my father later became recognized, including the interior and kitchen plan of Norms Coffee Shop. The first Norms opened in 1949 on La Cienega Boulevard in West Hollywood. Still in business today, it is regarded as a historical landmark of LA. [spacer height=”20px”]

Before and After. Note the new house that was also built at the same time directly across the street

Then, one day, a lightning bolt struck me! The house is up on a hill, the garage in front of the house on the street below. The rooftop of the garage is the same height as the floor of the house, yet, despite its easy access, it was a completely wasted space. Hence, why not build something on top of it? For that matter, why not build a contemporary tower directly on top of the garage, with a glass pyramid roof, as I had envisioned for Baszta?

Left corner windows and skylight

Upper deck before installation of the pyramid top

As was intended for the tower I partially restored and used in Poland as an all-in-one art gallery, mini-cinema, culture venue, restaurant and wine bar, the top deck of the new building would have a 360 degree view of the city, though from the vantage point of being situated in between the ocean and downtown LA, with the mountains in the background.

As I excitedly contemplated a contemporary tower right where I had been raised as a boy, most striking of all was the realization that had strange destiny not led me to Poland and to apply my artistic sensibilities to making use of a medieval tower, this possibility would have never occurred back on my own home turf.

California dreaming, you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave. All I had to do was be open to it and let the influences flow that had inspired my life and further expanded my vision, while living so far away for so many years.

I thought, why not even project images and/or animations onto the exterior walls, just as I had intended for Abrams’ Tower? With the aid of new technology, the illumination of buildings had evolved as well, yet, it had still remained, for the most part, a function of holidays, mainly Christmas and Halloween. Why not make a year-round multimedia experience out of architecture? Celebrate the holidays, the changing seasons, celebrate art and architecture, celebrate life! As long as it doesn’t interfere with the neighbors’ peaceful evenings, why not add beauty, and a sign of life at night, to a dark residential street?

Only, it could not be a commercial venture. For this reason, unlike Abrams’ Tower abroad, it would not be a restaurant or wine bar. The events I would host would be private. Whatever I did, no matter where, one thing became obvious: when asserting a personal vision and engaging in personal expression in any public atmosphere or arena, there are inherent risks involved and challenges to face.

As my brainstorm became an immense headache of confronting sometimes absurd regulations and requirements of the LA Building and Safety Department, I often thought about the Bulgarian artist, Christo and his French wife, Jean-Claude, who championed public art projects, which inevitably confronted the obstacles of laws, regulations and bureaucratic systems ranging from wrapping the Reichstag in Berlin with fabric, to building a 26 mile long fence trespassing the private property of 59 ranchers in northern California. I wondered whether by growing up in a former communist country, Christo had developed a degree of cleverness and tenacity that became a major asset in the West. I now pondered whether I had earned a degree in the Polish school of hard knocks that would become an asset to me back home. 


It became my will to engage a quiet neighborhood consisting of people of various nationalities and races, in establishing a unique community-friendly place. I came up with the name: “The International Neighborhood of Westside Village.” Westside Village, which was established in the 1940s, was described in 2005 by the Los Angeles Times as consisting of “a kaleidoscope of housing styles.”

Unlike New York or the European city centers, where I had previously resided for so many years, I found myself back in a sprawling urban terrain, where there exists an excessive dependency on transportation by car. In Westside Village, people rarely walk, unless they are accompanied by their dogs, for there is almost nowhere else to go other than a few local supermarkets, convenience stores, pharmacy, fast food restaurants, cigar shop, Starbucks, deli, bank, candy store and two dive bars. Neighbors rarely talk to, let alone see each other. And yet, among the few people I came to know upon returning to Westside Village, I discovered not only residents representing a potpourri of nationalities and cultures, but musicians, a documentary filmmaker, a woman who makes chocolate sculptures, a sommelier and a professional belly dancer. LA being a city saturated with diverse talent, who knows what else exists in Westside Village? Who knew, for that matter, that someone of rare experience from many years of life abroad would return to the place of his childhood and build a multimedia tower?

With Abrams’ Tower West, I decided to create a Meeting Place that was to become an elaborated extension of Abrams’ Tower in Wrocław, Poland.


First concepts by Barcelona, Spain architect, Xavier Nieto

I began by making some simple sketches, one of them the first image of the background slideshow. Later, my Catalan architect friend in Barcelona, Xavier Nieto (see his page by clicking here), came up with several concepts, two of them shown here. I subsequently hired a 3D renderings designer (see 3 slide shows of the renderings by clicking here). Together we tried many visual concepts of lighting, with a see-through pyramid to also be alternatively translucent, whereby I could project artwork right through its surface from the inside. We worked on this together almost daily by e-mail for four months. The renderings became a virtual experiment of nighttime architectural illumination.

A firework of millions of glittering subway maps

In fact, the idea could be traced back to my childhood, when growing up in the house I was now planning to transform dramatically. As a boy, each December I would line the walls and ceiling of my bedroom with colored Christmas lights. When I discovered the wonders of ultraviolet lighting at Disneyland, I created a fluorescent galaxy on my ceiling. Prior to Fourth of July, I bought fireworks, which back then were legal to purchase in nearby Culver City, took them apart and with the powder created patterns of sparkling fire on a shopping center parking lot. Years later this became the inspirational key to my art in the light-emitting medium of stained glass. When I was later introduced to computer graphics, some of my compositions became reminiscent of fireworks, the same connection I made upon witnessing the stained glass rose windows of the great cathedrals in Europe.

My aim has always been to arrive at a unique style of expression, which at the same time bridges universal themes, aesthetics and sensibilities of cultures and times in history. These were the same universals applied by the Egyptians in creating the great pyramids as is the art of sacred geometry. Like fingerprints, the patterns of subway systems are completely different but often look remarkably the same. And here, an exploding “firework” of millions of maps of subway systems from around the globe becomes an illuminated pyramid in the night sky.

The idea of literally recreating a medieval European tower in southern California had been scratched, however, I wished to keep the concept and theme intact. The first consideration was to what degree I should exercise artistic license to design a building as I chose without any formal background in architecture. In risking this, I conceived the 3D renderings without any knowledge of what would be acceptable according to city regulations.

At that point, I surveyed other possibilities that preceded my ambitions and nowhere could the eclecticism of residential architecture be more interesting than where I was, on the west side of Los Angeles, all the way to the seaside of Santa Monica and Venice. The one example that stood out the most, prior to my departure for Europe in 1987, is the home of architect, Frank Gehry, in Santa Monica, which was completed 10 years earlier. Gehry essentially encased a nondescript post-WWII house with industrial materials constructed of odd shapes and at odd angles. The structure of the original house is seen through windows and open spaces of the new surrounding structure. From the completion of his work on his own home, which upset some of his neighbors, he rose to international fame.

Petal House

I began to drive around taking photos and found everything from entire houses covered with broken tiles a la Antoni Gaudi’s architecture in Barcelona, to a house with an artificial zoo in the front yard and yet another that is decorated with old kettles. One example that I discovered just a few blocks from my home appears to be a bit on the lines of my own concept. Known as “The Petal House,” it includes what appears to be a pyramid roof that has opened up, like the petals of a flower.

I finally decided on a design of simple shapes, while retaining the aesthetic of a tower in the spirit of Baszta, those shapes serving as a blank screen for projecting images and animations at night.


What would most notably change is the materials used to construct the tower, its dimensions and its height. There would be no brick walls, since they are not used in warm climate southern California residential architecture. Other practicalities and regulations would force me to come up with creative solutions, as there would be many unanticipated hurdles to overcome. Just as in Poland, this would prove to be true, even in open-spirited California, in the land of the American Dream.

The biggest dilemma to solve was the glass pyramid roof. Only after beautiful 3D renderings had been completed, at which point I hired a local architect, did I find out that the city would impose a height restriction that was several feet lower than I desired and just less than two-feet lower than what I absolutely required.

With very little area to walk beneath a pyramid roof, the sides would remain far too low for standing upright. The solution I arrived at was to raise the lowest point of the ceiling from the perimeter of the deck, while lowering the angle of the pyramid roof, which also blended better with the low-sloped lines of the house rooftop that was a relic of the 1950s.

Another problem was that the weight of a glass pyramid on top of a small two-story building constructed above a garage was prohibitive; it was time once again to talk to the mother of invention.

So I hired an awning company to construct a gazebo-type pyramid roof top consisting of a metal frame covered with a translucent white synthetic material. The ceiling would become an overhead screen for projecting images and animations, whereas the sides would be open for a panoramic city view.

Thus, unfinished business of my grand cultural exchange mission abroad came full circle, as a beacon of light in the heart of an old LA country road, that has become an architecturally evolving, microcosmic melting pot of the world.

Click here for the further visual documentation of Abrams’ Tower West