Municipal Pastiche

Van Nuys Government Center is a stand-in for downtown democracy flung out to the suburban hinterlands.

Van Nuys City Hall Liana Jegers

There’s something uncanny and deceptive about the Van Nuys Government Center. Indeed, the complex seems to deceive even itself: Government Center is only one of its three designations, along with The Van Nuys Civic Center and The San Fernando Valley Administrative Center. The program is just as variable: Ten local, state, and federal government office buildings flank an open-air plaza, within which lie garden areas, monuments, and memorials. What architectural pedigree the plaza has can be largely attributed to the 1932 Valley Municipal Building, otherwise known as Van Nuys City Hall. Ornate, with a petit tower that climbs only eight stories, the hall appears too small for its ostensible purpose and, in actuality, houses the City of Los Angeles personnel department head and her HR team.

Because Van Nuys is a part of the City of Los Angeles, Van Nuys’s government should be in Downtown Los Angeles, right? Not fifteen or so miles northwest of LA City Hall. Out in the Valley, among the lords of bad taste—boring midrise office towers wrapped in brown glass, dull stucco a…

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