Could It Finally Be Time for the Triforium?

Thoughts on the Triforium

by Claire Evans, lead singer of YACHT and co-organizer of The Triforium Project

Tuesday morning, we learned that our group, The Triforium Project, won an LA2050 grant for our proposal to restore and reimagine the Triforium, a 60-ton public artwork in Downtown Los Angeles. We’re blown away by the generosity of this grant, and thrilled to begin work on this dream.

The Triforium was built in 1975 by Joseph Young, an LA artist best known for his elaborate mural frescoes, like the one on the wall of the Los Angeles County Hall of Records. It was, for him, a dream: the first “polyphonoptic” sculpture, and the largest musical instrument in the world. He designed the 1,494 multicolored glass cubes to light up, synchronized with music from a 79-note glass bell carillon played by a pianist hidden in the control room below. Time has not been kind to this vision. 

At the time, The Triforium was criticized for being a waste of money. Councilmembers went on record against it. With earthquake retrofits, it cost nearly a million dollars to build, earning it the nickname, “The Million-Dollar Jukebox.” The day it was dedicated, the Triforium’s computer system crashed. In the years since, the sound system has gone, along with the glass bell carillion made especially for the sculpture. The bulbs have flickered out. In 2006, City Councilwoman Jan Perry led a charge to restore the Triforium, unveiling a new paint job and clean bulbs, along with a promise that the employees of the Sbarro’s in the LA Mall below would take care of the music. Time has not been kind to this vision either. 

The Triforium is a public artwork forty years ahead of its time. Young’s vision for an interactive instrument the size of a building, around which people could gather and interact, is both prescient and beautiful. The computer technology of 1975 could only support this at great cost, but today we have inexpensive, networked computers that can power it. Beginning with this grant, and completely in partnership with the family of Joseph L. Young, we are working to apply the resources of the future to an artwork that could only imagine it.

We want to retrofit the Triforium with long-lasting, power-saving LEDs, and give it a new brain. We want to create an app that will allow people to send “polyphonoptic” compositions for the Triforium to play, and invite local artists to engage directly with the work with compositions and live performances. We want to make the sculpture responsive to footfall, so anyone within its radius can dance with it. In the shadow of City Hall, a stone’s throw from Grand Park, this should be a place for people to gather. We hope you join us, and we’re so grateful to LA2050 for giving us the opportunity to ask.