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Building favourites

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Sutherland Lyall talks to architect, teacher and realist artist, the self-effacing Andrew Holmes, about his favourite building

This drawing is of a milk interchange facility somewhere near Washington Street, South Central Los Angeles. The milk comes by train (off to the right of the picture), and is pumped into the 20 or so stainless-steel holding tanks lining an access route for trucks. Overhead is a gantry for pumping milk into the great stainless-steel tankers - a bit like those overhead water hoses for steam trains you used to see in Western movies.

It's a beautifully organised collection of tanks and pipes, an accretion of engineering structures all in stainless steel which sits there glittering by the roadside in the riot zone of Los Angeles. But it could be anywhere. You see this building in different locations all over the us, although this particular concatenation of tanks is unique to this site. Sometimes there's more pipework and sometimes fewer tanks but they are all basically the same. And although you'd expect advertising, there are no signs at all on the static tanks or the trucks. You see a few numbers painted on here and there, presumably for maintenance identification, but otherwise it's stainless steel and the beautiful white liquid it contains and the blue sky.

Some years ago in Florida I kept seeing these white tanks and containers and readymix trucks. Finally I found the name of the company in very small lettering on one of their vehicles. So I went to see them. It was a concrete company and all the plant and trucks and buildings were painted white. The supervisor said 'We're the white company. Everything is kept spotless, even delivering concrete. We're immaculate.'

Maybe something like that happens here, but because it's milk everything has to be hygenic and stainless steel and immaculate. These wonderful shiny, reflective surfaces, the deployment of basic, standard elements with other elements added to them according to the local circumstances and, in the case of the movable architecture, according to the whim of the driver. And the fact that here a third of the architecture eventually moves off down the road at 30mph, air horns blasting mournfully.

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