The notion of the "background building" is one of those profound concepts that was startling when first introduced in the 1960s (by Robert Venturi, I think) and now seems so commonsensical that we might assume the idea had always existed. The basic idea is simple: Some buildings are "stars" and should stand out, while other buildings are merely supporting players. The distinction between foreground and background buildings is not value-laden; foreground buildings are not necessarily better or more desirable than background buildings. Both are crucial for an attractive and functional urban district. Foreground buildings are the landmarks, while the background buildings provide the scale, the style, the rhythm, and the continuity of an urban district. Without background buildings, one runs the danger of creating streets like Fifth Avenue in New York, or the Las Vegas strip, where nearly every building is a scene-stealer, and the street lacks coherence and walkability as a result. The distinction between foreground and background buildings is not such a clear-cut matter, however, in the case of the Hollywood and Highland project in Hollywood. The project is a retail-and-entertainment center that will be the future home of the annual Academy Awards ceremony. In addition, the northwest corner of Hollywood and Highland will be a future stop for the Metro Rail subway, a promising source of pedestrian movement. The most remarkable aspect of the site, however, is the context: the eight-acre site directly east of the famous Mann's Chinese Theater, which means Hollywood and Highland must stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the icon of historic Hollywood. And that's the delicacy of the design problem: Like Jane Russell playing opposite Marilyn Monroe in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," Hollywood-Highland must have star quality to be a good foil for the Chinese Theater. The complex must be strong enough not to disappear next to the fantasy pagodas of the Chinese, nor so strong that the new building appears predatory and insensitive. Far from being a merely aesthetic issue, the design for Hollywood-Highland has huge implications for the future of Hollywood, at least in restoring the tourist trade to historic Hollywood. After all, the only part of Hollywood that has worked well for tourists has been the Chinese Theater, with its generous courtyard, the well-judged scale of its fantasy architecture, and the concrete handprints of Humphrey Bogart et al. Much of the rest of old Hollywood has been destroyed, rendered inaccessible, or altered beyond recognition. Hollywood Boulevard, far from being the river of flashing neon that it was in the 1930s, has become the Bad Boy of Los Angeles streets, the downtown of prostitutes, bikers, pushers and teen runaways. The sidewalks and buildings of the new building will, hopefully, serve as extensions of the courtyard in front of the Chinese Theater. Visitors will have someplace to go, to look at, to eat, to watch movies and to spend money. And when the crowds turn out on Oscar night to watch stars step gingerly out of their limousines, the urban design had better work: it needs to be big enough to hold thousands of people on that once-a-year event, as well as maintain the "street wall" of Hollywood Boulevard for the rest of the year. The site plan by Ehrenkrantz shows how much activity has gone on in the immediate area of the Egyptian and Hollywood-Highland. The front of the project is tourist-oriented retail, including a "Media Mega Store," a broadcast center, and new movie screens for the Chinese. One difficult part about the design is that the most important building - the Premiere Theater, where the Academy Awards will take place - is tucked in back and largely hidden from view. The solution, which so far looks convincing, is a gate on Hollywood Boulevard that leads directly down the Orchid Walk into the Theater courtyard. A more dramatic route to the theater, if a little more roundabout, is a grand staircase that provides a framed view of the Hollywood sign at the upper landing. The staircase leads to an overlook of the happiest inspiration of the scheme, a monumental Babylon Court that borrows imagery from the Babylon scenes, elephant idols and all, from D.W. Griffiths' Intolerance. I hope this courtyard, which is obviously intended as the great "collector space" of Oscar Night, receives the flamboyance that it deserves. Hollywood and Highland is rich in context. The ongoing efforts of the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency have spearheaded a number of worthwhile projects in the past 16 years, including the rehab of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, El Capitan Theater, and the Egyptian Theater currently under restoration, Hollywood is acquiring a critical mass of interesting and historic projects. Architects nowadays get a little bit precious with context. Contextualism that follows the appearance, the imagery, the style and the height of surrounding buildings too slavishly ends up creating second-rate buildings, and also - which not enough people have observed - slavishly contextual buildings also blunt the impact of the historic buildings. I am deeply concerned that overly conventional architects will prepare a design that is fatally cautious and marred with good taste. But Hollywood is not a particularly subtle industry, nor is Hollywood, the place, a particularly refined urban district. With the architectural facades still under design, maybe it is not too late to lobby. My advice is to err on the side of boldness, and do not be too tasteful, too namby-pamby or too reverent. Designing for Hollywood should put conventional "good taste" aside, just as one puts aside conventional taste when designing for Las Vegas. (If that idea sets your teeth on edge, you are not right for the job.) Whatever you do, for God's sake, don't be boring. The design program here is to create a supporting actor who neither fades into the background, nor outshines the leading lady. If your imagination flags, just think of Lauren Bacall in TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT: "You know how to design, don't you? Just put your fingers around a pencil - and draw."