If we speak of civilisation, we mean that part of human enterprise which in sheer self-defence struggles to mould human surroundings to respond to its needs . . . The only point of view from which civilisatory efforts can be judged is a pragmatic one . . . This is in direct contrast with all traits of culture. The problems of culture are the problems of growth and development of the human being himself.
– R.M. Schindler, Furniture and the Modern House, in Architect and Engineer vol. 123, San Francisco, December 1935
Perhaps we have come to a point in history, in cities, in Los Angeles, where the ideal conditions for the “growth and development of the human being himself” appear maximized by the breakdown of the urban infrastructure. To the extent such growth can be measured by acts such as the spontaneous sharing of resources, the overcoming of racial prejudice, the making of communal decisions, etc., it is precisely natural catastrophes such as earthquakes, fires and floods which seem able to open windows for human development. In the few days following such events, often unacquainted citizens come out of their adjacent homes to meet, share food, carry water, exchange information, organize repairs, in short, to become neighbors in a social rather than a merely geographic sense. And while these relationships are certainly genuine, they are equally short-lived–the return of water, power and guaranteed civilisation inevitably signal the slide back into more familiar patterns of social isolation and dysfunction.
I want to suggest that these ephemeral, post-traumatic windows are the best contemporary candidates for actualizing Schindler’s dream of living in harmony with both nature and neighbor. The Kings Road House is in a unique position to do just this. Given its location and its specific design, construction and land-use, it is possible that Schindler’s Kings Road House would spontaneously attract people to it under many likely disaster scenarios. With advance community notification, this result could be assured. Whether the resulting congregation produces positive social relations despite the adverse conditions, or instead hits a negative critical mass of fear, frustration and stress, will turn largely upon how well this eventuality has been designed and prepared for.
The heart, then, of the present proposal is to furnish Schindler’s Kings Road House with supplies and equipment which would enable the site to be used as a temporary emergency “playground.” Which, in Schindler’s terms, is to say the social strategy is to deploy the house (and its post-disaster activities) precisely on the edge of that crucial boundary: the limins between “civilisation” and “culture.” The goal is to make the conditions for mere civilisation possible, yet not so far exceed this threshold that the window for a utopian culture closes.
Intervention Description: The proposed re-fitting of the Schindler House is intended to support up to 70 people for no more than 96 hours and would include the following elements:
Essential first-24-hour provisions such as water, food, blankets, matches, candles, batteries, fire extinguishers, etc. would be stockpiled in the utility room and stored in smaller quantities throughout the house.
Provisions for hours 25 through 96 would be stored in a variety of above-grade and underground caches elsewhere on the site, primarily in the area currently devoted to the vegetable garden. Access to these supplies would require the collaboration of teams of evacuees. Bulky supplies such as cord wood and water would also be stored in this area.
Additional outdoor rooms would be needed for shelter. The open lawn on the northeast corner of the property provides the largest single area for constructing temporary shelters. These shelters are not designed in advance of an actual disaster. Rather, in times of emergency, evacuees are provided tarps and support poles that may be used to create outdoor rooms. Due to the limited available space, collaborative decisions must be made among evacuees regarding the articulating of private spaces by way of shared (tarp) walls, creating public spaces, moving tarps in response to changing weather conditions, etc. The shifting external form of the resulting aggregate shelter(s) would reflect the state of communal discussion about group and individual responses to the crisis at any given time.
In conjunction with the above “tent city” or alone, additional protection is possible by using ropes to bend the tall perimeter stands of bamboo over the open lawns on the property, creating large arching canopies. Exterior courtyard areas would be kept open to maintain use of the fireplaces, and also for the psychological comfort of those who may want nothing overhead following a major earthquake. Cooking stations would be set up adjacent to these courtyards, in the “Chace” studios.
Shower facilities would be set up near the southwestern (lowest) corner of the site, to avoid drainage problems in other living areas. Portable toilets could be set up along the north lot line.
iii. Rescue and Repair
The utility room is outfitted with emergency equipment necessary for rescues, injuries, repairs, and other immediate neighborhood assistance: flashlights, gloves, shovels, axes, hand tools, rope, fasteners, coveralls, megaphones, first-aid supplies, rain gear, tarps, caulk, etc. The driveway and area just outside the utility room will serve as a staging area for rescue and work groups. Bulky equipment such as a portable generator and chainsaws, as well as flammable supplies, are located in the existing outbuilding at the southwestern extremity of the property.
Existing bathrooms are equipped with basic equipment and supplies for delivering first aid. The “RMS” studio and adjacent bathroom are dedicated to more serious injuries, for triage and recovery.
Recognizing the central role of media information in any disaster scenario, the “SPG” and “CBC” studios will be equipped with television and/or radio equipment to permit evacuees to monitor the situation together. To gather more specific, logistical information and to coordinate with disaster management officials, a communications center would be set up in the small room between the two “Chace” studios. Equipment would include landline and cellular telephones, fax machine, citizen’s band radio, and 800 MHz police scanner. This location is easily cabled to either sleeping basket, sites of the necessary transmitting and receiving antennae.
v. Other Measures
Abatement: concrete construction barriers and/or sandbags are placed along the edge of the property on Kings Road. These will help deflect rainwater and debris flowing toward the site from the northeasterly (uphill) direction. Graphic design elements borrowed from the program brochure from the 1990 Los Angeles Festival will be used to decorate the barriers.
Recreation: a dual-function basketball/volleyball court is set up on the abandoned back lot adjacent to the property at the southwest corner. Cutting or knocking down a section of the dilapidated fencing facilitates access.
Surveillance: convex mirrors are installed at selected locations to provide better visibility of the sleeping baskets, radio antennae and other vulnerable elements from points within the house.
Visibility: emergency lighting is installed in strategic positions to provide light in the first few hours following any power outage.