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For the last twelve years, Out There Doing It, the summer lecture series sponsored by the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design, has served as an important venue for emerging design talent. Set at the MAK Center for Art and Architecture at the Schindler House, this year’s series focused on collaboration. Each night presented two lecturers, paired on the basis of having worked together.

All lectures take place on Tuesdays at 7:00pm at the MAK Center for Art and Architecture at the Schindler House, 835 North Kings Road, West Hollywood.

Admission is free for current LA Forum Members, $7 for non-members, $5 for students with ID. Cash or checks only. No reservations accepted, first-come, first-seated.

SCI-Arc instructor and critic Kazys Varnelis reports on the first three nights which feature Marvin Rand with Lawrence Scarpa, Tom Farrage with Patrick Tighe, and Sarah Graham with Andrew Locke. The last two nights paired Studio 0.10 with Joey Shimoda and Michael Speaks with Christophe Cornubert.

July 24: Marvin Rand and Lawrence Scarpa

The first lecture, on July 24, featured architect Lawrence Scarpa and photographer Marvin Rand. The pairing underscored the role of architectural photography in shaping our perceptions of projects and highlighted the close working relationship that architects have with their photographers. Rand’s career predates Scarpa’s considerably, beginning in 1943 as a photographer for the Air Force. After the war, he worked as an advertising photographer in Los Angeles until he met noted architectural historian Esther McCoy, who introduced him to architectural photography. Rand recounted his experiences photographing many of Los Angeles’s greatest architects. He served as Welton Beckett’s photographer for twenty-five years, worked closely with Craig Ellwood, and spent five years documenting the Watts Towers. Through McCoy, Rand also discovered the work of Irving Gill and photographed it for the first major Gill exhibit at LACMA in 1958.

If Rand has collaborated with many architects, his work with Lawrence Scarpa is remarkable because it extends back to the very first project Scarpa did in 1988, which Rand was able to land on the cover of Angelino magazine. In his half of the lecture, punctuated appropriately with slides taken by Rand, Scarpa talked about a series of his projects, from the David Hertz Film Studio in Hollywood and the Venice Community Housing project built in collaboration with Jennifer Siegel, to an intervention in the Davie Brown Entertainment company’s warehouse.

Scarpa’s work demonstrated an interest in the use of surfaces to make space. This was evidenced by a desk for Reactor Films that acted as a wrapper creating a void and in the striking shrink-wrapped dressing room in the Davie Brown project. In an affordable housing project in Santa Monica, Scarpa demonstrated something that many of us hope to pursue: the development of a more sustainable form of inhabiting the earth. Even though connected to the grid, the Colorado and 5th project, already under construction, is anticipated to be 100% energy neutral. Scarpa explained that natural light and ventilation could augment or replace energy consuming systems while a series of solar panels built into the façade would generate power that could both satisfy the energy needs of the inhabitants and, at times, feed back into the grid, leading to a net zero energy consumption for the project.

The nature of the collaboration was explored at points in Scarpa’s lecture, in which Rand would add an explanation of the techniques behind the photography, and in questions after the lecture. It was revealing to understand the collaboration as one without a clear set of rules, in which the two would complement each other through differences as well as similarities of opinion. For example, whereas Scarpa stated that he preferred 3/4 shots and shots of details, Rand explained that he liked straight-on photos. Rather than being a mere implementer of the architect’s desires, the architectural photographer is also an artist, his task being to take content and reflect it creatively.

July 31: Tom Farrage and Patrick Tighe

The July 31 installment of “Out There Doing It” paired architect and legendary metal fabricator Tom Farrage with young architect Patrick Tighe. Unlike the previous week’s pairing, both members of this week’s group were architects. Although Farrage collaborated with Tighe when the latter worked for Morphosis and the two have subsequently worked together on Tighe’s recent independent projects, Farrage is also an architect in his own right, having established Nakao :: Farrage Architects in 1993. Farrage began his lecture by alluding to his days at SCI-Arc in the late 80s. There, Farrage worked closely with his thesis advisor Gary Paige. At one point, Farrage explained, Paige told him to find himself outside of architecture, in classes at a community college. Farrage turned to jewelry making and, upon his return to SCI-Arc, drew on that experience in the making of architecture. Farrage punctuated this with a remarkable, jewelry-like site plan for a prison. Together they spent a year working on understanding the properties of plywood – lamination and joining – for Paige’s Arcana Books project. Every day, Farrage explained, they would put together a new set of shelves, only to take them apart to start over again the next day. This seemingly endless, reflexive and iterative process has served Farrage well ever since. Soon, he opened a fabrication workshop, focusing largely on metal, but also engaging with wood, plastic, and glass. Farrage demonstrated a series of works in various scales: some small, some too big to accommodate in his shop without leaving the doors open. The projects he showed traversed the recent history of architecture in Los Angeles, from Morphosis to Wolf Prix to Gary Paige to Eric Owen Moss. For Farrage, the departure point in the creative act is understanding the properties of the materials involved and finding innovative ways to transform them.

Farrage also showed slides of a number of his projects that he has taken on as architect, among them Smashbox Studios in Culver City and a renovation of the studios for HSI Productions in Culver City. In these projects, Farrage demonstrated the payoff in having integrated the processes of scaling into his work from the start. If sculptural qualities have traditionally been confined to the realm of details and furnishings and spatial qualities have been created by buildings and larger structures, in these projects Farrage undid that distinction. A sculptural quality could be found not only in the individual details of these projects, but was also reflected in the building as a whole. Likewise, spatial experience could be generated not only by the larger structure but also within the details and furnishings.

Farrage’s lecture was followed by that of Patrick Tighe. Having served as project architect for Morphosis for seven years, Tighe opened the doors of his new firm, Tighe Architecture, in 2000. Like Farrage, Tighe shares the feeling that his architecture should be an immediate response to his environment and to the conditions of the given project. For Tighe, a series of conditions define the work: the intuitive nature of the sketch, a celebration of the physical, the tactile, and the experiential, an inspiration in art, and site. Tighe began with Jacobs Subterranean, a project for which he was honored with a National AIA Award. Inspired by the peculiar site – on a steeply sloping hill under the client’s existing Wallace Neff house – and by the client’s art collection, Tighe created a space that stood on its own conceptually, carefully shaping the viewer’s experience. Perhaps the most revealing of the other projects that Tighe showed was an art gallery in West Hollywood. The central feature of the project is a roof plane, shooting into infinity and clearly articulating the difference between the gallery and the attached residence. Here, Tighe demonstrated an interest in folding surfaces akin to that which Farrage had explored in his El Foldo chairs for Eric Moss, allowing the roof to fold down to become a wall and then, in turn, a fireplace. The result of this second night’s pairing, then, was to reveal how the processes of architectural form are not necessarily dissimilar to those of other forms of making. Indeed, in an era in which architecture is increasingly produced on the computer, it was refreshing to see work that demonstrated the continued viability of making as a form of research.

August 7: Sarah Graham and Alan Locke

August 7’s lecture was by architect Sarah Graham of Angelil/Graham Architecture and Alan Locke, of Ideas for the Built Environment [IBE]. If collaboration is the theme of the lecture series, it is hard to imagine two collaborators working more closely together that these two individuals/organizations. Together, Graham and Locke described a single project currently in the process of design, the Los Angeles Children’s Museum, located at Hansen Dam in the east end of the San Fernando Valley, and their collaboration together on it. As Graham described the museum, it became clear that not only had her firm worked closely with the IBE, they were also extending the idea of collaboration to the children who would come visit the museum. Rather than being a place for children to learn from static exhibits, the Los Angeles Children’s Museum is programmed as an event-space in which the children would become aware of both architecture and their environment by participating in it. The Children’s Museum consists of a series of fingers – partly structure, partly landscape – reaching out into the surrounding park, blurring the boundaries between architecture and landscape. Rather than understanding site as merely a context for the object, Graham strove to undo the distinction between the two. The result is simultaneously a building and an inflection in the texture of the surrounding park. But to describe the building merely in aesthetic terms, however, would be to miss the point of Graham’s collaboration with IBE. For Graham, aesthetics are inseparable from the operations of the project’s various systems, in particular the environmental system. Moreover, as Graham explained, the building’s educational mission is linked with its role as a sustainable building.

Thus, after a brief description of the project, Graham introduced Alan Locke. Locke had spent some 14 years with Ove Arup and Partners prior to opening IBE in 1999. IBE, Locke explained, focuses on more environmentally appropriate solutions, even if those solutions have to be compromised from a 100% green condition. Locke educated the audience with a distinction between an extreme form of green design, which he argued was tough to sell and difficult to realize, and an “80% sustainable” design. Locke reasoned that it is better to propose and achieve 80% sustainability rather than claim 100% sustainability while failing to convince the client of its necessity. To illustrate, Locke gave the example of a new campus for Temple Bat Yahm in Long Beach. There, he engineered a building that could be inhabited without air conditioning but, sensing his client’s weariness, provided a functioning air conditioning system. While the client had, in a sense, wasted their money on the system, they had peace of mind that allowed them to build the project confidently. As the clients have been comfortable and have obtained considerable savings by not turning on the air conditioning, they may consider omitting the air conditioning system in a future project. Locke explained that much of their practice consists of finding such ways to educate the client. Thus, while a client might expect a space that would be a constant 72 degrees, if they learned to dress with the seasons, they would find that some fluctuation is acceptable. IBE and Angelil/Graham saw the Children’s Museum as not merely an impressive design project that could be sustainable, but, more importantly, as a medium for educating the next generation about both architecture and the environment. By creating a project composed of five zones that engage the environment in different ways and by revealing the ways the environment is shaped in those zones, the collaborators made the building itself the museum’s prime teaching tool.

As Locke explained it, Zone 1 is tempered by wind that, having passed through a windbreak of trees to slow it down, is drawn over an exterior water feature that cools the air down. The heat the air acquires as it travels through the building pulls it out again through the roof. Zone 2 receives free air conditioning from air passing over concrete tubes buried in the earth. This, Locke pointed out, is similar to the technique they employed in the new Cathedral downtown. There, the thermal mass will be so great that air conditioning will be unnecessary. Zone 3 uses a form of evaporative cooling, dampening dry hot air to cool it. Zone 4, primarily occupied by the staff, uses a mixed mode system with an “appropriate” use of air conditioning. Zone 5 is a big glass greenhouse that will be heated with passive heat in the winter. As Locke admitted, precisely how it would cooled in the summer was still in the design stages. Just as the building’s distinction from the landscape is blurred, so, according to both Graham and Locke, has the distinction between both firms and, indeed, others, such as Rios for the landscape and Arup for the structural systems. The result is a building that educates children, and the rest of us, about the importance of such collaborations in creating new, more sustainable forms of building.

Kazys Varnelis teaches at the Southern California Institute of Architecture in Los Angeles and is a principal of Architecture Urbanism Design Collaborative [AUDC]. His website, www.varnelis.net is dedicated to architecture, network culture, and postmetropolitan urbanism.