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Transgressing Borders with Andrea Dietz

Opening Saturday, September 23, “Tu casa es mi casa” is a collaboration between the LA Forum, Archivo Diseño y Arquitectura, and the Neutra VDL Studio and Residences that connects two modernist houses in Los Angeles and Mexico City via the exchange of texts, objects, and installations by contemporary writers and architects/artists. Three California-based writers— Aris JanigianKatya Tylevich, and David Ulin —were asked to craft a letter to one of the three Mexico City–based design teams— Frida EscobedoPedro&Juana, and Tezontle, who responded with site-specific installations at the Neutra VDL House. In advance of Saturday’s opening, The Forum talked with Andrea Dietz, speaking on behalf of the curatorial team that also includes Mario Ballesteros, Sarah Lorenzen, and Mimi Zeiger, about finding connections across multiple borders.

Talk a bit about the ideas and motivations behind “Tu casa es mi casa.”

It was late 2015 when we began to formulate “Tu casa es mi casa.” At the time, there was a growing buzz around Mexico City – recognitions that the city was a rising hot spot for architecture and design. We, too, were excited by the work that we were seeing from young Mexican designers. It seemed that they were innovating a design movement, one that expressed culture and materiality, politics and craft, historical awareness and forward-facing perspectives together. We were hoping to influence local conversations with these synthesizing sensibilities. That, and, we were responding to an absence of content dedicated to contemporary architecture and design in the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA line-up. We felt strongly that the ongoing developments in architecture and design deserved representation amidst the otherwise sweeping review of the arts.

Of course, all of this was before the 2016 elections, before the rise in xenophobic vocalization and action. So, while our original intentions still apply, we now also see “Tu casa es mi casa” in an ambassadorial role. We hope that it inspires continued collaborations between the creative communities north and south of the US/Mexico border – and that it demonstrates a deep appreciation for the long-standing bonds out of which such exchanges might grow.

“Tu casa es mi casa” crosses several borders: national, disciplinary, and institutional. What insights have emerged from these overlaps?

“Tu casa es mi casa” is organized around our interest in the phenomena of translation: it started with a place, a house; the Neutra VDL Studio and Residences. It became text after our authors, Aris Janigian, Katya Tylevich, and David Ulin, captured in words their experiences of inhabiting the house. These texts, sent as letters to our design teams in Mexico City – Frida Escobedo Taller de Arquitectura, Pedro&Juana, and Tezontle – now are taking shape as installations for the Neutra VDL. Photographs by Adam Wiseman of the installations then will travel back to Mexico City as an exhibition for Archivo. Each step is a departure from one context and methodology to another – a leap of unexpected proportions. It’s the unexpected that we’ve been after, the potential and risk of the unknown. Not only are we excited by the invention inherent to such processes, we’re recognizing a productive stance in the admission of uncertainty.

How do the events around “Tu casa es mi casa” fit into this process?

“Tu casa es mi casa,” clearly, is not static; we want the translations to keep going. Each of our design teams will be giving presentations at one of the local architecture schools. There will be a panel discussion with the authors and the design teams at SCI-Arc the Friday before the installations open to the public. And, we’re developing a series of additional programs throughout the run of the show. We want these engagements to propel a conversation around transgressing borders.

Playing the Back 9 with John Malpede

“The Back 9” opens at the Skid Row History Museum and Archive on September 8. The exhibition, a collaboration between Materials & Applications, the Los Angeles Poverty Department, and Rosten Woo,is a playable educational golf course about zoning and redevelopment politics on Downtown LA. The Forum spoke to Los Angeles Poverty Department’s Artistic Director, John Malpede, about what it means to Play the Back 9.

How did this project come about?

LA Poverty Department makes art with people living in the Skid Row community. We make performances, exhibitions, festivals, parades etc. We are concerned about the future of this recovery neighborhood. We initiated this project several years ago, when we became aware of Recode: LA and the new community plans that would accompany it, as we feared it would open up Skid Row to development and lead to the displacement of the extremely low income residents of the neighborhood, suppress any who avoided displacement, and totally disregard the homeless people who gravitate Skid Row because that is where the services are.

Why design the exhibition as a miniature golf course?

“The Back 9” connotes a place where decisions are made in private, among the powerful that pre-determine what the public, participatory conversation will be. In this case, the in the works zoning and community plans are designed to overwhelm Skid Row with market rate development and ultimately to push out the current residents and create an environment where any current residents who are able to remain in their housing will find themselves living in inhospitable surroundings. Even if they avoid displacement their neighborhood will have been hi-jacked. We asked Rosten Woo to design the golf-course because of his unique ability to make policy things and government processes, intelligible, fun and visually exciting. From the inception of the project, the golf course was planned as an installation playable by the public and as the set for “ The Back 9” performance that LAPD presented in June that addressed the same issues.

Why focus on zoning and redevelopment politics?

LA Poverty Department’s mission: Los Angeles Poverty Department (LAPD) creates performances and multidisciplinary artworks that connect the experience of people living in poverty to the social forces that shape their lives and communities. LAPD created the Skid Row History Museum & Archive space in 2015, specifically to address issues of community and displacement in downtown LA. Recognizing that Broadway has always been a vital street for the Skid Row community, we were eager to do our civic duty of “bringing it back”,—though completely puzzled by the thought that it was somehow missing.

LA Forum at 30: Looking Forward with Ben Caffey

In honor of the LA Forum’s 30th Anniversary, this year Delirious LA occasionally features interviews with some of its founders. This week we continue our series with architect Ben Caffey. We spoke to Caffey about the LA Forum’s origins and critical role in the design community moving forward.

What were some highlights from your time with the LA Forum?

When my friend from graduate school, Christian Hubert, moved to Los Angeles and subsequently introduced me to Aaron Betsky, who had also recently moved to L.A., I was tremendously inspired by their enthusiasm to explore the enigma of the city which, to me as a native, had always been a curiosity. What started as an idea for a reading group, grew through their ambition into the Forum and subsequently included Doug Suisman, John Kaliski, and others. The biggest highlight was simply to meet and learn from the collective intelligence of this forward looking group.

What were some of the issues that the Forum started to tackle during your tenure?

I recall particularly Craig Hodgetts’s thoughtful talk where he posited “If the traditional city is like a 19th century symphony, with a clear hierarchical structure, Los Angeles is more like a John Cage or Phillip Glass piece with a unique structure and texture of surprises. We understood that L.A. by necessity would evolve, but that it should happen in a unique manner, and that one was therefore obliged to explore novel ways of transforming L.A. into its own version of a true urban city.

Our pamphlets were individually conceived publications in form as well as content.  The Central Office of Architecture created Recombinant Images, a series of individual photos in a vellum sleeve. These captured the ephemeral beauty of L.A. as a phenomenon. Gary Paige produced a sublime collection of Grant Mumford’s photos that document the city’s surreally mundane silence. And of course, there was Doug Suisman’s revelatory Los Angeles Boulevard.

Looking forward to the next 30 years, what advice do you have for the LA Forum?

Barton Myers compared Los Angeles to London in that smaller towns and communities had been absorbed or surrounded by the magma (my word) of the metropolis. These embedded figures with their stories and secrets in dialogue with the grid, are the stuff of mystery in L.A. (to say nothing of their overlay on the Ranchos and original settlements). I suggest studying the city itself—continuing to investigate the social geography of L.A., its roots of prejudice and greed from the past might form an interesting counterpoint to explore its future.

LA Forum Voices Project with Siobhán Burke

The LA Forum Voices Project is a collection of informal sound bites that vocalizes the origins, design culture and other inspirations that led to the founding of the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design 30 years ago. As a piece of our 2012 exhibition, Unfinished Business, the audio project is the beginning of a greater vision for incorporating new media and podcast archives to the Forum collection. The Forum spoke to the project creator Siobhán Burke about what it means to hear these voices and how they have influenced her work today.

We’re excited to be launching the LA Forum Voices project as a feature on our website.  You produced that oral history project for the 25 year retrospective Unfinished Business.  Can you tell us about the project and how it came about?

I have always been inspired by the stories of others, and I thought, Why not trace some of the institutional history of the LA Forum through an oral history project, and turn it into a StoryCorps type feature on an iPad? Our goals were to solicit soundbites from the founders, board alumni, and anyone who was a past contributor to the LA Forum.  We aimed to touch on a variety of themes and not to solely focus on the past.  It was important to keep the subjects relevant – whether it was discussing the infrastructure of our city as a “backstage” to Los Angeles or why it’s critical to continue giving a stage to the femmes fatales in our profession.  We ended up with 18 soundbites, edited and condensed to around 4 minutes each. Interviews were conducted in-person, via Skype, and were also self-recorded.  LA Forum Voices was a year-long project in the making from conception to installation of a listening station that Lyric designed for the exhibition at the WUHO Gallery in July 2012.

Does your firm Lyric Design and Planning take any cues from collecting stories such as these?

Absolutely!  Storytelling and listening is one of my biggest forms of research.  My firm Lyric Design & Planning focuses on public space design projects, ranging in location from Santa Monica to DTLA, Boyle Heights, and South LA.  While it’s impossible to be “of” every neighborhood that I work in, it is possible to dig deep into what matters most to the people around me.  I remind myself everyday to “Look closely, listen intently”.  It’s my motto. I can’t begin the work or the speculation until I hear what residents, business owners and activists in other communities have to say.  That might mean taking a site visit and informally interviewing folks that I meet, or going to panel events that aren’t necessarily geared toward my projects, but give me real insight into the key issues of a community, specifically those dealing with shifting demographics and economies.

I just wrapped up a Metro Rail to River project that will be converting a 30-foot long railroad right-of-way along Slauson Ave into a pedestrian path and 2-way bicycle – the tracks will be removed and the corridor will be lined with shade trees and a bioswale.  Before the project even started, I attended a talk hosted by Zócalo Public Square at Mercado La Paloma.  Over 100 people from the community came to listen. It was there that I heard one of the panelists, Jorge Nuño of Nuevo South urge his fellow residents to “improve, don’t move”, suggesting a recrafting of the gentrification narrative to be one of positive development without erasure of an important social history. I urge anyone working on projects that are not in their area of residence to dive deep into the social history of their sites: Look closely, listen intently.

What is the mission for Lyric Design and Planning?  And what role would you like to see the LA Forum play in the design community?

My greatest mission is to continue to keep my ear to the ground while building for a beautiful and sustainable public benefit.  My hope is that the web launch of LA Forum Voices instigates a new curiosity in the exchange of ideas in multiple formats while striving for diversity in the voices that are represented.

Defining Public Spaces with Astrid Sykes and Christopher Torres

Edited by landscape architects and L.A. Forum Board Members Astrid Sykes and Christopher Torres, the latest issue of the L.A. Forum Newsletter explores the nature of public space, finding new definitions and dimensions through the prism of Los Angeles’s urbanism. In honor of its release, the L.A. Forum spoke with Sykes and Torres about the newsletter’s themes and their favorite semi-public places in the city.

The focus of the Summer 2017 newsletter is public space in Los Angeles. How did you arrive on this theme?

CT + AS: Since joining the LA Forum board in 2016, we have been wanting to curate a newsletter focused on public space. We both work in landscape architecture and urbanism practices and are fortunate to be part of some great public space projects in Los Angeles. With that work we have come to understand how sticky the term ‘public’ can be, and because of its complexity, how interesting it is to us. The very notion of a singular definition of public space is made void when examined through the lens of a city like Los Angeles that is defined by multiple publics, all connected or overlapping through the milleu of everyday life. Given the rising inclusion of public space in most design projects across the city, It’s clear that Angelinos are seeking moments for meaningful interaction and to live in a much more public way than past generations.

In your editorial, you discuss a developing “trajectory of opening up spaces to become more public, more inclusive, and more democratic faces an uncertain future”. How did the current political situation affect your editorial approach?

CT + AS: It was fascinating working on this issue through the 2016 presidential election. Many of our discussions to determine the newsletter’s direction were simultaneously playing out in the political arena. Questions such as ‘Who has a right to the city?,” “What is the role of public space in how we protest in a digital age?,” and locally, “Will Angelinos rise up and resist?” It was inspiring to be part of the demonstrations in downtown and LAX; seeing Angelinos quickly resist the regression threatening the public ideals we value. We believe in the importance of discourse on the state of public space, because without discussions such as those in this newsletter it becomes all too easy to take for granted what a special place in our society public space holds, both as a symbol of democracy and as a place that we all connect with on a personal level.

Your editorial mentions that “public” space in Los Angeles is sometimes appropriated, semi-private space, a blurred boundary. What are some of your favorite semi-public spaces in the city?

AS: I was lucky to be involved in the making of the Hauser + Wirth courtyard and garden – the use of this space by gallery visitors and the Arts District community was instantaneous and powerful. The gallery as a public paseo opens up an important conversation on the opportunities for alternative uses of interstitial spaces, and the importance of permeability in our changing city.

I think Los Angeles museums are providing provocative outdoor spaces where one can experience new types of interactions. For example, LACMA’s campus has become a beloved, well-programmed park space with Burden’s Urban Lights and Heizer’s Levitated Mass creating collisions that inspire my work.

CT: I’m interested in the semi-private vistas of the city, moments that remove you from the ground plane and provide a perspective of the region’s horizontal landscapes. Some of my favorite spots are the elevated walkways connecting the Bonaventure Hotel, the Home Depot rooftop parking deck in East Hollywood, and the Japanese Village Plaza parking garage roof in Little Tokyo. With the exception of the promontories of the Santa Monica Mountains and Baldwin Hills, there are few truly public moments to see the whole city; yet they are such a unique and necessary public experience for any city to have.

Exploring ‘Thick’ with Maxi Spina

On view at the SCI-Arc gallery until August 13, Maxi Spina: Thick explores the elusive condition of material thickness in architectural design through the topics of sections, ruins, fragments, constructions, figurations, simultaneity and representation. The LA Forum spoke to Spinagu’s Maxi Spina about what it means to explore thickness.

Why should we explore thickness?

Thickness in this project is a decoy for “the real,” for a set of questions posed around the tensions between architectural representation and architectural construction, about the translation between the two. In one way, it is a thought experiment around the representational conventions of material thickness how do we show something is thick?

How is thickness a constructive and representational problem?

Material thickness seems to always exist in representational form, whether it is an offset line or an offset surface. In traditional drawing, the appearance of thickness, the representation of thickness primarily depends on three architectural drawing conventions: the edge, the section, and the shadow. Edges are like sections in that they show the thickness of materials, but edges also describe the end of a material condition and are visible to the naked eye. Sections are the hidden figures within forms that are excavated through an imaginary cut line — but they are not actually visible as they are describing an unseen condition of the project. Sections can be described by lines, or they can be filled as in poche. Choissy’s drawings incorporate all of these within his archeological study, and the use of edges, sections and shadows are used unilaterally in the drawing to produce the form. None is privileged as a single mode of representation.

But material thickness is also about construction. You assign thickness when you begin to construct something, when the object acquires the specificity of real materials. That’s when it begins to take on thickness. And this really catches up to you at some point in a project. It causes problems.

What does materiality mean in the digital age?

I’m interested in how software and environment and working habits are inflecting upon our very definition of materiality, and how we can work through these inflections in a creative and thoughtful way. For example, think about how we render materiality onto objects, and assign properties to such materials, whether through UV mapping, bumps, or image mapping. Many people tend to think of this as just a form of representation, as representing something outside the screen. But this activity of rendering, of assigning properties, is also a decisive act. As digital objects are gaining new properties and definitions, I am interested in seeing how this can be brought back out to the physical environment, and what new working methods might evolve out of the literalness by which we translate our digital process into material and physical ones.

Clocks and Clouds with Frank Escher

Clocks and Clouds: The Architecture of Escher Gunewardena opens at the AD&A Museum at UC Santa Barbara on July 8th. The exhibition, a mid-career survey of the LA firm founded by Frank Escher and Ravi Gunewardena, highlights Escher Gunewardena’s generous and boundary-blurring exploration with art, craft and architecture. The Forum spoke to Frank Escher, a former LA Forum president, about his work, upcoming monograph and exhibition, and the future role of the Forum.

The title of both your monograph and UCSB exhibition, Clocks and Clouds, refers to a Karl Popper lecture on rationality and freedom. How does this lecture relate to your work?

In his famous lecture “Of Clouds and Clocks”, Karl Popper talks about his earlier scientific and philosophical thinking in relation to these opposites: determinism –arising from rational thinking (clocks) – and chance (clouds). Popper argues that most things, systems or phenomena are neither only clocks nor clouds, but fall somewhere in between.

Our book is structured around four interviews that editor Lilian Pfaff conducted with Ravi and me. In the first interview we talk extensively about ‘Clocks and Clouds’. To us it has to do with what in the art of architecture is measurable, and what is not measurable. We have always been interested in developing an internal logic, or a system of constraints to provide us with a precise intellectual structure. It can be as banal as a system of dimensions and proportions, but this internal structure is “measurable”, it has its own logic and can lead to its own conclusions. On the other hand, we have always been interested in the idea of chance, the random and accidental. What we cannot and should not control have always been part of our thinking, such as how a material ages/transforms through human interaction, or through other processes that you cannot control. These two seemingly conflicting ideas, the desire to establish “order” and the acceptance of the “accidental” is something we try to develop in our work.

How has your work in historic preservation influenced your practice?

We do not exist in a cultural vacuum – what surrounds us, influences us. It is difficult to work as an architect in Los Angeles without confronting, in one way or the other, the city’s rich architectural history. In our case, this history has led to us not only working on the restoration of iconic buildings, but we have worked on books and exhibitions, artists’ projects, and with historic archives and collections. We’ve even developed the libretto for a four act opera on Rudolf Schindlers wife, ‘Pauline‘, which was performed in 2013 at the Schindler House.

These two sides of our practice reflect not only Ravi’s and my own interests, they very much reflect the cultural conditions of Los Angeles: the laboratory of twentieth century architecture that is now a global center for contemporary art. We have always been interested in connecting these two worlds, the overlaps and the interstice.

What role would you like to see the Forum play now that it’s entering its 30thyear?

The Forum has the advantage of being nimble: an organization small enough to be well-connected and integrated in the architectural community, in particular with younger practitioners. But one has always also talked about the dis-advantage of not having a larger staff, or a fixed locale that would be known to the Angeleno architectural community, similar to the Architectural League of New York. Over the years there have been different ideas for locales, and despite the important collaborations with the MAK Center/Schindler House, WUHO gallery and now the VDL House, the Forum should eventually have its own space for lectures and exhibitions.

The important role for the Forum is to not simply provide dialogue within the architectural community, but with the city’s larger community. We must remember that the various schools in Los Angeles all have their respective and interesting academic agendas, lectures and exhibition programs. The Forum could be an important connector between the various schools through individual board and advisory members, and by expanding discourse beyond the confines of a particular school. We must further remember that, except for the Getty, none of the local museums have a dedicated architecture program and/or curator. Here the Forum could play an important role in generating content for these institutions: a regular series of panels, discussions or presentations at one of the local museums.

Learning from Las Vegas with Stefan Al

Noted Dutch academic, architect, and urban designer Stefan Al’s new book The Strip: Las Vegas and the Architecture of the American Dream explores the architecture of the Las Vegas Strip as a refraction of American values and modern-day capitalism. In anticipation of the book’s LA launch, hosted by the LA Forum on Tuesday, June 13, the Forum spoke with Al about the unique connections between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. 

What can Los Angeles learn from Las Vegas and vice versa?

Back in the 1940s, Las Vegas learned from Los Angeles how to build car-oriented architecture. The Flamingo Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, built by the infamous “Bugsy” Siegel, had a facade angled towards the road and a metal pylon with a neon flamingo, both beckoning drivers. It was designed by George Vernon Russell — an architect representative of the “Googie” architectural style, after the Googie coffee shop on the Sunset Strip, in Los Angeles. The Flamingo set a new standard for resorts on the Strip.

Since the 1930s, Los Angeles had the country’s largest percentage of single-family home and car ownership. Los Angeles had become the experimental ground for new buildings catering to the car, including drive-in fast-food restaurants. These buildings appropriated their clean lines and curvaceous forms from automobiles, symbolizing the new era of the car. Las Vegas developers like Mr. Siegel eagerly appropriated this new aesthetic and building type, which represented a more exiting suburban lifestyle, to which so many Americans aspired. It helped propel Las Vegas into the glamorous tourist destination of the Rat Pack days.

Considering both cities have iconic “strips” within their urban fabric, what are some similarities and differences between them?

Back in the 1940s, the Sunset Strip was the world’s most famous commercial strip. Today, the Las Vegas Strip has overtaken that title. The Vegas Strip was built on change. Since its beginning, Vegas developers have surfed waves of social, cultural and economic change to build casinos so compelling that they actually drew vacationers to the Mojave Desert. Not lingering in nostalgia, developers would destroy their previous creations for the next new thing, earning Las Vegas the title “Implosion Capital of the World.”

The fact that the Strip keeps updating itself to the latest fad obviously leads to destruction and waste; on the other hand, it has created innovative buildings and experiences that attract many to the desert. Las Vegas was a ghost town a century ago, but forty-two million people visited the desert city in 2015—ten million more than Paris. The Strip adapted to changing trends with such overwhelming financial success that it has even become a global model for urban development. Macau reclaimed hundreds of acres of the South China Sea, only to build a Las Vegas-style Strip. Even Singapore built its new flagship business district around a Las Vegas-style resort.

for•um•ing

As we continue celebrating Forum’s 30th year, we’re taking some time to reflect on our past and plan for our future. To help us in that critical self-reflection, we’re reconsidering the very significance of our identity: what precisely does it mean to be a “Forum” in Los Angeles? Peeling out the diverse applications of our core practice, we get:
[verb]
for•um•ing \ˌfȯr-əm-ˈiŋ\
a: to instigate dialogues on design and the built environment through public programming, exhibitions, and publications.
b: to take a curatorial stance framing and challenging what architecture means in an evolving city, understanding L.A. is a catalytic place for architecture and design, and offering lessons that extend globally.
c. mentoring, collaborating, learning, honoring, debating, exploring, listening, making, provoking, speculating, discussing, connecting, drinking, thinking, opposing, envisioning, . . . . .
How Forum continues to instigate architecture/urbanism discourse in Los Angeles will depend on you, our community — join us today.

Finding Order, Edge, and Aura with SO – IL’s Florian Idenburg

SO – IL’s first book, “Solid Objectives: Order, Edge, Aura” is a visual and textual manifesto and a collection of built and unbuilt projects, texts, processes and experiments from the firm’s first eight years of work (2008-2016). On May 21 at 4pmSO – IL’s Florian Idenburg and Jing Liu will discuss the book’s conceptual themes with photographer Iwan Baan and Johnston Marklee’s Mark Lee at Arcana Books. In advance of the Los Angeles book launch, the LA Forum talked to Idenburg about the book’s design process and the firm’s interests in interconnected spaces.

The new book is an expression of SO – IL’s interest in an “interconnected environment”, which is in turn reflected in the book itself, conceived as a thoughtful sequence of spatial events, filmic frames, and experiments. How did you approach this monograph and what can it illustrate about SO – IL’s design methodology?

First of all, we did not want to approach the book as a traditional monograph, with our projects ordered in some sort of way – in time, or location or such. We wanted to have the book approximate an architectonic experience, as if you are moving through space. The book is organized around three points of gravity, order, edge and aura. Order speaks about organization, the way in which solid and void enables and disables actions to occur. It speaks about organizational attitudes. Edge speaks about the space where these organizations touch their situation or site. It speaks about the interfaces, thresholds and frames. The last part speaks about the material presence of the architecture. Elements of our projects are organized around these three poles. The book is also very tactile, it was important to us that the tectonics of the book were also considered. This trajectory from order, to edge and then aura is interspersed with a number of texts, both long and short. The long ones describe a project in detail, the short ones are reflections on architectural issues. Together it could be understood as an attitude towards architecture.

In an excerpt from the book published last year in the Architect’s Newspaper, you advocated for the reclaiming of interiors as public space. What is architecture’s role within this “collective interiority”?

Architecture should enable events to happen. Function is merely a currency to buy space. But function hardly occurs as envisioned. It changes constantly. Architecture therefore should not be about allocating program, but should be about how it enables people to act / be in space. With regards to the interior, architecture could be more accommodating of a collectivity, for instance in how we envision spaces in which work and dwelling happens.

Given SO – IL’s international background, how has opening a practice in New York impacted the firm’s trajectory? Imagining an alternate reality, in what ways would the firm’s work be different if you had chosen Los Angeles instead?

L.A, like, New York, is a very international city. One could argue that New York is more looking to Europe and LA more to Asia. We operate everywhere, but I would argue that New York is more ‘civic’ and L.A. more environmental. The transformations currently taking place in LA are very interesting, and could make L.A. a model for many global cities, as it wrestles through combining a more environmentally conscious sprawl city with a walkable and dense downtown. We are very interested in working in L.A. and even toy with the idea of having an office. A lot of our work uses membranes and lighter materials, that are more suitable to the L.A. environment, so who knows, hopefully in the future we get a chance to further explore some of these ideas.

Celebrating Our 30th Year: Looking Forward with Doug Suisman

In honor of the LA Forum’s 30th anniversary, this year Delirious LA will occasionally feature interviews with some its founders. This week we continue our series with Doug Suisman, urban designer, architect and author of Los Angeles Boulevard: Eight X-rays of the Body Public. We spoke to Suisman about the LA Forum’s origins and critical role in the design community moving forward.


What were some of the issues that the Forum started to tackle during your tenure, and what are some that you would like to see the Forum tackle now?

For me the great service the Forum provided was a sense of community for young architects, especially those beginning to arrive in the city in growing numbers from other places. Architects who taught or studied in local architecture schools had a built-in framework and a community. But for those of us who had studied elsewhere, and then moved to LA to work in offices, it could be hard to find a foothold in the broader professional community. The Forum brought people together – practitioners, students, scholars, artists, critics, academics, entrepreneurs – who might not have otherwise connected. I think of it as a kind of USO for design.

That was then, when LA’s innovative architecture scene was young and evolving. Now it is fully established and explosively enlarged – the city arguably has the largest concentration of design talent in the world and its influence is global. I do hope the Forum continues to provide the kind of community for young architects it always has. But I also hope the Forum goes beyond the great professional initiatives it has always undertaken to look at the larger social context that architecture operates in. We have taken formalism and starchitecture about as far as they can go – now we have a new period of corporatism and gigantism in the profession, of enormously successful firms operating globally and on projects of enormous scale.

In this new age, what role does architecture play in society? Do we build anything for anybody who has the money to pay? For kleptocracies? For corporations that pollute? And most urgently today, for an administration that is weaponizing fear and hatred to divide people with walls and thereby “win”? I hope the Forum will challenge its members politically, and that the community that the Forum represents will say “never” to participating in the construction of those kinds of walls.


How did the pamphlet series come about?

I think the idea came from Steven Holl’s influential pamplets, which he produced in the late 1970’s in New York. Many of these booklets were very inventive ways of looking at the interrelationship between New York’s urban and architectural forms. When they started the Forum, Christian Hubert and Aaron Betsky were undoubtedly familiar with these pamphlets, and I suspect it inspired them to try something similar for Los Angeles. One of the very first Forum pamplets, Craig Hodgett’s “Swimming to Surburbia” was both inventive and amusing — less self-serious than Holl’s — and it gave me a real sense of how LA’s architectural culture differed from New York. That inspired me to start thinking of a pamphlet about LA’s boulevards that would combine Holl’s formal rigor with Craig’s narrative flair. At the time, the Forum’s little books were literally stapled together, and none of us imagined that the series, or the Forum for that matter, would continue for thirty years or more!


Looking forward, what role would you like to see the LA Forum play in the design community?

I’d love to see the Forum take a fresh look at how the city, architecture, and the profession have changed since its founding, and then plot a course that keeps the Forum relevant for the next generation. The level of architectural design in Los Angeles is extraordinarily high, and I’m happy to say the quality of urban design is also catching up to that high standard. As LA enters a period of almost unprecedented growth, how do we create a more beautiful, sustainable and humane setting for life, and how do we maintain those special qualities that make Los Angeles its own kind of city? How do we make sure that everyone is housed, and that our shared values as a city are expressed through its architecture? Those are challenges that the Forum is uniquely well positioned to address.

Amplifying Urbanism with Lorcan O’Herlihy

Lorcan O’Herlihy is reimagining the way public and private spaces creatively interact. His newest book, Amplified Urbanism, situates O’Herlihy’s work within the larger urban consequence of Los Angeles, and features essays by critics and journalists who examine the city in the broadest sense via infrastructure, ecology, and civic engagement. The Forum spoke to O’Herlihy, ahead of his In The Gutter event on April 29th at SL11024.

What is Amplified Urbanism?

Amplified Urbanism is a strategy developed by LOHA, which uses unconventional and unexpected design principals to create transformational environments.  Amplified Urbanism seeks to reimagine the creative interaction between public and private spaces, emphasize social and civic connections, and work within existing ecological and infrastructural patterns. Ultimately, this methodology catalyzes positive connections that radiate far beyond a structure’s immediate boundaries and redefines broader communities.

Why was it important for you to have your essays written by people who are outside the world of architecture?

The goal of this publication is to provoke conversations about how cities may become more dynamic, sustainable and productive environments for all. The book highlights how the tenets of Amplified Urbanism have been successfully implemented by LOHA, and how they may be used by others in all to cultivate vibrant communities.
Amplified Urbanism’s seven authors present and analyze interdisciplinary ideas from cultural, civic, and ecological leaders, which provide readers with intriguing insights and compelling points-of-view about diverse dimensions of city life – from radical new forms of public performance art and unorthodox community gatherings to innovative infrastructure strategies related to evolving transportation networks and sensitive urban flood plains.

What made you decided to make this book?

In 1999, LOHA published a monograph with Oscar Reira Ojeda, and since then we have been invited to create other monographs of our recent work. However, this time around, rather than creating a traditional publication that would simply mirror the content of LOHA’s website, we wanted to develop a book of compelling and intriguing ideas about complex and evolving urban conditions. We decided to self-publish Amplified Urbanism, in order to complete the book as quickly as possible and kick-start a broad conversation about the publication’s thought-provoking content.

Talking Unmentionables with Annie Chu

Hosted by Woodbury University’s Interior Architecture department, the Unmentionables Symposium is a 2-day event that focuses on providing unrestricted terrain to the notions of critical interiority and the constructed environment. The Forum spoke to Annie Chu,the symposium’s chair, about what it means to be “Unmentionable”.

How did this symposium come about?

The symposium is part of the initiation of the Master of Interior Architecture program at Woodbury University. A core group of Woodbury Interior Architecture faculty, Randy Stauffer, Annie Chu, Kristin King and Heather Peterson identified the need for a scholarly symposium to highlight issues relevant to and perhaps even the raison d’être of the emerging discipline of interior architecture.

Why name the symposium unmentionables?

The name came about as an initial reaction to the narrow focus of contemporary architecture education, including the prevalence of technique driven methodologies and focus on form making; the committee began exploring the definition of the discipline and articulating its potential for knowledge production and emerging practices.  We concluded that the existing paradigm of architecture vs. interior, and outside vs. inside are non-productive models for understanding the potential of interior architecture as practice and as inquiry. We believe that ‘the emergent (ideas operative for interior architecture) is likely to come from the least acknowledged, mined and understood condition of the present – those things we dare not say (in architecture schools in particular) or fail to mention – the subjects that go unspoken’ hence ‘Unmentionables’.

What is something you would like people to walk away with from this symposium?

The EPA indicated that the average American spends 93% of their life indoors, that is 87% of their life in the interior spaces of structures, and 6% of their lives in automobiles (another type of interior).  So much of our memories and experiences are staged in interiors, there is seldom a dream or a cultural product that do not rely on or respond to interior conditions as its scaffold or prompt. Interiors are constant and ubiquitous experiences in our daily lives, yet our knowledge of its effect and its potential for critical research are some of the most underexplored aspects of our human condition.

Advocating for the NEA with Jeff Speck

Last week, President Trump’s administration released a proposed 2018 budget that eliminated funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, among other agencies. Created in 1965, the NEA “funds, promotes, and strengthens the creative capacity of our communities by providing all Americans with diverse opportunities for arts participation” and has been a critical resource for the LA Forum throughout its thirty year history. To understand the importance of the NEA’s work in the design community, the LA Forum talked to Jeff Speck, a city planner and Design Director of the NEA from 2003-2007, now based in Brookline, MA. 

 

Could you describe some of the work the NEA does to raise awareness of design and urban issues?

In the design discipline, which has been a part of the NEA from its beginning, the Agency works in two main ways: it gives grants to non-profits all over the country that need help promoting and advancing design in all its forms; and it creates and runs special programs—called Leadership Initiatives—where it sees an unmet need. For its grant-making, the Agency pulls together expert panels twice a year to ensure that funding goes to those organizations with the best, the most exciting, and the most impactful ideas. Its grants are only as good as the best that America has to offer. . . so that’s pretty good. Many of these are directed straight at raising awareness of design and urban issues, including museum exhibits, books and websites, public planning workshops, and design events like Open House Chicago, the annual weekend festival that turns that city’s architecture into one big, free, living museum. I’ll talk about Leadership Initiatives ahead.

What impact do you think defunding the NEA would have on the architecture and urban design communities, and cities in general?

Better to look to the past and ask what outcomes we now cherish were made possible by NEA design grants. These include the design competition for the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, the preservation of St. Louis’ Union Station and the warehouses of Manhattan’s South Street Seaport, the publishing of Learning from Las Vegas, and the creation of the GSA’s Design Excellence Program, which brought high design to decades of federal building construction all around the US. That’s just the tip of an iceberg that is thousands of grants deep. A future without an NEA would be future in which we miss out on subsequent generations of similar accomplishments.

In your tenure as the NEA Design Director, what were some of the highlights and accomplishments that you’re most proud of?

As a City Planner, I was proud to help lead the Mayors’ Institute on City Design, the NEA Leadership Initiative that teaches city planning fundamentals to U.S. Mayors—about forty each year—and helps them solve the most pressing urban design challenges facing their cities. A handful of this program’s 1,000-plus graduates are now in Congress, and one hopes that they will fight to save it—and the NEA. This program has helped to change the face of so many American communities, as you can see at micd.org. I also managed to help start a new Initiative of my own, the Governors’ Institute on Community Design, which helps U.S. governors combat suburban sprawl. It too, lives on—for now, along with other key programs directed exclusively at the small towns of rural America. But it is hard to have hope for these programs, and for executive branch agencies like the NEA, in the face of an executive whose best design idea is gold curtains.

 

Measure S with Alan Loomis & Richard Platkin

On Tuesday, March 7, Los Angeles residents will have the chance to vote on Measure S, aka the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative: a controversial proposal aimed at reforming the planning system by ceasing certain developments until particular changes to the code are made. The Los Angeles Times has a concise explainer for the initiative here. Measure S stands to make a significant impact not only on immediate planning and development issues, but will also affect the implementation of other far-reaching ballot measures voters approved back in November — specifically, for public transit (Measure M) and housing the homeless (Measure HHH).

In the interest of conveying the complexity of Measure S, and exploring its potential implications for a future Los Angeles urbanism, The Forum interviewed two planning professionals on either side. On the “No” side, we spoke with Alan Loomis, Deputy Director for Urban Design & Mobility at City of Glendale, and on the “Yes” side we spoke with Richard Platkin, a former LA City Planner now teaching at USC with a focus on sustainable city planning.

 

What is your stance on Measure S?

RP: I am strongly in favor of Measure S. I have written columns on planning issues for several years through Ron Kaye’s LA and now for CityWatchLA and Progressive Planning. Measure S fit right into my existing pro-planning position

AL: It is an exceptionally blunt and poor way to conduct public policy and planning. If I were a resident of Los Angeles (I live in Pasadena), I would vote against it.

What do you think of the public debate around Measure S? 

AL: It’s been healthy and productive. On the one hand, there has been an educational discussion about arcane topics like variances, general plans and community plans — subjects that are part of the day-to-day mechanics of planning. As a planner, I believe any public conversation about our profession is good. But more importantly, the Measure S debate has also provoked a public reflection on the kind of city we are building, the kind of city we aspire to build, and who will benefit in this city. It’s clear from the press reports that the Measure S supporters stand for the status quo, if not a regressive and suburban vision of the city where the current “haves” continue to benefit. Whereas the “No on S” coalition believe in a more inclusive city, with a range of housing opportunities, transit options — a city that is somewhat different and more utopian than the one we live in today. We have been slowly moving towards the “No on S” or “Yes to LA” city, but I think it’s been good to have this vision stated out in public for discussion and debate.

RP: I think it is at a very low level, especially the choice of the No on S consultant, SG&A, to erroneously claim this voter initiative is anti-development, anti-housing, and blocks affordable housing. The debate should be on planning versus real estate speculation determining land use and infrastructure in Los Angeles. I also find the faux liberal critique of planning and zoning, that it is a scheme of well-off homeowners to stick it to renters, to be extremely unpersuasive. This is because the class basis of land use decisions in LA is big real estate firms paying off elected officials to get beneficial spot-zoning and spot-general plan amendments to maximize their profits. The victims are both homeowners and apartment renters.

How would Measure S alter the Los Angeles landscape?

RP: Measure S has the potential for the City of Los Angeles to finally use a rational planning process, rather than the ups and downs of real estate speculation, to make decisions about land use and supportive public infrastructure and public services.

AL: In the long run, probably not much at all, Measure M will be far more consequential. As you will recall, Measure M was voted in November 2016, and is a County-wide 1/2 cent sales tax, which will funnel billions of dollars into transportation and transit infrastructure for decades to come. So the 20 or 40-year trajectory of Los Angeles development will focus on key centers and corridors served by transit, which will inevitably densify and continue to see renewed investment, jobs, amenities and housing. In the short-term, if Measure S passes, it will create a five-year bureaucratic mess in LA City Hall.

What are you thoughts on the 5-year review plan for the General Plan, on both an ideological and logistical level?

AL: Ideologically, there should be a regular review and update of the General Plan, but logistically I would program it on eight or 10-year increments. Five years is really too frequent. First, if you consider that the average building of any decent size takes almost five years to design, engineer and build, there would be relatively little factual, on-the-ground change for an updated plan to respond to. Secondly, a major planning effort involving public participation can take upwards of five years, so such a cycle would commit planning staff and the public to perpetual outreach and “visioning”. Third, the scale of the General Plan in Los Angeles is vast, and the City simply doesn’t have enough planners to update the plan every five years.

In Glendale, where I oversee our Community Plan program, we’ve had two, sometimes three, planners working for the past four years on our latest Community Plan — and mind you, Glendale is divided into four Community Plan areas, whereas one Los Angeles Community Plan areas is the size of Glendale as a whole. So there is a serious staffing issue (which is ultimately a budget and priorities issue) that makes the five-year schedule absolutely unrealistic for LA. Finally, Community Plans should be updated on a schedule that interlocks with other planning programs mandated by the State, such as the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, the Regional Transportation Plan, the Census and American Community Surveys — data and requirements coming from these plans should inform the Community Plans. And regional planning cycle operates on a eight and/or 10 year schedule.

RP: This is the professional standard for local community plans, while the standard for mandatory citywide elements, like housing, transportation, conservation, safety, and the optional elements, such as air quality, infrastructure, service systems, and health should be every 10 years. From an ideological level, I think this is essential for a city as large and complex as Los Angeles to be properly governed, although without the monitoring unit and monitoring program mandated by the General Plan Framework, the regular plan updates will be much less useful. Furthermore, even with Measure S’s much tougher charter findings for general plan amendments, it will take enormous vigilance to make sure these new Charter sections are adhered to. At present, findings for all discretionary actions are so loose that over 90 percent of requests are approved with conditions that are seldom enforced.

From a logistical point of view, as a 20 year veteran of LA city planning, I have no doubt that this is doable, but it will require the transfer of planners from assignments focused on various zoning entitlements to positions focused on planning.

From a planning / urban design point of view, do you believe that LA should have a two-year building moratorium?

RP: If the City Council, City Planning Commission, and City Planning Department had not deliberately ignored the planning process, the two-year moratorium would not be necessary. But, this has been their practice since the early 1990s, so I think the moratorium is necessary to make sure the necessary staff are available and that city planning managers will keep their eye on planning issues, not drift back to zoning cases because of pressure from elected officials and real estate developers.

In terms of urban design, The Framework has an excellent chapter on urban design that has been totally ignored at City Hall. It also has appended new chapters on residential, commercial, and industrial design that have been totally ignored in zoning decisions and general plan amendments. Hopefully an update of the general plan can finally make these design standards, and many more, front and center in the planning process.

AL: A two-year moratorium is insane. Arguably the reason for a building moratorium, if voted by City Council, is to halt development of a specific type while new regulations related to that type are updated, and there should be some kind of urgency or public health purpose behind the need to curb development while new regulations are drafted. As I mentioned above, there is no way the 35 Community Plans of LA can be updated in two years, so the Measure S moratorium seems to be simply a bold-faced attempt to halt development, period, without any sincere desire for corrective action to allow well conceived development to move forward in the future.

If Measure S does pass, and LA does face a two-year building moratorium, there will be the loss of construction jobs, housing opportunities, inflation of rents, and all the other consequences already written about by other commentators. However, one consequence I haven’t heard anyone discuss is the impact on neighboring cities like Glendale, Burbank, Pasadena, Culver City, Santa Monica, and so on. The Measure S moratorium will not eliminate the demand and pressure for housing and development — like Play-Doh being pushed, it will simply be squeezed into other areas. As a planning practitioner in two of those cities (Glendale and Pasadena) I fear we could face enormous development pressures if Measure S passes, which might have huge political ramifications for us.

What are your thoughts on the city’s quantity of development vs. its quality of development?

AL: Neither is good enough. We should produce more, and it should be of better quality. There are moments of individual brilliance, but on the average, new development in Los Angeles seems fairly mundane. Of course, your basic housing type and building block of the city doesn’t demand or warrant architectural genius every time — but I am dismayed that our housing choices seem to fall into three categories: single family home, dingbat apartment, and the five story stacked flat. In LA of all places, I’d hope and expect to see innovative forms of higher density housing that incorporate the outdoor amenities of the single family house. I think this is one reason Small Lot development is so popular — it provides something resembling a single-family house lifestyle in a multi-family form. But there really needs to be many more models of this type.

On the other hand, there is also something depressing that people will rally and fight to protect the banal ugly one story strip mall environment that is most of LA’s boulevards rather than see a new building. Apparently they believe that new building will degrade their environment more than what exists today — it isn’t a ringing endorsement for the public faith in architecture and development. We really need to do better.

RP: I think that development should be understood as the entire built environment, not just real estate construction and sales. From this point of view, investment in public infrastructure — such as transit, bike lanes, sidewalks, street lighting, urban forests, parks and recreation, libraries, and all related categories — is far too small. As for private investment, the business model of developers ensures that their projects are for the well-off since that is where the profits are. They do not, therefore, simply ignore the middle class and low-income people; their dedication to real estate speculation leads to the loss of affordable housing through mansionization, small lot subdivisions, the demolition of small apartment houses, and the construction of luxury housing.

What do you believe the future of LA should be?

RP: I think LA needs to make a dramatic transition to sustainable infrastructure and design, a course I taught at USC. This can only take place through comprehensive planning, including a new climate change general plan element. The State of California already has detailed resources for this new element, and more progressive California cities have already prepared and adopted such an element. It also means that City Hall must follow CEQA by only approving the environmentally superior alternatives, not the worst environmental alternative through unverifiable statements of overriding consideration.

AL: LA is immensely fascinating when you realize it is basically a suburban, auto/freeway-oriented urban form developed for Anglo-American prejudices that is now being retrofitted with transit lines, density nodes, and cultures from around the world that have very different expectations about what it means to live in a city. I think we are seeing hybrid forms of urbanity never witnessed before, whether it’s the Latino urbanism grafted onto craftsman homes in Boyle Heights, or suburban Chinatowns in Alhambra and Arcadia, or the remaking of places like Wilshire Boulevard, LACMA and Exposition Park. So I think LA is an incredibly dynamic place that frequently escapes the ability of us poor planners to anticipate what it “should” be — LA mutates faster and in ways that we often can’t anticipate, and that’s what makes it exciting.

That being said, I believe we should commit ourselves to a city that is egalitarian and equitable in terms of access to jobs, housing, mobility, and amenities. We should plan for a city that is sustainable, ecological and economically, socially and spiritually. I believe LA is poised to do this as well as, if not better, than any other major city in the world — if we remember that LA is ultimately one of the most intentional places on the planet as the result of planning (for example, we have the largest port complex on the West Coast, yet no natural harbor). In the small corner of LA for which I am the steward, I believe creating that kind of city means strategically planning new transportation infrastructure, focusing new investment around that infrastructure, creating housing opportunities and choices near that transportation, while ensuring places for recreation, culture and jobs — in short, doubling down on our existing walkable, transit-oriented districts and downtowns.

 

 

Tracing the Incendiary with Hillary Mushkin

Responding to images and landscapes of war and conflict, Hillary Mushkin’s Incendiary Traces project began as an LA Forum online gallery in 2011. In honor of the current Incendiary Traces exhibition at the Pomona College Museum of Art, we talked with Mushkin about the project’s evolution.

What was the genesis of this project and partnership with the LA Forum?

When LA Forum Board member Gloria Lee invited me to do a project for the LAF gallery, I had been working on animation and drawing projects for several years that pictured Los Angeles as a war zone. Their impetus stretches back to 2003 when the George W. Bush administration began talking about bombing Baghdad, which incited memories of the 1991 US Baghdad bombing media coverage. Specifically, CNN’s green night scope footage which was shot from a distance, framing a sky filled with the abstract missile fire lights, almost like a fireworks show, and I wondered if the new Baghdad bombing would be represented similarly. Inspired by this, I created a video project called the Sleep of Reason in 2003-2004 that brought together hand-traced animation of the CNN footage with reversed footage of Fourth of July fireworks from my Cypress Park neighborhood. Through hand-tracing, I sought to engage, in an embodied manner, with a remote war that I felt some responsibility to address as a US citizen.

In 2011, when Gloria invited me to do the LA Forum online gallery, the US had been engaged in Middle East war for almost a decade. I returned to the project, recognizing that architects, like artists, are professionally trained to imagine landscapes and understand them as places where people live. I thought we could work together to make a connection between landscape, specifically, a war zone, as a pictured and lived environment.

How has the project evolved between 2011 and the current Pomona College Museum of Art exhibition?

For the LA Forum online gallery, I wrote a text and made some drawings that visually attempted to overlay Cypress Park onto Baghdad. The text included the question, could we reverse-engineer the image of a palm-dotted landscape to connect Los Angeles with this distant war? I began drawing with a group of artists outside the Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo. Their public affairs office thought we should be more interested in drawing aircraft and landing strips, but the mundane side of war was in fact our interest. When the Department of Defense police asked us not to draw their gated driveway it prompted a dialog about observation, drawing, and authority; which was the inspiration for what came after.

At that time Juan Devis was launching KCET’s cultural journalism program Artbound and invited me to collaborate. This created a broader opportunity to present alternative approaches to visualizing war zones as well as share historical and contemporary insights from scholars and others on the subject. Since then I have organized about ten drawing events and published materials on the various ways militaries and paramilitaries visualize conflict zones — all of which is part of the current exhibition.

Looking forward with cityLAB’s Dana Cuff

Founded in 2006 at UCLA, cityLAB is a think tank devoted to the contemporary city’s architectural and urbanist issues. Currently on view at the A+D Museum cityLAb, times 10 looks at how six original design ideas can scale by the “powers of ten”, and evolve for the uncertain future of the next ten years. The forum spoke to cityLAB’s director, Dana Cuff, about how to look forward.

How did cityLAB come about?

In 2006, I started cityLAB at UCLA with Roger Sherman. Hurricane Katrina had just wiped out New Orleans, and most of us architects felt powerless. We realized that Los Angeles needed a design-research think tank, where complicated urban issues could be explored through new kinds of architectural practices. cityLAB is really a series of projects that we initiate and then find ways to support the research and design effort.

What are some of the most pressing issues facing our cities today?

cityLAB has five basic initiatives that guide all the projects we create, and these reflect current critical issues that we believe architecture can address: the post suburban metropolis, spatial justice, new infrastructures, rethinking green, and urban sensing. Every one of our projects experiments with new ideas around clusters of these basic notions. For example, the BIHOME  starts with the idea that L.A.’s suburban DNA could grow more affordable and more sustainable by doubling the density of the single-family lot. We’ve spent ten years working on various aspects of that idea – leading most recently to the demonstration house we built up at UCLA and AB2299, a state law we co-wrote that Governor Brown signed into law in January of this year, making “granny flats” much easier to build.

Your show at the A+D Museum is projective instead of retrospective. What lead you to make this decision?

It’s our tenth anniversary, but a retrospective seemed totally out of keeping with cityLAB’s forward-looking mission. So I decided to feature three sets of projects that are thematically linked and exhibit our way of working – how ideas are studied through traditional research as well as design, the value of demonstrations or prototyping, and how that leads to the next set of experiments. Then, to look forward ten years, we invited many young architects to submit proposals about L.A.’s future. A jury selected six, and cityLAB sponsored those teams to develop their proposals into the installations at the A+D.

Where would you like to see cityLAB in 10 years?

I hope cityLAB will be established as the go-to think tank for research and design about Los Angeles’ future. I hope we have created a solid, collaborative network of community activists, professionals, and civic leaders to build a more inclusive, just, and dynamic city. I’d like to cityLAB to be central part of making L.A. the model of great urbanism in these politically destabilizing times.

Image: cityLAb, times 10 courtesy of cityLAB

Celebrating Our 30th Year: Looking Forward with Aaron Betsky

In honor of the LA Forum’s 30th anniversary, this year Delirious LA will occasionally feature interviews with some its founders. To kick off the series, we spoke with Aaron Betsky, critic, curator, and dean of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, about the LA Forum’s origin and critical role in the design community moving forward.

In 1987, what were some of the original goals the founders had for the LA Forum?

We started the Forum in Frank Israel’s office with the idea that we would have a reading group. Most of us were brand-new arrivals and were fascinated by the Southland; we wanted to understand more about what made the place work. We worked and taught at different places and had the sense that we would benefit by talking to each other. We quickly realized that a reading group was not going to work (nobody seemed to have the time or inclination), so we decided to have a discussion group instead.

After the first few meetings at Tony Bill’s studio on Market Street, we began to develop interests in both exploring Los Angeles and sharing each other’s work. That is what the group grew into, with the most notable early series being the original “Out There Doing It” and “Hidden L.A.” in which we went to visit places such as the Caltrans yard under the 405/10 interchange. We also wanted to argue for better architecture and urbanism, because so much of what was being built was horrible (in that sense not much has changed). We believed that if only we would get the chance, everything would be different.

Looking forward, what role would you like to see the LA Forum play in the Los Angeles design community in the coming years?

By now there is a much larger body of analytic and descriptive work on the architecture and urbanism of the Southland than there was in 1987. There also is a sense that L.A. has developed a clearer sense of its own history and character. It seems to me that the Forum could either agitate for better architecture and urbanism, or document what is there. That could come on top of the continued notion of a forum, which is a place to exchange ideas and experiments in architecture and urbanism.

Thank you for an incredible year

As the Delirious LA signs off for the year, we wanted to give a big thank you to all the LA Forum friends, participants, supporters, partners, collaborators, and members who made 2016 a success.

Some highlights from the past 12 months: MEDIAN, our summer exhibition was received by over 800 visitors; the release of the publication Dingbat 2.0 which had its roots in our 2010 design competition; the release of three newsletters: Defending the Indefensible, The City and Infrastructure and Interior Urbanism; An On The Map conversation discovering the changing urban condition around the Expo Line; In the Gutter our new book presentation and discussion series; and our panel discussions at the VDL House with our Out There Doing It teams Bureau Spectacular, Claret Cup, Mark Ericson, Katrin Terstegen, and Refik Anadol.

On The Block: Online Fundraising Auction not only met our financial goals for 2017, but also allowed us to reach out to former Forum participants, advisors, partners, and supporters to assemble a unique collection of auction Items. We are thankful to all the auction donors, participants, buyers, sponsors, and our hard working Board of Directors for a tremendous success.

Join us during our 30th year in 2017!

We are planning an exciting year of programming and celebrations to see the LA Forum continue to grow and carry our important work for our community and our city. Our members, participants, and supporters are what makes the Forum thrive. If you haven’t already, please become a member and join the conversation.

I am thankful for everyone’s support and dedication and am honored to carry the torch as president for this exciting year.

Roberto Sheinberg
President, LA Forum

Staying in the Picture with the Los Angeles Design Group

Installed at Materials & Applications until January 8, The Kid Gets Out of the Picture is a contemporary update on the aesthetic principles of early 19th century English landscape architecture and its catalog of objects (follys, ha-has, viewpoints) that reproduced the pictorial effects of landscape painting within real space. Guest curated by Los Angeles Design Group, the project is a collaborative installation by LADG, First OfficeLaurel Broughton/Andrew Kovacs, and Hirsuta. The LA Forum spoke to Los Angeles Design Group about the “manner of a picture” in the post-digital age.

The Kid Gets Out of the Picture takes elements of traditional English landscape architecture to create a uniquely interactive installation. What drew you to this “catalog of nouns”?

We were initially drawn to the nouns used by the authors of the English picturesque because to contemporary ears they are all so implausible as words that would have any place in a technical discipline. Over time they’ve fallen into a colloquial imprecision. It’s surreal to read passages where authors argue over the minutiae of words like clump, lump, mass, group, and belt.

When we chose to build these nouns, we found the perfect combination of a highly regulated framework in which to design, but also running room to invent inside of this structure. Each of these terms has a remarkable relationship to contemporary architecture. They all seem to offer, from a great distance, possibilities for what architecture could be in this newly “post-digital” period.

 

The exhibition is described as deploying the tactics of the picturesque in reverse. What interests you about this interplay between form and the picturesque?

This project is part of a series we have done using the English Picturesque as a point of departure. In William Gilpin’s formulation, the picturesque is a form of beauty “in the manner of a picture,” and it seems to us this is a good way to think about some of the preoccupations of contemporary architecture: we (if it’s possible to generalize about the state of our architectural generation) build the real so that it can be photographed and disseminated in the form of pictures. In a certain sense the picture is more important than the actuality of the building.

The title is a nod to the Robert Evans film “The Kid Stays in the Picture.” We want to think about ways of building that might complicate, or resist an easy relationship between architecture and its pictures. To the extent that contemporary architecture is “in the picture,” we want to think about what it would mean to “get out.” For us this means shifting attention to how buildings are organized and how they impact the forms of life that happen around and in them.

Hot on the Heels of Love w/ John Southern

“Hot on the Heels of Love: Sensational Speculations” opens at Jai & Jai Gallery on November 5. The exhibition and installation by architect John Southern of Urban Operations tells five polemical stories about the modernist skyscraper. The LA Forum spoke to Southern, who is also a contributor to our online auction, about the continued cultural impact of the high rise.

Why did you name the show “Hot on the Heels of Love: Sensational Speculations”?
The music buffs might recognize Hot on the Heels of Love as a song by Throbbing Gristle, an experimental music and visual arts group that was founded in England in the 1970s. I thought the title appropriate to the exhibition because the skyscraper—a topic I’ve explored over the past ten years—is a subject that, when one removes “design” from the discursive equation, is ephemeral and always just out of reach, but also highly seductive.

How has the cultural impact of the skyscraper evolved?
In the exhibition description I bring up Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier because for me they represent the distillation of skyscraper theory, not only on an aesthetic level, but on an urban and political plane as well. Both architects were confronting the Nineteenth Century urban fabric in a reactionary way. Their proposals were a break with American skyscraper culture, which has always been about technical muscle and real estate speculation. Unfortunately, it currently appears that, with a few exceptions, the American model has become the norm across the globe. While there has been an exhaustive obsession with skyscrapers formal and aesthetic properties, the tower still has potential to be transformed into a space that simultaneously supports the idea of democratic civic space, while also satisfying the desires of the real estate market.

What do you see as being the future of the skyscraper?
My hope is that designers will stop worrying so much about what the towers of tomorrow are going to look like on a postcard or social media, and start putting more effort into how they perform on an urban level—programmatically, spatially and most importantly, socially. That, to me, is the only way we as a global culture can save the space of the city for everyone, and not just the 1% who have the liquidity to remake the urban fabric as an image to consume or as a place to park their financial assets.

Out There Doing It in 2016

The LA Forum’s 2016 Out There Doing It series comprises three nights of discussions at the Neutra VDL House with emerging Los Angeles practitioners in architecture, design, and urbanism. Each of the practices featured consider drawing—both as act and representation—at the center of their design ethos. In advance of the first panel on Thursday, October 27, we spoke to LA Forum Board Members Chris Torres and Matthew Gillis about the series and how the selected practices engage drawing and representation. 

What is the collective theme of this year’s Out There Doing It and how did it develop? How do the selected emerging practices fit within this theme?

The collective theme of this year’s series reflects how designers in Los Angeles are interrogating and pushing the medium of drawing beyond the pragmatics of representation into spatial practices between the lines of art, architecture and landscape. We think that Los Angeles in particular, has a wide diversity of approaches to this subject.

Drawings are transformed through the work of Refik Anadol, whose project Infinity Room uses light to blur the boundaries between the virtual and physical realms. We see his practice of curating and manipulating data as an emerging field within the discipline of architecture and are excited that Refik is part of the series.

On the other end of the spectrum, we are intrigued by the work of Bureau Spectacular, who creates  vivid cartoon narratives through architectural interventions. Their project, The Tower of Twelve Stories, created an architectural folly within the landscape of the Coachella music festival that is a 1:1 section of a fictional apartment building. The bubble like structure reveals both a quality of rigor in the purity of its engineering and also a quality of looseness, a playfulness that we find uplifting.

The duo at Claret-Cup explore representation by graphically mapping events and artifacts, exploring the urban ephemerality revealed in Los Angeles. Their graphic experiments range in scale and categories from curated culinary evenings like Blind-(d)ate to Folded Beauty, an installation at RedCat 2015 Donors’ Gala.

Mark Erickson’s representational work is situated within the confluence of historical drawing practices and contemporary computation in architecture. Cataloging a multitude of speculative drawing series; Nameless Curves, Euclid’s Wedge, Domestic Inversion, Mark expands the thinking and use of drawing techniques to create novel architectures.

The work of Katrin Terstegen reflects an overarching interest in openings and apertures, as evidenced by her decade long collaboration at Johnston Marklee on projects such as Vault House and Maison Martin Margiela. We are looking forward to the developments at her new practice.

Violent Borders with Reece Jones

Reece Jones is an expert on international border security projects and a geographer at the University of Hawaii. His new book Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move draws on years of field research in border regions around the world. The Forum spoke to Jones, ahead of his In the Gutter event on October 15 at Arcana Books.

Why did you name the book Violent Borders?

I have been studying borders for fifteen years and during that time it became increasingly clear to me that the act of bordering itself was an act of violence. Borders not only do violence to the bodies of people on the move, as the over 40,000 deaths at borders in the past decade demonstrate, but there is also a structural violence that perpetuates inequality by restricting the movement of the poor and an environmental violence that damages ecosystems when border walls are built.

How has the infrastructural idea of “the wall” evolved over time?

It is funny that humans continue to turn to the ancient technology of the wall to solve our modern problems. However, there are some clear differences in the purposes of older walls, like the Great Wall of China or medieval city walls, and the border walls of today. The clearest difference is that in the past walls had a military purpose and were primarily meant to protect people and resources in the event of a raid or invasion.
Today walls are obsolete militarily as planes and missiles go over them and tanks can smash through them. Nevertheless there is a recent and rapid turn to walls. In 1989 there were only 15 border walls around the world, today there are 70. The difference is that these walls are meant to stop the movement of civilians, not raiders looking to pillage. Instead, the walls are meant to deter poor workers looking for better opportunities for themselves and their families.

In your New York Times Op-Ed you talked about how walls have become emblematic of a countries exclusionary policies rather than their ideals of freedom and democracy. Could you elaborate on that?

In countries across Europe and North America, an anti-migrant tide seems to be rising. This is evident in the support for Donald Trump even after his racist language about Mexicans being rapists and criminals and his suggestion to ban Muslim migrants. It is also clear in the Brexit vote and the success of anti-migrant political parties across Europe. Although not surprising, this is disheartening for me because I believe firmly that movement is a fundamental human right. Furthermore, the fear of migrants is not based on any evidence. In the US, studies show that migrants commit fewer crimes than citizens and are a net benefit to the economy. Despite the moral and economic case for allowing freer movement, many countries are building more walls and putting more restrictions on movement at borders.

Designing Here/Now with Core77

Returning to downtown Los Angeles on September 29-30th, the 3rd annual Core77 Conference brings together design practitioners, thought leaders, and entrepreneurs for an immersive exploration of how designers can lead interdisciplinary teams to create innovative products and experiences that positively impact society. As a Core77 Conference Media Sponsor, the LA Forum spoke with the Core77 team, about designing here and now in Los Angeles. 

What is unique about Designing Here/Now?
The most unique aspect of Designing Here/Now is undoubtedly its scope. Attendees from every field of design will find themselves engaged in boundary spanning conversations initiated by our speakers and conference leaders. The goal is to create a conference that is rewarding for designers across disciplines, while maintaining our central theme and purpose. In essence, there really is something for everyone.

What inspired Core77 to have this conference in Los Angeles?
Los Angeles is such a diverse, vibrant city, and always seems to be at or near the vanguard for the next big thing. Given its history, architecture, and overall vibe, downtown L.A. seemed like the perfect location to host a conference about the contemporary design landscape, and how and why that landscape will change in the near future. Los Angeles has a reputation for being home to progressive, cutting-edge thinkers, and those are the kind of people we’re hoping will join us at the 2016 Core77 Conference.

What can conference attendees expect to experience?
Immersion and connection are two of the core pillars this conference is built on. Attendees should feel as though they are a part of the conversation, rather than simply observing it happen. With this in mind, attendees can expect to have many opportunities to connect and engage at the conference. The entire second day is devoted to professionally led workshops and guided tours, while both days are interspersed with meals and evening parties enabling attendees to network with, and get to know, the speakers as well as each other.

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