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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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 4pm, SO – 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
President, LA Forum
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 Office, Laurel 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.
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.
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: 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”?
How has the cultural impact of the skyscraper evolved?
What do you see as being the future of the skyscraper?
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.
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.
Returning to downtown Los Angeles on September 29-30th, the 3rd annual Core77 Conference brings together
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.
Landscape Architecture as Necessity is three-day conference that tackles the role of landscape architecture in relation to climate change. USC School of Architecture hosts the event September 22- 24. The LA Forum spoke to conference co-chair Kelly Shannon about the global and political issue posed by the topic.
Why did you name the conference Landscape Architecture as Necessity?
Landscape architecture has the capacity to address the worlds most pressing and fundamental problems, amongst which are myriad issues linked to climate change, deforestation, energy, water, and food security. Landscape architecture re-edits, re-calibrates and re-qualifies space across scales as an overlap of natural and built ecologies. More than ever, there is a fundamental necessity for landscape architects: to continually expand the public realm, creatively repair polluted sites and innovatively develop hybrid programs.
The political agency of the profession must be forcibly reactivated and the power of landscape architecture engaged to be the game changer in reshaping ecological systems and transforming forms of living.
Why host this conference in Los Angeles?
Los Angeles is a forefront laboratory and factory for future urbanism. The city’s extreme natural and social geographies, which in 1971 Reyner Banham famously read as a construct of four ecologies, remain (forty-five years later) the ideal setting for an international debate to intensively interrogate urban ecologies from multiple perspectives. The growing ecological crises and intense population pressure of the city’s coast, infrastructure, flatlands and foothills are a pars pro toto, a microcosm, of the challenges facing state, nation and globe, ones that necessitate a paradigm shift to complex systems thinking.
How has the role of the landscape architect evolved?
Landscape architecture is concerned with ecologies of dynamic change, with adaptability, resilience, and flexibility, while at the same time giving necessary attention for the concrete and its materiality. In Western Europe the field is at its most progressive with landscape architects often leading major urban transformation projects and creating evolutionary landscape infrastructure projects. It is high time that Los Angeles live up to its role as a truly progressive urban laboratory and vigorously promote landscape architects as more than glorified gardeners.
Historic Filipinotown is Los Angeles’s most comprehensive outdoor art gallery. On Saturday, August 27, “Hidden Hi Fi: Art Alleys Celebration”, co-presented by de LaB, Gabba Gallery, and Hidden Hi Fi, celebrates the neighborhood’s culture and the works of more than 80 artists who transformed alleys, buildings, and parking lots. The LA Forum spoke to Hidden Hi Fi’s Reanne Estrada about the heritage of this vibrant community.
What unique aspects of Hi Fi do you think are currently “hidden” and could be more celebrated?
Hi Fi, short for Historic Filipinotown, is one of those Los Angeles neighborhoods whose personality is not immediately legible. Designated in 2002, Historic Filipinotown has few cultural or physical markers to indicate the ethnic identity its name implies, compared to nearby K-Town or Chinatown. But a closer look at Hi Fi’s 2.1 square miles yields robust, multifaceted narratives that reveal the historic and ongoing contributions of Filipinos/Filipino-Americans to Los Angeles and their place in the larger context of the Angeleno immigrant experience. That, I think, is worth celebrating.
How did the Jeepney project come about?
Hidden Hi Fi is an arts, culture and equitable development project by Public Matters, a social enterprise, and the Pilipino Workers Center (PWC), one of Hi Fi’s anchor organizations. Hidden Hi Fi illuminates the neighborhood through interactive events, tours and experiences that inform, delight, and surprise, offering a vibrant dose of Los Angeles Filipino/Filipino-American flavor. Our vintage jeepney is our antidote to the low-visibility of Historic Filipinotown. After World War II, Americans left behind these military transport vehicles in the Philippines. Resourceful Filipinos transformed them into colorful, low-cost forms of public transit-jeepneys. There are only a handful of street-legal jeepneys in the U.S.; one of them is Hi Fi’s unofficial automotive ambassador.
How did the art alleys develop?
Back in 2014, Hi Fi’s Gabba Gallery owner Jason Ostro responded to the graffiti and trash in the neighborhood with a vision of turning “blight to bright.” From his first mural, a collaboration with street artist Andrea LaHue (aka Random Act), the project has blossomed to include 110 murals by 85 local and international artists. The body of artworks-the city’s most comprehensive outdoor art gallery-is constantly evolving, spreading to other walls, adding layer-upon-layer. It embraces and embodies the dynamic and constantly shifting nature of neighborhoods.
In 2013, Mayor Eric Garcetti launched the Great Streets Initiative with the concept that L.A.’s streets are livable, accessible public spaces that engage the city’s neighborhoods and communities. The Forum spoke to program director Naomi Iwasaki ahead of the Great Streets’ Third Thursday on Pico event about what it means to take it to the streets.
Why should we care about the street?
Los Angeles tends to have the reputation of our streets solely being for cars. But they encompass 7,500 miles of what is essentially public space for people. We have found through innovation ways of repurposing street space, such as creating a car-free plaza in front of of local eating establishments out of small streets, we can create place and public space that can make our communities safer, more vibrant, and more interactive.
The Great Streets Initiative helps reimagine neighborhood centers from a bottom-up approach. How does this method help redefine public spaces?
Our commitment to following a community’s lead in redefining what their streets should look and feel like has led to projects and improvements that better reflect the needs of the local neighborhood and changes that are owned and championed by community partners. Our work on Reseda Boulevard in Northridge, which includes the city’s first protected bike lane and coordinated sidewalk furniture, was a result of a multi-year, community-led visioning process with various groups such as urban design non-profit LA Mas. We strive to create the right opportunities for community stakeholders to work with the city so that resources and services provided by the City are a right match for the “end user”.
How would you say the idea of public space is different in Los Angeles as opposed to other cities?
In Los Angeles a lot of public spaces are not necessarily designed to facilitate organic interaction between diverse types of people (think Pershing Square). This may be because so much of our space was designed during the late seventies/ early eighties, where the idea of exclusion was applied to urban design. But when public spaces are not welcoming to everyone, they can turn into spaces that are aggressively unwelcoming to many people. This seems to be changing, but we are still getting used to a culture shift in Los Angeles where people spontaneously interact with strangers rather than intentionally plan or cultivate a majority of their social interactions.
The LA Forum’s Summer 2016 newsletter collects stories and experiences about the city from five unique perspectives: an artist, an actor, a geographer, an architect, and an urban critic. The LA Forum spoke to editor Orhan Ayyüce about the new issue and deciphering spatial signals in the city.
I wanted the newsletter to be about very important components of urbanism that are somewhat distanced from specific buildings, master plans, or development projects—and the cults of personalities that bombarded us every day in many publications. It was important to point out that the built environment also exists anonymously. [The newsletter] re-values the city without the elite qualifications of architectural and urban design culture and its mostly elitist community.
If you think an ordinary chain link fence or a typical street with ordinary things qualify as the built environment, then you have just accepted that architecture is everywhere. It has complexities of its own and its own spatial identity. We are not passing judgment if they are good or bad or beautiful or ugly. We are recognizing their presence and looking to understand what signals they emit. So, yes, then, architecture is everywhere it wants to be. It is up to us to see, process, and live it.
These are all spatial ingredients. They make the physical environment and they signal information. These elements and systems contribute to spatial identities of places in the city, where and how we live. They are the aura of cities. Each city has a specific essence beyond the generic systems or infrastructure. For example, I consider the temperature or the sounds of Los Angeles or the social makeup of the city and its neighborhoods part of this essence. I find it everywhere.
This summer the LA Forum presents the exhibition MEDIAN. An immersive video and audio installation, it takes over the walls of WUHO Gallery, projecting nearly life-sized renderings of Los Angeles—images that stockpile everyday collisions of contexts. The LA Forum spoke to exhibition creators David Hartwell and Bill Ferehawk ahead of the opening this Thursday, July 14 at the WUHO Gallery about what it means to work in the MEDIAN.
Why did you title the exhibition MEDIAN?
We thought the middle of the road was a good vantage point to observe Los Angeles. The median is privileged, uninhabitable, and dangerous.
What was one of the most surprising things that came out of the exhibition?
We took a position that our first references for this piece would be visceral: How do we feel and react to our experiences of the city? We first created moving image maps of our emotional reactions to everyday Los Angeles. Only later, would we back in to the more intellectual side of things and then tweak the scenes. And honestly, we didn’t know if this process would work.
How does your architectural background influence your cinematic understanding of the built environment
We are fascinated and excited by the myriad of contexts and collisions in this city. This curiosity is what we learned in architecture school. Los Angeles is persistently challenging and that is what we love about it. We decided to make moving images and films about this experience. I think our piece proposes a reality of the urban experience that demands reflection and discussion about how we live, where we live, and who we live with.
M. Casey Rehm is a designer, algorithmic consultant, and founder of Kinch Studio in Los Angeles. He currently teaches programming and robotics at SCI-Arc, where Control, his new exhibition, opens Friday, July 1 at the SCI-Arc Gallery. The LA Forum spoke to Rehm about algorithms and designing for and with automated processes.
Control is a conflation of several trajectories within my work that until now remained separate. This is the first time where I try to integrate image-based interactive design with material algorithms as space-defining methods. There are elements of surveillance, material algorithms, and space-planning algorithms. It’s also the first project I’ve done where the design was fully automated through a series of agent algorithms. In the past those techniques only inhabited about 30 percent of the design process. This installation is closer to 95 percent automated in the design process.
I’m looking to create a space where media doesn’t feel like ornament or appendage but contributes to how people occupy the space. There is also an attempt to focus on designing at an interfacial scale, meaning that coherence for visitors is more at a human scale rather than at the overall formal level.
I think that we need to rethink design to reflect the changes that are happening even at the cognitive level of the current population. The ubiquitous production of fictional narratives on social media has become integral to how we see ourselves, each other, and the world around us—phenomena that was shocking in the past is now banal in its integration. Compression distortions, superpositioning of stimuli, Instagram filters, etc. have had a very real impact on how we live and how we think.