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Jessica Fleischmann on the LA Forum Reader

LA Forum spoke with graphic designer Jessica Fleischmann,  the founder and creative director of Still Room Co. Her work has been recognized by the AIGA 365 and AIGA 50 Books/50 Covers, and British Book Design and Production Awards. She has held teaching positions at UCLA, Otis College of Art and SCI-Arc and is co-founder of X Artists’ Books – a publisher of high-quality artist-centered books. Fleischmann is the designer of the recently-published LA Forum Reader, and she will be in conversation with other contributors this Saturday evening at Hennessy & Ingalls bookstore.


Tell us about the design process you went through pulling together the elements that make up the LA Forum Reader? With all the archival materials including old newsletters and pamphlets, how did it graphically come together?

The main goals for the design of the Reader were that it would be coherent, easy to read, interesting to look at in relationship to the evolution of Los Angeles and the LA Forum over the past 30 years. Initially I intended to take design cues from some of the previous publications included as source material—there have been some other great graphic designers throughout the history of the LA Forum, but these varied so widely that I decided they were giving me permission to approach this publication with full freedom, rather than responding to any specific design tactic or element.

Structurally, there are two types of contents — Main Sections and Interludes, each with its own typography and image and color treatment. Within the main sections, there are introductory essays, written by the core editorial team, and reprints of other LA Forum publications, always shown as complete objects. The section dividers and the reprints are clearly visible along the edge of the book, helping to orient the reader and allowing them to choose a spot to dive in. The titles of the Interlude’s divider pages are turned on an angle. One of the Interludes is a set of cropped newsletter images which extend off the page. While the design is balanced overall, there is a lot of zooming in and out going on, which for me reflects the experience of living in L.A. and the work of the LA Forum over the years. I also developed a typographic system with a set of behaviors that play with each other: for example the main section introductory text and the interlude text are the same typeface, but introductions are typeset bigger, and the titles are treated differently (flush left vs centered) so while it is the same typeface as the Interlude text, it behaves differently. Also, the page numbers on chapter openers are super big, and all numbers are outlined and bleed off the edge of the page, as do the newsletter examples. These elements are pointers, indicating that there’s more beyond the edge of the map of the page, more beyond the expected stereotypes of L.A.— the idea with the newsletter samples is that they’re tastes and if the reader finds them interesting, the full essay or issue can be read on the LA Forum website archive.

We needed to maximize our print budget, and I wanted a cohesiveness overall, so I chose to use two spot colors. The color palate is based on the colors of L.A., but not the usual suspects. There is no blue sky, swimming pools or palm trees here, just dusty, slightly smoggy, skies at sunset and the haze of the hills in the distance, dry summer brush & asphalt.

You’ve designed many anthologies and books of this nature, but what was the most surprising or unexpected thing about the design process of the Reader?

How seamlessly it all came together, design-wise! As with many of my favorite projects, both the contents of the Reader and the core editorial team of Rob Berry, Victor Jones, Mike Sweeny, and Mimi Zeiger were key in developing the design. Conversations with the core team and their unwavering, enthusiastic (if, at times, appropriately critical) support permitted me to use a slightly unusual font, Stratos, for the main sans serif typeface (it’s capital letters are rather narrow in proportion to the lower-case letters, so it has a heterogeneity that reflects the city). The contrasting serif for section introductions and interludes, FB Californian, is one whose craftsman touches reference the early part of the 20th century in California and Los Angeles. It’s a typeface that I’ve always wanted to use, and this was the perfect opportunity.

Click here to purchase a copy of the LA Forum Reader.

Housing as Intervention with Karen Kubey

LA Forum spoke with Karen Kubey, an urbanist and architectural educator specializing in housing and health. Kubey co-founded the Architecture for Humanity New York chapter (now Open Architecture/New York) and New Housing New York, and was the first executive director of the Institute for Public Architecture. She has guest-edited Housing as Intervention: Architecture towards Social Equity (Architectural Design), and has recently collaborated with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the New York City Housing Authority. Trained as an architect at the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University, Karen began her career in affordable housing design. She is a visiting associate professor at the Pratt Institute School of Design and has received support from the New York State Council on the Arts and The MacDowell Colony..


The new edition of AD: Housing as Intervention covers a broad territory geographical, approach-wise and process-wise. How did this collection of 17 essays come together?

I wanted to take on urgent social and economic inequities that intersect with housing and share stories of how architects around the world are working to address them in meaningful ways. Rather than limit the collection to one housing issue or one approach, the 17 essays explore interconnected social, economic, and health equity concerns and highlight a range of promising approaches that architects can take. The book brings in a combination of leading voices in the field, pressing issues, promising models, and under-documented geographies. What I love about the contributors’ essays is that they show inspiring housing projects and the collaborative processes behind them— that have been achieved within our current housing systems — along with a glimpse of what might be possible with more equitable policies and funding. As this book has come together over almost three years, AD commissioning and managing editors Helen Castle and Caroline Ellerby have provided invaluable support.

 You talk about an architect-led development and design process as a different approach to the status-quo. Does L.A.’s unique conditions and rich past of experimenting with design make the city a special kind of lab for a different approach to the development process?

I once started a conversation with an L.A. housing architect, telling him how jealous I was that he got to work in the city famous for influential housing models like the Case Study Houses, along with year-round good weather. His response: “Every time we try to build a project, we get sued.” So I think we need to look at L.A.’s unique opportunities for forward-looking housing design alongside its specific challenges. Dana Cuff’s story in the book, on her decade-long project with UCLA’s cityLAB around accessory dwelling units, which culminated in legislation that eased the path for the development of ADUs statewide (co-authored by Cuff), exemplifies both the kind of influential housing work that can come out of L.A., as well as the potential for greater impact in residents’ lives when architects take on expanded roles.

 In the publication, you highlight new models of inclusive housing, affordability and thriving communities in addition to partnerships and collaborations as instruments towards greater social equality. What is the greatest take-away that architects, designers and developers will gain from this collection?

I hope that the multiplicity of approaches, issues, and places represented in the book will allow architects and builders around the world to find lessons applicable to their own projects. In a broad sense, Housing as Intervention is about asserting the value of housing design and collaborative design processes in the face of issues that might seem so much bigger that “architecture.” Someone focused on racial and economic disparities in health outcomes, for instance, might think she can’t afford the time or money to worry about housing design. A piece like ISA Interface Studio Architects’ “Designing for Impact: Tools for Reducing Disparities in Health” shows that, in fact, she or we as a society can’t afford not to.

LA Forum will host Kubey and other panelists in conversation this Thursday evening on equity in housing.

“Now What?!” with Lori Brown

LA Forum interviewed Lori Brown, co-founder of Architexx, a group dedicated to transforming the architecture profession for women. Lori is also co-organizer of the exhibit “Now What?! Advocacy Activism and Alliances in American Architecture Since 1968” (along with Andrea Merrett, Sarah Rafson and Roberta Washington). Now What?! is on view at WUHO in Hollywood through October 15th, with LA Forum as a co-sponsor of the traveling exhibition. Lori Brown is an architect, author and associate professor at Syracuse University. Brown’s work focuses particularly on the relationships between architecture and social justice issues, specifically, gender and its impact upon spatial relationships.


The Now What? exhibition not only looks back at the past 50 years of activism and change in the architecture and design professions, but it also suggests ways forward. How were you able to balance being, on one hand, an archival project, and on the other, a provocation for the future?

Now What?! was inspired by both our research on activist groups of the 70s, 80s, and 90s and recent alliance building efforts that have been taking place. Around the time we formed ArchiteXX, in 2012 or so, we noticed a spike in activism and interest among younger designers in regards to questions of gender in the profession. The problem was that few, if any of these young designers, were aware of any activist efforts that had happened decades ago. Becoming aware of the history of activism within the discipline also lets people know that they are not alone — earlier generations have been working to make architecture more diverse, more politically responsive and a more equitable profession.  For example, finding out about the Women’s School of Planning and Architecture —an alternative institution that fused feminist principles and architectural curricula—was a complete shock. Or, that in 1975 women in the AIA had called out the systemic inequities they were experiencing in order to move the profession to become more equitable. We think that learning about these efforts from the past emboldens today’s initiatives.

You mentioned that the version of the exhibition in Los Angeles will have added material that wasn’t in the at Pratt Institute installation – can you give us a preview of what that additional content is?

We’ve picked up some new content from our programming in New York that will be on view here for the first time. That includes new videos from Housing Works History, a project by Gavin Browning and Laura Hanna, who interviewed the architects who worked with Act Up! Activists to develop housing for AIDS victims since 1990. We also included videos from the media archive of Sci-Arc, including two videos of panel discussions from 1976, one addressing “Minorities in Architecture,” and another on “Women in Architecture.” It’s amazing to look back on how much has changed, and yet how many issues remain the same. Those are just a couple of examples. Throughout the month, L.A. organizations will be meeting in the space, and helping contribute to the content, and we invite visitors to do so in the gallery as well. We look forward to adding more stories from L.A. as the exhibition travels!

 What has surprised you most through the curatorial or collaborative process?

One of the most surprising realizations thus far through our collaboration, the exhibition’s content and its curation is how intertwined and interconnected movements are. Yet, when we first learn of a group or work on a particular issue, we typically learn about them as singular efforts, placing them essentially in silos. For example, profiling the feminist activists who were also involved in gay liberation movements of the 1970s, or the women of the National Organization of Minority Architects who claimed space for themselves in order to have a larger voice in the profession were happening simultaneously yet these histories are rarely discussed together as being a part of the broader political and cultural movement. We believe that through examining the intersectionality of these histories and struggles side-by-side allows for new insights and connections to be made and further fostered. Through these new readings of history, we hope the future of architecture will be a more equitable, diverse and engaged profession that builds upon all those that have been committed to this for decades.

Delirious LA: Activating Los Angeles with Now What?! Advocacy, Activism, and Alliances in American Architecture since 1968

Exhibition Opening: Saturday, September 1
Opening Reception: Saturday, September 8
6:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Showing through October 15, 2018

Join ArchiteXX and LA Forum at the opening reception for the the powerful traveling exhibition Now What?! Advocacy, Activism, and Alliances in American Architecture since 1968, activating WUHO Gallery until October 15, 2018.Now What?! is the first exhibition to examine the little-known history of architects and designers working to further the causes of the civil rights, women’s, and LGBTQ movements of the past fifty years. The exhibition content, conversations, and stories will inspire a new generation of design professionals to see themselves as agents of change by looking at the past to see new ways forward.

The exhibition is hosted by ArchiteXX, a non-profit organization for gender equity in architecture that seeks to transform the profession of architecture by BRIDGING THE ACADEMY AND PRACTICE. 


 


Now What_7_©Jen Grosso
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Images courtesy of ArchiteXX.
Conversation with Abhinava Shukla

Last week, LA Forum hosted a talk with Abhinava Shukla at USC School of Architecture. In this interview, we spoke to Shukla, the Secretary General of Ahmedabad Textile Mills Association, about his role and experiences in the Mill Owner’s Building designed by Le Corbusier.


What is your role as Secretary General and how would you describe your involvement with the Mill Owner’s building?

I am the Secretary General, which is the CEO of the Association. I carry on the work of the Association and act as the custodian of the properties and assets including the Mill Owner’s Building.

The Association, since its inception in 1891, has represented the large sector of manufacturers in Ahmedabad working with cotton. In 1945, the association represented 64 large textile mills employing almost 200,000 employees. The Association was the hub of most economic activities in the city. It promoted and built world-class academic and health facilities for the community, as well as a large number of parks and public spaces for the city. The number of members started dwindling in late 1970s due to the shifting industrial landscape. Today, there are only four members.

During your talk you described your relationship with the building as a “love affair”. Can you share your story with, what the world considers to be, one of Le Corbusier’s masterpieces?

Since my childhood I was attracted to this building with whatever understanding I had imbibed from my art loving mother and litterateur father. Many years later, on December 15th 1998, I accidentally came across it and was disappointed to see the neglected state it was in. As I walked up the ramp I felt that the building was interacting with me and was inviting me to take care of it. Immediately, I decided to bring it back to its original glory and preserve it for next generations. I offered my services— and have been working on it for the past 20 years.

Every day, when I approach the building in the morning, I think of it as a living organism— its structure, the plants, the landscape… every element establishes a dialogue within me; this is my love affair.

Conservation of iconic buildings is a key contemporary discussion, especially of those in fast growing urban centers in developing economies. What are the most pressing challenges that the Mills Association faces in order to improve the conservation of this significant heritage?

The most pressing challenge is the ever-changing urban landscape. The backside of the building used to be adjacent to a river. The view was beautiful. However, new developments forced it to be channeled and pushed far away from the building. Additionally, new roads are being constructed increasing the noise levels.

Increasing real state pressure is quickly converting the area into a high-rise dominant one. The soaring land prices for a smaller building with a relatively large site make the Mill Owner’s Building a target to investors and developers. Additionally, the lackadaisical attitude of the stakeholders and the limited financing paired with the ever-increasing costs of maintenance hinder the conservation of the building.

What do you anticipate will be the outcome of your collaboration with the Getty Conservation Institute? Could you tell us about the more imminent goals?

The four-day intense discussions have been the best part of my 20-year association with the Mill Owner’s Building. I am now better equipped as a steward to carry forward the mission of long-term sustenance of the building. The Getty has become an important stakeholder to fall back upon for expertise and support.

Discussing 1601 Park with artist Tanya Brodsky

Tanya Brodsky’s temporary, site-specific piece 1601 Park opened on July 21st as part of Materials & Applications’ (M&A) Privacies Infrastructure Program Series. Privacies Infrastructure investigates the residential landscape of fences, hedges, window gratings and security gates through temporary installations, workshops, performance and public programming. Brodsky, along with other artists and architects, were asked to interrogate the physical structures of privacy and privatization in Los Angeles through temporary projects in Council District 13. Their commissioned projects form Privacies Infrastructure, which is organized by guest curator Aurora Tang and Materials & Applications director Jia Gu. 

Tell us about your site-specific work 1601 Park. 

This piece started out as a meditation on the ways in which space is divided in the densely populated East side of Los Angeles, and how these divisions function within physical, social, and cultural boundaries. Architectural structures like fences or security bars serve both as practical impediments, and as markers that project the nature of both those inside and outside the house. So, I wanted to build a structure that could only be navigated through transgression, and that allowed viewers to simultaneously occupy its interior and exterior. The resulting work is an outline of a house in space, punctuated by references to different types of home, with a focus on those commonly seen in Echo Park. the door at the front of the sculpture is padlocked shut, so that the only way to enter the interior is by passing through an imaginary wall. Window security bars hang behind the outline of a window, further scrambling the relationship between the interior and exterior of the sculpture. It is meant to hover somewhere between a house that’s being built, one that’s being demolished or repossessed, and a 3D architectural rendering.

What is the significance of the site — and maybe the larger site of L.A. — how did that shape the piece? 

The piece came out of thinking about the neighborhood of Echo Park, and, by extension much of L.A., as a site. The history of the actual lot that it occupies emerged as I was working on the project. There had been an apartment building there, which collapsed in 2000, killing one person, injuring thirty-six other, and leaving mostly low-income residents suddenly homeless. The lot with the rubble changed ownership more than once, and then remained vacant for some years after it was cleared. Learning this history transformed how I thought about the site, which I had initially approached as just an empty lot. It made me reconsider the idea of neutrality, and the transitory nature of something as seemingly stationary as an address. In my work, I want to be conscious of, and honor, the history of the site and its previous existence.

What surprised you in the process of designing or building the piece, or in the reception of it on-site? 

Coming across the complex and tragic history of the site was surprising and powerful. While much of my information came from archival articles, I learned additional bits and pieces from long-time neighborhood residents as I was working on the site. Hearing difference experiences of the same narrative helped me to think of the site as a series of perspectives and memories, existing simultaneously in the minds of numerous people.


Image courtesy of the artist, photo: Josh Schaedel.

“Re: Learning” with Andrea Dietz and Rob Berry

The summer 2018 LA Forum newsletter is out and we spoke with editors Andrea Dietz and Rob Berry about the publication titled, Re: Learning. Organized through loose groundings in past, present, future, (and fantasy); the newsletter presents observations on and arguments for changes in architecture education. Check out the digital version online here.

What prompted the idea for a newsletter around architecture education, why now?

RB: The focus on architecture pedagogy was a response to what appeared to be a real moment of change in L.A. architecture academia. At the time of the newsletter’s conception, the directorships at four local architecture schools were open; there had been a few public challenges to the pedagogical status quo; and, given national politics, it was evident that the discipline could not remain static. Also, as a subject, teaching and education had not figured significantly in any of the recent newsletters; in fact, the last issue to take on architecture education specifically, the School Status Report, was published in 1997. Not to mention, the project presented a chance for us personally to explore questions and issues with which we’ve been grappling in our own experiences as architecture faculty.

AD: Rob introduced the subject of architecture pedagogy at a monthly LA Forum board meeting a little over a year ago. I immediately was excited by the prospect of putting a spotlight on architecture education. Our collaboration, then, evolved out of a mutual interest in teasing out the nuances of what we both perceived to be a super-charged topic. Over the process of assembling the newsletter, I was fascinated to discover that we were aligning with an architecture education cycle; it seems that every thirty years or so, there is a challenge to the tenets of the preceding term … and that we are due, once again.

It’s an ambitious publication with two inserts—a zine and a poster—tucked within; can you talk a bit about the newsletter as a design project in itself?

RB:  In the early stages of the editorial process, we had lots of conversations about format, that is, about the instrumentality of form and representation in critiques of architecture pedagogy, current or historical. The contributed works solidified our fledgling observation; each piece criticizes the format of architecture education as much as the content. This undercurrent of format was made visible by the amazing efforts of graphic designer Robyn Baker. Robyn’s ambitions for the physical and graphic qualities of the newsletter to interrogate questions of format easily matched our own editorial goals.

AD: We definitely wanted to push the boundaries, of format, yes, but also of voice. We aspired to be as inclusive as possible, to publish a diverse range of people, places, and perspectives. And, indeed, this newsletter has over fifty contributors at all career stages from across the United States and a few in Canada, Mexico, and Europe. Even this, though, is just a start. We see this question of representation (meaning, both image and authorship) as one of the most significant for architecture education and practice alike.

RB:  Such a significant undertaking demands an ambitious publication.

What was the biggest surprise in the process or in the newsletter’s reception?

RB:  That we found a new take on the nine-square problem. The existing tropes of architecture education are perhaps not as staid or tired as we may have thought.

AD: Honestly, that we came closest to approaching radicality through the format was the biggest surprise for me. When we started this project, I anticipated an exposé of the defining issues of the next architecture education revolution, a list of hot-button provocations. We got some of this. But, what we really got was a challenge to my content bias. This newsletter has reminded me that the delivery is the message.

Celebrating the LA Forum Reader with Chava Danielson, Mimi Zeiger and Joe Day

We are proud to announce the LA Forum Reader (Actar Publishers). The LA Forum Reader brings together three decades of discursive writings and publications on architecture, urbanism, and Los Angeles culled from the archives of the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design. This anthological volume includes essays, interviews, and reproductions of publications that have long been out of print, including pamphlets by Craig Hodgetts and Margaret Crawford, as well as early writings by Aaron Betsky and John Chase. In celebration of the publication’s launch, we asked three of the LA Forum Reader’s editors — Chava Danielson, Mimi Zeiger and Joe Day – about the content and the conception of this comprehensive collection that’s been over 15 years in the making.

Join us for the LA Forum Reader launch party, Thursday July 12th, 6-9pm at the MAK Center at the Schindler House, 835 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood, CA 90069.

How was the LA Forum Reader conceived?

MZ: The Reader is the result of multiple editors invested in creating an anthology that reflects the LA Forum’s long publishing history. It was initially conceived by Joe Day and Chava Danielson over a decade ago as a way to collect and document the varied and prolific writings produced by the LA Forum. Its current iteration was shaped by myself, Rob Berry, Victor Jones, and Mike Sweeney. With chapters entitled Experiments, Detours, Hunches, and Santa Anas, it’s meant to capture the vibe of making and writing in Los Angeles—a bit fragmented and experimental, but always in search of larger meanings and ideas.

JD: The Reader was conceived during Ming Fung’s tenure as President of the LA Forum in the later 1990s. There was a sense that the founding generation of the Forum and their peers—e.g., Aaron Betsky, John Chase, Margaret Crawford, Sylvia Lavin, among quite few others—had established clear perspectives within the field, and that the Forum had been a catalyst for their early development. As first editors, Chava and I hoped to connect some dots between those voices, as well as those that preceded and followed them.

CD: I think the underlying tension between the archivist’s impulse and the editorial one is really important here and a productive one, in the end. When Joe and I began there was a treasure trove of carefully (if inexpensively) constructed pamphlets and newsletters that had been passed around and mostly housed in the living rooms of whomever had extra space at any given time—the contributions of Julie Silliman need to be especially acknowledged in this regard. Concern over the frailty of newsprint stock and cheap print runs led to hours of laboring over glitchy output from crude OCR software. I can only imagine how many times those digital files have now had to be reformatted to keep them available and accessible.
But the point was always, also, the creation of an anthology that would make this highly randomized, exuberant and motley assortment of documents and ideas inviting and accessible. That structure—and editorial point of view—has emerged and been reinvented in each iteration, shifting significantly in response to the specific concerns and debate of the moment. Thank you, Rob, Victor, Michael and Mimi, for finally tripping the shutter.

What do you think makes the collection of thoughts, musings and revelations in the LA Forum Reader especially relevant in 2018?

JD: It’s a real-time first pass at history. The 1980s and 90s were complicated, churning decades in Los Angeles—think of Blade Runner (1982), the Olympics (1984), the L.A. uprisings (1992), the Northridge earthquake and O.J. (1994/5). At the same time, a wave of retrospective scholarship marked L..A.’s coming of age, with the late paeans of Banham and Baudrillard followed by Ed Soja’s Postmodern Geographies and Mike Davis’ City of Quartz. By the time Fredric Jameson cited the Bonaventure Hotel as a paragon of postmodernism in 1988, Los Angeles was the canonical US city, whether or not it had been for decades or remains so now.

CD: The writings collected here represent responses to an incredibly broad set of conditions—periods of economic expansion and investment but also of tremendous contraction and very short horizons. I think the message that there is always room for a critical voice; an unpredictable and possibly unsanctioned architectural project; that architecture provides a framework for imagining the world different than it is—whatever that ‘is’ is—resonates.

MZ: Los Angeles is going through yet another reconsideration of its urban identity and the design scene is struggling to keep pace. With questions of housing, density, gentrification on the table alongside more disciplinary ideas of form and practice, the Reader reminds us that we’ve been here before. There’s tons of material—like a whole interlude on the pasts and possible futures of Downtown L.A.—that gives context and history to current debates and discourses.

Why should everyone in L.A.’s design community pick up an LA Forum Reader?

MZ: Not only does the LA Forum Reader fill in the written narrative of L.A. design from the late 1980s until now (with some really fun pit stops in the 90s), it is beautiful. Jessica Fleischmann, with Jenny Kim, of Stillroom were inspired by the wild graphics of the early LA Forum newsletters and the Reader reflects that spirit with a restrained grace. We’ve also reproduced several pamphlets that are out of print, so once again you can read Margaret Crawford’s 1988 Ecology of Fantasy in its entirety.

JD: I agree with Mimi, too—I’d add just one slightly anthropological aside. While many of the authors included in the Reader are transplants from eastern, often Ivy, climes, Chava, Victor and I are Angelenos—and Mimi, like Didion, is a Bay Area emigre. LA Forum Reader is thus both the name of this anthology, and a rather precise description of its editors. As the newly arrived were reading the city, we in turn were reading them. The Reader brings together riffs from bemused newcomers as well as those of locals seeing their city, its design and discourse, in a fresh light.

CD: What Mimi said. It’s a gift.

Image courtesy of Stillroom.

Switching Up the Pedagogy with Free School of Architecture

The Free School of Architecture takes over Woodbury University Hollywood Gallery (WUHO) this summer with an educational platform that blurs normative and disciplinary boundaries. FSA explores alternative models of practice and pedagogy through a free-thinking, participant-led structure and program. It promotes discussion between a body of participants and collaborators who share in the desire to question what architecture education and practice is and can be. Their headquarters will become a living exhibition at the street level as LA Forum’s Summer 2018 Exhibition.

We spoke with Elisha Cohen, Lili Carr, Tessa Forde, and Karina Andreeva – the four organizers of FSA18 who are also former FSA students – about the summer ahead.

For those who don’t know, tell us about the Free School of Architecture and how it works in terms of pedagogy and hierarchy (how are you organized, and how is the school run)?

FSA is 100% participant determined, led and run. We four individuals who have built FSA for 2018 were part of the inaugural FSA participant body in 2017, and wove many of the ideas explored last summer into the structure of the organization this year. As organizers we have no leader; we make our decisions unanimously and through extensive discussion. Each of us is highly opinionated and has different ideas and feelings about how FSA should operate, and through the process of building the program this year we have learned to work in close collaboration with each other, using a set of fundamental shared values as the basis for our decision-making. It will be interesting to work with and within the participant body this year and continue this process, and to figure out how and when organizational roles for FSA can be passed on.

The first decision we made for FSA this year was to get rid of, once and for all, the distinction between ‘teachers’ and ‘students’. The FSA18 admissions process invited all participants to submit a teaching proposal if they wished; likewise anyone wishing to teach also had to go through the admissions process and be accepted as a participant. The four of us organizers completed the admissions process – we are FSA18 participants too.

The program this summer is therefore populated by either FSA18 participant-led talks and workshops, or events in collaboration with individuals and organizations based (mostly) in LA with whom we share certain values and interests. We are curious to see how this multiplicity of events and voices can influence and amplify each other.

FSA is in an interesting position as the LA Forum’s “Summer Exhibition,” what are your feelings about education being on view in this way — as an exhibition? Will this influence your programming or curriculum in any way?

Being on view will be a new experience for us but one that fits in line with our fundamental values. We want to break the insular bubble of architecture. Many FSA18 participants engage with spatial practice but are not architects, and engaging with the public through FSA-as-exhibition and our online platform, we hope to open even more access to the projects and content of FSA. We programmed the summer based on the interests of FSA participants and collaborators, and we’re now excited to see how our insertion into Hollywood Boulevard will impact on our events and influence the discussions we have.

What do you anticipate will be the outcome of the school this summer? What goals are you hoping to achieve through the process?

The Free School of Architecture is a 6-week educational and cultural event taking place in Los Angeles this summer – it is not a school. We are pursuing a space where critical conversations about architecture and spatial practice can take place. We want to operate between, outside, and parallel to traditional institutions of academia and practice. It is a space of experimentation and we intentionally don’t know how this summer will end.

We don’t have specific goals, but we do have specific values that have informed the structure and we will see how these inform the trajectory of the Free School this summer. We are pursuing a non-hierarchical, collaborative educational environment. Openness, especially to transformation, is key. We hope to create a strong network between participants and the many collaborators we are working with throughout LA and internationally. We want to have deep and difficult discussions on the problematic nature of being ‘free’, and about labor and value and access. FSA is a platform and beyond that, we are excited to see what the summer will bring.

Image courtesy of Free School of Architecture.

Exploring Environment[al] with Curators Marcelyn Gow and Herwig Baumgartner

Environment[al] opens at the SCI-Arc gallery next Friday, June 15, and is a group exhibition including architects, designers and landscape architects Izaskun Chinchilla [Izaskun Chinchilla Architects], Enric Ruiz Geli [Cloud 9], Carme Pinós [Estudio Carme Pinós], Wolf Prix [Coop Himmelb(l)au], Gilles Retsin, with an exhibition landscape designed by Günther Vogt, Simon Kroll and Violeta Burkhardt [Vogt Landschaftsarchitekten]. Curators Herwig Baumgartner and Marcelyn Gow give us a preview.

Tell us about the evolution of Environment[al].

Environment[al] began with a conversation about what the word environment means today in the context of climate change, rapidly depleting resources and the ongoing process of reconstitution of the built environment. SCI-Arc Director/CEO Hernan Diaz Alonso invited us to curate the exhibition using the SCI-Arc Gallery to bring together a collection of current thinking on what environment can be and how this might provoke a more profound awareness of the sites we engage on a daily basis. The idea of new authenticities and multiple histories led us to consider what a reconstituted landscape might look like; how might it be instantiated within a different site.
The recent demolition of the 6th Street Bridge in downtown Los Angeles and the debris produced in the process provoked questions regarding the presence of the bridge and what it might become in a future iteration. We were also thinking about the vast concrete channel that is the L.A. River and what the river might transmute into if the concrete was extracted and moved to another site. We reflected on what constitutes the identity of the river and whether the reconstituted river can exist within the gallery walls.

We invited Vogt Landschaftsarchitekten to design the landscape for the exhibition. They reflected on the tenuous nature of Los Angeles in relation to water. The historical relationship of the city of Los Angeles to the control of hydrological flows and its effect on both the depletion and subsequent remediation of the ecosystem of the Owens Valley watershed exemplifies the complex and sometimes radical performance of a synthetic ecology.

How can post-digital design thinking take on climate change and other contemporary concerns in regard to ecologies and changing sites?

The work engages the possibilities of changing sites and shifting pieces of the built environment through a tectonic that integrates the possibility of its own recyclability. The materials that comprise the exhibition landscape are recycled elements that maintain aspects of their former roles as pieces of infrastructure within the built environment – reclaimed construction debris and steel tank caps from water cisterns. Gilles Retsin’s contribution to the exhibition is a hovering substrate comprised of discrete elements that can be understood on a variety of scales – a tectonic unit, a material assembly or an urban block. Retsin says, “This also resonates with the approach to assembly: where a part becomes a ‘digital material,’ a recombinable, universal particle. The immaterial, abstract and ‘black’ quality of the elements defines a position towards environment and nature – the idea that to be natural does not imply ‘green,’ organic, or merging with the ground.”

What was the biggest challenge of transforming the SCI-Arc gallery into a landscape that is both a partial facsimile of the Owens Valley landscape and a reinstantiation of the L.A. River?

Producing the fictional reconstitution of two sources [the Owens Valley landscape and the L.A. River] relied on transporting specific qualities that could be extracted, conceptually, from those sites. The act of attaching a new history to the materials that comprise the exhibition landscape required selecting things that would enable strong associations with other sites to be made. The concrete that lines the L.A. river channel and that once formed the 6th Street Bridge resembles the substrate that occupies the SCI-Arc Gallery. Likewise, the sound map of the L.A. River challenges the expectation of how a river should sound, becoming contaminated by the various sounds of both the desert biotope and urban life. To walk on this reconstituted landscape is to question the histories of both the building that contains it as well as the infrastructure that surrounds it.

Part of the Solution: Iris Anna Regn Discusses Creative Strategies, Sustainability of Neighborhoods, and Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)

Iris Anna Regn, L.A. County Arts Commission’s Civic Art Project Manager, gives LA Forum the scoop on their initiative titled “Part of the Solution: Yes to ADUs.” LA Forum will co-sponsor a related panel discussion and exhibition this Thursday, May 24th, in which practitioners discuss the project’s innovative proposals and the technicalities behind building ADUs in the city.


For those who aren’t familiar, please tell us about the ADU competition, and give us a little background on your involvement in orchestrating the competition.


For almost a year I have been consulting as a Civic Art Project Manager with the Los Angeles County Arts Commission. Civic Art at the Commission is defined broadly and includes capital and temporary projects, as well as social practice artwork, depending on what serves the specific situation in this 4,000 square mile community the best.

Our goal is to support the development of second dwelling units, also called accessory dwelling units, ADUs. In this, we are including the creative sector as “creative strategists,” and capturing their work as both an inspiration and resource for thinking about ADUs.

The project is one of L.A. County’s Homeless Initiative program strategies to increase affordable housing. Our partners in this are the Community Development Commission and the Department of Regional Planning. This Initiative Program is made possible through Measure H funds (Measure H, if you remember, was the L.A. County ballot measure that will generate $355 million annually for services and programs to prevent and combat homelessness in the County, and was approved in last year’s election).

For you, what was the most surprising thing that has come from the competition entries, or from out of the conversations you’ve had around the entries while conducting the juried discussions through the process?

In the research into designing the competition brief, we discussed challenges such as affordability in construction means and methods, shared space, what design excellence or sustainability might mean for the design of an ADU, along with adaptability to the varied site configurations of single family dwellings in the County. Many of the conversations around the design submissions, however, enlarged the issue of adaptability to also include different kinds of change over time for homeowners and their neighborhoods.

What do you want every designer reading this to understand about ADUs and their potential for changing L.A.’s residential landscape, either in terms of design, financing, or how we all live together in the city?

These small owner-initiated dwellings can contribute to preserving communities by replacing displacement as the main response to increasing housing costs. ADUs are a new building typology that involves a particularly holistic way of thinking about sustainability and the relationship to existing residences and shared green space, which is very exciting from a design point of view. Sometimes design and architecture can seem removed from policy but they actually work best together.

Photo courtesy of L.A. County Arts Commission.

Reyner Banham and the Paradoxes of High Tech with Todd Gannon

LA Forum spoke with Todd Gannon about his new book, Reyner Banham and the Paradoxes of High Tech. Gannon was recently appointed Section Head of Architecture at the Knowlton School at Ohio State University. He is a former LA Forum Board Member, and taught at SCI-Arc, Otis College of Art and Design and at UCLA, where he also received his Ph.D.

Congratulations on your new book, Reyner Banham and the Paradoxes of High Tech. Give us a rundown of your approach to the material and to Reyner Banham’s writing.

Reyner Banham, who died just over thirty years ago, was one of the most important voices in architecture culture in the second half of the twentieth century. His books (more than a dozen of them) and essays (over 700!!) on architecture and design are still widely read and discussed, yet, given his tremendous output scholars have just begun to scratch the surface of all he had to say.

Most studies on Banham, like Nigel Whiteley’s 2002 critical biography and Tony Vidler’s excellent chapter in Histories of the Immediate Present (2008), tend to focus on Banham’s earlier writings – particularly on his famous books Theory and Design in the First Machine Age (1960), The Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment (1969), and Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies (1971). By contrast, his later writings from the ’70s and ’80s have received relatively little attention. My book takes on these writings, particularly those related to Banham’s late-career writing on High Tech architecture. High Tech has also been understudied recently, though that is beginning to change.

At the time of his death in 1988, Banham was at work on a book on High Tech, which he titled Making Architecture: The Paradoxes of High Tech. His notes and correspondence, as well as a draft of his introduction, are kept in the Banham Papers which are held at the Getty Research Institute. These papers spurred my own research on Banham, and we were very lucky that Banham’s estate allowed us to include Banham’s draft intro in my book.

Why is a reconsideration of Banham’s works so important to where our profession is right now? How do you see Banham’s work reinvigorating or impacting the critical approach to technology in architecture’s propositions today? 

An important aspect of Banham’s writing throughout his career is his tendency to work in terms of stark contrasts: tradition versus technology, style versus performance, aesthetics versus ethics, etc. If you concentrate on his early writings, it appears that he has a strong bias for the latter terms in each pair.

Today, we see a lot of architectural debates structured in terms of binary scenarios like the ones Banham worked with. On one hand, we see architects rallying around often arcane formal and aesthetic interests. On the other, we see architects committed to social justice and political change. (The LA Forum even supported its own version of this kind of debate, with its historical oscillation between the camps of “experimental architecture” and “everyday urbanism.”) Typically, these debates imply a winner-take-all situation – if you’re aesthetically driven you’re automatically seen as socially irresponsible; if you’re socially responsible, you’re automatically typecast as aesthetically reprehensible.

This is a really stupid way to have a debate. Broad-brush depictions like these get both sides wrong, and they make it very difficult to see any common ground. Banham’s late writing on High Tech, in which we worked very hard to sort out how architects like Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, and others were able to be both socially responsible and aesthetically progressive without compromising either position is very instructive in this regard. He shows that one need not rely on partisan, winner-take-all logic or on synthetic compromises, which, in my experience, tend to be unsatisfying. Instead, Banham shows us how paradox can hold contradictory ideas in productive tension.

Architects today could learn quite a lot from Banham’s sophisticated paradoxes. Rather than latching on to one thing and saying “no” to everything else, Banham gives us a way to say “yes” to many things at the same time. His positive stance stands in stark contrast to the sort of negative critical theory that was in vogue when he was writing (and remains popular in many circles today), and points – finally! – to a way out of some of the more debilitating critical logjams clogging up not just architectural discourse, but most social and political commentary today.

Having been a faculty member at SCI-Arc for nine years, a LA Forum Board Member and long-time L.A. scholar and resident, we have to ask, now that you’ve moved to Ohio to head the architecture section at The Ohio State University’s Knowlton School, what do you miss most about L.A.?

The weather.

 Cover photo by  Ken Kirkwood. Design by Catherine Lorenz.

“Sense of Place” with Jose Dávila

The LA Forum interviewed architecture student-turned-artist Jose Dávila about his current migrating installation in Los Angeles. Jose Dávila originally studied architecture at the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente in Guadalajara, Mexico. With a background in architecture, his work pushes the boundaries of form and material to their limit. “Sense of Place” consists of an eight foot square cube sculpture comprised of 40 unique concrete forms. Initially installed in a West Hollywood Park in September 2017, over the course of nine months, the sculpture has slowly disassembled and migrated to far reaching locales in the city. Los Angeles Nomadic Division (LAND) commissioned Dávila’s projects as part of the Getty’s PST LA/LA triennial exhibition.

What is the intention of the migrating concrete sculptures around L.A.?

I wanted the work to be embedded in the everyday life of the city – of the different parts of the city – and for it to interact with passerby’s and inhabitants of Los Angeles.

The scale of each part of the cube or module was planned to have a natural ergonomic measurement, 15″ x 15″ x 15″, in order for them to interact with the people. It is the standard seat or bench height range which enables the pieces to interact more easily in diverse situations. More than looking for a specific feeling or thought, I planned a device that jump starts activities or experiences that were not happening necessarily in certain venues.

The majority of your work features mundane materials assembled in a very extraordinary way. How did you discover your palette and what is your process of composition based on this limiting palette?

I work with the easiest materials I have at hand. All are common construction materials which are also symbolic in many ways – let’s say concrete. Concrete is a rock that humans give form to. Glass and metal are symbols of Modernism and an International Style of Architecture. Rocks and boulders are completely the opposite. They are the result in shape and form of nature and are completely primitive. The very first elements human kind ever built with.

This palette is all materials you can easily play with, in balance. The decision to work with them has not been always rational, but from an unplanned situation.

The process in which I compose sculpture with these mundane materials is to have them sitting around in my studio, all at hand, and play with them. Sometimes I have the forms in sketches or in my head, other times it is by trial and error. Testing their limits, to see if they break or not, I use them as I need them.

Many of your pieces on display at the Marciano Art Foundation are overtly (and humorously) referential to historical artists. What is the commentary behind this and why?

Art is not an originality contest. It is important obviously, but a work of art is not good just by being original. There is a very long History of Art that as an artist I want to enhance and advance in certain ideas. But that is standing in the shoulders of giants, -paraphrasing Newton-, creating on top of previous artworks. As a self-taught artist, who didn’t study art per se, I have used the knowledge contained in books about the work of other artists as a guide for my own creations. I also get my ideas through the work of others, a ball that comes and goes like a ping-pong. By analyzing the work of others and commenting on their work I discover the intentions of my own practice. Apart from being an artist myself, I also enjoy looking and studying the art of others. It emphasizes the dichotomy of my work as an artist but also as an observer.

For more information on the locations of the sculptures: https://nomadicdivision.org/exhibition/jose-davila/
Image from: http://josedavila.mx/main

“A Line of Inquiry” with Elena Manferdini

The LA Forum interviewed architect Elena Manferdini about her current exhibition at the A+D Museum in the L.A. Arts District. Her work has been featured in LACMA as well as at the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial. Her office, Atelier Manferdini, has completed art and architectural projects in the U.S., Europe and Asia. Elena Manferdini is also the Graduate Program Chair at SCI-Arc.

Can you tell us about your current exhibition “A Line of Inquiry” at A+D?

The collection of drawings in the show explore the use of process as a tool to script and weave images into each other. The intricate line-work is then translated into facade-scale imagery.

How strict is your process and what drives it?

The process is not strict, though the tools usually are. My work is often propelled by my obsession with a specific tool or technique that I need to master– such attraction is feral.

Your body of work has cultivated a very graphic tone. Can you walk us through your process?

The medium of architecture is not a drawing, but a fully built object who’s essence is larger than merely its form of graphic representation. Therefore, the working space of a drawing is an disciplinary playground in which the architect creates graphic forms of memory— not a built environment.

The risk associated with working through graphic techniques, rather than the actual architectural medium, is that architectural drawings inherently become hostages of other disciplines such as fine art or graphic design.

State Senate Bill (SB) 827 Would Densify Housing Along Transit; Alan Loomis Explains the Debate.

While the Senate has yet to start their debate, the public debate has already begun, right?

Yes, for a bill that is so far nothing more than a proposal and has yet to make it into committee, let alone the floor, it has generated a great deal of interest and debate. Which I think is good – a public debate about planning policy is healthy for city-making.

We are clearly facing a housing crisis in California, especially urban California, and it seems clear that increasing supply is essential to addressing that crisis. It’s a simple numbers game generated by supply-and-demand economics – demand is high, and we need a massive infusion of supply to get the costs of housing down for all income levels. Apparently local jurisdictions, individual cities, have not been permissive enough through their own zoning standards to make a meaningful dent in the housing supply, so the State is taking charge. It’s also important where the State, through this bill, is saying housing should go – near transit. I also find it interesting that the allowed density or height of buildings in the proposed bill is related to street width. That suggests there is some measure of urban design thinking in the bill – maybe the authors understand the classic urban design idea of the street as a public room based on proportions of width to height.

On the other hand, as a practitioner of local government, the idea that the State is going to strip local authority and control away in favor of a one-size-fits-all zoning solution is frightening. Local planning commissions and design review boards – to which I’ve been both an appointed voting member and staff liaison – go to great lengths to massage buildings into better relationships with their context. As I read the proposed legislation, that ability is dramatically curtailed, probably at the expense of well-designed communities.

Another criticism of the bill is that will provide yet another reason for communities to oppose new transit infrastructure.

Given your critique, and the critiques of others (namely those of LA City Councilmember Paul Koretz, the Crenshaw Subway Coalition, and the Sierra Club) what might the bill’s sponsors consider going forward? What revisions or amendments might you like to see debated?

Much of the concern over the bill is that, as first drafted, it wasn’t clear if it would override existing pro-housing rules, and it did not define what “high-transit” means. I think this is critical – just because a transit route draws a line across the city, I don’t think high-density development should be supported parallel to that entire line. You can only access transit at specific points, so around those points is where transit-oriented development and densities should be supported.

I’d like to see amendments that acknowledge and reward cities that have been trying to enable transit-oriented development already. Places like Santa Monica and Pasadena rewrote their citywide plans and zoning to promote density around rail lines that were planned, but didn’t yet exist (Expo and Gold Lines). So I’d propose a kind of performance-based amendment that requires cities to adhere to the standards of the bill until they can develop their own local plan to accommodate the densities the bill would otherwise generate.

Of course, wealthy cities like Santa Monica and Pasadena, which can afford deep planning staffs and expensive consultants, would be able to meet this local plan requirement without much trouble, while poorer communities like Paramount and Norwalk could get the short-end of the stick. Perhaps there needs to be some type of outside funding to assist those communities, maybe by realigning the criteria of SCAG or Metro’s TOD Planning Grants, or other similar funds in other regions.

Pivoting from SB 827 and planning legislation, could you give us a quick history of DLA and its originator. Tell us about when and why you started it, what is was, what it has been, and is now as the LA Forum rolls into its 31st year?

The Delirious LA email list started in 2001. I had just graduated from SCIArc, and every week I’d send out an email to my coworkers at Moule & Polyzoides asking who wanted to go to the SCIArc lecture that week. Two of my coworkers had also just graduated from USC and UCLA, and they did the same for lectures at those schools. So I said three separate emails is silly, let me consolidate the lecture series into one weekly email with three events, which I then sent to everyone in the office, plus a few friends. A few months later Dion Neutra asked if he could add a Neutra Office event to my calendar because he heard that I had this extensive email list. I laughed, and told him that in fact only a few friends got my email, but added his event anyways. His request got me thinking that there might be a larger audience for what I was doing, so I expanded the list of events, started spamming places like the AIA, MAK Center and LA Forum. Since I was also maintaining a running calendar that projected well beyond a week, I turned that calendar from a word doc on my computer into a website for anyone to look at and offered people a means to sign up for the Monday AM email. When I passed the email list to serve to the Forum in 2005 it had somewhere between 2000 and 3000 individual addresses.

I think people who got the weekly DLA email from me assumed I was a man-about-town, and constantly running off to all the events I published. Of course, that wasn’t the case – at best I could get to one event a week. But in compiling a weekly list of architecture and urban design events I was trying to suggest that we, in our professional id of sorts, were engaged in regional conversation about the changing nature of Los Angeles and the role of architecture and planning in making that new Los Angeles. The list of events was very consciously curated in that way – the inclusion of urban design events and tours was very deliberate. Perhaps in some way the subconscious regional conversation documented by DLA prefigured our current interest in planning issues and topics such as SB 827.

“Pioneering Women of American Architecture” with Yay Brigade

The LA Forum interviewed L.A. based designers Roman Jaster and Nicole Jaffe of Yay Brigade about their most recent website project with the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation, “Pioneering Women of American Architecture.” 

What is the intent of this website and who do you hope it will reach?

Pioneering Women of American Architecture celebrates women who were trailblazers in the field of architecture. Challenging the traditionally male-dominated narrative of architecture, this site recognizes the women who have made significant contributions to the field since the 1800s. Ultimately, It is meant to shed light on the significant contributions women have made to the architectural field and encourage young women to practice architecture. We hope the site reaches architects, architectural scholars, historians, students, designers, and feminists.

How were the featured women chosen? Will the website be expanding with more women anytime soon?

They were chosen by the editors, Mary McLeod and Victoria Rosner, in conjunction with the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation. The site currently features 24 profiles, and the editors hope to continue expanding this database to eventually include a total of 50 women.

What was the most difficult part about creating this website and how was it working alongside the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation?

Ultimately, this is a collection of in-depth, dense, scholarly essays. We had to find a way to present this information in an engaging and digestible manner. The brief itself was to create something surprising and visually engaging, a challenge we were excited to tackle. We came up with the idea of using interesting ways to navigate the profiles. The menu organizes the profiles in three different ways: alphabetical, chronological, and pictorial. The chronological view is the most interesting to us because it shows how the lives of the women overlapped. For the profile essays themselves, we had to find a way to present the long text, footnotes, significant bibliographical information, and images as a digestible whole. We tried hard to design an inviting, engaging, and beautiful reading experience, so readers would be inclined to spend time with the material. We paid close attention to the hierarchy and readability of the typography—we wanted everything to be quite considered, the same way we would approach design for print

“Geothermal Futures Lab”: Mark Foster Gage

The LA Forum interviewed architect Mark Foster Gage about his current installation at SCI-Arc, “Geothermal Futures Lab.” Gage’s work has appeared in numerous publications, and his work intersects emergent technologies, computational aesthetics, and interdisciplinary collaborations. He is a tenured professor, and Assistant Dean at the Yale School of Architecture where he has taught since 2001. The exhibition is on view through March 4th. Gage will also speak next week at UCLA. See the calendar below for more information.

Tell us about the Geothermal Futures Lab you’ve set up inside SCI-Arc?

That particular installation is an exploration into the tools architecture has for producing the realities in which we exist.  My friend David Ruy often says “Architecture is the first thing that tells us what reality looks like,” which is even more true now than it was historically. If you think about it, most of your life happens in architecture — it is the backdrop of your reality. Nobody is living in the woods anymore — we live and work in buildings. Always in buildings. Now while architecture has primarily concerned itself with buildings, in the past, it also now has other tools at its disposal which can be used to produce this backdrop—which is what this installation is about. It uses narrative, research data, fiction, historic references, new technologies, video, social media, technical drawings, photography, staging, and props to produce an immersive experience  a full and complete reality. However, this full and complete reality is filled with “reveals” that tell you aspects of it are fictional — there are things like my little ponies in the technical drawings and bunny rabbits CNC milled into the machinery.   This does two things — it tests the elasticity of architectures ability to fully form a given ‘reality’ but also invites as certain critical curiosity where people begin to question the reality they have been given.

 

The exhibit comes with a disclaimer: “This is an architectural public service announcement to be more aware of your reality and develop a healthier skepticism for information presented without proper journalistic or scientific verification, especially from architects.” This seems like a commentary on “fake news.”

Yes. Certainly — it is about revealing the elasticity of how architects frame reality, as well as a warning to be wary of, and critical of, these constructions.  Architecture today is as much a discipline of marketing as much as it is a discipline of building.  Characters like Bjarke Ingels are evidence of this — where the advertising and marketing of the work, or the architect, is far more important than the work itself.  People should be unwilling to settle for an architecture of sound-bites.  They should be invited to go deeper — this is what the installation is about.  An invitation to curiosity about architecture rather than a sound bite that you can quickly understand and dismiss.

You talk about embracing shifts in technology and finding materiality in the virtual, but many architects and critics are talking about a return to history and even a return to “boring” buildings. How do you balance history and technologically-forward thinking?

I was trained as a classical architect.  When, in 1997, I graduated from Notre Dame I got a job with Robert A.M. Stern.  I told one of my professors and he said “Stern!, Why would you want to go work for that modernist!? “   I have a particular expertise in history that significantly informs my work.  But buildings are not part of architectural history because they were merely good architecture — they are part of architectural history because they were significant in some way, conceptually, technologically, materially.  The history of architecture is a history of innovations and anomalies — the opposite of boring things.  Boring buildings don’t become part of history — so any use of history to produce boring buildings is pretty sad, and I would say, intellectually lazy.

How does humor and play inform your practice?

I write quite a bit about architecture, and, academically, aesthetic philosophy. Sometimes this, along with running my practice, can get a bit heavy.  Humor is the pressure valve that releases some of the gravitas of the writing and work.  It plays an important role as such.  This would be the perfect place to say something funny, to end the interview.  Did you hear about the new corduroy pillows?  They’re making headlines.
Practitioners: A film by Nina Briggs

Practitioners
LA Forum spoke with designer and educator Nina Briggs about her upcoming documentary, “Practitioners”. Her film reveals the women in, around, and adjacent to architecture, illustrating their roles as the glue of the Los Angeles design community. Nina is the Founding Principal of THE FABRIC, the first black woman to graduate from USC with a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture, and recipient of the 2017 ASID Scholars Award for Education.

You describe the women in your film as “Silent-Change-Makers.” Can you dive into what you mean by that?

One of the goals of the film is to replace the architecture-culture model of an exclusive citadel with the authentic, nuanced view, including the allied professions. Another goal is to unpack the dimensions of women’s multi-disciplinary stories in the context of the greater design community. Many of these women practice behind the scenes in positions of power and authority, quietly enhancing and supporting the design community.

During your conversations, were there moments that surprised you?  

I’m honored to be trusted by these women with their intimate stories. The interviews reveal personal journeys of practice based upon conscious and/or unconscious career navigations, bypassing obstacles and transcending boundaries. They explain how their architectural training led to alternate forms of practice, or completely different professions, why they left traditional practice, and how their paths meandered. They’re almost unaware of their incredible resilience and strength. Their humility, quiet leadership, and far-reaching impact is astounding.

What is your intention behind curating such a narrative and what is your hope as an extension beyond a film?

I hope to reveal the creative ways in which women persist despite barriers; To celebrate these brand ambassadors of design, who are enabling code-switching; To correct the misconceptions of architects and heighten her cultural and economic value; To spark a perceptional shift toward a more inclusive culture; To enhance the current discourse on inequity in the profession(s), filling a void in the incomplete body of material knowledge of women in architecture and design, and reconstruct the female legacy through a compelling lens.

What about recent criticism — like the Dezeen.com opinion piece by Danish architect Dorte Mandrup — pointing to women-only-featured exhibits as contributing to the design profession’s gender inequality? The criticism is that women-only projects, however well-intentioned, might only silo women more. How would a point of view like this be addressed in the film?

The film explores both diversity of practitioners, as well as diversity of practice, unmasking sustainable modes of practice, reflective of the communities served. Since women are a vital, less visible part of the built environment’s talent pool, the film disrupts stereotypes in order to consider women’s political impact and real-world value. The film’s intention is not to seek siloed feminine privilege, but to expand the formulaic scope of practice, noting that designing buildings is not the only means to shaping the built environment. We seek to honor those female practitioners who have been rendered invisible, while illuminating asymmetries and striving for equitable representation.

What does recognition mean? 

I think recognition, while gratifying to the recognized, has a greater impact on the observers of recognition. The current perfect storm of diversity, equity and inclusion is the whole community’s responsibility.  I think active participation and solidarity with the movement underway must continue.

To find out more about Practitioners visit thefabric.org.

A Tribute to Schindler’s L.A. with Pamela Shamshiri and John Williams

Four Los Angeles designers and one artist pay tribute to architect R.M. Schindler in the exhibition “Pin-up: A Designed Tribute to Schindler’s L.A.”, on view through February 11 at the Fitzpatrick-Leland House.  LA Forum spoke to Pamela Shamshiri of Studio Shamshiri about her and John Williams’ collaborative pieces in the show, their inspiration, and how the work responds to Schindler’s materials and forms.

 

Tell us about living in and restoring Schindler’s Lechner House and creating your own home atmosphere there, to a continued collaboration with John Williams on a reinterpretation of Schindler’s pieces and newly designed light fixtures. 

PS: I always knew Schindler was the architect’s architect, but I had no idea exactly why he was so revered until restoring the Lechner house. The boys and I joke that John had to move in with us for two years to complete the restoration. That time period was magical and creative. So much was unearthed at the job site every day. Between the drawing set, the 1948 photos, and what was existing — nothing matched. In the daily excavation, we would find scribbled notes on geometry, idiosyncratic framing and engineering solutions. Schindler’s DNA was everywhere. It was like being on an archeological dig and an incredibly creative time which birthed a company like Commune. Lots of design lessons learned in that period for both John and I. In lots of ways, we didn’t want it to end and so here we are collaborating on pieces that embody the high design/low materials, the play on geometry, sculpting bits of space, and the design ethos that Schindler leaves us with.

Inspiration boards are a major tool in your design firm, Studio Shamshiri, what sort of images and themes were accumulated for this project?

PS: At the house, I have three big binders full of Schindler articles, references, and details. I also have a notebook of designers that work within a process that Schindler would approve of like Piet Hein Eeek, Eileen Grey, Corbusier, etc. We sit in the living room and pull images, then John goes away and comes back with a curve ball, and I always say, “Yes, let’s do it!”

How did you and John choose the materials that would reflect the historic characteristics of the Fitzpatrick-Leland House? 

PW & JW: We started with the combination of redwood and copper that Schindler used in the Kings road house and decided to make a second version using the combination of brass with a color-washed Douglas Fir. The color-wash is a bit more yellow than the greenish tan that Schindler employed. It was important to us that it resonated with the brass in a similar way the redwood resonated with the copper. When you look at the carts side by side you can see they are unusual takes on the idea of red and yellow.

Tell us about your design and how it functions in the house and communicates with other pieces in the exhibition?

PS & JW: Schindler had a knack for concealing staircases behind or inside of cabinetry, like in the Lechner House a staircase connecting spaces drops right through a cabinet that houses a pull-out dining table. It feels like a secret passage in plain sight. In the Fitzpatrick-Leland house, the steps leading to the second floor are hidden behind a partition and a tall cabinet in the dining area. The top of this cabinet turned out to be an excellent place for viewing the dynamics and dimensionality of our lamp. In the dining area you are afforded a view from below the lamp, where you can see what usual sight lines normally conceal, the cord running through a 3/8″ hole punched through the plant of wood that forms the base of the lamp. This was a detail that we sweated over for a while, with each new method devised for transferring the cord from the lamp, out the back to the power seeming overthought or fussy. In the end this blunt solution turned out to be the best.

Looking Forward with Craig Hodgetts and Hsinming Fung

In honor of the LA Forum’s 30th Anniversary, Delirious LA occasionally features interviews with some of its founders. This week we continue our series with architects Craig Hodgetts and Hsinming Fung of the firm Hodgetts & Fung. We spoke to them about their time as LA Forum’s founders & presidents as well as the forum’s critical role in the design community moving forward.

Looking back, what were some of the highlights from your time as LA Forum presidents?

CH & HF: Looking back on my time with the Forum, it was an exciting opportunity to be part of the birth of Los Angeles’ architectural culture – a culture that had been all but lost since the sixties, when John Entenza and the Case Study architects were practicing. It felt like a renaissance because there were so many of our peers and others locating to the West Coast from the East, and innumerable young firms which were talented, ambitious, and independent sprouting up where there had been a dearth.  People like Sylvia Lavin, who joined the Forum bringing a sophisticated sense of destiny at just the right time when we were just beginning to have an architectural culture with the beginnings of MOCA, etc.

The LA Forum has been around for 30 years, has it evolved in the way you expected?

CH & HF: The best thing about the Forum is that it has remained fresh and young with a constant influx of new, enthusiastic members who bring their ideas to it – guaranteeing that it stays current and contemporary with the result that it has never gotten stale. The Forum continues to be a place for new voices and new energy.

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?

CH & HF: At the time of its beginnings, the Forum was the only independent critical voice encouraging the formation of an architectural culture, and able to celebrate emerging firms and patterns of thought, especially with the establishment of the publications, which gave voice to an emerging generation which was not dominated by commercial enterprise.

Now, almost thirty years later, we would like to see the scope broadened to engage wider social and infrastructural objectives, especially since the battle for quality modern architecture appears to have been won. Huge issues like density, traffic, and demographic changes are and will have to find advocates in the future, and the Forum is well positioned to champion solutions and discussions about them. However, it will need to nurture its public voice in order to be an effective instrument for change.

How would you say Los Angeles has influence the Forum?

CH & HF: The Forum is inherently the voice of Los Angeles. Whenever people come from elsewhere, they seem to catch the flavor of the city, and tend to celebrate its qualities rather than attempting to substitute an alternative point of view, which differs dramatically from the past when all one heard were complaints and observations about the lack of urbanity, and indiscriminate heterogeneity. With the emergence of Los Angeles as a model for developing economies, it will be important to point out the discrepancies and inconsistencies in that assessment.

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

CH & HF: It would be wonderful if the Forum were to become a “must read” blog similar to Architizer and Bustler with a more critical focus on L.A. culture and issues. It would also be an opportunity to initiate and/or lobby for better selection processes by city agencies or encourage a wider use of open and/or limited competitions on important civic or cultural projects, which would offer important opportunities to young firms to get a much-needed “foothold”.

What advice do you have for the LA Forum?

CH & HF: We would like the Forum to find ways to establish stronger relationships with other design-oriented organizations and individuals in order to establish some overarching dialogue about issues that matter.

 

Strategically Planning with Mimi Zeiger and Ella Hazard

As the LA Forum wraps up its 30th year, we continue to reflect on our past to find a way forward as an organization. This week, we talk to the LA Forum’s Co-Presidents from 2014 to 2015, writer and critic Mimi Zeiger and architect Ella Hazard, who provide key insights into our recent history and ongoing issues in the architecture community at large.

You two were the first and only co-presidents in the LA Forum’s history so far. Why did you team up and how did you work together during your tenure?

MZ: We became co-presidents at a moment when the Forum was going through a big strategic planning initiative that was poised to reboot not only our programming and publishing, but also our visibility and fundraising. It was more work than any single person could take on. It was important to us that the Forum be forward-looking but not lose its rich intellectual history and conceptual underpinnings to challenge what architecture and design means in a place like Los Angeles. We each tackled the areas that played to our strengths, experience, and interests, and we collaborated on leadership and outreach. Together we were able to relaunch the LA Forum’s graphic identity, designed by Jessica Fleischman of Still Room, which led to Folder Studio’s redesign of the website.

EH: When Mimi and I inherited the LA Forum, it was approaching its 30th anniversary, the perfect time for a bit of an identity crisis. We realized that in order to take on the infrastructural strategic work that we felt was necessary and continue with our significant load of programming/publications, that it was definitely more than a one-person job. It seemed like the obvious and necessary solution for what the organization urgently needed in the moment.

Looking back, what were some of the highlights from your time as LA Forum co-presidents?

MZ: While I’m really proud of our exhibitions and programming, including the series Host: Natural Histories for Los Angeles, which was done in partnership with WorldWide Storefront and with collaborators Big City Forum and the Neutra VDL House, it was ForumFest 2015 that really captures what Ella and I were hoping to achieve: a big party that brings the best of LA architecture and urbanism together. Ella worked tirelessly to secure the venue under the now-demolished 6th Street Viaduct. I coordinated the Out There Doing Participants who the Forum commissioned to make site-specific installations. There were DJs, films, food trucks, and even a New Orleans Jazz Band. Did I mention a bridge-shaped piñata?

EH: I feel particularly proud of how much Mimi and I were able to accomplish together. The deep dive into the strategic planning effort wasn’t a particularly glamorous process, but it was the type of thought leadership that felt appropriate for where the Forum was at the time. It was necessary for us to clarify our focus in order to better engage our community and continue to curate inspiring programs and publications. Also, throwing a crazy party under the 6th Street Bridge was a pretty incredible experience!

Only three out of thirty-one LA Forum presidents have been women, including yourselves. Was this significant to you during your co-presidency? What can be done to improve this ratio in the future?  

MZ: The LA Forum is not alone in its failure to represent women in design. It’s a structural issue within architecture that can only be fixed with deliberate effort in schools, in the profession, and in organizations like the Forum. During my five years on the board, I was dedicated to making sure our programming included not just a token woman on a panel, but many women, with many different design points of view. We need to remember that equality is not limited to gender and must address race, class, and sexual orientation. Alas, architecture and the Forum hasn’t gotten there yet.

Any parting wisdom or words of advice?

EH: I think that it’s really important to have fun. I joined the LA Forum as member because I really enjoyed the programming, events and publications that the organization produced. It’s always had deep roots in the community and an independent critical voice – yet the manner in which the conversations are curated leaves room for levity and feeling of community. It never took itself too seriously and I believe that this spirit will live on.

Exploring the Building Envelope with Facades+’s Marty Wood

Returning to downtown Los Angeles on October 19 and 20, the Facades+ Conference will unite top professionals from the worlds of design, fabrication, and construction to consider how high performance envelopes contribute to and are shaped by L.A.’s unique architectural landscape. As a conference media sponsor, the LA Forum talked to Marty Wood, Program Director of the Facades+ Conferences, about finding a community of “facade geeks” and the building industry at large. 

What are the goals and themes of the Facades+ L.A. conference?

The Facades+ Conference is now approaching six years in existence and continues to grow and evolve. The conference series started with the emphasis on building envelopes from many perspectives: material, technique, design, and sustainability. We’ve had a dedicated group of “facade geeks” who continue to return to these events, year after year, and we continue to share our passion for buildings with new audiences.

Performance and sustainability is always an overriding theme of the conferences and many of the experts we bring together reflect that shared goal. We’ve tailored this year’s Los Angeles event in partnership and with the guidance of SOM’s Design Directors Paul Danna & José Luis Palacios and Senior Technical Designer Garth Ramsey, to create what we hope is a compelling program for Los Angeles’ many building professionals. We want to create an environment where architects, engineers, construction leaders, and other building professionals can meet each other, network, learn, and exchange ideas.

What talks and events are you looking forward to?

We’ve got a stellar lineup of presenters this year from many of Los Angeles’ award-winning architecture firms. Our keynotes are Stanley Saitowitz in the morning and Julie Eizenberg & Nathan Bishop of Koning Eizenberg in the afternoon. Alice Kimm (JFAK) and Lorcan O’Herlihy will also be presenting their studios’ excellent work. Our panel conversations feature issues of political importance such as designing supportive housing and innovative research from scholars at L.A.’s top universities. Other panels include high-profile civic projects such as the new Federal Courthouse and L.A.’s upcoming stadium developments.

The Facades+ conference has expanded to multiple cities in recent years. How does the Los Angeles iteration of the conference differ from ones held in other cities? 

Since Los Angeles is one of the U.S. hubs of architecture and design (and with so many active construction projects), we are always excited to come back here. Each Facades+ event is different because we partner with local firms to develop the program and tailored to local audiences. We love Los Angeles and have made it one of only two of our yearly two-day Facades conferences. The expanded format offers not only the full day symposium and exhibitors gallery, but a second full day of deep-diving workshops led by experts on topics as diverse as NetZero and sustainable design, ETFE, detailing for facades, and software such as Processing and Dynamo. It’s a great way for architects to learn new skills, network and take care of their AIA required credits. We hope to see you there!

Looking Forward with Christian Hubert

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 Christian Hubert. We spoke to Hubert about the LA Forum’s origins and critical role in the design community moving forward.

What were some of the original goals the founders had for the LA Forum?

Many of us had more or less recently moved to L.A. from the East Coast and missed the polemics and debates that took place in New York and the architecture schools. I had been active at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies and sought out other designers with similar interests. I knew a number of the other founding members already, and I was eager to expand that network.

Craig Hodgetts was the closest thing to an authentic L.A. figure in our original group, Frank Israel was still a recent transplant and Ben [Caffey] had moved back after a year at the GSD. Aaron [Betsky] and I had just arrived. Our goal was to make sense of the city and the architecture being created in it. We met in various offices until we were able to use the Schindler house, which provided an anchor point, an outdoor room, and an explicit link to transplanted European modernism.

How did Los Angeles influence the Forum?

The Forum’s initial response to L.A. was to perceive a need (or at least a desire) for discussion, a sense that the architectural community was inchoate and underdeveloped, to take a real interest in the freedoms and opportunities for architectural experimentation in Los Angeles, and in the future of the city — especially in relation to transportation and infrastructure.

The social tensions between the city’s socially segregated enclaves, between rich and poor, and between ethnic groups could not be ignored either, and we were fortunate to have members like Doug Suisman and John Kaliski who were committed to public initiative and changes in the city. We would always be moving back and forth between an interest in design experiment and an ambition to make real contributions to the public realm.

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

The tumultuous events following the Rodney King beatings underscored the importance of our working with communities, other than ours, and exploring the marginal or informal spaces of the city. We held an event in the parking lot of a burnt out mall — using found furniture — held another event under the freeway, and participated in design charrettes. We also remained committed to activist academic work and to the pamphlet publications.

What role would you like to see the LA Forum play in the design community?

I think the Forum has created an important cultural niche for itself in Los Angeles, and hope it can continue to do so. As much as possible, it should be opening up avenues for talented designers to contribute to the public good, in social and environmental terms and increasingly in political terms. The state of California is a leader and an example to the rest of the world; Los Angeles should be as well.

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

Keep it up!

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.

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