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As part of the lead up to the opening of LAForum’s Summer Exhibition, “Every. Thing. Changes.” LAForum will interview each of the 20 participants in their collaborative groups, or “families.” The following E.T.C. “family” of participants interviewed here are: Lisa Teasley (author and artist), Imogen Teasley-Vlautin (artist and composer), Silvia Herrasti and Paulina Herrasti (artists) and MUTUO (Fernanda Oppermann and Jose Herrasti, architects).
The newly commissioned texts and visual works exhibited in “Every. Thing. Changes.” were developed over the course of spring 2020, and are the outcomes of a “call and response” process between five initial L.A.-based writers, their texts, and the visual responses of designers and artists.
Lisa, the topic given to the writers to ponder was “L.A. in the ‘20s” how did you decide to approach the topic? And what does the vision of the future, next-decade L.A. look like to you?
LT: As an L.A. native, I have lived in various neighborhoods such as Baldwin Hills, Koreatown, Venice, the Adams District, Mar Vista and Laurel Canyon, among others, and so have walked and driven through the ever-changing psychogeography of the city over the decades. But what has been consistent is the presence of a rich and culturally diverse population. As a passionate world traveler, I love that I come home to as many stories as wherever I have just left. The idea of the Castle as a setting of awe and beauty for diverse collaborations is a longtime vision of mine, and upon this opportunity for the LA Forum show, I seized the chance to explore it as a collaborative vision for the infinite ways I could have never thought of—just as next-decade L.A. will continue to mirror the ever-changing globe.
Imogen, Silvia, Paulina, Fernanda and Jose, what are you producing for the exhibition and what do you want folks to know most about your response to Lisa’s text?
ITV: I am producing a sound piece with the intentions of resonating the imagined space that is the Castle. I want the music to illustrate the magic of the ever-present creative energy in the Castle, and reflect the lively, collaborative spirit that Lisa describes in her written piece.
MUTUO: Lisa’s ‘The Castle in the Trees’ describes a space of collaboration in Los Angeles. As we were thinking about our response to Lisa’s text it only made sense to expand the collaborative spirit. Mutuo decided to invite a group of talented recent graduate architects and architecture students to build an assemblage of pieces. This assemblage of pieces will be the physical manifestation of a group interpretation of what a castle may mean. After a few back-and-forth discussions with this young group of collaborators, Mutuo is writing non-prescriptive, perhaps even poetic instructions for them, giving leeway for interpretation and creative individuality. Our guest collaborators are: Irving Estrada Alvarez, Mónica Lamela Blázquez, Luis Montoya, Alejandra Novelo, Kamila Weiss & Kanata Yamayoshi.
SH & PH: We will be presenting a mixed media diptych that includes a hand-embroidered piece with appliqués, and a color photograph of an assemblage of found objects. We decided to create a composition that relates to any culture and society around the world.
And how are you translating Lisa’s text to a site and/or to a formal idea?
ITV: I want to acknowledge the multi-layered relationship between sound and space within the walls of the Castle by creating a piece that symbolically fills the space Lisa envisions, and portrays the energy and activity she describes by using specific sounds to represent bits of the imagery she gave us.
MUTUO: We are interpreting the text both literally and figuratively. The making of the object itself is a direct response to the text.
SH & PH: The embroidery in our piece depicts the landscape leading to the Castle of Trees, and the actual fort. The assemblage resembles the façade of a castle, with symbolic meanings conveyed through each component.
Has the pandemic quarantine or creating and collaborating remotely influenced your production?
LT: As a writer and a visual artist I am used to creating at home alone, even my work as an editor at Los Angeles Review of Books is done remotely, so initially upon the pandemic, my work life had not changed significantly. But with the addition of this tremendous opportunity to collaborate on the Castle project with visionaries like the architects Fernanda and Jose, the artists Silvia and Paulina, and the musician/composer, Imogen, the entire process has buoyed me tremendously during this most uncertain time in history, that is being felt and experienced the world over.
ITV: Quarantine hasn’t had a huge effect on the way I produce creative work because I tended to work alone even before the pandemic. However, I had been craving more creative collaboration and this time has catalyzed, out of necessity, a lot of innovation in how we create, share, and experience work, which has been inspiring to me as I’ve found myself collaborating much more with brilliant artists in projects such as this, and experiencing creative work more often even if virtually.
MUTUO: The quarantine has offered a re-thinking of what an exhibition might be. We have structured the fabrication of our object so that there are no overlaps and our collaborators can be safe.
SH & PH: We had thought about having random participants in public space help build the assemblage for our piece, which was not possible because of the pandemic.
Question for all of you: What’s been the most surprising thing about the collaboration or the development of the exhibition in general?
LT: I have to say that the most surprising thing about this collaboration is the bursts of emotion I’m experiencing, the sheer elation it has brought to my life during such a trying moment in history. The fact that this LAForum exhibition is happening, at all — the fact that the show will go on — I consider to be a tremendous gift.
MUTUO: The surprising part is that even though it is a complex exhibit with many participants, it has run relatively smoothly. I wonder if it would have been more difficult doing it with personal meetings. The flexibility because of the pandemic has been great. I also wonder if adopting more flexible systems is a part of the new normal.
ITV: I can’t say that I’ve been surprised but I am immensely grateful and excited to be a part of this project, and in particular I really appreciate, to touch on what Fernanda and Jose said, being able to witness and participate in a complex exhibition that has been adapted so creatively to work within the limitations of the pandemic.
SH & PH: Agree with the Imogen and the MUTUO team (big thumbs up emoji !!)
On August 8th, 2020, the summer exhibition by the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design will present 20 new works documenting collective views of life in Los Angeles by a group of 20 emerging designers and thinkers. Delirious LA is happy to be able to interview exhibition curator, Wendy Gilmartin, and assistant curator, Nina Briggs, as they complete preparations for the new exhibit entitled “Every. Thing. Changes.”
Hi Wendy and Nina, can you give us an overview of “Every. Thing. Changes.”?
WG: For the LAForum’s 2020 Summer Exhibition, we have commissioned 20 new text and visual works by 20 participants who have developed the work over the spring this year. We wanted to go big for the new decade and look forward.
When the LAF Board of Directors met at our yearly retreat in early February, a lot of topics were on the table to tackle and to talk about this year. Some of the quotes I kept from my notes were “What does it mean to support diverse voices?” “Anti-Nostalgia” “Rogue Spirit” “Change the definition of ownership” “Put groups of people in a space who normally wouldn’t be in that space” and “We can still change.”
Nina and I decided that — instead of issuing a call for proposals for this year’s summer exhibition, which is what the LAForum has typically done in the past — we would curate the exhibition and explore the topics set forth at our Board of Directors retreat as a way to commit to those ideas; especially those in relation to “What does it mean to support diverse voices?” and “people in a space who normally wouldn’t be there.“
But capturing and distilling the collective imagination of a diverse group is hard!
NB: Yes, it is hard to integrate the strengths, talents, wisdom, and perspectives from multidisciplinary and distinct creatives into a collaborative effort. But it gets easier and richer with practice. And isn’t this what we all need to do from now on? Are we not in – not a moment – but at the necessary intersection of centering the immeasurable value of diverse voices in all institutions, systems, cultures, and practices?
WG: So, we left some room for mistakes, mis readings, and messiness. We used words like “messy” and “uncertainty” in a lot of the writings we did leading up to the formulation of the call for participants. And we embraced those words as generative and opportunistic for the project. Thankfully all the participants we asked were down with that kind of thinking too, and they were game for a big, weird project no one really understood yet at that point.
How do the values of this exhibit relate to the overall mission of the LAForum?
WG: I think it is the LAForum’s job to frame architecture in L.A. within a set of larger questions or set of consequences — and hopefully that framing and those questions are really good and can be unpacked, challenged, re-framed and discussed. That allows us to get to a deeper level of thinking about cities or what we do as architects, so that we might pivot our thinking or get enlightened or connect the dots in some new way about what we do. Its also LAForum’s job to provide a platform for emerging thinkers and practitioners — those who lead the way with their new questions and re-framings.
NB: In the context of our mission, we ask what L.A. is seeking to understand through the multiple definitions of the city in 2020 — its attitudes, moods, disposition, burgeoning ideas, personal accounts, anxieties, speculations and hopes.
WG: I had a conversation recently with someone who described the LAForum as the “architecture illuminati” or “architecture Anonymous” because they see us as having this independent freedom (for example, we’re not a professional organization like AIA or an academic institution connected to a school), and we lie low for a while and then come up with some big, fantastic piece of programming and then go low gain for a while. I liked that image. And, yes, we have freedom to ask more critical questions than other organizations. I think we have a responsibility to do that.
On one hand, the formulation of the Every. Thing. Changes. exhibition itself is a question about how we support diverse voices. But on the other hand, it is also about asking those voices to expand upon a set of topical issues for architecture and life in L.A. this year. It’s up to the Every. Thing. Changes. participants to frame these and certain other relevant topics (climate change, civic obstinacy, the nature of collaboration, aging in an unconnected city) through an architectural or spatial approach. The hope is that all this challenges what architecture could mean in an evolving city, which is what our LAForum mission statement asks us to do.
By what process were the different project teams assembled ?
WG: We did not want to write a typical call for ideas or curatorial call. We wanted to re-write how we formulate an architecture exhibition and upend conventions around how to start the process. There was also an intentional motivation to stop ourselves from falling into any architectural feedback loop around current concerns that we as a discipline might tend to focus on. We were more concerned about what we might be missing if we took the conventional track.
So, we started with writers. Like us in the design profession, writers are good communicators and translators of the city and its socio-personal interactions. And they do it really well! The writers, in a sense, then wrote the prompt for the visual works. We are absolutely floored by the writerly talent who agreed to participate with us. Writers include: a poet and publisher (Viva Padilla), a novelist (Lisa Teasley), a poet and activist (Terry Wolverton), a critic and editor (Anthony Carfello) and a journalist (Sam Bloch). Their texts consist of: a speculative fiction piece in which the classes of L.A. are even more desperate and disparate than they are currently, a journalistic look at climate change fashion, a personal essay on aging in place during the COVID crisis, a long-form poem using the triangulation of google maps to describe the author’s own desmadre (chaos), and a fairytale about a group of collaborators who live in a seminar house in the trees.
Once we had the writers in place, we paired them with five designers/design teams, (well actually six): Jacob Sellaoui, Lorena Garcia, Yara Feghali, Orhan Ayyuce, MUTUO (Jose Herrasti and Fernanda Oppermann) and Julie Smith-Clementi and Frank Clementi. We asked the designers to each produce a visual response to one of the writers’ texts.
For the final 10 participants, we asked each writer and each designer to choose a “plus one” collaborator to bring into the project. That makes a total of 20 participants. 20 new works in 2020.
NB: And in re-writing the call, beginning with writers, thinking about the power of language to spin narratives – to weave foundational ideas – and craft those inquiries into experiential concepts, I’m haunted by Toni Morrison’s 1993 Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech (eternally and especially apt for this time), in which she begins a story with one question – and as it goes unanswered – the perspective of who has asked, shifts to the asked being questioned and held responsible for the object of question. Morrison’s speech guides us through the process of reading language, its uses and ultimate demise – for which all makers are accountable. My favorite part is when she asserts: “The vitality of language lies in its ability to limn the actual, imagined and possible lives of its speakers, readers, writers. Although its poise is sometimes in displacing experience it is not a substitute for it. It arcs toward the place where meaning may lie.” And then the unanswered question is bombarded with more questions, until finally she concludes with: “Look. How lovely it is, this thing we have done — together.” In this Every. Thing. Changes. multidisciplinary team assembly, we’ve already had the privilege of witnessing the questioning, shifting, transferring and making derived from the writers’ language – it’s an imperfect, open-ended process and discourse, but oh so beautiful.
Dialogue seems built into the core of this exhibit; how did the different teams respond to the challenge of producing work through that process?
WG: Everyone seemed a little confused when we first started explaining the idea of the exhibition to them — especially the addition of the 10 plus ones. But, like I mentioned, everyone was willing to go with it and jump in together.
As for dialogue among participants, two participants started writing letters to each other (actual mailed letters!) as part of their process. A couple participants knew each other but had not seen each other in years. And another participant went rogue and joined another team without telling us, but that was great because it was one of the initial texts outside of her group that really resonated with her, and she wanted to respond to that.
It has been exciting to see how invested in one another’s works each participant has become, and they are in deep dialogue with one another — both through the work and in correspondence. It is beautiful and heartwarming, not to get all sappy. At some point we started referring to each of the five participant groupings as “families” based on the initial writer (e.g. Lisa’s family or Sam’s family). The participants all are very much aware of the content and development of other participants’ works; some have even adapted their own projects as a result along the way. But each piece still very much embodies the integrity of each artist or designer, obviously. That has been a great success of this collaborative experiment.
Since you framed the process as curators, have you been surprised by any of the project outcomes?
WG: We baked surprise into the cake at the beginning. We did not even know who these other 10 participants would be at the outset, until they were chosen by the initial writers and designers and brought into the mix in mid-April. We had a giant Zoom meeting at one point when all 20 participants were locked in, and I was looking around at all the Zoom boxes just astonished at the level of talent we had managed to gather. But we started with very good core participants, so the fact that we have ended up with 20 great works and 20 excitingly diverse and talented participants isn’t a surprise.
NB: No surprise that these chosen participants would produce such meaningful works, but I must admit a kind of awe for the revelatory concepts impossible to foresee.
What was it like to plan a “public” exhibition in a time of social crisis and quarantine?
WG: As of February, we had a goofy working title for the project — something like “2020 Visions LA” — and when the COVID-19 crises hit, our graphic designer, Jessica Fleischmann (Still Room), suggested “Every. Thing. Changes.” Those words really resonated. And then in early June, those words started to feel and sound like a chant in the street.
By Mid-March we knew the exhibition would have to be unconventional in its siting as well. For instance, the space that normally hosts our LAForum Summer Exhibitions, Woodbury University’s Hollywood Outpost location, is closed indefinitely until the University re-opens. So we knew very quickly this exhibition was going to have to take on a craftiness in planning we hadn’t anticipated and that we would have to design a deployable exhibit that embodied a high degree of flexibility in the face of a shelter-in-place to re-opening, back to shelter-in-place whiplash. The works will be exhibited in parking lots and other outdoor spots and on virtual platforms around the city, culminating in an opening reception outdoors and online. This will allow us to celebrate the new works together while safely distanced.
It was helpful to see some of the other drive-by exhibits folks have organized across town. However, unlike those projects, the LAForum Summer Exhibition offers a tighter framing and more concise set of ideas and questions because we have just had a longer time to plan and think about it.
Also, the exhibition website has taken on a much larger role than we had originally anticipated. The website is fantastic, and we will be holding roundtable discussions and a curatorial tour and other events virtually there. (The launch is coming soon!) The website gives visitors an ever-changing visual shuffle or re-mix of the works, potentially into new collaborative relationships — and curatorial re-telling — not initially offered in the physical, in-site experience.
NB: Although both our outside and inside worlds are in uncomfortably flux, there’s a curious comfort in these moving parts of the exhibition – a trust that, almost like Newton’s third law – the planning of this exhibition, even in its changes, provides a restfulness.
WG: This embracing of uncertainty really became just another constraint of the project and a significant part of the works as well. DLA readers will hear about in the coming weeks as we interview the participant teams.
EVERY THING CHANGES PARTICIPANTS
John F. Atkinson
Yara Feghali & Viviane El Kmati
Silvia Herrasti & Paulina Herrasti
Tory J. Lowitz
Julie Smith-Clementi & Frank Clementi
More information coming soon on event times, future programming and registration.
Geoff Manaugh, Los Angeles-based writer and creator of BLDGBLOG, and Nicola Twilley, contributing writer for the New Yorker, are writing a book on the history and future of quarantine, to be published by MCD Books, an imprint of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, in 2021. Manaugh spoke with DLA in late April.
You and Nicola Twilley started this project on quarantine ten years ago with your initial research and the exhibition, titled “Landscapes of Quarantine,” at Storefront for Art and Architecture in 2010, where you asked designers to come up with visions for the future of quarantine. You’ve spoken about your experience of beginning this project after finding an old quarantine station in Sydney, Australia, that had been abandoned and then turned into a hotel. Why was something that seemed such a relic of the past interesting for you and Nicky?
For me, as someone who writes about architecture, it was the idea that there was a way of dealing with disease—which, from a modern point of view, I would associate with vaccines, pills, or surgery—instead you can design a building in such a way that you can prevent the spread of a disease from one person to the next. It seemed like a way to instrumentalize architecture beyond just aesthetics, or beyond just everyday use value such as, you know, this is a restaurant or this is a home. It gives architecture – and the very fundamentals of architecture, including questions of circulation and sequence, and where walls and doors might be placed – a medical effect. And it helps to avoid the need for a vaccine or avoid the need for medical treatment later.
There was something fascinating about that for me. Quarantine seems, on one level, like a very simple practice – let’s just put one person in this room and another person in that room. But, actually, it’s a really sophisticated and strange way of giving architecture a medical purpose that is larger than just a building or a building design. And then it was also just the idea that something that interesting is now just a ruin, and it’s just been turned into a hotel, and in many cases has just been erased entirely. Most quarantine stations are missing now. They’re gone. What does it say about the state of quarantine today that something that fascinating and that interesting architecturally is just totally overlooked?
Thinking back to the exhibition on quarantine at Storefront ten years ago, I was wondering if there were aspects of that, some of those investigations then that have become even more relevant now? What kinds of visions can we look to architecturally or urban design-wise for new visions of quarantine?
For the exhibition, and the design studio that led to it, we wanted to invite people outside of the design world, not just architects or designers. There was a graphic novelist, an author, a photographer. There were also artists in a more traditional sense. There was a sound designer, a musician. We wanted to bring all those disciplines together and focus on the concept of quarantine. How can they all learn from one another? What would an architect and a sound designer come up with if they discussed quarantine? What would an architect and a graphic novelist come up with if they were trying to tell a narrative about quarantine? …Maybe where the story is set, or the kinds of buildings that are featured in it, or how an architect might influence the story.
The idea was a multidisciplinary approach to one idea. That’s one of the things we liked so much about the studio and the exhibition. That approach in architecture is quite important. If you take an abstract idea like quarantine, or disease, or transportation, and you bring people from outside of architecture into an architecture studio, you can have a really exciting conversation about what that term means in their fields, or what it means for the things they might be exploring.
The sound artist, for example, was looking at temperature tracking stations when you first get off of airplanes and are being held in a kind of liminal state before you’re given entry to the country that you’ve arrived in. The kinds of technical experience and the… almost sonic environment of paranoia waiting to have your temperature taken.
One participant, architect Brian Slocum, looked at the famously perforated facade of Storefront for Art and Architecture which swivels on hinges and opens to the outside air. He found a way to take a couple of those doors and attach prosthetic devices onto them so that, depending on what state the door was in, it was simultaneously open and closed. It would be open and closed for different people for different states of the door. It was a really interesting engagement with the very idea of the threshold of a building, of being inside and outside, and potentially being inside at the expense of other people and vice versa. It was the idea that quarantine might come down to devices that we add to buildings that simultaneously are inside and outside.
Another group called Front Studio looked at what they called Q-City. The idea was that it was possible to implement a kind of parallel quarantine infrastructure so that you can still inhabit the city and its full range of experiences, from shops to operas to movie theaters, but never leave the quarantine infrastructure. And they explored the ways in which there would be a parallel infrastructure – almost like a New York City A and a New York City B – and you would be in one or the other depending on what state of quarantine you were in. I think that that kind of thing would be really interesting especially as coronavirus might become a multiple year experience – some people are talking about 18 months of social distancing – what might be implemented that’s a bit like their vision for Q-City.
That seems to be something that reclaims the role of physical design in a topic that in some ways has become much more about the “touchless.” Following up about the role of architects and designers in this pandemic: we’ve had a lot of debates recently about how architects and designers can become more relevant in terms of our relationship to power, as people who are oftentimes involved in reinforcing structures of power. You’ve pointed out the issues of power that quarantine inevitably brings up. Do you think that this moment is an invitation to designers and architects about how we may have more social responsibility and possibly social relevance in this moment, and are there ways that we can do that?
Yes, this could be a way for architects and urban designers to insert themselves in a more engaged manner in very important conversations. And for us to bring more importance to the design field. On one level, you see this in terms of how we design the city to make it easier for social distancing. How do we reuse a street as a temporary park or maybe a permanent park? How do we widen the sidewalks for medical reasons, not just because walking is already good for you in terms of preventing diabetes or keeping the populace healthy. But now wider sidewalks can actually allow us to avoid one another in terms of disease. Those are questions of urban design as much as they are questions of medical necessity. I think that engaging in that conversation is very important.
Another thing that comes up a lot is the importance of dual-use facilities. We’ve been looking at everything from the Javits Center in New York City being suddenly remade into a medical facility for overspill patients from hospitals, and at one point they were even looking at Saint John the Divine, the gothic cathedral in New York City, as a possible medical bay, which has all kinds of metaphoric resonance. But, in any case, we’re looking at facilities that aren’t designed with a medical purpose in mind suddenly taking on medical purpose. The example that comes to mind a lot for me is that, in Japan, there is already an importance placed on dual-use architecture in the expectation of there being a large earthquake. So there are extra electrical outlets, there are water hookups for fresh water for taps, there are even these kind of pop-in devices that allow you to turn manhole openings for the sewer into makeshift toilets for people to use in public.
There could be an earthquake while you and I are having this conversation! So we’re always just on the cusp of a radical transformation, and architects can help imagine that transformation, how we might build our buildings differently. One thing that Nicky talks about is the possibility of a kind of quarantine code that architects could help develop, so that when you’re designing a new building, whether it’s a stadium or it’s a shopping mall, when you go through the building code you would add a quarantine code, and you would figure out ways that you could make sure that it’s ready. So a supermarket, for example, is ready to switch into quarantine mode where now we have to maintain distance between each other.
I’m sure, for you and Nicky, this present moment has changed your work for the near-term. Your book will certainly include this moment in it! How does the sudden timeliness and pertinence make you think about the relationship between quarantine and disease and other aspects of our world that architects and designers have increasingly looked at, such as issues of sustainability and climate change?
One of the things that’s very interesting is that, for decades now, people have been talking about international airplane travel and the greenhouse gas emissions of the transportation industry in general as if there’s nothing we can do about it. I have a friend here who’s an architect who allegedly lives in Los Angeles. But every time this person is on social media, you know, it’s a new airport, they’re flying over a new landscape… They go out of their way to take international trips that seem unnecessary. Now with COVID-19, at the flip of a switch, suddenly all of those international trips – flying all the way to Austria to give one lecture, or flying all the way to Istanbul to appear at a gallery opening – seem kind of flippant and frivolous. And if we can turn it off that quickly for this then why can’t we turn it off that quickly for climate change? In terms of its effects beyond just the human sphere, of entire ecosystems, of sea-level rise, climate change is a very substantial threat that dwarfs the coronavirus pandemic. So why can’t we implement those changes for that?
I think that, if anything, the quarantine experience that we’re having is the realization that large-scale, drastic changes are actually possible. People will in fact go along with them. And that we’re resilient. We’ll find a new way to make things happen. We just gave a lecture to 160 people. We’re using the internet, and it didn’t require driving through rush-hour traffic, or someone flying in from out of state. There are ways that we can adapt and communicate with each other and respond to looming crises.
I’ll just add briefly that the original title for our book was The Coming Quarantine. The idea was that at some point there will be a massive quarantine because of international travel and emerging diseases and so on and so forth. But needless to say we’re looking at a new title. This is the coming quarantine! You know, it’s here – the near future crisis that our book was describing has arrived. And it’s very interesting to experience that from the inside.
One more question because we’re in Los Angeles. It seems like every city has its own idea of itself. It makes its own myths through either its triumphs or its crises. Like, New York City now certainly reflects its idea of how it responded to 9/11. In LA we think of events like the Rodney King uprising. And I was wondering if there’s anything particular about LA’s social or spatial history that you think is particularly pertinent now for how we are responding to this crisis.
Not to downplay the disease, I do think that it’s interesting how easily it’s been to lock off certain neighborhoods from each other and not have the kind of epidemic spread that we see in New York City. It’s almost like Los Angeles was prototyped on the idea of social distancing. We already live in a social distanced landscape. I do think that the spread out nature of Los Angeles means that we’re kind of skating through the quarantine – or through the lockdown I should say – with a slight more sense of ease than other municipalities like New York City or Boston. We’re already usually in a car traveling through a landscape alone going from one building to the next and not usually interacting with other people. The stereotype of nobody walking in Los Angeles… You’re already describing a world under lockdown.
The dark humor of it all is that some of Los Angeles hasn’t necessarily noticed that things have changed. Of course, having said that, and more seriously, it’s fascinating that we have the cleanest air we’ve had since the 1980s because fewer people are driving and industrial plants are shutting down. People are seeing Los Angeles as beautiful for the first time in a generation. So many people associate it with smog and ugliness and concrete. Now you’re seeing people on social media sharing photographs of Los Angeles and being like, my god, it’s actually a beautiful city because the sunsets are coming down over clear skies. I think that there’s a strange kind of resonance between social distancing and lockdown and what we already had in Los Angeles, and that’s actually quite interesting to me.
In March, the week before Los Angeles’ Mayor Garcetti announced the Stay at Home order for the city, DLA interviewed artist Lauren Halsey at David Kordansky Gallery, where her installation was on view through March 14. “A vivid, mythopoetic hauntscape of South Central Los Angeles, [t]hese latest works continue Halsey’s exploration of monuments, memorials, and public space, particularly her reckonings with gentrification and the threatening economic displacement of Black and Latino/a stores and shops.” (Douglas Kearney, exhibition text.)
The world has changed abruptly and significantly since the interview took place, but Halsey’s thoughts on art and social justice in the city remain relevant; perhaps especially her view of the need for urban space to allow for a smaller scale of living and for “space for folks to dream”
This installation, like much of your prior work, has an architectural, urban sensibility in the way it creates spatial sequences, deals with materiality and signs. How do you feel about your work being characterized as architectural, and architectonic?
That’s my dream. I see things through the lens of art, of course. But I wanted to become an architect. In everything that led me to this path, I truly believe I have been appropriating and myth-making the processes of architecture; how you engage and get to form. Even leading up to this project, for seven years I made blueprints where I was re-organizing the city, my neighborhood of South Central. Just as exercises. Formally, a lot of the stacking happened very early on in blueprints where I was sort of making ideal city blocks. And poetics. Knowing that the first phase in an architect’s process is the flat work. Those blueprints are not a one to one thing, but they definitely explored the affect. Then, thinking about the second phase as the model-making. So far I feel like I’ve just made models that are very large. The next phase will be the actual architecture. Where a foundation is poured. You know, it’s just a different set of conditions. So, I mean, I’m excited someone would even use those words. I feel like I’m getting closer and closer. I am interested in getting to that level of building where it becomes animated not by the conversation or dialogue but it’s an actual architecture that people inhabit. For a long time.
You’ve said that you originally considered architecture “an emancipatory solution to oppressive spatial paradigms in the hood.” Do you believe that architecture and urban design can provide solutions to issues of race, class and gentrification? And if not, if architecture isn’t now an instigator of change, what can we do differently?
I’m not currently in the field to know. When I was in design studio, we were given these speculative proposals – conditions for a film school or a library or a parking lot. These were always devoid of the real demographics that make a city a city, a neighborhood a neighborhood, a street a street. Poetically and in the real sense of things. It was never about class or race. It felt like we were dreaming up form that just didn’t trickle down to an authentic reading of a place. I was looking for a more holistic approach. So I went back to community college; I did some more architecture classes, and then I did a bunch of art classes and I started thinking about how I could appropriate what I was learning to propose space, and to do it more urgently. I went to a community college, El Camino, and in the architecture department, once you did a certain amount of pre-requisites you were able to take a design build course, which was the cherry on top, because you get to build these free-form designs. So you took your blueprints, and went to this huge construction build, and you built your designs, with people, you know, your friends. That’s how I started this path, which is my ethos. We would build very fast. It just made sense that it would happen that way. Rather than [my art] being divorced from the making process, you know?And what’s beautiful about it is that I am making [my art] with people who have lived it and who know it. So even when they’re helping me build this box or paint this letter, whatever that is, they are part of an aesthetic family that’s in a certain community, and it’s recognizable. It’s just more soulful. The cues are already there because they were ours first. But I’m not saying it’s Disneyland either. It’s really hard. There are really hard days.
You have deep roots in LA; your family has been here for generations and has been very invested in the community. As we enter a new decade, what is the most urgent issue facing our city?
Space. Space that’s not about and for capital gain. Spaces for folks to dream. Whether that means at a smaller scale of business or at a smaller scale of living. I think people are getting pushed out and having to make these new migrations. Cities do this, I know that. Cities do this. But I would love to see the Community Land Trust model. Where council members hand over some of the city-owned plots of land to people who have successfully engaged in these models. I just don’t know why not. It just seems like the right thing to do. Especially because everything is happening at a very aggressive pace and I just wonder what the city could look like if the powers to be leveraged space for folks that don’t have all the power and all the money. Instead of for luxury condos or a five-dollar apples. So equity, fairness. I look forward to one day being able to buy land and engage some of these models. And invite people to participate, you know. Even if it takes ten years. Meanwhile I’m opening a community center in South Central this summer. It will be for children and young adults and supporting all sorts of intelligence, creative to intellectual; from sports, dance, to SATs, ACT prep, learning to read, to gardening to yoga to field trips and art making. So I’m excited about that contribution.
What are your thoughts about “holding Black space”?
That is in everything that I do. I mean, I propose explicitly Black spaces. We need them. The history of the world is our fight for space in every sense. I think what compelled me to the idea of architecture like fantasy space-making was creating and holding space through form and through these experiential objects, installations, because of our historically very oppressive relationship to space. I wanted to create spaces without all that baggage. And weight. And stereotype. And the ugliness and the mess. To be in spaces absent of all that and see what happens. I think every single thing in my work is already that. Creating with a freedom from baggage. Five hundred years of baggage.
On behalf of the LAForum, we are questioning what our role could be in the city, how we could start to bring more diverse voices to the table. What does the word Forum mean to you, and do you have any advice to offer us?
Well it depends. I would think, “what is it supposed to do? Who gets a voice in the Forum?” And if those other voices aren’t there, how to extend the opportunity for that, so that the conversation is a total view. I would intentionally invite people who don’t have that expertise, or the degrees, but have an interest in space-making. I have four or five friends who wanted to become architects but it’s just that five years is so expensive, and then interning after that. It’s just about expanding the dialogue to all sorts of class levels. Especially in a city like this which is so diverse, maybe it should just be reflective of that.
What inspires you most about LA right now?
Well, what I said before [about the potential to build actual urban spaces for folks to dream and learn, free from baggage and oppression]. But also, what inspires me is the palette of LA. It’s just beautiful. No matter how ugly it can get, as far as the newness of things. There is always the palette, colors, the sunset. The beach, the tacos, the smells, my family.
And another thing that inspires me, I think there is something very empowering about building with your hands. There is something that I enjoy and that also happens in the making, when I’m a participant. Of course I couldn’t have built all of this alone [gestures to the show], I would have taken 50 years. There is something about doing it in a collaborative spirit and energy. It makes it a lot more monumental. Then it becomes also, even though I author it, it becomes a part of others, that they own. So then it just expands, the ego of the work changes. For the MoCA project, applying the concrete and all that, it started with my best friend and I, then it was my best friend, me, and my girlfriend, and then three weeks before it was going to get picked up it was twenty of us in my grandma’s backyard. Including my little cousin. So when [my little cousin] is giving the tour with her friends in school she is able to talk about his moment that she sculpted, to other 9 year olds, in this way that I could never do. It’s not my hand. She definitely shaped the concrete, you know. She gets to re-present the form and re-address it. Without my lens. Which is powerful.
This week, DLA connected with Ilaria Mazzoleni and Deborah Weintraub – architects living and working in Los Angeles – about their committed work for Nature, Art and Habitat, a non-profit organization based in northern Italy, with a substantial presence here in Los Angeles.
Ilaria, could you tell us about the Nature, Art and Habitat Residency (NAHR)?
IM: Nature Art and Habitat Residency (NAHR) is an Eco-laboratory of Multidisciplinary Practice located in the Italian Alps. It is dedicated to the environment and creativity, to the intersection of science and the arts. NAHR aims to reveal and display a culture sensitive to nature as a source of inspiration, and as a gauge of health and wellbeing. NAHR invites people to move out of their comfort zone, out of the urban setting and into nature, into places in which the human can still feel like a part of nature rather than as the OTHER.
NAHR was born to bring people together to be in nature and to explore the culture-nature relationship firsthand through a summer residency program. Founded in 2015 by the will and support of a small group of invested volunteers, under the guidance of the Italian architect Alessandro Mendini, NAHR has grown over time to have multiple programs hosted in Italy and in Los Angeles, where some of the key players reside.
Deborah, how and why did you get involved with this Organization based in a far and distant Italian village?
DW: I met Ilaria a long time ago, here in Los Angeles. Our professional friendship finds common ground in our commitment to sustainability. Since that first meeting, we have kept in touch, and 3 years ago, while visiting Italy for the Venice Biennale, Ilaria invited me to join the NAHR Workshop on the theme of Water. The workshop took place in the rural setting of the Italian Alps, and included local scientists describing how the world-renowned San Pellegrino water emerges from a spring after percolating through rocks for 30 years. I presented the work I have been doing the last 18 years on the Los Angeles River for the City of Los Angeles. For me, there were intriguing conceptual commonalities to the scale of the discussion of water in the Alps with the LA River and its transformation. I was excited by NAHR’s focus on combining nature, science, art, and design. I was hooked, and when Ilaria asked me to join the scientific committee, I was honored and excited.
You both are architects, but you said NAHR is a multidisciplinary think tank. Are other disciplines a part of NAHR?
IM: Correct. NAHR is consciously structured to host multidisciplinary dialogues that include the sciences, the humanities, the applied and performing arts, and architecture. Our leadership and core interlocutors reflect this multidisciplinary commitment. Let me mention them: our President Gabi Scardi is a prominent independent art curator based in Milano; Enrico Bassi is a biologist based in the Italian Alps; Asli Suner is an architect based in Istanbul; and Dan Disney is an Australian poet living in Seoul. There are several other people with a variety of expertise. They include geologists, anthropologists, writers, dancers, and artists, and their individual voices contribute to shaping each year’s topic. It is this richness of building an ever-growing diverse community that nurtures the practices of the NAHR residents. I firmly believe that architectural thinking must expand its frontiers in the face of the environmental crisis, including the recent pandemic. I feel the dialogue with the various disciplines is critical in forming the way I practice architecture. It is also an inclusive structure that mimics our philosophical commitment to coexistence at the core, and to exploring climate change and social change in the age of the Anthropocene.
How does NAHR contribute to the architectural discourse?
IM: NAHR was consciously formulated to encourage exploration of the rural/urban codependency. Architecture has focused most recently on urban life, and we wanted to expand that lens. The setting for the residency is a historically rich region where one can physically see how the rural/urban codependency has evolved and reflect on how it might in the future improve in terms of nurturance of the planet. It is rich in physical, social, economic and artistic manifestations of the rural/urban connection, and in that sense, is a provocative context for this dialogue.
DW: Each year a topic that relates to the natural elements (water, rocks, grasses, woods, animals) provides the basis for the field investigations that the fellows produce, each in their particular medium. During their month-long residency, fellows use their field research as a source of inspiration for the production of site-specific work. The work emerges very much from being in this extraordinary physical location. It is a physically based analysis and response. The importance of this cannot be overstated, and as an architect, this is perhaps a key premise that Ilaria and I bring from our professional training, a training very much focused on place. The residency is an opportunity to step back from the economic pressures that drive our work. Even for those of us deeply committed to sustainability, it is often hard to keep that primary motivation front and center. At NAHR the departure point is nature, and the end point is nature.
In our current condition, confined by the global pandemic, what is most striking is how quickly nature can recover from man’s abuses, and how quickly nature takes back human spaces. Learning from this grand experiment in limiting man’s impact on our planet will hopefully be a key outcome of this virus.
I read that 2020 NAHR’s topic is Animals: Interdependence between Species, correct?
IM: Yes, how timely, right!? The call included the following questions: In what ways can we envision a post human-centered world in which all living organisms could coexist? We are inspired by this quote from Giorgio Agamben that says, “…the relations between animals and men will take on a new form, and man himself will be reconciled with his animal nature.’’ We feel this prompts several important questions:
How do we define boundaries between species that depend on each other?
How can we develop our ability to interact with the non-human in non-visual ways?
Can we learn to build in a manner more attuned to the environment?
Unfortunately, COVID-19 hit the Italian village where NAHR is based very hard, and with all the uncertainties we have postponed the 2020 program until 2021. We felt that NAHR could offer something NOW to the discussion of how our cities and our lives will be transformed by this pandemic.
So with Asli, Gabi, and others, we developed a digital call to submit on this year’s topic that is entitled NAH_Remote: Reflections – Coexistence in Times of COVID 19, still with the interdependence between species as the core. Central to this call was input from Jose Herrasti an architect in Los Angeles (an LAForum Board Member), and Noah Mercer a software designer in Los Angeles. Anyone is welcome to contribute a reflection in any medium at: firstname.lastname@example.org. We meet every weekend via Zoom to discuss how urban lives have been reshaped by the pandemic.
These are urgent and important questions. NAHR works by participation and through the sharing of available resources, both intellectual and material. This is the essence of our commitment towards building a fair and sustainable future for all living organisms.
This week, the LA Forum takes a break from our typical DLA interview format to share information and links about the way the AEC community has come together to address the COVID-19 pandemic, and how we may each contribute. We hope this newsletter finds you navigating the ever-shifting situation in good health and positivity. Your comments and additional resources are welcome in response.
Operation PPE is an effort by architects, designers, and makers around the country to use their skills and tools to help produce personal protective equipment (PPE) for the medical community. In Los Angeles, an initiative led by Alvin Huang, Director of Graduate Studies at the USC School of Architecture is joined by a growing team of architectural firms, students and volunteers to use 3d printers to produce PPE face shields and masks for use by healthcare workers. The office of LA Mayor Eric Garcetti has issued a call to action to all those having access to 3d printers to join the effort.
Operation PPE has been covered by, among others, KCRW’s Design and Architecture, Architects’ Newspaper, the LA Times and Architecture Magazine, which also looks at How Architects, Designers, and Makers Can Help and Volunteer in the Coronavirus Era.
Do you have 3d printing capacity? Sign up on this Google Sheet to participate in Operation PPE Los Angeles, led by USC Architecture.
Masks for Humanity
Masks for Humanity connects people who need handmade face masks with people making handmade face masks.
LA City guidelines and LA area funds
LA times guidelines on how to make a non-medical grade face mask of the type now recommended for wear in public places. Includes a no-sew mask option.
COVID-19 emergency response fund (Mayor’s office)
This week, DLA connected with Mark Olalde, formerly with the Center for Public Integrity about his two recent pieces in the Los Angeles Times CALIFORNIA’S MULTIBILLION-DOLLAR PROBLEM: THE TOXIC LEGACY OF OLD OIL WELLS and DESERTED OIL WELLS HAUNT LOS ANGELES WITH TOXIC FUMES AND ENORMOUS CLEANUP COSTS (both co-reported with Times reporter Ryan Menezes).
First of all, Mark, thanks to you and Ryan for your recent articles. For our DLA readers who might have missed reading your LA Times pieces, could you summarize the public health challenge that deserted oil wells present to the citizens of Los Angeles?
At its simplest level, the investigation says that someone needs to pay to clean up the oil and gas industry’s mess around Los Angeles and California. Neither the industry nor the state have made enough money available to do so, and until these old oil and gas wells are plugged and remediated, the public is going to face a threat of leaking gases that can negatively affect community health and help fuel climate change. As the state’s fossil fuel industry continues to shrink, the government might be too late in actually using its regulatory authority to make sure the liability burden falls on the companies responsible. If they don’t do this in time, they’ll be faced with a dilemma: saddle Californians with either the health or financial burden (or perhaps a dollop of both).
What more can you share about how urban communities might address this problem more directly? And do you know if there are elements of LA’s Green New Deal that address this issue?
There are a few main problems in addressing old oil well cleanup in urban areas. The first, specific to Los Angeles, is age. The first well to be drilled around the Echo Park area, for example, was in 1892, and now almost none of the more than 1,000 that were drilled in that single oil field are still operational. So, who pays, and how do they pay if there’s no money coming in from current production? The second big issue is cost. If you’ve got a landscape in Kern County that’s been stripped of vegetation and covered in oil wells, it’s not too expensive to clean up due to economies of scale. But in Los Angeles, you’ve got to do this work around built-up infrastructure, private property and people going about their lives. If plugging and abandoning — the term for cleaning up an old well — costs in the ballpark of $40,000 in Kern, that figure is $100,000 in Los Angeles. On Firmin Street near Echo Park, plugging just two wells cost $1.2 million several years ago.
I’m not an expert on LA’s Green New Deal plan, but there are a few instances where related issues appear. The first is a commitment to filling the role of petroleum administrator, which is the city’s top oil regulator. Ironically, there is only an acting administrator right now. Another big point — at least to someone like me who has spent months digging through incomplete and scattered government data — is the pledge to create a real tracking system for the city’s wells by 2021. This would be a big step in the right direction. Also by 2021, the city is saying it will create an “auditing and tracking program for oil and gas wells.” Inspections are currently piecemeal, so this is another huge, positive step.
One of the criticisms of the LA Green New Deal is that it does not include a 2,500 ft buffer zone between active oil drilling sites and adjacent homes or schools. With so many Angelinos at risk, do you think such a buffer zone should be added to the LA Green New Deal?
It’s not my place as a journalist to opine too much, but a report from the city petroleum administrator’s office found that there are various impacts to community health and safety within certain distances. These issues range from degraded air quality to safety in cases of leaks or explosions. And, there are always the unknowns when living around oil wells. Take, for instance, the explosion in Firestone, Colorado, in 2017 that was related to oil and gas infrastructure near a residential area and killed two people. In addition to a strong fossil fuel lobby fighting tooth and nail against proposed buffer zones, city and state officials are also scared of instituting too large of a buffer for the fear that they might have to pay oil and gas companies for their potential loss in revenue. This could be a huge financial blow to localities.
It’s probably also helpful to make mention of how a few of our case studies play into this. It appears that the architecture world and the building industry more broadly has already to some degree been tasked with cleaning up Los Angeles’ orphaned oil well problem. In the second piece from this project, we found that some developers take on the liability for plugging old wells on land that they buy before they build.
What can the design community do to better support public health and environmental justice in the southland?
As we transition globally, however slowly, to a newer and cleaner economy, heavy extractive industries like oil and gas will likely become increasingly irrelevant. It may take decades, but as that happens, associated infrastructure will be in need of cleanup. What we do with it, who pays, and what secondary economic lives they have that might finance that cleanup and a just transition are all questions that creatively planning the built environment can begin answering. I’d also suggest engagement with city officials, state oil regulators, environmental groups working on those buffer zones, unions and oil industry groups, if they are willing to create a constructive dialogue. I say this because the city has historically been playing catch-up in dealing with its historical oil wells, and in many instances, they severely lack the expertise you would assume of the city. But, in recent years, they and the state have shown what seems to be a genuine willingness to take on this issue, making now a great time to take a seat at the table.
CALIFORNIA’S MULTIBILLION-DOLLAR PROBLEM: THE TOXIC LEGACY OF OLD OIL WELLS [Los Angeles Times, Mark Olalde, formerly with the Center for Public Integrity, and Ryan Menezes, with the Los Angeles Times, reported this story, Published — February 6, 2020] https://publicintegrity.org/environment/wells-run-dry/californias-multibillion-dollar-problem-the-toxic-legacy-of-old-oil-wells/
DESERTED OIL WELLS HAUNT LOS ANGELES WITH TOXIC FUMES AND ENORMOUS CLEANUP COSTS [Los Angeles Times, Mark Olalde, formerly with the Center for Public Integrity, and Ryan Menezes, with the Los Angeles Times, reported this story, Published — March 5, 2020] https://publicintegrity.org/environment/wells-run-dry/deserted-oil-wells-haunt-los-angeles-with-toxic-fumes-and-enormous-cleanup-costs/
We at the Forum are interested in instigating a dialogue about how this legacy oil and gas infrastructure in Los Angeles intersects with the Mayor’s goals of an equitable and sustainable city as per LA’s Green New Deal.
Sarah Lorenzen AIA, has been Resident Director of the Neutra VDL House since 2008. She is now stepping down from her duties as Director this year. Without her leadership, it is unlikely that the Neutra VDL House would exist in anything like its current form. Indeed, it is probable that it would no longer exist at all. Her role in the physical restoration of the building and its development as a venue for arts programming has been remarkable. Delirious LA is happy to be able to interview Sarah as she prepares to move on from her position as Resident Director of the Neutra VDL House.
You have been Director of the Neutra VDL House for over a decade and are stepping down this year, how have the priorities of the Directors position evolved during your tenure?
People are always surprised when I tell them that there was no real programming at VDL when I took over as director. We started the tours, the artist-in-residence series, and all the other events that are now features at the house. Note that I will use the term “we” throughout this conversation, because my husband David Hartwell has contributed to all the activities and restoration projects for which I often receive sole credit. The reality is that we have shared the responsibilities of directing the Neutra VDL House. Our efforts as a team, have been a key part in the development of the house as a cultural venue in city of Los Angeles.
In terms of the evolution of our priorities during our tenure at VDL, we began by sounding the alarm about the poor state of the house. When we arrived in 2007 the house was in disarray. All the roofs were tarped, interiors were in very bad shape, and the gardens and planters (an integral part of the architecture) were lifeless. There were no sources of revenue to repair things. One of the first people I contacted to disseminate our need for help was Orhan Ayyuce, who was then an editor at Archinect. He wrote a piece explaining our situation and became an advocate for the house (and a dear friend) in the process. Many others (too many to list here), came out to help including Linda Dishman (from the LA Conservancy) and Leo Marmol. Raymond and Dion Neutra (sons of Richard and Dione Neutra) were both also involved in different capacities. Raymond helped with fundraising and outreach and Dion consulted on our restoration efforts. Raymond also took on writing the Historic Landmark nomination, which the house received with help from congressman Adam Schiff. Early on, Lauren Bricker and I, set up a course where students were trained to serve as docents for the Saturday tours. These tours are still our principal source of revenue, and are very effective in telling of the story of the house and describing its unique architectural character.
The artist-in-residence program came about when I was pitched an installation project in 2010 by artist Santiago Borja. The project he proposed was very compelling, and he created a giant loom on the roof of the house. After that installation, we decided that contemporary art at the VDL would be a great way to breathe new life into the house. In the ten years that followed we continued to pursue restoration projects as we developed the cultural and arts programming. Many of the cultural and arts programs have been collaborations with other institutions, including the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design. We did events with many well-known figures in the LA architecture and art world, including Mimi Zeiger and Pilar Tompkins Rivas. Over the years, we have continued to pursue the fundraising and programming missions at VDL, both of which became easier as time went on, as the house (in its role a cultural institution), became more widely known.
You have witnessed many artists, designers, critics, and educators use the House as a context for their work over the years, what are some personal highlights of yours from the past decade of programming?
My favorite exhibition was “Competing Utopias,” which we curated with Justin Jampol and others from the Wende Museum, and filmmaker Bill Ferehawk. The exhibit looked at the loss of purpose of the artifacts, objects and the spaces of the VDL House. The exhibit’s premise was simple, we took the original furnishings, books and objects out of the Neutra VDL House and replaced them with similar items made in East Germany and other countries in the former Soviet Bloc that belonged to the Wende. The stipulation was that the objects from the Wende’s collection would be from Ca.1965, which was roughly when the VDL II House was occupied. We have struggled with the term “house museum” because it implies such a static reading of the house. It is the problem of preservation in general, which requires that we present the house as existing within a particular time period. This fictional nature of the “house museum,” creates what are in fact “period rooms,” and the fallacy of this concept made this exhibition from the Wende so wonderfully relevant to us.
The Competing Utopias intervention replaced the “standard” fiction of the house with a new fiction that could never have happened, but that fit perfectly within the house. What made it so odd, but also pleasurable for visitors, was that we didn’t label any of the Wende’s collection objects so visitors were free to interpret or misinterpret the house and its history at will. The house looked more lived in than it has at any time since the Neutra’s lived there. There were toys on the living room floor, clothes laid out next to a suitcase on the bed, food and alcohol in the cupboards, and toiletries in the bathrooms. I believe we introduced over 2,000 items into VDL, all from the Wende. It was as if the fictional family that had inhabited the space during the 1960’s had just walked out. The critic Dora Epstein Jones described moving through this exhibit as “like through a non-narrative film, which was also the product of cold war, a kind of end of medium. The words are dislocated, things are dislocated, and there is a production of fiction.”
I was also really taken by the performance art piece “Case Study” by artist Stephen Lichty and Neil Marcus, accompanied on piano by Daphne Honma, which only ran for one weekend. Marcus and Lichty both have a neurological disease, which impairs their movements, and their art work offered a new way to understand and engage people with disabilities. The event began with a piano piece in the downstairs music/conference room, the audience then moved upstairs. During the performance, Lichty supported Marcus (who’s movements are extremely restricted) with his own body and together they performed a mutually enhanced dance in the upstairs living room. This was definitely the most striking and moving piece we’ve had at VDL.
How do you envision the future of the house and its role in the community of Silver Lake?
I am very happy that the house is in much better shape financially and physically, but I am most proud of having created a cultural space for the neighborhood. It is amazing how many people come to our events and openings. For our current installation by Shio Kusaka curated by Douglas Fogle and Hanneke Skerath, over 500 people came through the house on the opening day. It is a bit chaotic to manage so many people through the VDL, but everyone was incredibly respectful. I love seeing all the Cal Poly Pomona alums (many of whom were docents before they graduated), colleagues, and neighborhood regulars at these events. One local resident, told me how much she loves coming back to see the house transformed in novel ways with every new artist. Most of our visitors are tourists, primarily interested in the architecture and history of the house. They likely come once to take a tour on a Saturday. But local Silver Lake residents, and local (meaning greater LA) architects, artists, and critics come back over and over. That is why doing these events and exhibitions is so important. My hope is that this programming will continue when I step down.
An important aspect in how we run the house is that all our events are free (or had a very minimal fee) and are open to all. In a world where access to these kinds of houses (both private and public) is reserved for those with means, we took the opposite tack. I have often joked that you were invited to stay at VDL if you were doing interesting work and couldn’t afford a hotel room in Los Angeles. Given that the Neutra VDL House is run by CalPoly Pomona, which is a public university with a mission to be as inclusive as possible, I think it is very important to reflect those inclusive values in all the programming that we do. I sincerely hope that the incoming director will continue to perpetuate these principles as the Neutra VDL House moves into the future.
This Saturday marks the closing event of Soft Schindler, an exhibition by Mimi Zeiger, and includes the launch of a special publication created by PIN–UP magazine in collaboration with the artist Ian Markell. LA Forum spoke to Soft Schindler curator Mimi Zeiger, who will lead an exhibition tour prior to a conversation with artist Ian Markell and writer Leslie Dick, a contributor to the publication. The conversation will be moderated by PIN-UP magazine’s Editor and Creative Director Felix Burrichter.
For those who haven’t yet seen the show, can you tell us a bit about Soft Schindler at the MAK Center for Art and Architecture at the Schindler house?
Soft Schindler brings together the work of twelve artists and architects to explore soft and non-binary ideas, from questioning the hard edges of modernism to featuring installations employing soft materials like drapery and latex.
It isn’t a “history show,” however a springboard for the exhibition is a moment in the history of the Schindler House from late 1949, when Pauline Schindler, estranged from R.M. Schindler but still living on one side of the house, painted her side of the interior salmon pink. Featuring works by Design, Bitches, Bryony Roberts, and WELCOMEPROJECTS, among others, Soft Schindler celebrates her act as “softness as resistance.”
How does the catalogue and your collaboration with PIN-UP magazine expand upon the work and intentions of the exhibition?
It was a dream to collaborate with PIN-UP editor/creative director Felix Burrichter. The magazine has a history of pushing boundaries of design, especially relating to larger cultural issues of aesthetics and sexuality. We wanted to use the space of the catalog to do a couple of things: the first is representational. Ian Markell’s photographs are very different from our press photography. He shot Soft Schindler while we were installing the exhibition and he captured it when it was a bit undone—there are tangles of cords, packing materials, moving blankets in the images, which counters the idea that exhibition photography has to be perfect and neat. Second, we commissioned essays by Leslie Dick and Susan Orlean to reflect on the changing domesticity of the house and R.M. Schindler’s architectural legacy. Leslie looks at certain juicy proclivities underlying the architecture itself, while Susan explores her own personal history of living in Schindler’s architecture.
Tell us about the panelists and their relation to the work in the exhibition?
Felix will lead a conversation between Ian Markell and Leslie Dick. Leslie is an L.A.-based writer and she teaches at CalArts and Yale. I loved an earlier essay that she wrote about artist Alice Lang (who is also included in Soft Schindler) that touched on ideas of softness in criticism, and I reached out to her to contribute.
Ian is an emerging artist based here in Los Angeles. He makes objects that undermine assumptions, often incorporating unexpected images into his sculptures. When Felix suggested we ask him to shoot the catalog, I jumped at the chance. His photographs have a delicate, almost haunting quality, as if something or someone just left the frame.
Dear Friends of the LA Forum –
Happy New Year 2020 – and to a Fantastic New Decade! As we are getting ready for a new year of programming and celebrations, we wanted to take a moment to send a big thank you to those who helped us make 2019 a success: our friends, supporters, participants, collaborators, members, as well as our Advisory Board.
We look forward to working with you in the coming year, as we continue our mission to instigate dialogues on design and the built environment through public programming, exhibitions, and publications and to reflect on what architecture means in our ever-evolving city. We are also proud to mention that we are entering the 33rd year of the LA Forum in 2020!
Some highlights from the last 12 months:
We were very excited to re-launch the Pamphlet Series, our platform for critical ideas on architecture and the city after a ten-year hiatus. Made possible in part by a grant from City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, UnScene LA (created by Aja Bulla-Richards, Mari Beltran and Josiah Cain and with an afterword by Sarah Cowles) explored leftover spaces within the urban fabric. We celebrated this important benchmark with a Launch Event at Studio MLA, which featured a panel discussion with Mia Lehrer, Aja Bulla-Richards, Mari Beltran, Josiah Cain, and Susanna Battin. Our next pamphlet is underway – please stay tuned!
With Promenade 3.0, a panel on Santa Monica’s iconic Third Street Promenade, we discussed the future of public space. Participants included Alan Loomis, who spearheads the City of Santa Monica’s initiative with the same name, and Steven Welliver (DTSM), Nate Cormier (RCH), and Sofie Kvist (Gehl).
In 2019, we also celebrated 100 Years of Bauhaus. Moderated by Tim Durfee, Bauhaus → L.A. → Now was a conversation at the WUHO gallery among leading Los Angeles creatives, including Jessica Fleischmann, Andrea Lenardin Madden, Yunhee Min, Heather Scott Peterson, and Pae White, about their personal connection to Bauhaus. We organized a private tour of “Bauhaus Beginnings”, the exhibition at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, which was led by the curators of the exhibition, Maristella Casciato and Gary Fox, and by the architect and consultant on the exhibition installation Tim Durfee.
We also organized the J.R. Davidson House Tours, where visitors had the opportunity to see the Sam Taylor House (1947) and the Rubin Sabsay House (1940, remodeled in 1944 by Rudolph Schindler).
In conjunction with her book launch and the exhibition Closed Worlds at WUHO, the L.A. Forum hosted a discussion on self-reliance and closed systems with Lydia Kallipoliti. Moderated by Anthony Fontenot, the panel included Aaron Vaden-Youmans, Shane Reiner-Roth, Ginger Nolan, Marikka Trotter, Daniel Lopez-Perez, and Jimenez Lai.
Our Fall 2019 newsletter On Listening, edited by Wendy Gilmartin and Steven Chodoriwsky, explored an often-neglected virtue through texts and interviews with practitioners who listen for a living. The newsletter, supported by a grant from City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, was launched with a limited-edition vinyl record at our Listening Party at Betalevel in Chinatown LA.
2019 was also the year of ForumFest, our big bi-annual Fundraising Event. Held at Self Help Graphics, the iconic community arts center in Boyle Heights on the Gold Line, ForumFest 2019’s theme was ON THE GRID, celebrating the evolving public transport system in Los Angeles. ForumFest not only allowed us to meet our financial goals for 2020, thanks to the generosity of our sponsors and supporters, but it also brought together more than 350 people for an evening of conversation and live performances, featuring Sound Field with Randy Randall & Aaron Farley, the all-female Mariachi band Las Colibri, as well as a Live Printing station run by Self Help Graphic’s team.
We are planning a great year of programming and celebrations for 2020 to continue to carry out our important work for our community and city. Our members, participants, and supporters are what makes the Forum thrive. If you haven’t already, please become a member and join us during our 33rd year in 2020!
I am extremely excited about the recently elected leadership of the L.A. Forum: President Wendy Gilmartin, and Vice-President Nina Briggs, Vice-President of Information Mitchell De Jarnett, Vice-President of Grants Development Greg Kochanowski, Vice-President of Membership Development Lilian Pfaff, Vice-President of Operations Ismaelly Peña, and Treasurer Edward Ogosta.
I am grateful for the opportunity to serve as the President of the Los Angeles Forum in 2019, together with Chris Torres as the Vice-President, and would like to thank everyone for their support and dedication, especially the hard-working Board of Directors and the LA Forum Advisory Board, who all made 2019 a successful and meaningful year.
I look forward to what’s to come in the next years and decades!
Former President, Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design
Next week’s TECH+ Forum and Expo at the Line Hotel in Koreatown (Thursday, February 6th) will unite top professionals from the worlds of design, research and tech to consider how multi-industry collaborations might contribute to and shape L.A.’s unique architectural landscape. In advance of the event, and as a conference media sponsor, the LA Forum talked to Susan Kramer, Programming and Events Coordinator for TECH+ and Architect’s Newspaper, about data bombardment and other new realities in the building industry at large, like finding ways to harness the power of emerging platforms towards enhanced operability in practice.
Tell us about TECH+ FORUM and EXPO and what attendees might expect at the symposium?
The architects, engineers, designers and construction and real estate professionals who attend TECH+ will hear from a high caliber of leaders from across all these industries in individual presentations and three panels, all taking a deep dive into the lightning-quick changes they’ll need to understand in order to keep their practices relevant and ahead of the curve. Many of the speakers — like Kerenza Harris from Morphosis and SCI-Arc — have a tandem academic career, so are at the forefront of research and design innovations. Several of the presenters have developed their own platforms which create a collaborative and efficient workflow, facilitating creativity in design and conservation of man hours and materials. There will be hands-on demos at the expo adjacent to the forum.
Why is it important for L.A.’s designers to engage in tech-related topics right now in 2020?
With the sea-change washing over the AEC industries, one can’t afford to be a late-adopter. Just in the last couple of years, construction is seeing immediate ROI by utilizing digital surveying tools and specialized BIM platforms, with architects needing to be onboard in order to be in sync. TECH+ shares this knowledge across platforms and industries, creating a dialogue and offering opportunities for new relationships locally, regionally and worldwide.
What group of presenters are you most looking forward to and why?
Our keynote, Dr. Upali Nanda, Director of Research for HKS and professor at University of Michigan, will lay out the groundwork for how we can best utilize all the data we’re being bombarded with, without losing our humanity and purpose. She will explore the links between data, design and experience, and reminds us that whatever is built is in the service of the occupant. (Please see our interview with Dr. Nanda here: https://techplusexpo.com/upali-nanda-uses-neuroscience-to-create-living-buildings/) And of course the underlying topic today across the board is how architects are responding to climate change, so I am especially looking forward to hearing from our last panel, Reaching for Net Zero with Smart & Responsive Building Materials. There are some real innovators and leaders on this panel — like Doris Sung from USC, Director of Sustainability with Skanska Stacy Smedley, and Kate Diamond of HDR — who are setting the necessary high standards to change the methods and materials we are building with, hopefully to change the world for the better. I find them to be very inspiring, and I think our audience will feel the same.
Scientist. Artist. Author. Museum Educator. You have such a fascinating multi-disciplinary career that touches on so many disciplines and genres. For those who may not already follow you, can you share a little bit about the work you do on your own and at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County?
I grew up on a farm in the U.K. and literally pretended to be a badger in a hollow tree. I think this helps to give a sense of how my love for nature developed. Then when I was 14 I moved halfway across the world, to the Inland Empire. I didn’t so much experience culture shock, but I did experience nature shock. It wasn’t until I attended university, at UC Riverside, and studied entomology, that I really began to understand my new environment. Through the lives and ways of insects, I began to understand nature in Southern California. After focusing on entomological research for my undergrad, I made a switch to communicating science and got a master’s degree in environmental education. I have since focused my life’s work on connecting people to nature. I prefer to do this work in cities, because I feel that this is where the greatest need and opportunity lies. My work at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County centers on getting the general public involved in scientific research on the nature in L.A., through community science. I also work in service to the L.A. River, by advocating for her revitalization. I run picnics on the river, I lead tours along her banks and adjacent parks, and I attend lots of community meetings.
What is the Community Science Program and why is it important for Angelenos to participate?
In essence, community science partners the general public with professional scientists to answer real world questions. The questions we have at the Museum are about nature in Los Angeles. For instance: What species live here and where? What new species are showing up? Are there undiscovered species living here that we don’t know about? How are things changing over time? By partnering with our community, we can ask and answer questions like these, in ways there were not possible before the technological revolution that are smartphones, digital cameras, and personal computers. Many of us literally carry around a tiny computer in our pockets, which we can harness to document nature in our city, county, state and beyond. We can collectively cover a lot more ground–all over the Southern California region–with a lot more eyes/cameras. We can amass a lot more data. With this large data set we are making big discoveries. Our community has helped the Museum discover 40+ new species of flies in L.A, documented the first brown widow spiders in Torrance and Mediterranean House Geckos in Chatsworth.
It was fascinating to learn from your book WILD LA, that Los Angeles is the only city in the US that has a major mountain range running thru it and its claimed as the “birdiest” county in the County with over 500 recorded bird species. What were some new things you learned about Los Angeles during the research for the book that excited you?
I learned so many things! With my background in entomology, I had a lot of knowledge about insects, but because we cover 101 species in the book, I got to learn about many new species. I wrote the first drafts of two snails, a slug, two mushrooms, a slime mold, and also a lichen. I learned that the local garden snails we see sliming all over town, actually use love darts–a type of biological cupid’s arrow, if you will–to harpoon their mate with hormones that induce mating! I mean how cool is that?
I also got to visit and explore the 25 different field trips we highlight in the book. Some of these places were brand new to me. My new favorite is Arlington Garden in South Pasadena. This garden sits on an old Caltrans yard, but now is a haven for wildlife–a place for humans to sit back and enjoy nature in the city.
Travel seems to be a constant in your life. Why is traveling so important to you and your work and what do you look for when planning your next adventure?
Travel is definitely something that feeds my soul. When I was 14 I moved to the U.S.A, on the way we visited the Philippines, where my step-mum is from. That trip profoundly affected my sense of the world, and my place in it. I feel very fortunate to have had this experience at such a young age. I still love traveling today, and enjoy adventuring to new places. However, I have been working to severely limit my travel because of the carbon footprint. Did you know that for one round trip flight from L.A. back to visit my family in London, it emits 3.3 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Which is equivalent to what a meat-loving diet would emit in an entire year! Food for thought indeed.
If you could you take us to any place in Los Angeles County that inspires you most as an artist and scientist, where would you take us and why?
This is easy, it would be the L.A. River in the Glendale Narrows stretch. A section of this part of the river, is one of the two areas on the river where you can kayak, which is one of the funnest nature experiences (IMHO) people can have in L.A.! There are even class I and II rapids here. When I’m not kayaking, I love bird and bug watching. Standing on top of Sunnynook bridge is a great place to do this. You can stand above the middle of the river and see into the willow and cottonwood tree canopies, and spy on the birds and the bees and butterflies too. I also love playing pooh sticks here. Pooh sticks is a game lots of kids play in the U.K. As the name suggests it originates from a Winnie the Pooh book. Each person playing takes a stick and throws it off the upstream side of a bridge. The winner is the stick that comes out the other side of the bridge first. It doesn’t quite work on this very narrow, pedestrian bridge, but I do it anyway!
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Can you tell us a little bit about the beginning of your music career in Los Angeles and how the experimental nature of the venue ‘The Smell’ helped shape some of the storytelling in your early music?
I first went to ‘The Smell’ in ‘98 when it was in its North Hollywood location. The second time I went was in ‘99 and it was at its current downtown location. I was fundamentally birthed from the egalitarian creative presentation of music at The Smell. People played on the floor to people that wanted to be there. It cost five bucks and the artists made all the decisions on how, when, where and why they played. I volunteered my time stamping hands and learning to do live sound there. Downtown LA in these days was scary and exciting. The music was personal and the space was dirty. I loved every minute of it. I thought that was how music should be presented everywhere. Once we started touring, I quickly realized how lucky we were to have a place like ‘The Smell’.
Since the first No Age show at ‘The Smell’ back in 2006 how would you describe the changes you’ve seen in Los Angeles’s cultural and built environment and what kind of impact has it had on your music and art?
LA has changed so much since 2006. Specifically, Downtown LA has become a center for arts, fashion and cultural performances. This was not always the case. Most people viewed Downtown as a dangerous place and they were not wrong. I think there was a “wild, no man’s land” kind of vibe that was very attractive to a certain like-minded group of creative individuals that eventually led to an awareness of the place that would change the perception of what went on down there.
Can you describe the inspiration behind your new experimental soundscape project ‘Sound Field Volume One’ and what role Los Angeles and the Southern California landscape played in the making of the LP?
I was inspired to document the many varying landscapes of Southern California because in my travels around the world with No Age I would constantly be asked, “What is LA like?” And my answer was always, “There is no One LA”. There are 400 different small communities of wildly different ethnic backgrounds, socio-economic status, and cultural variety. One way of showing that was taking a singular element, the 10 freeway, and following it on its journey from Palm Springs at sunrise, though the eastern suburbs, into Downtown at 12 noon and ending at the Santa Monica Pier at sunset. There is a daydream like meditation on moving through these kaleidoscopic landscapes seen from the window of your car.
‘Place’, urban or rural, seems to be very important to you when creating these soundscapes. Rumors has it that there may be a ‘Sound Field Volume Two’ coming in the near future which will focus on the pulse of another City. What cities are you considering?
I love the idea of examining what it feels like to move around a city and reflecting the emotional abstraction of what resonates with the location. I would love to look at the bike paths, canals, and small streets of Amsterdam. Or the subways, bridges, tunnels, sidewalks, stairwells of Manhattan. I think the most important thing is to be able to identify a singularity of movement through to space that allows the views to observe the changes in setting, feeling and tone within the city environment.
Randomly, but also related: I remember the first time I drove through Nebraska on tour and was able to see 360 degrees of nothing but the flat fields, it felt like floating in the middle of the ocean. There is a feeling of being dwarfed by the scale and expanse that knocked me out. That would be a challenge to tackle a space of that scale.
If you could you take us to any place in Los Angeles County that inspires you most as an artist, where would you take us and why?
Oooo… that is tough to just pick one. I would have to say driving through the Angeles National Forest along the 2 is still one of the most inspiring journeys that resets my clock and allows me the space to see the city and environment anew. Finding a peaceful vista point to view the city below day or night is a pallet cleanser that can let new ideas flow and creativity to bloom fresh.
The design experiments presented as “closed worlds” in the exhibition offer an opportunity to reflect on the planetary crisis and consequent human fears that gave rise to their invention. In the wake of the recent political decisions that largely dictate our planet’s fate, including the U.S. rejection of the Paris Agreement, China’s Ban on importing Waste, and Japan’s decision to resume whaling, how do you see younger designers reacting to these contemporary issues?
One of the main premises of the Closed Worlds exhibition and book is to argue that the history of twentieth century architecture, design, and engineering has been strongly linked to the conceptualization and production of closed systems. As partial reconstructions of the world in time and in space, closed systems identify and secure the cycling of materials necessary for the sustenance of life. As such, contemporary discussions about global warming, recycling, and sustainability have emerged as direct conceptual constructs related to the study and analysis of closed systems.
Nevertheless, I am not necessarily arguing that the study of closed systems offers solutions to a diverse range of problems related to global warming and climate change. The case studies analyzed in Closed Worlds offer insight into how existential perceptions the idea of circularity, simulating the metabolism of natural resources, has been institutionalized in sustainable policies, although in many cases it promotes an idealization of handling world resources, which is not automatically applicable to field conditions.
My relationship with the subject of my research is arguably schizoid in some ways. I am enticed by closed systems and the idea of demarcated perimeters within which new material and social worlds can evolve through self-organization; at the same time I see the idea of wholeness as a delusion that we have fostered for too long, both in theoretical speculations as well as factual constituents of practice and policy.
Your research suggests that there is a crucial relationship between waste and closed worlds, not unlike the relationship between excrement and the body. Is there an important relationship between cities and waste? What might we learn by studying the relationship between Los Angeles and the Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant in the Santa Monica Bay, for example, one of the largest plants in the world?
The affinity between money and shit, between capital and excrement, has been a pervasive subject of theoretical analysis, but also a factual constituent of capitalist production. Waste needs to go away; and this very process of purging, transporting and carrying into oblivion all that is worthless is utterly profitable. Future market ‘bubbles’ are prognosticated to rise from the trading of urban waste. Congested metropolitan environments like New York and Los Angeles produce massive amounts of solid waste and sewage that is then transported out of the city. The purging of this waste is invisible to our perception, yet it generates capital for those who manage and transfer the raw materials. Shit is a phantom material condition, but at the same time it is a product, or better stated a by-product, of social reality.
New York City for example, the beating heart of global finance and culture, home to more than 8.5 million people, creates an enormous amount of poo. As reporter Oliver Milman wrote in The Guardian (2018), a substantial amount of the city’s shit is expelled to Birmingham, Alabama, causing major stink methane clouds 900 miles away. The treated sewage – euphemistically known in the industry as “biosolids” – travels by a poo train to a landfill west of Birmingham causing what the locals and the mayor’s office call the “death smell.” Since the Environmental Protection Agency decided in 1988 that shit was not to be evacuated in oceans, where to put New York’s fecal matter has become a constant challenge. In Alabama, the avalanche of northern poo is part of a wider concern over the environmental risks for residents, particularly the impoverished and people of color. Further south, a landfill bordering the majority African American settlement of Uniontown contains around 4m tons of toxic coal ash and welcomes other debris from 33 states. The dismissal of the environmental concerns of Alabama residents, mostly residents of overwhelmingly African American communities, has been reported as a case of civil rights and environmental racism.
As a New York resident for the past twelve years, I am less familiar with the water sewage facilities in Los Angeles like the Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant in the Santa Monica Bay, the City’s oldest and largest wastewater treatment facility. I assume, nevertheless, that similar to New York’s Newton Creek facility the challenge of treating, maintaining and disposing billion gallons of human waste is one of the most enormous spatial and economic challenges that metropolitan areas face and a major constituent of real-estate fluctuations. Nobody wants to be close to shit, our most intimate bodily byproducts and thus the reality these facilities bring forward are extraordinarily uncanny. As the VICE documentary “You Don’t Know Shit” argues, biosolids have become a financial asset worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
The trail of waste from butt to big-money biosolid and beyond is indicative of the fact that that shit and money exhibit two sides of the same coin. This is precisely the argument of Hungarian psychoanalyst Sandor Ferenczi who wrote “The Ontogenesis of the Interest in Money” in 1950, several decades before biosolids would emerge as a driving force of urban economy. Ferenczi argued that shit is ejected from the body and rejected by the psyche, whereas money is introjected by the body and accepted as a highly desired form. Nevertheless both entities derive from the same prime matter in an ongoing recycling process. Ferenczi does not view currency in the form of concrete metallic coins or paper, but rather as a disguise for a sequence of other materials that brought it into existence; in other words, shit undergoes a serial transformation assuming different material states all the way to money. In this sense, materials exist merely in stages, while they absorb qualities from their previous stages: mud is shit deodorized, sand is mud dehydrated, pebbles are sand hardened and coins are pebbles unearthed. This logic of liquefaction and transformation of materials which physically exist only in phases, as well as the logic of converting wasted matter exhibits recycling as an ideational and philosophical system of viewing the world of ideas, information and matter as flow rather than as the accumulation of discrete objects. More than a material system, recycling signals the migration of life through the conversion of one thing to another.
You have placed excrement at the center of ecological design debates. Why is shit so significant “Or, What is the Power of Shit?”
Shit forces us to look at questions of ecology viscerally, via the raw ecology of our bodies and the understanding that recycling is not simply as a statistical problem relayed to the management of urban resources, but also a basic bodily reality affecting the water and air we breathe.
The Power of Shit suggests on a first level that our unwanted, odorous and degenerate bodily product is technically powerful and worthy; shit can generate methane, meaning power, if treated properly. In this logic, the life and metabolism of living creatures may be decoded, replicated via technological instrumentality and directly transposed to industrial and design systems advocating for a full circle of life with no loss. Yet, this simplistic and frankly, false sense of holism, which has been directly applied to building systems and cities under the umbrella of integration, is not as carefree as one might think.
The production of food and power from the management of organic excrements was key to several countercultural domestic experiments of the 1970s that heralded self-reliance from the grid of urban supplies. Making food and power from shit was the ultimate aspiration, carried out through tedious, repetitive and dirty routines like sorting, composting, mixing mulch for vegetation and animal-feed crops. With these aims in mind, the space of the house was nurtured and dependent on the subtle fluctuations of materials’ phase changes and the growth of living substances. It remains a paradox that the questionable model of total circular regeneration, imbued with the vitalism of a digestive stomach, has prevailed as the mainstream model of what we now call a sustainable, net-zero habitat, opposing energy loss.
Let us not forget that more than a material, shit also indicates a general stage of incoherency, degeneration and malevolence. It indicates a stage where information is so finely grained and scattered that it cannot form bonds identifiable patterns. In the “shit” stage, information is so unrefined and randomly grained that it is “interrelational loss” or in-cohesion between bits and particles that defines the degenerate condition of the shit stage.
For all respects and purposes, to write a counter history to optimized circular economies in material conversions, one perhaps needs to look at shit. Only through this raw confrontation may the ecology of life be somehow useful. We need to investigate, monitor, and document the strangeness of the real, to invent an architecture completely devoted to the problems of the real but not one that is unaware of its uncertainty and complexity. Shit engulfs our existence in more ways that we want to observe and acknowledge. It is not about constructing fictions and fantasies but about closely observing, conducting forensic analysis, asking questions, and instrumentalizing our findings in a creative way. Possibly shit is our only way out.
Exhibition showing through Sunday, April 3, 2019 at WUHO Gallery in Hollywood.
Explore and purchase your copy of The Architecture of Closed Worlds, Or What is the Power of Shit here.
Join LA Forum on Thursday, March 7th for a discussion on self-reliance and closed systems with Lydia Kallipoliti — architect-engineer, scholar and Assistant Professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The event also marks the launch of the book The Architecture of Closed Worlds, Or, What is the Power of Shit? published by Lars Müller (2018), and the opening of the exhibition Closed Worlds, originally commissioned by the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York (2016).
Lydia Kallipoliti (RPI/ ANAcycle studio), Aaron Vaden-Youmans (Grimshaw Architects), Shane Reiner-Roth (Archinect), Ginger Nolan (USC), Marikka Trotter (SCI-Arc), Daniel Lopez-Perez (University of San Diego), Jimenez Lai (UCLA/ Bureau Spectacular)
Moderated by Anthony Fontenot (Woodbury University), panelists will discuss how the history of twentieth-century architecture, design, and engineering has been strongly linked to the conceptualization and production of closed systems: self-sustaining physical environments demarcated from their surroundings by a boundary that does not allow for the transfer of matter or energy. As partial reconstructions of the world in time and in space, closed systems identify and secure the cycling of materials necessary for the sustenance of life. Contemporary discussions about global warming, recycling, and sustainability have emerged as direct conceptual constructs related to the study and analysis of closed systems.
Closed Worlds document a disciplinary transformation and the rise of a new environmental consensus in the form of a synthetic naturalism, wherein the laws of nature and metabolism are displaced from the domain of wilderness to the domain of cities and buildings. While these ideas derive from a deeply rooted fantasy of architecture producing nature, The Architecture of Closed Worlds displays their integration into the very fabric of reality in our contemporary cities and buildings.
As evidenced in our 2018 book launch of the LA Forum Reader: From the Archives of the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design, highlighting our three decades of publication work, the L.A. Forum has led the critical discourse about the built environment of Los Angeles, and in this past year there was an extraordinary organizational energy and programming output that bodes well for our design discourse leadership in the decades to come. In a time of great social and cultural reflection and reformation, the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design has provided a platform for the presentation and discussion of the critical issues at the heart of cultural transformation. In parallel, the L.A. Forum Board of Directors has worked to reform our institutional organization from within to help us be ever more prepared for the increasingly complex challenges in the decades ahead.
I am proud of the work by the L.A. Forum in 2018 to renew and expand our focus on the ethical obligation to confront the difficult cultural issues that limit participation in the design and experience of the built environment. In an era marked by the rhetoric of nationalism and borders, we have unequivocally supported INTERNATIONAL CULTURAL EXCHANGE. We began the year with the conclusion of Tu Casa es mi Casa, an exhibition pairing architects from Mexico City with writers from California at the Neutra VDL House. We continued our international exchange at USC in a discussion with Abhinava Shukla, Secretary General of Ahmedabad Textile Mills Association, regarding the unique challenges faced by iconic Indian buildings designed by Le Corbusier on urban sites. And at the end of 2018 we collaborated with Japan House in Hollywood to explore the architectural exhibition “Sou Fugimoto: Futures of the Future“.
In a time of cultural conflict and increased awareness of the impact and importance of race, gender, and a host of issues challenging DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION, particularly in the design professions, the L.A. Forum has promulgated a productive dialogue regarding social justice and pluralism. In coordination with our 2018 newsletter publication, RE:Learning, which challenged contemporary architectural pedagogy, we hosted the Free School of Architecture in the WUHO gallery for our Summer Exhibition 2018. The Free School, which challenges contemporary ideas of architectural education, institution, pedagogy, and capital, was organized by an international team of four women, and demonstrated design process as product with Los Angeles available as its laboratory for exploration. Shortly after the Free School’s session finished in the gallery, the Los Angeles Forum collaborated with Woodbury once again at WUHO to host “Now What?! Advocacy, Activism & Alliances in American Architecture since 1968,” linking the U.S. design community to larger social and political movements of the late 20th century, placing design practice in the foreground and engaging viewers in critical conversations of history, progress, and the built environment in 2018. Critical questions of RACE, GENDER, AND SEXUALITY were explored to consider equity and representation in the design professions in 2018.
Our curatorial mission continued exploring DESIGN from the scale of furniture to the city, with a particular focus on housing. From our collaboration with VDL House to host European design firm BLESS, with a critical installation of their contemporary furniture, our Morning After discussion in collaboration with the A+D Museum in Los Angeles, and our On the Map programming which explored L.A.’s built environment in situ from the extra small (XS) to the extra large (XL). L.A. Forum’s Board of Directors worked tirelessly to produce an exceptional number of programs in 2018 with a particular focus on the critical social justice issue facing Los Angeles’ built environment by hosting three major events regarding HOUSING JUSTICE. The first was Part of the Solution: Yes to ADU, in collaboration with the LA County Arts Commission and inclusive across disciplines, to re-imagine the potential of “granny flats”, or Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). The second, ADU 2.0: Transforming the City from Inside Out, in collaboration with The Taiwan Academy and Bureau Spectacular, considered new infill housing typologies in Los Angeles and Taipei. The third, a book launch and panel discussion regarding Housing as Intervention with author Karen Kubey, and moderated by Frances Anderton, considered how Los Angeles might implement new multifamily housing typologies that would work to relieve the unconscionable economic and humanitarian housing crisis that we are facing.
With so much ambitious programming, and despite a hard working, all-volunteer Board of Directors, the L.A. Forum requires highly competent membership coordination and financial management, particularly regarding our numerous grants. Internally, our Board of Directors has worked hundreds of hours over the course of 2018 to STRATEGICALLY REORGANIZE the internal mechanisms and systems by which our organization operates. We have reconfigured and implemented new systems for grant application and tracking, as well as our strategies for tracking membership and programming to more effectively analyze our diverse member engagement. Many of these changes are fundamental to our organizational work, but perhaps none so much as our strategic revision of our Board of Advisors. We have created a new system of roles and responsibilities that will cultivate more productive mentorship and workflow between the Advisors and the Board.
Looking forward into 2019, I could not be happier about the future of the L.A. Forum and its recently elected leadership. We will be led by our President, Katrin Terstegen, and Vice-President, Christopher Torres, Co-Vice-Presidents of Information, Maria Esnaola and Michelle Frier, Vice-President of Grants Development, Nina Briggs, Vice-President of Membership Development, Liz Mahlow, Vice-President of Operations, Steven Chodoriwsky, and our Treasurer, Aaron Neubert. We have some intriguing projects ahead, including revisiting our L.A. Forum history of pamphlets, and have received a grant to develop a new series of PAMPHLET PUBLICATIONS regarding current topics in L.A.’s built environment. We have also been coordinating with Christopher Hawthorne in the City of Los Angeles Mayor’s Office regarding a 2019 collaboration on important initiatives, particularly regarding housing and the design of urban spaces in Los Angeles.
On a personal note, I am sincerely grateful for the fantastic opportunity it has been to serve for my entire five year term on the Board of the L.A. Forum, including in 2016 and 2017 as Vice President with President Roberto Sheinberg, and in 2018 as President with Vice President Katrin Terstegen. To the L.A. Forum Board of Directors, Advisory Board, Members, donors, collaborators, and all who supported my leadership, I extend my sincere and heartfelt thanks. The L.A. Forum is now, more than ever, positioned to instigate and frame critical public discourse on design and the built environment, and it is with great excitement that I look forward to the important contributions it will continue to make toward promulgating diversity, equity, and inclusion within the design disciplines and the larger culture that is Los Angeles.
Please also consider becoming an LA Forum member!
In advance of the event, we spoke with Japan House President Yuko Kaifu, head of programming for Japan House, Haruhiko Sugimoto and Senior curator, Trast Howard about the recently-opened Japan House location and its mission, and about the current exhibit, “Sou Fujimoto: Futures of the Future” which has been extended until January 6, 2019.
For those who may not know already, could you tell us what is Japan House?
Japan House is an innovative, worldwide public diplomacy initiative launched by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. It was created to showcase the best of Japan and nurture deep understanding about the culture by presenting cutting-edge exhibitions and events in a wide-range of areas such as culture, art and design, fashion, technology, gastronomy and more, through its three hubs located in Los Angeles, London and Sao Paulo. Japan House Los Angeles occupies two floors at Hollywood & Highland, with the second floor featuring a gallery space with exhibitions rotating every two to three months and an expertly curated shop with a tea station for visitors to enjoy while strolling through the space. The fifth floor hosts a modern Japanese kaiseki restaurant called INN ANN, a relaxing and intimate library lounge with a selection of books on Japan, and event space, along with spectacular views of Hollywood and Downtown Los Angeles. The 2nd floor has been open since December 2017, and with the completion of the 5th floor, Japan House celebrated its grand opening in August 2018, offering the public a place of new discovery that transcends the physical and conceptual boundaries creating experiences that reflect the best of Japan.
Your current exhibition, “Sou Fujimoto: Futures of the Future,” is fantastic. What about the exhibit will surprise visitors?
I think people will be surprised by both Fujimoto’s humorous approach to reexamining architecture, and the eclectic and diverse nature of his designs.
Many people will not immediately understand why Fujimoto includes a crumpled water bottle, an ashtray, or a pile of potato chips among models of his accomplished and spectacular buildings. By drawing our interest with these whimsical and funny pieces, Fujimoto is encouraging us to be sensitive to the diversity of the world around us, and to find inspiration and potential for architecture everywhere.
People will also be surprised by how Fujimoto’s designs seem to move and transform as you walk through the room and view them from different angles. Fujimoto purposefully imbues his designs with a diversity of form and purpose, allowing occupants to inhabit and utilize them in various ways. This open-ended design, depicted through complex models, dynamic large-scale graphics, and intriguing thought pieces, are a joy and surprise to encounter.
What other future programming at Japan House should our readers know about?
Our mission is to provide a series of interactive and immersive opportunities for our visitors to experience Japan through their five senses, in a wide variety of fields/topics. We organize film screenings, cultural events such as tea ceremony, family-friendly workshops on the weekends, special talks and panel discussions covering design to politics, food tastings, and more. Our events and programs are designed in hopes that those familiar and new to Japanese culture will find new memorable experiences.
Some exciting events planned for early 2019 are our Japanese Food Lab Series, one of our new and popular hands-on programs offered twice a month. (Fee varies, starting at $15); the Short Shorts Film Festival (on January 17), and an exhibition on the work of manga artist Naoki Urasawa. Considered a modern master in dynamic storytelling and extensive character development, Urasawa’s release of the thriller, “Monster” garnered him international notoriety the mid-1990s.
Copyright (c) JAPAN HOUSE Los Angeles.
As a wrap-up of our summer programming, we spoke with the organizers of this summer’s LA Forum exhibition — the Free School of Architecture — about their experimental peer-to-peer learning platform, the experience during the summer at the WUHO space in Hollywood, their core beliefs and efforts, and what the future holds.
What surprised you most about this past summer’s FSA session?
The biggest surprise was a very welcome, unexpected and delightful one – that almost everyone we approached about collaborating or supporting FSA this summer was overwhelmingly positive and encouraging of the project – and almost everyone wanted to take part! Everyone we worked with was incredibly patient and generous with us, even through we are still very much finding our feet as an organization. We hope that those who took part found the experience as valuable as we did. Yes, there were points of failure, but from these we can only learn.
How will FSA carry forward or document the goings-on at the session that occurred this past summer at WUHO?
We have all only just recovered from the summer, which was pretty full on! We are picking back up our weekly meetings, but now as a larger group. The purpose of these meetings is to reflect on this year’s session, to share what we can individually and collectively take from it, as well as to start to figure out plans going forward. The Instagram account will be continuing and made into more of an active project to continue the conversations we started with our organization-collaborators over the summer. We are also looking to archive various bits and pieces from the summer. A collector in New York is interested in archiving the zines produced; we will be participating in the roving national exhibition Now What?!, as well as the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation’s Bauhaus Centenary festival, School Fundamental, in spring 2019; and we are looking to publish an account of the summer and the process that got us there. Our website will also continue, acting as more as a point of reference for the general scope of FSA as the organisation proliferates and morphs into next year.
Building on the first two seasons of FSA programming, what would you hope to see from the next iteration?
An important goal for future iterations will be a more a visible thread (or threads) connecting the diverse projects, individuals and organizations who were, are, and will be part of FSA. Those threads have always been there, but always under-the-surface, murky, and hard to articulate. It seemed that this lack of clarity frustrated some of our observers and participants over the summer, which is understandable. FSA takes a maximalist and inclusive approach to ideas, interests and approaches; this has the beautiful advantage of allowing us to bring together seemly very different people and projects who might never have met, and between whom unexpected collaborations start to happen. It also has the disadvantage of not making much sense to the outside. However tangible, connecting ties between our seemingly disparate entities do exist, and making these visible is something we are working towards, whether the next FSA manifests itself once more as a single summer program, or as a multitude of smaller entities spread in pockets across different times and locations.
A bit more abstractly, we will continue to process and discuss the core values of FSA. How can we approach non-hierarchy at a large scale and continue to build? How can we support fair labor practices, value time and energy, but also stay free? The organization plans to analyze and grapple with our two years of experimentation in order to continue to help FSA grow, improve, and maybe become a toolkit for others who hope to engage with peer-to-peer, non-institutional learning!
Returning to downtown Los Angeles on October 25 and 26, the Facades+ Conference will bring together professionals from the worlds of design, fabrication, and construction to consider how L.A.’s unique collection of architectural practices and approaches to design might inform the future of high performance building envelopes. As a conference media sponsor, the LA Forum talked to Aastha Deshpande, Program Director of the Facades+ Conferences, about this week’s events.
What is new and exciting about this year’s FACADES+ conference?
Facades+ has grown phenomenally in terms of its reach, content and attendance since its conception in 2012. This year the conference has already spanned most major cities in North America; Chicago, NYC and Miami to name a few and is now coming to LA. The year 2018 will end with Facades in Boston and Seattle. The conference promises an engaging discourse among experts of high calibre. This year has seen a host of speakers that presented projects and ideas featuring the use of various materials and technologies spanning various scales and belonging to different contexts. Presentations have focused on various aspects of building construction from design to construction details focusing on innovations in both.
Who are some of the speakers and presenters you are particularly excited about this year?
Facades+ LA will feature Thom Mayne of Morphosis, a well known, highly acclaimed Pritzker laureate and founder of Sci-Arc. His work is known for its innovative and experimental quality, an ideology and approach that has spilled over to the academic framework of Sci-Arc as well. We also have Heather Roberge of Murmur who is known for extensive research in material and technology and plans to focus on how they can be used on various scales; from products to large scale building construction. Another important and very interesting speaker is Jenny Wu of Oyler Wu Collaborative who has taken her practice beyond the direct realm of architecture into product and jewelry design. Stan Su of Morphosis has been instrumental in helping us program the LA Facades+ conference and will moderate some panel discussions along with our Editor Matt Shaw.
What makes FACADES+ a great event for design professionals to consider attending, for those who might still be on the fence?
Facades+ is a lot more than a symposium that puts together speakers and experts. It also comprises of an expo gallery where manufacturers display and demonstrate their latest products and technological innovations that promise to shape the world of architecture, engineering and construction. The conference is hence an excellent place to mingle, network, build significant and relevant contacts and stay updated with the up and coming in design and construction.
Click here to register.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.