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The LA Forum interviewed architect Mark Foster Gage about his current installation at SCI-Arc, “Geothermal Futures Lab.” Gage’s work has appeared in numerous publications, and his work intersects emergent technologies, computational aesthetics, and interdisciplinary collaborations. He is a tenured professor, and Assistant Dean at the Yale School of Architecture where he has taught since 2001. The exhibition is on view through March 4th. Gage will also speak next week at UCLA. See the calendar below for more information.
That particular installation is an exploration into the tools architecture has for producing the realities in which we exist. My friend David Ruy often says “Architecture is the first thing that tells us what reality looks like,” which is even more true now than it was historically. If you think about it, most of your life happens in architecture — it is the backdrop of your reality. Nobody is living in the woods anymore — we live and work in buildings. Always in buildings. Now while architecture has primarily concerned itself with buildings, in the past, it also now has other tools at its disposal which can be used to produce this backdrop—which is what this installation is about. It uses narrative, research data, fiction, historic references, new technologies, video, social media, technical drawings, photography, staging, and props to produce an immersive experience a full and complete reality. However, this full and complete reality is filled with “reveals” that tell you aspects of it are fictional — there are things like my little ponies in the technical drawings and bunny rabbits CNC milled into the machinery. This does two things — it tests the elasticity of architectures ability to fully form a given ‘reality’ but also invites as certain critical curiosity where people begin to question the reality they have been given.
Yes. Certainly — it is about revealing the elasticity of how architects frame reality, as well as a warning to be wary of, and critical of, these constructions. Architecture today is as much a discipline of marketing as much as it is a discipline of building. Characters like Bjarke Ingels are evidence of this — where the advertising and marketing of the work, or the architect, is far more important than the work itself. People should be unwilling to settle for an architecture of sound-bites. They should be invited to go deeper — this is what the installation is about. An invitation to curiosity about architecture rather than a sound bite that you can quickly understand and dismiss.
LA Forum spoke with designer and educator Nina Briggs about her upcoming documentary, “Practitioners”. Her film reveals the women in, around, and adjacent to architecture, illustrating their roles as the glue of the Los Angeles design community. Nina is the Founding Principal of THE FABRIC, the first black woman to graduate from USC with a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture, and recipient of the 2017 ASID Scholars Award for Education.
One of the goals of the film is to replace the architecture-culture model of an exclusive citadel with the authentic, nuanced view, including the allied professions. Another goal is to unpack the dimensions of women’s multi-disciplinary stories in the context of the greater design community. Many of these women practice behind the scenes in positions of power and authority, quietly enhancing and supporting the design community.
I’m honored to be trusted by these women with their intimate stories. The interviews reveal personal journeys of practice based upon conscious and/or unconscious career navigations, bypassing obstacles and transcending boundaries. They explain how their architectural training led to alternate forms of practice, or completely different professions, why they left traditional practice, and how their paths meandered. They’re almost unaware of their incredible resilience and strength. Their humility, quiet leadership, and far-reaching impact is astounding.
I hope to reveal the creative ways in which women persist despite barriers; To celebrate these brand ambassadors of design, who are enabling code-switching; To correct the misconceptions of architects and heighten her cultural and economic value; To spark a perceptional shift toward a more inclusive culture; To enhance the current discourse on inequity in the profession(s), filling a void in the incomplete body of material knowledge of women in architecture and design, and reconstruct the female legacy through a compelling lens.
The film explores both diversity of practitioners, as well as diversity of practice, unmasking sustainable modes of practice, reflective of the communities served. Since women are a vital, less visible part of the built environment’s talent pool, the film disrupts stereotypes in order to consider women’s political impact and real-world value. The film’s intention is not to seek siloed feminine privilege, but to expand the formulaic scope of practice, noting that designing buildings is not the only means to shaping the built environment. We seek to honor those female practitioners who have been rendered invisible, while illuminating asymmetries and striving for equitable representation.
I think recognition, while gratifying to the recognized, has a greater impact on the observers of recognition. The current perfect storm of diversity, equity and inclusion is the whole community’s responsibility. I think active participation and solidarity with the movement underway must continue.
To find out more about Practitioners visit thefabric.org.
Four Los Angeles designers and one artist pay tribute to architect R.M. Schindler in the exhibition “Pin-up: A Designed Tribute to Schindler’s L.A.”, on view through February 11 at the Fitzpatrick-Leland House. LA Forum spoke to Pamela Shamshiri of Studio Shamshiri about her and John Williams’ collaborative pieces in the show, their inspiration, and how the work responds to Schindler’s materials and forms.
PS: I always knew Schindler was the architect’s architect, but I had no idea exactly why he was so revered until restoring the Lechner house. The boys and I joke that John had to move in with us for two years to complete the restoration. That time period was magical and creative. So much was unearthed at the job site every day. Between the drawing set, the 1948 photos, and what was existing — nothing matched. In the daily excavation, we would find scribbled notes on geometry, idiosyncratic framing and engineering solutions. Schindler’s DNA was everywhere. It was like being on an archeological dig and an incredibly creative time which birthed a company like Commune. Lots of design lessons learned in that period for both John and I. In lots of ways, we didn’t want it to end and so here we are collaborating on pieces that embody the high design/low materials, the play on geometry, sculpting bits of space, and the design ethos that Schindler leaves us with.
PS: At the house, I have three big binders full of Schindler articles, references, and details. I also have a notebook of designers that work within a process that Schindler would approve of like Piet Hein Eeek, Eileen Grey, Corbusier, etc. We sit in the living room and pull images, then John goes away and comes back with a curve ball, and I always say, “Yes, let’s do it!”
PW & JW: We started with the combination of redwood and copper that Schindler used in the Kings road house and decided to make a second version using the combination of brass with a color-washed Douglas Fir. The color-wash is a bit more yellow than the greenish tan that Schindler employed. It was important to us that it resonated with the brass in a similar way the redwood resonated with the copper. When you look at the carts side by side you can see they are unusual takes on the idea of red and yellow.
PS & JW: Schindler had a knack for concealing staircases behind or inside of cabinetry, like in the Lechner House a staircase connecting spaces drops right through a cabinet that houses a pull-out dining table. It feels like a secret passage in plain sight. In the Fitzpatrick-Leland house, the steps leading to the second floor are hidden behind a partition and a tall cabinet in the dining area. The top of this cabinet turned out to be an excellent place for viewing the dynamics and dimensionality of our lamp. In the dining area you are afforded a view from below the lamp, where you can see what usual sight lines normally conceal, the cord running through a 3/8″ hole punched through the plant of wood that forms the base of the lamp. This was a detail that we sweated over for a while, with each new method devised for transferring the cord from the lamp, out the back to the power seeming overthought or fussy. In the end this blunt solution turned out to be the best.
In honor of the LA Forum’s 30th Anniversary, Delirious LA occasionally features interviews with some of its founders. This week we continue our series with architects Craig Hodgetts and Hsinming Fung of the firm Hodgetts & Fung. We spoke to them about their time as LA Forum’s founders & presidents as well as the forum’s critical role in the design community moving forward.
CH & HF: Looking back on my time with the Forum, it was an exciting opportunity to be part of the birth of Los Angeles’ architectural culture – a culture that had been all but lost since the sixties, when John Entenza and the Case Study architects were practicing. It felt like a renaissance because there were so many of our peers and others locating to the West Coast from the East, and innumerable young firms which were talented, ambitious, and independent sprouting up where there had been a dearth. People like Sylvia Lavin, who joined the Forum bringing a sophisticated sense of destiny at just the right time when we were just beginning to have an architectural culture with the beginnings of MOCA, etc.
CH & HF: The best thing about the Forum is that it has remained fresh and young with a constant influx of new, enthusiastic members who bring their ideas to it – guaranteeing that it stays current and contemporary with the result that it has never gotten stale. The Forum continues to be a place for new voices and new energy.
CH & HF: At the time of its beginnings, the Forum was the only independent critical voice encouraging the formation of an architectural culture, and able to celebrate emerging firms and patterns of thought, especially with the establishment of the publications, which gave voice to an emerging generation which was not dominated by commercial enterprise.
Now, almost thirty years later, we would like to see the scope broadened to engage wider social and infrastructural objectives, especially since the battle for quality modern architecture appears to have been won. Huge issues like density, traffic, and demographic changes are and will have to find advocates in the future, and the Forum is well positioned to champion solutions and discussions about them. However, it will need to nurture its public voice in order to be an effective instrument for change.
CH & HF: The Forum is inherently the voice of Los Angeles. Whenever people come from elsewhere, they seem to catch the flavor of the city, and tend to celebrate its qualities rather than attempting to substitute an alternative point of view, which differs dramatically from the past when all one heard were complaints and observations about the lack of urbanity, and indiscriminate heterogeneity. With the emergence of Los Angeles as a model for developing economies, it will be important to point out the discrepancies and inconsistencies in that assessment.
CH & HF: It would be wonderful if the Forum were to become a “must read” blog similar to Architizer and Bustler with a more critical focus on L.A. culture and issues. It would also be an opportunity to initiate and/or lobby for better selection processes by city agencies or encourage a wider use of open and/or limited competitions on important civic or cultural projects, which would offer important opportunities to young firms to get a much-needed “foothold”.
CH & HF: We would like the Forum to find ways to establish stronger relationships with other design-oriented organizations and individuals in order to establish some overarching dialogue about issues that matter.
As the LA Forum wraps up its 30th year, we continue to reflect on our past to find a way forward as an organization. This week, we talk to the LA Forum’s Co-Presidents from 2014 to 2015, writer and critic Mimi Zeiger and architect Ella Hazard, who provide key insights into our recent history and ongoing issues in the architecture community at large.
You two were the first and only co-presidents in the LA Forum’s history so far. Why did you team up and how did you work together during your tenure?
MZ: We became co-presidents at a moment when the Forum was going through a big strategic planning initiative that was poised to reboot not only our programming and publishing, but also our visibility and fundraising. It was more work than any single person could take on. It was important to us that the Forum be forward-looking but not lose its rich intellectual history and conceptual underpinnings to challenge what architecture and design means in a place like Los Angeles. We each tackled the areas that played to our strengths, experience, and interests, and we collaborated on leadership and outreach. Together we were able to relaunch the LA Forum’s graphic identity, designed by Jessica Fleischman of Still Room, which led to Folder Studio’s redesign of the website.
EH: When Mimi and I inherited the LA Forum, it was approaching its 30th anniversary, the perfect time for a bit of an identity crisis. We realized that in order to take on the infrastructural strategic work that we felt was necessary and continue with our significant load of programming/publications, that it was definitely more than a one-person job. It seemed like the obvious and necessary solution for what the organization urgently needed in the moment.
Looking back, what were some of the highlights from your time as LA Forum co-presidents?
MZ: While I’m really proud of our exhibitions and programming, including the series Host: Natural Histories for Los Angeles, which was done in partnership with WorldWide Storefront and with collaborators Big City Forum and the Neutra VDL House, it was ForumFest 2015 that really captures what Ella and I were hoping to achieve: a big party that brings the best of LA architecture and urbanism together. Ella worked tirelessly to secure the venue under the now-demolished 6th Street Viaduct. I coordinated the Out There Doing Participants who the Forum commissioned to make site-specific installations. There were DJs, films, food trucks, and even a New Orleans Jazz Band. Did I mention a bridge-shaped piñata?
EH: I feel particularly proud of how much Mimi and I were able to accomplish together. The deep dive into the strategic planning effort wasn’t a particularly glamorous process, but it was the type of thought leadership that felt appropriate for where the Forum was at the time. It was necessary for us to clarify our focus in order to better engage our community and continue to curate inspiring programs and publications. Also, throwing a crazy party under the 6th Street Bridge was a pretty incredible experience!
Only three out of thirty-one LA Forum presidents have been women, including yourselves. Was this significant to you during your co-presidency? What can be done to improve this ratio in the future?
MZ: The LA Forum is not alone in its failure to represent women in design. It’s a structural issue within architecture that can only be fixed with deliberate effort in schools, in the profession, and in organizations like the Forum. During my five years on the board, I was dedicated to making sure our programming included not just a token woman on a panel, but many women, with many different design points of view. We need to remember that equality is not limited to gender and must address race, class, and sexual orientation. Alas, architecture and the Forum hasn’t gotten there yet.
Any parting wisdom or words of advice?
EH: I think that it’s really important to have fun. I joined the LA Forum as member because I really enjoyed the programming, events and publications that the organization produced. It’s always had deep roots in the community and an independent critical voice – yet the manner in which the conversations are curated leaves room for levity and feeling of community. It never took itself too seriously and I believe that this spirit will live on.
Returning to downtown Los Angeles on October 19 and 20, the Facades+ Conference will unite top professionals from the worlds of design, fabrication, and construction to consider how high performance envelopes contribute to and are shaped by L.A.’s unique architectural landscape. As a conference media sponsor, the LA Forum talked to Marty Wood, Program Director of the Facades+ Conferences, about finding a community of “facade geeks” and the building industry at large.
The Facades+ Conference is now approaching six years in existence and continues to grow and evolve. The conference series started with the emphasis on building envelopes from many perspectives: material, technique, design, and sustainability. We’ve had a dedicated group of “facade geeks” who continue to return to these events, year after year, and we continue to share our passion for buildings with new audiences.
Performance and sustainability is always an overriding theme of the conferences and many of the experts we bring together reflect that shared goal. We’ve tailored this year’s Los Angeles event in partnership and with the guidance of SOM’s Design Directors Paul Danna & José Luis Palacios and Senior Technical Designer Garth Ramsey, to create what we hope is a compelling program for Los Angeles’ many building professionals. We want to create an environment where architects, engineers, construction leaders, and other building professionals can meet each other, network, learn, and exchange ideas.
We’ve got a stellar lineup of presenters this year from many of Los Angeles’ award-winning architecture firms. Our keynotes are Stanley Saitowitz in the morning and Julie Eizenberg & Nathan Bishop of Koning Eizenberg in the afternoon. Alice Kimm (JFAK) and Lorcan O’Herlihy will also be presenting their studios’ excellent work. Our panel conversations feature issues of political importance such as designing supportive housing and innovative research from scholars at L.A.’s top universities. Other panels include high-profile civic projects such as the new Federal Courthouse and L.A.’s upcoming stadium developments.
Since Los Angeles is one of the U.S. hubs of architecture and design (and with so many active construction projects), we are always excited to come back here. Each Facades+ event is different because we partner with local firms to develop the program and tailored to local audiences. We love Los Angeles and have made it one of only two of our yearly two-day Facades conferences. The expanded format offers not only the full day symposium and exhibitors gallery, but a second full day of deep-diving workshops led by experts on topics as diverse as NetZero and sustainable design, ETFE, detailing for facades, and software such as Processing and Dynamo. It’s a great way for architects to learn new skills, network and take care of their AIA required credits. We hope to see you there!
In honor of the LA Forum’s 30th Anniversary this year, Delirious LA occasionally features interviews with some of its founders. This week we continue our series with architect Christian Hubert. We spoke to Hubert about the LA Forum’s origins and critical role in the design community moving forward.
Many of us had more or less recently moved to L.A. from the East Coast and missed the polemics and debates that took place in New York and the architecture schools. I had been active at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies and sought out other designers with similar interests. I knew a number of the other founding members already, and I was eager to expand that network.
Craig Hodgetts was the closest thing to an authentic L.A. figure in our original group, Frank Israel was still a recent transplant and Ben [Caffey] had moved back after a year at the GSD. Aaron [Betsky] and I had just arrived. Our goal was to make sense of the city and the architecture being created in it. We met in various offices until we were able to use the Schindler house, which provided an anchor point, an outdoor room, and an explicit link to transplanted European modernism.
The Forum’s initial response to L.A. was to perceive a need (or at least a desire) for discussion, a sense that the architectural community was inchoate and underdeveloped, to take a real interest in the freedoms and opportunities for architectural experimentation in Los Angeles, and in the future of the city — especially in relation to transportation and infrastructure.
The social tensions between the city’s socially segregated enclaves, between rich and poor, and between ethnic groups could not be ignored either, and we were fortunate to have members like Doug Suisman and John Kaliski who were committed to public initiative and changes in the city. We would always be moving back and forth between an interest in design experiment and an ambition to make real contributions to the public realm.
The tumultuous events following the Rodney King beatings underscored the importance of our working with communities, other than ours, and exploring the marginal or informal spaces of the city. We held an event in the parking lot of a burnt out mall — using found furniture — held another event under the freeway, and participated in design charrettes. We also remained committed to activist academic work and to the pamphlet publications.
I think the Forum has created an important cultural niche for itself in Los Angeles, and hope it can continue to do so. As much as possible, it should be opening up avenues for talented designers to contribute to the public good, in social and environmental terms and increasingly in political terms. The state of California is a leader and an example to the rest of the world; Los Angeles should be as well.
Keep it up!
Opening Saturday, September 23, “Tu casa es mi casa” is a collaboration between the LA Forum, Archivo Diseño y Arquitectura, and the Neutra VDL Studio and Residences that connects two modernist houses in Los Angeles and Mexico City via the exchange of texts, objects, and installations by contemporary writers and architects/artists. Three California-based writers— Aris Janigian, Katya Tylevich, and David Ulin —were asked to craft a letter to one of the three Mexico City–based design teams— Frida Escobedo, Pedro&Juana, and Tezontle, who responded with site-specific installations at the Neutra VDL House. In advance of Saturday’s opening, The Forum talked with Andrea Dietz, speaking on behalf of the curatorial team that also includes Mario Ballesteros, Sarah Lorenzen, and Mimi Zeiger, about finding connections across multiple borders.
It was late 2015 when we began to formulate “Tu casa es mi casa.” At the time, there was a growing buzz around Mexico City – recognitions that the city was a rising hot spot for architecture and design. We, too, were excited by the work that we were seeing from young Mexican designers. It seemed that they were innovating a design movement, one that expressed culture and materiality, politics and craft, historical awareness and forward-facing perspectives together. We were hoping to influence local conversations with these synthesizing sensibilities. That, and, we were responding to an absence of content dedicated to contemporary architecture and design in the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA line-up. We felt strongly that the ongoing developments in architecture and design deserved representation amidst the otherwise sweeping review of the arts.
Of course, all of this was before the 2016 elections, before the rise in xenophobic vocalization and action. So, while our original intentions still apply, we now also see “Tu casa es mi casa” in an ambassadorial role. We hope that it inspires continued collaborations between the creative communities north and south of the US/Mexico border – and that it demonstrates a deep appreciation for the long-standing bonds out of which such exchanges might grow.
“Tu casa es mi casa” is organized around our interest in the phenomena of translation: it started with a place, a house; the Neutra VDL Studio and Residences. It became text after our authors, Aris Janigian, Katya Tylevich, and David Ulin, captured in words their experiences of inhabiting the house. These texts, sent as letters to our design teams in Mexico City – Frida Escobedo Taller de Arquitectura, Pedro&Juana, and Tezontle – now are taking shape as installations for the Neutra VDL. Photographs by Adam Wiseman of the installations then will travel back to Mexico City as an exhibition for Archivo. Each step is a departure from one context and methodology to another – a leap of unexpected proportions. It’s the unexpected that we’ve been after, the potential and risk of the unknown. Not only are we excited by the invention inherent to such processes, we’re recognizing a productive stance in the admission of uncertainty.
“Tu casa es mi casa,” clearly, is not static; we want the translations to keep going. Each of our design teams will be giving presentations at one of the local architecture schools. There will be a panel discussion with the authors and the design teams at SCI-Arc the Friday before the installations open to the public. And, we’re developing a series of additional programs throughout the run of the show. We want these engagements to propel a conversation around transgressing borders.
“The Back 9” opens at the Skid Row History Museum and Archive on September 8. The exhibition, a collaboration between Materials & Applications, the Los Angeles Poverty Department, and Rosten Woo,is a playable educational golf course about zoning and redevelopment politics on Downtown LA. The Forum spoke to Los Angeles Poverty Department’s Artistic Director, John Malpede, about what it means to Play the Back 9.
LA Poverty Department makes art with people living in the Skid Row community. We make performances, exhibitions, festivals, parades etc. We are concerned about the future of this recovery neighborhood. We initiated this project several years ago, when we became aware of Recode: LA and the new community plans that would accompany it, as we feared it would open up Skid Row to development and lead to the displacement of the extremely low income residents of the neighborhood, suppress any who avoided displacement, and totally disregard the homeless people who gravitate Skid Row because that is where the services are.
“The Back 9” connotes a place where decisions are made in private, among the powerful that pre-determine what the public, participatory conversation will be. In this case, the in the works zoning and community plans are designed to overwhelm Skid Row with market rate development and ultimately to push out the current residents and create an environment where any current residents who are able to remain in their housing will find themselves living in inhospitable surroundings. Even if they avoid displacement their neighborhood will have been hi-jacked. We asked Rosten Woo to design the golf-course because of his unique ability to make policy things and government processes, intelligible, fun and visually exciting. From the inception of the project, the golf course was planned as an installation playable by the public and as the set for “ The Back 9” performance that LAPD presented in June that addressed the same issues.
LA Poverty Department’s mission: Los Angeles Poverty Department (LAPD) creates performances and multidisciplinary artworks that connect the experience of people living in poverty to the social forces that shape their lives and communities. LAPD created the Skid Row History Museum & Archive space in 2015, specifically to address issues of community and displacement in downtown LA. Recognizing that Broadway has always been a vital street for the Skid Row community, we were eager to do our civic duty of “bringing it back”,—though completely puzzled by the thought that it was somehow missing.
In honor of the LA Forum’s 30th Anniversary, this year Delirious LA occasionally features interviews with some of its founders. This week we continue our series with architect Ben Caffey. We spoke to Caffey about the LA Forum’s origins and critical role in the design community moving forward.
When my friend from graduate school, Christian Hubert, moved to Los Angeles and subsequently introduced me to Aaron Betsky, who had also recently moved to L.A., I was tremendously inspired by their enthusiasm to explore the enigma of the city which, to me as a native, had always been a curiosity. What started as an idea for a reading group, grew through their ambition into the Forum and subsequently included Doug Suisman, John Kaliski, and others. The biggest highlight was simply to meet and learn from the collective intelligence of this forward looking group.
I recall particularly Craig Hodgetts’s thoughtful talk where he posited “If the traditional city is like a 19th century symphony, with a clear hierarchical structure, Los Angeles is more like a John Cage or Phillip Glass piece with a unique structure and texture of surprises. We understood that L.A. by necessity would evolve, but that it should happen in a unique manner, and that one was therefore obliged to explore novel ways of transforming L.A. into its own version of a true urban city.
Our pamphlets were individually conceived publications in form as well as content. The Central Office of Architecture created Recombinant Images, a series of individual photos in a vellum sleeve. These captured the ephemeral beauty of L.A. as a phenomenon. Gary Paige produced a sublime collection of Grant Mumford’s photos that document the city’s surreally mundane silence. And of course, there was Doug Suisman’s revelatory Los Angeles Boulevard.
Barton Myers compared Los Angeles to London in that smaller towns and communities had been absorbed or surrounded by the magma (my word) of the metropolis. These embedded figures with their stories and secrets in dialogue with the grid, are the stuff of mystery in L.A. (to say nothing of their overlay on the Ranchos and original settlements). I suggest studying the city itself—continuing to investigate the social geography of L.A., its roots of prejudice and greed from the past might form an interesting counterpoint to explore its future.
The LA Forum Voices Project is a collection of informal sound bites that vocalizes the origins, design culture and other inspirations that led to the founding of the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design 30 years ago. As a piece of our 2012 exhibition, Unfinished Business, the audio project is the beginning of a greater vision for incorporating new media and podcast archives to the Forum collection. The Forum spoke to the project creator Siobhán Burke about what it means to hear these voices and how they have influenced her work today.
I have always been inspired by the stories of others, and I thought, Why not trace some of the institutional history of the LA Forum through an oral history project, and turn it into a StoryCorps type feature on an iPad? Our goals were to solicit soundbites from the founders, board alumni, and anyone who was a past contributor to the LA Forum. We aimed to touch on a variety of themes and not to solely focus on the past. It was important to keep the subjects relevant – whether it was discussing the infrastructure of our city as a “backstage” to Los Angeles or why it’s critical to continue giving a stage to the femmes fatales in our profession. We ended up with 18 soundbites, edited and condensed to around 4 minutes each. Interviews were conducted in-person, via Skype, and were also self-recorded. LA Forum Voices was a year-long project in the making from conception to installation of a listening station that Lyric designed for the exhibition at the WUHO Gallery in July 2012.
Absolutely! Storytelling and listening is one of my biggest forms of research. My firm Lyric Design & Planning focuses on public space design projects, ranging in location from Santa Monica to DTLA, Boyle Heights, and South LA. While it’s impossible to be “of” every neighborhood that I work in, it is possible to dig deep into what matters most to the people around me. I remind myself everyday to “Look closely, listen intently”. It’s my motto. I can’t begin the work or the speculation until I hear what residents, business owners and activists in other communities have to say. That might mean taking a site visit and informally interviewing folks that I meet, or going to panel events that aren’t necessarily geared toward my projects, but give me real insight into the key issues of a community, specifically those dealing with shifting demographics and economies.
I just wrapped up a Metro Rail to River project that will be converting a 30-foot long railroad right-of-way along Slauson Ave into a pedestrian path and 2-way bicycle – the tracks will be removed and the corridor will be lined with shade trees and a bioswale. Before the project even started, I attended a talk hosted by Zócalo Public Square at Mercado La Paloma. Over 100 people from the community came to listen. It was there that I heard one of the panelists, Jorge Nuño of Nuevo South urge his fellow residents to “improve, don’t move”, suggesting a recrafting of the gentrification narrative to be one of positive development without erasure of an important social history. I urge anyone working on projects that are not in their area of residence to dive deep into the social history of their sites: Look closely, listen intently.
My greatest mission is to continue to keep my ear to the ground while building for a beautiful and sustainable public benefit. My hope is that the web launch of LA Forum Voices instigates a new curiosity in the exchange of ideas in multiple formats while striving for diversity in the voices that are represented.
Edited by landscape architects and L.A. Forum Board Members Astrid Sykes and Christopher Torres, the latest issue of the L.A. Forum Newsletter explores the nature of public space, finding new definitions and dimensions through the prism of Los Angeles’s urbanism. In honor of its release, the L.A. Forum spoke with Sykes and Torres about the newsletter’s themes and their favorite semi-public places in the city.
CT + AS: Since joining the LA Forum board in 2016, we have been wanting to curate a newsletter focused on public space. We both work in landscape architecture and urbanism practices and are fortunate to be part of some great public space projects in Los Angeles. With that work we have come to understand how sticky the term ‘public’ can be, and because of its complexity, how interesting it is to us. The very notion of a singular definition of public space is made void when examined through the lens of a city like Los Angeles that is defined by multiple publics, all connected or overlapping through the milleu of everyday life. Given the rising inclusion of public space in most design projects across the city, It’s clear that Angelinos are seeking moments for meaningful interaction and to live in a much more public way than past generations.
CT + AS: It was fascinating working on this issue through the 2016 presidential election. Many of our discussions to determine the newsletter’s direction were simultaneously playing out in the political arena. Questions such as ‘Who has a right to the city?,” “What is the role of public space in how we protest in a digital age?,” and locally, “Will Angelinos rise up and resist?” It was inspiring to be part of the demonstrations in downtown and LAX; seeing Angelinos quickly resist the regression threatening the public ideals we value. We believe in the importance of discourse on the state of public space, because without discussions such as those in this newsletter it becomes all too easy to take for granted what a special place in our society public space holds, both as a symbol of democracy and as a place that we all connect with on a personal level.
AS: I was lucky to be involved in the making of the Hauser + Wirth courtyard and garden – the use of this space by gallery visitors and the Arts District community was instantaneous and powerful. The gallery as a public paseo opens up an important conversation on the opportunities for alternative uses of interstitial spaces, and the importance of permeability in our changing city.
I think Los Angeles museums are providing provocative outdoor spaces where one can experience new types of interactions. For example, LACMA’s campus has become a beloved, well-programmed park space with Burden’s Urban Lights and Heizer’s Levitated Mass creating collisions that inspire my work.
CT: I’m interested in the semi-private vistas of the city, moments that remove you from the ground plane and provide a perspective of the region’s horizontal landscapes. Some of my favorite spots are the elevated walkways connecting the Bonaventure Hotel, the Home Depot rooftop parking deck in East Hollywood, and the Japanese Village Plaza parking garage roof in Little Tokyo. With the exception of the promontories of the Santa Monica Mountains and Baldwin Hills, there are few truly public moments to see the whole city; yet they are such a unique and necessary public experience for any city to have.
On view at the SCI-Arc gallery until August 13, Maxi Spina: Thick explores the elusive condition of material thickness in architectural design through the topics of sections, ruins, fragments, constructions, figurations, simultaneity and representation. The LA Forum spoke to Spinagu’s Maxi Spina about what it means to explore thickness.
Thickness in this project is a decoy for “the real,” for a set of questions posed around the tensions between architectural representation and architectural construction, about the translation between the two. In one way, it is a thought experiment around the representational conventions of material thickness — how do we show something is thick?
Material thickness seems to always exist in representational form, whether it is an offset line or an offset surface. In traditional drawing, the appearance of thickness, the representation of thickness primarily depends on three architectural drawing conventions: the edge, the section, and the shadow. Edges are like sections in that they show the thickness of materials, but edges also describe the end of a material condition and are visible to the naked eye. Sections are the hidden figures within forms that are excavated through an imaginary cut line — but they are not actually visible as they are describing an unseen condition of the project. Sections can be described by lines, or they can be filled as in poche. Choissy’s drawings incorporate all of these within his archeological study, and the use of edges, sections and shadows are used unilaterally in the drawing to produce the form. None is privileged as a single mode of representation.
But material thickness is also about construction. You assign thickness when you begin to construct something, when the object acquires the specificity of real materials. That’s when it begins to take on thickness. And this really catches up to you at some point in a project. It causes problems.
I’m interested in how software and environment and working habits are inflecting upon our very definition of materiality, and how we can work through these inflections in a creative and thoughtful way. For example, think about how we render materiality onto objects, and assign properties to such materials, whether through UV mapping, bumps, or image mapping. Many people tend to think of this as just a form of representation, as representing something outside the screen. But this activity of rendering, of assigning properties, is also a decisive act. As digital objects are gaining new properties and definitions, I am interested in seeing how this can be brought back out to the physical environment, and what new working methods might evolve out of the literalness by which we translate our digital process into material and physical ones.
Clocks and Clouds: The Architecture of Escher Gunewardena opens at the AD&A Museum at UC Santa Barbara on July 8th. The exhibition, a mid-career survey of the LA firm founded by Frank Escher and Ravi Gunewardena, highlights Escher Gunewardena’s generous and boundary-blurring exploration with art, craft and architecture. The Forum spoke to Frank Escher, a former LA Forum president, about his work, upcoming monograph and exhibition, and the future role of the Forum.
In his famous lecture “Of Clouds and Clocks”, Karl Popper talks about his earlier scientific and philosophical thinking in relation to these opposites: determinism –arising from rational thinking (clocks) – and chance (clouds). Popper argues that most things, systems or phenomena are neither only clocks nor clouds, but fall somewhere in between.
Our book is structured around four interviews that editor Lilian Pfaff conducted with Ravi and me. In the first interview we talk extensively about ‘Clocks and Clouds’. To us it has to do with what in the art of architecture is measurable, and what is not measurable. We have always been interested in developing an internal logic, or a system of constraints to provide us with a precise intellectual structure. It can be as banal as a system of dimensions and proportions, but this internal structure is “measurable”, it has its own logic and can lead to its own conclusions. On the other hand, we have always been interested in the idea of chance, the random and accidental. What we cannot and should not control have always been part of our thinking, such as how a material ages/transforms through human interaction, or through other processes that you cannot control. These two seemingly conflicting ideas, the desire to establish “order” and the acceptance of the “accidental” is something we try to develop in our work.
We do not exist in a cultural vacuum – what surrounds us, influences us. It is difficult to work as an architect in Los Angeles without confronting, in one way or the other, the city’s rich architectural history. In our case, this history has led to us not only working on the restoration of iconic buildings, but we have worked on books and exhibitions, artists’ projects, and with historic archives and collections. We’ve even developed the libretto for a four act opera on Rudolf Schindlers wife, ‘Pauline‘, which was performed in 2013 at the Schindler House.
These two sides of our practice reflect not only Ravi’s and my own interests, they very much reflect the cultural conditions of Los Angeles: the laboratory of twentieth century architecture that is now a global center for contemporary art. We have always been interested in connecting these two worlds, the overlaps and the interstice.
The Forum has the advantage of being nimble: an organization small enough to be well-connected and integrated in the architectural community, in particular with younger practitioners. But one has always also talked about the dis-advantage of not having a larger staff, or a fixed locale that would be known to the Angeleno architectural community, similar to the Architectural League of New York. Over the years there have been different ideas for locales, and despite the important collaborations with the MAK Center/Schindler House, WUHO gallery and now the VDL House, the Forum should eventually have its own space for lectures and exhibitions.
The important role for the Forum is to not simply provide dialogue within the architectural community, but with the city’s larger community. We must remember that the various schools in Los Angeles all have their respective and interesting academic agendas, lectures and exhibition programs. The Forum could be an important connector between the various schools through individual board and advisory members, and by expanding discourse beyond the confines of a particular school. We must further remember that, except for the Getty, none of the local museums have a dedicated architecture program and/or curator. Here the Forum could play an important role in generating content for these institutions: a regular series of panels, discussions or presentations at one of the local museums.
Noted Dutch academic, architect, and urban designer Stefan Al’s new book The Strip: Las Vegas and the Architecture of the American Dream explores the architecture of the Las Vegas Strip as a refraction of American values and modern-day capitalism. In anticipation of the book’s LA launch, hosted by the LA Forum on Tuesday, June 13, the Forum spoke with Al about the unique connections between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
Back in the 1940s, Las Vegas learned from Los Angeles how to build car-oriented architecture. The Flamingo Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, built by the infamous “Bugsy” Siegel, had a facade angled towards the road and a metal pylon with a neon flamingo, both beckoning drivers. It was designed by George Vernon Russell — an architect representative of the “Googie” architectural style, after the Googie coffee shop on the Sunset Strip, in Los Angeles. The Flamingo set a new standard for resorts on the Strip.
Since the 1930s, Los Angeles had the country’s largest percentage of single-family home and car ownership. Los Angeles had become the experimental ground for new buildings catering to the car, including drive-in fast-food restaurants. These buildings appropriated their clean lines and curvaceous forms from automobiles, symbolizing the new era of the car. Las Vegas developers like Mr. Siegel eagerly appropriated this new aesthetic and building type, which represented a more exiting suburban lifestyle, to which so many Americans aspired. It helped propel Las Vegas into the glamorous tourist destination of the Rat Pack days.
Back in the 1940s, the Sunset Strip was the world’s most famous commercial strip. Today, the Las Vegas Strip has overtaken that title. The Vegas Strip was built on change. Since its beginning, Vegas developers have surfed waves of social, cultural and economic change to build casinos so compelling that they actually drew vacationers to the Mojave Desert. Not lingering in nostalgia, developers would destroy their previous creations for the next new thing, earning Las Vegas the title “Implosion Capital of the World.”
The fact that the Strip keeps updating itself to the latest fad obviously leads to destruction and waste; on the other hand, it has created innovative buildings and experiences that attract many to the desert. Las Vegas was a ghost town a century ago, but forty-two million people visited the desert city in 2015—ten million more than Paris. The Strip adapted to changing trends with such overwhelming financial success that it has even become a global model for urban development. Macau reclaimed hundreds of acres of the South China Sea, only to build a Las Vegas-style Strip. Even Singapore built its new flagship business district around a Las Vegas-style resort.
As we continue celebrating Forum’s 30th year, we’re taking some time to reflect on our past and plan for our future. To help us in that critical self-reflection, we’re reconsidering the very significance of our identity: what precisely does it mean to be a “Forum” in Los Angeles? Peeling out the diverse applications of our core practice, we get:
a: to instigate dialogues on design and the built environment through public programming, exhibitions, and publications.
b: to take a curatorial stance framing and challenging what architecture means in an evolving city, understanding L.A. is a catalytic place for architecture and design, and offering lessons that extend globally.
c. mentoring, collaborating, learning, honoring, debating, exploring, listening, making, provoking, speculating, discussing, connecting, drinking, thinking, opposing, envisioning, . . . . .
How Forum continues to instigate architecture/urbanism discourse in Los Angeles will depend on you, our community — join us today.
SO – IL’s first book, “Solid Objectives: Order, Edge, Aura” is a visual and textual manifesto and a collection of built and unbuilt projects, texts, processes and experiments from the firm’s first eight years of work (2008-2016). On May 21 at 4pm, SO – IL’s Florian Idenburg and Jing Liu will discuss the book’s conceptual themes with photographer Iwan Baan and Johnston Marklee’s Mark Lee at Arcana Books. In advance of the Los Angeles book launch, the LA Forum talked to Idenburg about the book’s design process and the firm’s interests in interconnected spaces.
First of all, we did not want to approach the book as a traditional monograph, with our projects ordered in some sort of way – in time, or location or such. We wanted to have the book approximate an architectonic experience, as if you are moving through space. The book is organized around three points of gravity, order, edge and aura. Order speaks about organization, the way in which solid and void enables and disables actions to occur. It speaks about organizational attitudes. Edge speaks about the space where these organizations touch their situation or site. It speaks about the interfaces, thresholds and frames. The last part speaks about the material presence of the architecture. Elements of our projects are organized around these three poles. The book is also very tactile, it was important to us that the tectonics of the book were also considered. This trajectory from order, to edge and then aura is interspersed with a number of texts, both long and short. The long ones describe a project in detail, the short ones are reflections on architectural issues. Together it could be understood as an attitude towards architecture.
Architecture should enable events to happen. Function is merely a currency to buy space. But function hardly occurs as envisioned. It changes constantly. Architecture therefore should not be about allocating program, but should be about how it enables people to act / be in space. With regards to the interior, architecture could be more accommodating of a collectivity, for instance in how we envision spaces in which work and dwelling happens.
L.A, like, New York, is a very international city. One could argue that New York is more looking to Europe and LA more to Asia. We operate everywhere, but I would argue that New York is more ‘civic’ and L.A. more environmental. The transformations currently taking place in LA are very interesting, and could make L.A. a model for many global cities, as it wrestles through combining a more environmentally conscious sprawl city with a walkable and dense downtown. We are very interested in working in L.A. and even toy with the idea of having an office. A lot of our work uses membranes and lighter materials, that are more suitable to the L.A. environment, so who knows, hopefully in the future we get a chance to further explore some of these ideas.
In honor of the LA Forum’s 30th anniversary, this year Delirious LA will occasionally feature interviews with some its founders. This week we continue our series with Doug Suisman, urban designer, architect and author of Los Angeles Boulevard: Eight X-rays of the Body Public. We spoke to Suisman about the LA Forum’s origins and critical role in the design community moving forward.
For me the great service the Forum provided was a sense of community for young architects, especially those beginning to arrive in the city in growing numbers from other places. Architects who taught or studied in local architecture schools had a built-in framework and a community. But for those of us who had studied elsewhere, and then moved to LA to work in offices, it could be hard to find a foothold in the broader professional community. The Forum brought people together – practitioners, students, scholars, artists, critics, academics, entrepreneurs – who might not have otherwise connected. I think of it as a kind of USO for design.
That was then, when LA’s innovative architecture scene was young and evolving. Now it is fully established and explosively enlarged – the city arguably has the largest concentration of design talent in the world and its influence is global. I do hope the Forum continues to provide the kind of community for young architects it always has. But I also hope the Forum goes beyond the great professional initiatives it has always undertaken to look at the larger social context that architecture operates in. We have taken formalism and starchitecture about as far as they can go – now we have a new period of corporatism and gigantism in the profession, of enormously successful firms operating globally and on projects of enormous scale.
In this new age, what role does architecture play in society? Do we build anything for anybody who has the money to pay? For kleptocracies? For corporations that pollute? And most urgently today, for an administration that is weaponizing fear and hatred to divide people with walls and thereby “win”? I hope the Forum will challenge its members politically, and that the community that the Forum represents will say “never” to participating in the construction of those kinds of walls.
I think the idea came from Steven Holl’s influential pamplets, which he produced in the late 1970’s in New York. Many of these booklets were very inventive ways of looking at the interrelationship between New York’s urban and architectural forms. When they started the Forum, Christian Hubert and Aaron Betsky were undoubtedly familiar with these pamphlets, and I suspect it inspired them to try something similar for Los Angeles. One of the very first Forum pamplets, Craig Hodgett’s “Swimming to Surburbia” was both inventive and amusing — less self-serious than Holl’s — and it gave me a real sense of how LA’s architectural culture differed from New York. That inspired me to start thinking of a pamphlet about LA’s boulevards that would combine Holl’s formal rigor with Craig’s narrative flair. At the time, the Forum’s little books were literally stapled together, and none of us imagined that the series, or the Forum for that matter, would continue for thirty years or more!
I’d love to see the Forum take a fresh look at how the city, architecture, and the profession have changed since its founding, and then plot a course that keeps the Forum relevant for the next generation. The level of architectural design in Los Angeles is extraordinarily high, and I’m happy to say the quality of urban design is also catching up to that high standard. As LA enters a period of almost unprecedented growth, how do we create a more beautiful, sustainable and humane setting for life, and how do we maintain those special qualities that make Los Angeles its own kind of city? How do we make sure that everyone is housed, and that our shared values as a city are expressed through its architecture? Those are challenges that the Forum is uniquely well positioned to address.
Lorcan O’Herlihy is reimagining the way public and private spaces creatively interact. His newest book, Amplified Urbanism, situates O’Herlihy’s work within the larger urban consequence of Los Angeles, and features essays by critics and journalists who examine the city in the broadest sense via infrastructure, ecology, and civic engagement. The Forum spoke to O’Herlihy, ahead of his In The Gutter event on April 29th at SL11024.
What is Amplified Urbanism?
Amplified Urbanism is a strategy developed by LOHA, which uses unconventional and unexpected design principals to create transformational environments. Amplified Urbanism seeks to reimagine the creative interaction between public and private spaces, emphasize social and civic connections, and work within existing ecological and infrastructural patterns. Ultimately, this methodology catalyzes positive connections that radiate far beyond a structure’s immediate boundaries and redefines broader communities.
Why was it important for you to have your essays written by people who are outside the world of architecture?
The goal of this publication is to provoke conversations about how cities may become more dynamic, sustainable and productive environments for all. The book highlights how the tenets of Amplified Urbanism have been successfully implemented by LOHA, and how they may be used by others in all to cultivate vibrant communities.
Amplified Urbanism’s seven authors present and analyze interdisciplinary ideas from cultural, civic, and ecological leaders, which provide readers with intriguing insights and compelling points-of-view about diverse dimensions of city life – from radical new forms of public performance art and unorthodox community gatherings to innovative infrastructure strategies related to evolving transportation networks and sensitive urban flood plains.
What made you decided to make this book?
In 1999, LOHA published a monograph with Oscar Reira Ojeda, and since then we have been invited to create other monographs of our recent work. However, this time around, rather than creating a traditional publication that would simply mirror the content of LOHA’s website, we wanted to develop a book of compelling and intriguing ideas about complex and evolving urban conditions. We decided to self-publish Amplified Urbanism, in order to complete the book as quickly as possible and kick-start a broad conversation about the publication’s thought-provoking content.
Hosted by Woodbury University’s Interior Architecture department, the Unmentionables Symposium is a 2-day event that focuses on providing unrestricted terrain to the notions of critical interiority and the constructed environment. The Forum spoke to Annie Chu,the symposium’s chair, about what it means to be “Unmentionable”.
The symposium is part of the initiation of the Master of Interior Architecture program at Woodbury University. A core group of Woodbury Interior Architecture faculty, Randy Stauffer, Annie Chu, Kristin King and Heather Peterson identified the need for a scholarly symposium to highlight issues relevant to and perhaps even the raison d’être of the emerging discipline of interior architecture.
The name came about as an initial reaction to the narrow focus of contemporary architecture education, including the prevalence of technique driven methodologies and focus on form making; the committee began exploring the definition of the discipline and articulating its potential for knowledge production and emerging practices. We concluded that the existing paradigm of architecture vs. interior, and outside vs. inside are non-productive models for understanding the potential of interior architecture as practice and as inquiry. We believe that ‘the emergent (ideas operative for interior architecture) is likely to come from the least acknowledged, mined and understood condition of the present – those things we dare not say (in architecture schools in particular) or fail to mention – the subjects that go unspoken’ hence ‘Unmentionables’.
The EPA indicated that the average American spends 93% of their life indoors, that is 87% of their life in the interior spaces of structures, and 6% of their lives in automobiles (another type of interior). So much of our memories and experiences are staged in interiors, there is seldom a dream or a cultural product that do not rely on or respond to interior conditions as its scaffold or prompt. Interiors are constant and ubiquitous experiences in our daily lives, yet our knowledge of its effect and its potential for critical research are some of the most underexplored aspects of our human condition.
Last week, President Trump’s administration released a proposed 2018 budget that eliminated funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, among other agencies. Created in 1965, the NEA “funds, promotes, and strengthens the creative capacity of our communities by providing all Americans with diverse opportunities for arts participation” and has been a critical resource for the LA Forum throughout its thirty year history. To understand the importance of the NEA’s work in the design community, the LA Forum talked to Jeff Speck, a city planner and Design Director of the NEA from 2003-2007, now based in Brookline, MA.
Could you describe some of the work the NEA does to raise awareness of design and urban issues?
In the design discipline, which has been a part of the NEA from its beginning, the Agency works in two main ways: it gives grants to non-profits all over the country that need help promoting and advancing design in all its forms; and it creates and runs special programs—called Leadership Initiatives—where it sees an unmet need. For its grant-making, the Agency pulls together expert panels twice a year to ensure that funding goes to those organizations with the best, the most exciting, and the most impactful ideas. Its grants are only as good as the best that America has to offer. . . so that’s pretty good. Many of these are directed straight at raising awareness of design and urban issues, including museum exhibits, books and websites, public planning workshops, and design events like Open House Chicago, the annual weekend festival that turns that city’s architecture into one big, free, living museum. I’ll talk about Leadership Initiatives ahead.
What impact do you think defunding the NEA would have on the architecture and urban design communities, and cities in general?
Better to look to the past and ask what outcomes we now cherish were made possible by NEA design grants. These include the design competition for the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, the preservation of St. Louis’ Union Station and the warehouses of Manhattan’s South Street Seaport, the publishing of Learning from Las Vegas, and the creation of the GSA’s Design Excellence Program, which brought high design to decades of federal building construction all around the US. That’s just the tip of an iceberg that is thousands of grants deep. A future without an NEA would be future in which we miss out on subsequent generations of similar accomplishments.
In your tenure as the NEA Design Director, what were some of the highlights and accomplishments that you’re most proud of?
As a City Planner, I was proud to help lead the Mayors’ Institute on City Design, the NEA Leadership Initiative that teaches city planning fundamentals to U.S. Mayors—about forty each year—and helps them solve the most pressing urban design challenges facing their cities. A handful of this program’s 1,000-plus graduates are now in Congress, and one hopes that they will fight to save it—and the NEA. This program has helped to change the face of so many American communities, as you can see at micd.org. I also managed to help start a new Initiative of my own, the Governors’ Institute on Community Design, which helps U.S. governors combat suburban sprawl. It too, lives on—for now, along with other key programs directed exclusively at the small towns of rural America. But it is hard to have hope for these programs, and for executive branch agencies like the NEA, in the face of an executive whose best design idea is gold curtains.
On Tuesday, March 7, Los Angeles residents will have the chance to vote on Measure S, aka the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative: a controversial proposal aimed at reforming the planning system by ceasing certain developments until particular changes to the code are made. The Los Angeles Times has a concise explainer for the initiative here. Measure S stands to make a significant impact not only on immediate planning and development issues, but will also affect the implementation of other far-reaching ballot measures voters approved back in November — specifically, for public transit (Measure M) and housing the homeless (Measure HHH).
In the interest of conveying the complexity of Measure S, and exploring its potential implications for a future Los Angeles urbanism, The Forum interviewed two planning professionals on either side. On the “No” side, we spoke with Alan Loomis, Deputy Director for Urban Design & Mobility at City of Glendale, and on the “Yes” side we spoke with Richard Platkin, a former LA City Planner now teaching at USC with a focus on sustainable city planning.
What is your stance on Measure S?
RP: I am strongly in favor of Measure S. I have written columns on planning issues for several years through Ron Kaye’s LA and now for CityWatchLA and Progressive Planning. Measure S fit right into my existing pro-planning position
AL: It is an exceptionally blunt and poor way to conduct public policy and planning. If I were a resident of Los Angeles (I live in Pasadena), I would vote against it.
What do you think of the public debate around Measure S?
AL: It’s been healthy and productive. On the one hand, there has been an educational discussion about arcane topics like variances, general plans and community plans — subjects that are part of the day-to-day mechanics of planning. As a planner, I believe any public conversation about our profession is good. But more importantly, the Measure S debate has also provoked a public reflection on the kind of city we are building, the kind of city we aspire to build, and who will benefit in this city. It’s clear from the press reports that the Measure S supporters stand for the status quo, if not a regressive and suburban vision of the city where the current “haves” continue to benefit. Whereas the “No on S” coalition believe in a more inclusive city, with a range of housing opportunities, transit options — a city that is somewhat different and more utopian than the one we live in today. We have been slowly moving towards the “No on S” or “Yes to LA” city, but I think it’s been good to have this vision stated out in public for discussion and debate.
RP: I think it is at a very low level, especially the choice of the No on S consultant, SG&A, to erroneously claim this voter initiative is anti-development, anti-housing, and blocks affordable housing. The debate should be on planning versus real estate speculation determining land use and infrastructure in Los Angeles. I also find the faux liberal critique of planning and zoning, that it is a scheme of well-off homeowners to stick it to renters, to be extremely unpersuasive. This is because the class basis of land use decisions in LA is big real estate firms paying off elected officials to get beneficial spot-zoning and spot-general plan amendments to maximize their profits. The victims are both homeowners and apartment renters.
How would Measure S alter the Los Angeles landscape?
RP: Measure S has the potential for the City of Los Angeles to finally use a rational planning process, rather than the ups and downs of real estate speculation, to make decisions about land use and supportive public infrastructure and public services.
AL: In the long run, probably not much at all, Measure M will be far more consequential. As you will recall, Measure M was voted in November 2016, and is a County-wide 1/2 cent sales tax, which will funnel billions of dollars into transportation and transit infrastructure for decades to come. So the 20 or 40-year trajectory of Los Angeles development will focus on key centers and corridors served by transit, which will inevitably densify and continue to see renewed investment, jobs, amenities and housing. In the short-term, if Measure S passes, it will create a five-year bureaucratic mess in LA City Hall.
What are you thoughts on the 5-year review plan for the General Plan, on both an ideological and logistical level?
AL: Ideologically, there should be a regular review and update of the General Plan, but logistically I would program it on eight or 10-year increments. Five years is really too frequent. First, if you consider that the average building of any decent size takes almost five years to design, engineer and build, there would be relatively little factual, on-the-ground change for an updated plan to respond to. Secondly, a major planning effort involving public participation can take upwards of five years, so such a cycle would commit planning staff and the public to perpetual outreach and “visioning”. Third, the scale of the General Plan in Los Angeles is vast, and the City simply doesn’t have enough planners to update the plan every five years.
In Glendale, where I oversee our Community Plan program, we’ve had two, sometimes three, planners working for the past four years on our latest Community Plan — and mind you, Glendale is divided into four Community Plan areas, whereas one Los Angeles Community Plan areas is the size of Glendale as a whole. So there is a serious staffing issue (which is ultimately a budget and priorities issue) that makes the five-year schedule absolutely unrealistic for LA. Finally, Community Plans should be updated on a schedule that interlocks with other planning programs mandated by the State, such as the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, the Regional Transportation Plan, the Census and American Community Surveys — data and requirements coming from these plans should inform the Community Plans. And regional planning cycle operates on a eight and/or 10 year schedule.
RP: This is the professional standard for local community plans, while the standard for mandatory citywide elements, like housing, transportation, conservation, safety, and the optional elements, such as air quality, infrastructure, service systems, and health should be every 10 years. From an ideological level, I think this is essential for a city as large and complex as Los Angeles to be properly governed, although without the monitoring unit and monitoring program mandated by the General Plan Framework, the regular plan updates will be much less useful. Furthermore, even with Measure S’s much tougher charter findings for general plan amendments, it will take enormous vigilance to make sure these new Charter sections are adhered to. At present, findings for all discretionary actions are so loose that over 90 percent of requests are approved with conditions that are seldom enforced.
From a logistical point of view, as a 20 year veteran of LA city planning, I have no doubt that this is doable, but it will require the transfer of planners from assignments focused on various zoning entitlements to positions focused on planning.
From a planning / urban design point of view, do you believe that LA should have a two-year building moratorium?
RP: If the City Council, City Planning Commission, and City Planning Department had not deliberately ignored the planning process, the two-year moratorium would not be necessary. But, this has been their practice since the early 1990s, so I think the moratorium is necessary to make sure the necessary staff are available and that city planning managers will keep their eye on planning issues, not drift back to zoning cases because of pressure from elected officials and real estate developers.
In terms of urban design, The Framework has an excellent chapter on urban design that has been totally ignored at City Hall. It also has appended new chapters on residential, commercial, and industrial design that have been totally ignored in zoning decisions and general plan amendments. Hopefully an update of the general plan can finally make these design standards, and many more, front and center in the planning process.
AL: A two-year moratorium is insane. Arguably the reason for a building moratorium, if voted by City Council, is to halt development of a specific type while new regulations related to that type are updated, and there should be some kind of urgency or public health purpose behind the need to curb development while new regulations are drafted. As I mentioned above, there is no way the 35 Community Plans of LA can be updated in two years, so the Measure S moratorium seems to be simply a bold-faced attempt to halt development, period, without any sincere desire for corrective action to allow well conceived development to move forward in the future.
If Measure S does pass, and LA does face a two-year building moratorium, there will be the loss of construction jobs, housing opportunities, inflation of rents, and all the other consequences already written about by other commentators. However, one consequence I haven’t heard anyone discuss is the impact on neighboring cities like Glendale, Burbank, Pasadena, Culver City, Santa Monica, and so on. The Measure S moratorium will not eliminate the demand and pressure for housing and development — like Play-Doh being pushed, it will simply be squeezed into other areas. As a planning practitioner in two of those cities (Glendale and Pasadena) I fear we could face enormous development pressures if Measure S passes, which might have huge political ramifications for us.
What are your thoughts on the city’s quantity of development vs. its quality of development?
AL: Neither is good enough. We should produce more, and it should be of better quality. There are moments of individual brilliance, but on the average, new development in Los Angeles seems fairly mundane. Of course, your basic housing type and building block of the city doesn’t demand or warrant architectural genius every time — but I am dismayed that our housing choices seem to fall into three categories: single family home, dingbat apartment, and the five story stacked flat. In LA of all places, I’d hope and expect to see innovative forms of higher density housing that incorporate the outdoor amenities of the single family house. I think this is one reason Small Lot development is so popular — it provides something resembling a single-family house lifestyle in a multi-family form. But there really needs to be many more models of this type.
On the other hand, there is also something depressing that people will rally and fight to protect the banal ugly one story strip mall environment that is most of LA’s boulevards rather than see a new building. Apparently they believe that new building will degrade their environment more than what exists today — it isn’t a ringing endorsement for the public faith in architecture and development. We really need to do better.
RP: I think that development should be understood as the entire built environment, not just real estate construction and sales. From this point of view, investment in public infrastructure — such as transit, bike lanes, sidewalks, street lighting, urban forests, parks and recreation, libraries, and all related categories — is far too small. As for private investment, the business model of developers ensures that their projects are for the well-off since that is where the profits are. They do not, therefore, simply ignore the middle class and low-income people; their dedication to real estate speculation leads to the loss of affordable housing through mansionization, small lot subdivisions, the demolition of small apartment houses, and the construction of luxury housing.
What do you believe the future of LA should be?
RP: I think LA needs to make a dramatic transition to sustainable infrastructure and design, a course I taught at USC. This can only take place through comprehensive planning, including a new climate change general plan element. The State of California already has detailed resources for this new element, and more progressive California cities have already prepared and adopted such an element. It also means that City Hall must follow CEQA by only approving the environmentally superior alternatives, not the worst environmental alternative through unverifiable statements of overriding consideration.
AL: LA is immensely fascinating when you realize it is basically a suburban, auto/freeway-oriented urban form developed for Anglo-American prejudices that is now being retrofitted with transit lines, density nodes, and cultures from around the world that have very different expectations about what it means to live in a city. I think we are seeing hybrid forms of urbanity never witnessed before, whether it’s the Latino urbanism grafted onto craftsman homes in Boyle Heights, or suburban Chinatowns in Alhambra and Arcadia, or the remaking of places like Wilshire Boulevard, LACMA and Exposition Park. So I think LA is an incredibly dynamic place that frequently escapes the ability of us poor planners to anticipate what it “should” be — LA mutates faster and in ways that we often can’t anticipate, and that’s what makes it exciting.
That being said, I believe we should commit ourselves to a city that is egalitarian and equitable in terms of access to jobs, housing, mobility, and amenities. We should plan for a city that is sustainable, ecological and economically, socially and spiritually. I believe LA is poised to do this as well as, if not better, than any other major city in the world — if we remember that LA is ultimately one of the most intentional places on the planet as the result of planning (for example, we have the largest port complex on the West Coast, yet no natural harbor). In the small corner of LA for which I am the steward, I believe creating that kind of city means strategically planning new transportation infrastructure, focusing new investment around that infrastructure, creating housing opportunities and choices near that transportation, while ensuring places for recreation, culture and jobs — in short, doubling down on our existing walkable, transit-oriented districts and downtowns.
Responding to images and landscapes of war and conflict, Hillary Mushkin’s Incendiary Traces project began as an LA Forum online gallery in 2011. In honor of the current Incendiary Traces exhibition at the Pomona College Museum of Art, we talked with Mushkin about the project’s evolution.
When LA Forum Board member Gloria Lee invited me to do a project for the LAF gallery, I had been working on animation and drawing projects for several years that pictured Los Angeles as a war zone. Their impetus stretches back to 2003 when the George W. Bush administration began talking about bombing Baghdad, which incited memories of the 1991 US Baghdad bombing media coverage. Specifically, CNN’s green night scope footage which was shot from a distance, framing a sky filled with the abstract missile fire lights, almost like a fireworks show, and I wondered if the new Baghdad bombing would be represented similarly. Inspired by this, I created a video project called the Sleep of Reason in 2003-2004 that brought together hand-traced animation of the CNN footage with reversed footage of Fourth of July fireworks from my Cypress Park neighborhood. Through hand-tracing, I sought to engage, in an embodied manner, with a remote war that I felt some responsibility to address as a US citizen.
In 2011, when Gloria invited me to do the LA Forum online gallery, the US had been engaged in Middle East war for almost a decade. I returned to the project, recognizing that architects, like artists, are professionally trained to imagine landscapes and understand them as places where people live. I thought we could work together to make a connection between landscape, specifically, a war zone, as a pictured and lived environment.
How has the project evolved between 2011 and the current Pomona College Museum of Art exhibition?
For the LA Forum online gallery, I wrote a text and made some drawings that visually attempted to overlay Cypress Park onto Baghdad. The text included the question, could we reverse-engineer the image of a palm-dotted landscape to connect Los Angeles with this distant war? I began drawing with a group of artists outside the Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo. Their public affairs office thought we should be more interested in drawing aircraft and landing strips, but the mundane side of war was in fact our interest. When the Department of Defense police asked us not to draw their gated driveway it prompted a dialog about observation, drawing, and authority; which was the inspiration for what came after.
At that time Juan Devis was launching KCET’s cultural journalism program Artbound and invited me to collaborate. This created a broader opportunity to present alternative approaches to visualizing war zones as well as share historical and contemporary insights from scholars and others on the subject. Since then I have organized about ten drawing events and published materials on the various ways militaries and paramilitaries visualize conflict zones — all of which is part of the current exhibition.
Founded in 2006 at UCLA, cityLAB is a think tank devoted to the contemporary city’s architectural and urbanist issues. Currently on view at the A+D Museum cityLAb, times 10 looks at how six original design ideas can scale by the “powers of ten”, and evolve for the uncertain future of the next ten years. The forum spoke to cityLAB’s director, Dana Cuff, about how to look forward.
In 2006, I started cityLAB at UCLA with Roger Sherman. Hurricane Katrina had just wiped out New Orleans, and most of us architects felt powerless. We realized that Los Angeles needed a design-research think tank, where complicated urban issues could be explored through new kinds of architectural practices. cityLAB is really a series of projects that we initiate and then find ways to support the research and design effort.
cityLAB has five basic initiatives that guide all the projects we create, and these reflect current critical issues that we believe architecture can address: the post suburban metropolis, spatial justice, new infrastructures, rethinking green, and urban sensing. Every one of our projects experiments with new ideas around clusters of these basic notions. For example, the BIHOME starts with the idea that L.A.’s suburban DNA could grow more affordable and more sustainable by doubling the density of the single-family lot. We’ve spent ten years working on various aspects of that idea – leading most recently to the demonstration house we built up at UCLA and AB2299, a state law we co-wrote that Governor Brown signed into law in January of this year, making “granny flats” much easier to build.
It’s our tenth anniversary, but a retrospective seemed totally out of keeping with cityLAB’s forward-looking mission. So I decided to feature three sets of projects that are thematically linked and exhibit our way of working – how ideas are studied through traditional research as well as design, the value of demonstrations or prototyping, and how that leads to the next set of experiments. Then, to look forward ten years, we invited many young architects to submit proposals about L.A.’s future. A jury selected six, and cityLAB sponsored those teams to develop their proposals into the installations at the A+D.
I hope cityLAB will be established as the go-to think tank for research and design about Los Angeles’ future. I hope we have created a solid, collaborative network of community activists, professionals, and civic leaders to build a more inclusive, just, and dynamic city. I’d like to cityLAB to be central part of making L.A. the model of great urbanism in these politically destabilizing times.
Image: cityLAb, times 10 courtesy of cityLAB