DeliriousLA is the largest Architecture and Urban Design mailing list in Los Angeles. Join our email list and receive a weekly summary of events by the LA Forum and other design community events in the Los Angeles area!
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!
Follow Lila’s Instagram!
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.
Tanya Brodsky’s temporary, site-specific piece 1601 Park opened on July 21st as part of Materials & Applications’ (M&A) Privacies Infrastructure Program Series. Privacies Infrastructure investigates the residential landscape of fences, hedges, window gratings and security gates through temporary installations, workshops, performance and public programming. Brodsky, along with other artists and architects, were asked to interrogate the physical structures of privacy and privatization in Los Angeles through temporary projects in Council District 13. Their commissioned projects form Privacies Infrastructure, which is organized by guest curator Aurora Tang and Materials & Applications director Jia Gu.
This piece started out as a meditation on the ways in which space is divided in the densely populated East side of Los Angeles, and how these divisions function within physical, social, and cultural boundaries. Architectural structures like fences or security bars serve both as practical impediments, and as markers that project the nature of both those inside and outside the house. So, I wanted to build a structure that could only be navigated through transgression, and that allowed viewers to simultaneously occupy its interior and exterior. The resulting work is an outline of a house in space, punctuated by references to different types of home, with a focus on those commonly seen in Echo Park. the door at the front of the sculpture is padlocked shut, so that the only way to enter the interior is by passing through an imaginary wall. Window security bars hang behind the outline of a window, further scrambling the relationship between the interior and exterior of the sculpture. It is meant to hover somewhere between a house that’s being built, one that’s being demolished or repossessed, and a 3D architectural rendering.
The piece came out of thinking about the neighborhood of Echo Park, and, by extension much of L.A., as a site. The history of the actual lot that it occupies emerged as I was working on the project. There had been an apartment building there, which collapsed in 2000, killing one person, injuring thirty-six other, and leaving mostly low-income residents suddenly homeless. The lot with the rubble changed ownership more than once, and then remained vacant for some years after it was cleared. Learning this history transformed how I thought about the site, which I had initially approached as just an empty lot. It made me reconsider the idea of neutrality, and the transitory nature of something as seemingly stationary as an address. In my work, I want to be conscious of, and honor, the history of the site and its previous existence.
Coming across the complex and tragic history of the site was surprising and powerful. While much of my information came from archival articles, I learned additional bits and pieces from long-time neighborhood residents as I was working on the site. Hearing difference experiences of the same narrative helped me to think of the site as a series of perspectives and memories, existing simultaneously in the minds of numerous people.
Image courtesy of the artist, photo: Josh Schaedel.
The summer 2018 LA Forum newsletter is out and we spoke with editors Andrea Dietz and Rob Berry about the publication titled, Re: Learning. Organized through loose groundings in past, present, future, (and fantasy); the newsletter presents observations on and arguments for changes in architecture education. Check out the digital version online here.
RB: The focus on architecture pedagogy was a response to what appeared to be a real moment of change in L.A. architecture academia. At the time of the newsletter’s conception, the directorships at four local architecture schools were open; there had been a few public challenges to the pedagogical status quo; and, given national politics, it was evident that the discipline could not remain static. Also, as a subject, teaching and education had not figured significantly in any of the recent newsletters; in fact, the last issue to take on architecture education specifically, the School Status Report, was published in 1997. Not to mention, the project presented a chance for us personally to explore questions and issues with which we’ve been grappling in our own experiences as architecture faculty.
AD: Rob introduced the subject of architecture pedagogy at a monthly LA Forum board meeting a little over a year ago. I immediately was excited by the prospect of putting a spotlight on architecture education. Our collaboration, then, evolved out of a mutual interest in teasing out the nuances of what we both perceived to be a super-charged topic. Over the process of assembling the newsletter, I was fascinated to discover that we were aligning with an architecture education cycle; it seems that every thirty years or so, there is a challenge to the tenets of the preceding term … and that we are due, once again.
RB: In the early stages of the editorial process, we had lots of conversations about format, that is, about the instrumentality of form and representation in critiques of architecture pedagogy, current or historical. The contributed works solidified our fledgling observation; each piece criticizes the format of architecture education as much as the content. This undercurrent of format was made visible by the amazing efforts of graphic designer Robyn Baker. Robyn’s ambitions for the physical and graphic qualities of the newsletter to interrogate questions of format easily matched our own editorial goals.
AD: We definitely wanted to push the boundaries, of format, yes, but also of voice. We aspired to be as inclusive as possible, to publish a diverse range of people, places, and perspectives. And, indeed, this newsletter has over fifty contributors at all career stages from across the United States and a few in Canada, Mexico, and Europe. Even this, though, is just a start. We see this question of representation (meaning, both image and authorship) as one of the most significant for architecture education and practice alike.
RB: Such a significant undertaking demands an ambitious publication.
RB: That we found a new take on the nine-square problem. The existing tropes of architecture education are perhaps not as staid or tired as we may have thought.
AD: Honestly, that we came closest to approaching radicality through the format was the biggest surprise for me. When we started this project, I anticipated an exposé of the defining issues of the next architecture education revolution, a list of hot-button provocations. We got some of this. But, what we really got was a challenge to my content bias. This newsletter has reminded me that the delivery is the message.
We are proud to announce the LA Forum Reader (Actar Publishers). The LA Forum Reader brings together three decades of discursive writings and publications on architecture, urbanism, and Los Angeles culled from the archives of the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design. This anthological volume includes essays, interviews, and reproductions of publications that have long been out of print, including pamphlets by Craig Hodgetts and Margaret Crawford, as well as early writings by Aaron Betsky and John Chase. In celebration of the publication’s launch, we asked three of the LA Forum Reader’s editors — Chava Danielson, Mimi Zeiger and Joe Day – about the content and the conception of this comprehensive collection that’s been over 15 years in the making.
Join us for the LA Forum Reader launch party, Thursday July 12th, 6-9pm at the MAK Center at the Schindler House, 835 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood, CA 90069.
How was the LA Forum Reader conceived?
MZ: The Reader is the result of multiple editors invested in creating an anthology that reflects the LA Forum’s long publishing history. It was initially conceived by Joe Day and Chava Danielson over a decade ago as a way to collect and document the varied and prolific writings produced by the LA Forum. Its current iteration was shaped by myself, Rob Berry, Victor Jones, and Mike Sweeney. With chapters entitled Experiments, Detours, Hunches, and Santa Anas, it’s meant to capture the vibe of making and writing in Los Angeles—a bit fragmented and experimental, but always in search of larger meanings and ideas.
JD: The Reader was conceived during Ming Fung’s tenure as President of the LA Forum in the later 1990s. There was a sense that the founding generation of the Forum and their peers—e.g., Aaron Betsky, John Chase, Margaret Crawford, Sylvia Lavin, among quite few others—had established clear perspectives within the field, and that the Forum had been a catalyst for their early development. As first editors, Chava and I hoped to connect some dots between those voices, as well as those that preceded and followed them.
CD: I think the underlying tension between the archivist’s impulse and the editorial one is really important here and a productive one, in the end. When Joe and I began there was a treasure trove of carefully (if inexpensively) constructed pamphlets and newsletters that had been passed around and mostly housed in the living rooms of whomever had extra space at any given time—the contributions of Julie Silliman need to be especially acknowledged in this regard. Concern over the frailty of newsprint stock and cheap print runs led to hours of laboring over glitchy output from crude OCR software. I can only imagine how many times those digital files have now had to be reformatted to keep them available and accessible.
But the point was always, also, the creation of an anthology that would make this highly randomized, exuberant and motley assortment of documents and ideas inviting and accessible. That structure—and editorial point of view—has emerged and been reinvented in each iteration, shifting significantly in response to the specific concerns and debate of the moment. Thank you, Rob, Victor, Michael and Mimi, for finally tripping the shutter.
What do you think makes the collection of thoughts, musings and revelations in the LA Forum Reader especially relevant in 2018?
JD: It’s a real-time first pass at history. The 1980s and 90s were complicated, churning decades in Los Angeles—think of Blade Runner (1982), the Olympics (1984), the L.A. uprisings (1992), the Northridge earthquake and O.J. (1994/5). At the same time, a wave of retrospective scholarship marked L..A.’s coming of age, with the late paeans of Banham and Baudrillard followed by Ed Soja’s Postmodern Geographies and Mike Davis’ City of Quartz. By the time Fredric Jameson cited the Bonaventure Hotel as a paragon of postmodernism in 1988, Los Angeles was the canonical US city, whether or not it had been for decades or remains so now.
CD: The writings collected here represent responses to an incredibly broad set of conditions—periods of economic expansion and investment but also of tremendous contraction and very short horizons. I think the message that there is always room for a critical voice; an unpredictable and possibly unsanctioned architectural project; that architecture provides a framework for imagining the world different than it is—whatever that ‘is’ is—resonates.
MZ: Los Angeles is going through yet another reconsideration of its urban identity and the design scene is struggling to keep pace. With questions of housing, density, gentrification on the table alongside more disciplinary ideas of form and practice, the Reader reminds us that we’ve been here before. There’s tons of material—like a whole interlude on the pasts and possible futures of Downtown L.A.—that gives context and history to current debates and discourses.
Why should everyone in L.A.’s design community pick up an LA Forum Reader?
MZ: Not only does the LA Forum Reader fill in the written narrative of L.A. design from the late 1980s until now (with some really fun pit stops in the 90s), it is beautiful. Jessica Fleischmann, with Jenny Kim, of Stillroom were inspired by the wild graphics of the early LA Forum newsletters and the Reader reflects that spirit with a restrained grace. We’ve also reproduced several pamphlets that are out of print, so once again you can read Margaret Crawford’s 1988 Ecology of Fantasy in its entirety.
JD: I agree with Mimi, too—I’d add just one slightly anthropological aside. While many of the authors included in the Reader are transplants from eastern, often Ivy, climes, Chava, Victor and I are Angelenos—and Mimi, like Didion, is a Bay Area emigre. LA Forum Reader is thus both the name of this anthology, and a rather precise description of its editors. As the newly arrived were reading the city, we in turn were reading them. The Reader brings together riffs from bemused newcomers as well as those of locals seeing their city, its design and discourse, in a fresh light.
CD: What Mimi said. It’s a gift.
Image courtesy of Stillroom.
The Free School of Architecture takes over Woodbury University Hollywood Gallery (WUHO) this summer with an educational platform that blurs normative and disciplinary boundaries. FSA explores alternative models of practice and pedagogy through a free-thinking, participant-led structure and program. It promotes discussion between a body of participants and collaborators who share in the desire to question what architecture education and practice is and can be. Their headquarters will become a living exhibition at the street level as LA Forum’s Summer 2018 Exhibition.
We spoke with Elisha Cohen, Lili Carr, Tessa Forde, and Karina Andreeva – the four organizers of FSA18 who are also former FSA students – about the summer ahead.
For those who don’t know, tell us about the Free School of Architecture and how it works in terms of pedagogy and hierarchy (how are you organized, and how is the school run)?
FSA is 100% participant determined, led and run. We four individuals who have built FSA for 2018 were part of the inaugural FSA participant body in 2017, and wove many of the ideas explored last summer into the structure of the organization this year. As organizers we have no leader; we make our decisions unanimously and through extensive discussion. Each of us is highly opinionated and has different ideas and feelings about how FSA should operate, and through the process of building the program this year we have learned to work in close collaboration with each other, using a set of fundamental shared values as the basis for our decision-making. It will be interesting to work with and within the participant body this year and continue this process, and to figure out how and when organizational roles for FSA can be passed on.
The first decision we made for FSA this year was to get rid of, once and for all, the distinction between ‘teachers’ and ‘students’. The FSA18 admissions process invited all participants to submit a teaching proposal if they wished; likewise anyone wishing to teach also had to go through the admissions process and be accepted as a participant. The four of us organizers completed the admissions process – we are FSA18 participants too.
The program this summer is therefore populated by either FSA18 participant-led talks and workshops, or events in collaboration with individuals and organizations based (mostly) in LA with whom we share certain values and interests. We are curious to see how this multiplicity of events and voices can influence and amplify each other.
FSA is in an interesting position as the LA Forum’s “Summer Exhibition,” what are your feelings about education being on view in this way — as an exhibition? Will this influence your programming or curriculum in any way?
Being on view will be a new experience for us but one that fits in line with our fundamental values. We want to break the insular bubble of architecture. Many FSA18 participants engage with spatial practice but are not architects, and engaging with the public through FSA-as-exhibition and our online platform, we hope to open even more access to the projects and content of FSA. We programmed the summer based on the interests of FSA participants and collaborators, and we’re now excited to see how our insertion into Hollywood Boulevard will impact on our events and influence the discussions we have.
What do you anticipate will be the outcome of the school this summer? What goals are you hoping to achieve through the process?
The Free School of Architecture is a 6-week educational and cultural event taking place in Los Angeles this summer – it is not a school. We are pursuing a space where critical conversations about architecture and spatial practice can take place. We want to operate between, outside, and parallel to traditional institutions of academia and practice. It is a space of experimentation and we intentionally don’t know how this summer will end.
We don’t have specific goals, but we do have specific values that have informed the structure and we will see how these inform the trajectory of the Free School this summer. We are pursuing a non-hierarchical, collaborative educational environment. Openness, especially to transformation, is key. We hope to create a strong network between participants and the many collaborators we are working with throughout LA and internationally. We want to have deep and difficult discussions on the problematic nature of being ‘free’, and about labor and value and access. FSA is a platform and beyond that, we are excited to see what the summer will bring.
Image courtesy of Free School of Architecture.
Environment[al] opens at the SCI-Arc gallery next Friday, June 15, and is a group exhibition including architects, designers and landscape architects Izaskun Chinchilla [Izaskun Chinchilla Architects], Enric Ruiz Geli [Cloud 9], Carme Pinós [Estudio Carme Pinós], Wolf Prix [Coop Himmelb(l)au], Gilles Retsin, with an exhibition landscape designed by Günther Vogt, Simon Kroll and Violeta Burkhardt [Vogt Landschaftsarchitekten]. Curators Herwig Baumgartner and Marcelyn Gow give us a preview.
Tell us about the evolution of Environment[al].
Environment[al] began with a conversation about what the word environment means today in the context of climate change, rapidly depleting resources and the ongoing process of reconstitution of the built environment. SCI-Arc Director/CEO Hernan Diaz Alonso invited us to curate the exhibition using the SCI-Arc Gallery to bring together a collection of current thinking on what environment can be and how this might provoke a more profound awareness of the sites we engage on a daily basis. The idea of new authenticities and multiple histories led us to consider what a reconstituted landscape might look like; how might it be instantiated within a different site.
The recent demolition of the 6th Street Bridge in downtown Los Angeles and the debris produced in the process provoked questions regarding the presence of the bridge and what it might become in a future iteration. We were also thinking about the vast concrete channel that is the L.A. River and what the river might transmute into if the concrete was extracted and moved to another site. We reflected on what constitutes the identity of the river and whether the reconstituted river can exist within the gallery walls.
We invited Vogt Landschaftsarchitekten to design the landscape for the exhibition. They reflected on the tenuous nature of Los Angeles in relation to water. The historical relationship of the city of Los Angeles to the control of hydrological flows and its effect on both the depletion and subsequent remediation of the ecosystem of the Owens Valley watershed exemplifies the complex and sometimes radical performance of a synthetic ecology.
How can post-digital design thinking take on climate change and other contemporary concerns in regard to ecologies and changing sites?
The work engages the possibilities of changing sites and shifting pieces of the built environment through a tectonic that integrates the possibility of its own recyclability. The materials that comprise the exhibition landscape are recycled elements that maintain aspects of their former roles as pieces of infrastructure within the built environment – reclaimed construction debris and steel tank caps from water cisterns. Gilles Retsin’s contribution to the exhibition is a hovering substrate comprised of discrete elements that can be understood on a variety of scales – a tectonic unit, a material assembly or an urban block. Retsin says, “This also resonates with the approach to assembly: where a part becomes a ‘digital material,’ a recombinable, universal particle. The immaterial, abstract and ‘black’ quality of the elements defines a position towards environment and nature – the idea that to be natural does not imply ‘green,’ organic, or merging with the ground.”
What was the biggest challenge of transforming the SCI-Arc gallery into a landscape that is both a partial facsimile of the Owens Valley landscape and a reinstantiation of the L.A. River?
Producing the fictional reconstitution of two sources [the Owens Valley landscape and the L.A. River] relied on transporting specific qualities that could be extracted, conceptually, from those sites. The act of attaching a new history to the materials that comprise the exhibition landscape required selecting things that would enable strong associations with other sites to be made. The concrete that lines the L.A. river channel and that once formed the 6th Street Bridge resembles the substrate that occupies the SCI-Arc Gallery. Likewise, the sound map of the L.A. River challenges the expectation of how a river should sound, becoming contaminated by the various sounds of both the desert biotope and urban life. To walk on this reconstituted landscape is to question the histories of both the building that contains it as well as the infrastructure that surrounds it.
Iris Anna Regn, L.A. County Arts Commission’s Civic Art Project Manager, gives LA Forum the scoop on their initiative titled “Part of the Solution: Yes to ADUs.” LA Forum will co-sponsor a related panel discussion and exhibition this Thursday, May 24th, in which practitioners discuss the project’s innovative proposals and the technicalities behind building ADUs in the city.
For those who aren’t familiar, please tell us about the ADU competition, and give us a little background on your involvement in orchestrating the competition.
For almost a year I have been consulting as a Civic Art Project Manager with the Los Angeles County Arts Commission. Civic Art at the Commission is defined broadly and includes capital and temporary projects, as well as social practice artwork, depending on what serves the specific situation in this 4,000 square mile community the best.
Our goal is to support the development of second dwelling units, also called accessory dwelling units, ADUs. In this, we are including the creative sector as “creative strategists,” and capturing their work as both an inspiration and resource for thinking about ADUs.
The project is one of L.A. County’s Homeless Initiative program strategies to increase affordable housing. Our partners in this are the Community Development Commission and the Department of Regional Planning. This Initiative Program is made possible through Measure H funds (Measure H, if you remember, was the L.A. County ballot measure that will generate $355 million annually for services and programs to prevent and combat homelessness in the County, and was approved in last year’s election).
For you, what was the most surprising thing that has come from the competition entries, or from out of the conversations you’ve had around the entries while conducting the juried discussions through the process?
In the research into designing the competition brief, we discussed challenges such as affordability in construction means and methods, shared space, what design excellence or sustainability might mean for the design of an ADU, along with adaptability to the varied site configurations of single family dwellings in the County. Many of the conversations around the design submissions, however, enlarged the issue of adaptability to also include different kinds of change over time for homeowners and their neighborhoods.
What do you want every designer reading this to understand about ADUs and their potential for changing L.A.’s residential landscape, either in terms of design, financing, or how we all live together in the city?
These small owner-initiated dwellings can contribute to preserving communities by replacing displacement as the main response to increasing housing costs. ADUs are a new building typology that involves a particularly holistic way of thinking about sustainability and the relationship to existing residences and shared green space, which is very exciting from a design point of view. Sometimes design and architecture can seem removed from policy but they actually work best together.
Photo courtesy of L.A. County Arts Commission.
LA Forum spoke with Todd Gannon about his new book, Reyner Banham and the Paradoxes of High Tech. Gannon was recently appointed Section Head of Architecture at the Knowlton School at Ohio State University. He is a former LA Forum Board Member, and taught at SCI-Arc, Otis College of Art and Design and at UCLA, where he also received his Ph.D.
Congratulations on your new book, Reyner Banham and the Paradoxes of High Tech. Give us a rundown of your approach to the material and to Reyner Banham’s writing.
Reyner Banham, who died just over thirty years ago, was one of the most important voices in architecture culture in the second half of the twentieth century. His books (more than a dozen of them) and essays (over 700!!) on architecture and design are still widely read and discussed, yet, given his tremendous output scholars have just begun to scratch the surface of all he had to say.
Most studies on Banham, like Nigel Whiteley’s 2002 critical biography and Tony Vidler’s excellent chapter in Histories of the Immediate Present (2008), tend to focus on Banham’s earlier writings – particularly on his famous books Theory and Design in the First Machine Age (1960), The Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment (1969), and Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies (1971). By contrast, his later writings from the ’70s and ’80s have received relatively little attention. My book takes on these writings, particularly those related to Banham’s late-career writing on High Tech architecture. High Tech has also been understudied recently, though that is beginning to change.
At the time of his death in 1988, Banham was at work on a book on High Tech, which he titled Making Architecture: The Paradoxes of High Tech. His notes and correspondence, as well as a draft of his introduction, are kept in the Banham Papers which are held at the Getty Research Institute. These papers spurred my own research on Banham, and we were very lucky that Banham’s estate allowed us to include Banham’s draft intro in my book.
Why is a reconsideration of Banham’s works so important to where our profession is right now? How do you see Banham’s work reinvigorating or impacting the critical approach to technology in architecture’s propositions today?
An important aspect of Banham’s writing throughout his career is his tendency to work in terms of stark contrasts: tradition versus technology, style versus performance, aesthetics versus ethics, etc. If you concentrate on his early writings, it appears that he has a strong bias for the latter terms in each pair.
Today, we see a lot of architectural debates structured in terms of binary scenarios like the ones Banham worked with. On one hand, we see architects rallying around often arcane formal and aesthetic interests. On the other, we see architects committed to social justice and political change. (The LA Forum even supported its own version of this kind of debate, with its historical oscillation between the camps of “experimental architecture” and “everyday urbanism.”) Typically, these debates imply a winner-take-all situation – if you’re aesthetically driven you’re automatically seen as socially irresponsible; if you’re socially responsible, you’re automatically typecast as aesthetically reprehensible.
This is a really stupid way to have a debate. Broad-brush depictions like these get both sides wrong, and they make it very difficult to see any common ground. Banham’s late writing on High Tech, in which we worked very hard to sort out how architects like Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, and others were able to be both socially responsible and aesthetically progressive without compromising either position is very instructive in this regard. He shows that one need not rely on partisan, winner-take-all logic or on synthetic compromises, which, in my experience, tend to be unsatisfying. Instead, Banham shows us how paradox can hold contradictory ideas in productive tension.
Architects today could learn quite a lot from Banham’s sophisticated paradoxes. Rather than latching on to one thing and saying “no” to everything else, Banham gives us a way to say “yes” to many things at the same time. His positive stance stands in stark contrast to the sort of negative critical theory that was in vogue when he was writing (and remains popular in many circles today), and points – finally! – to a way out of some of the more debilitating critical logjams clogging up not just architectural discourse, but most social and political commentary today.
Having been a faculty member at SCI-Arc for nine years, a LA Forum Board Member and long-time L.A. scholar and resident, we have to ask, now that you’ve moved to Ohio to head the architecture section at The Ohio State University’s Knowlton School, what do you miss most about L.A.?
Cover photo by Ken Kirkwood. Design by Catherine Lorenz.