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Switching Up the Pedagogy with Free School of Architecture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Free School of Architecture.

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

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

Tell us about the evolution of Environment[al].

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of L.A. County Arts Commission.

Reyner Banham and the Paradoxes of High Tech with Todd Gannon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The weather.

 Cover photo by  Ken Kirkwood. Design by Catherine Lorenz.

“Sense of Place” with Jose Dávila

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A Line of Inquiry” with Elena Manferdini

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

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

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

How strict is your process and what drives it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Pioneering Women of American Architecture” with Yay Brigade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Geothermal Futures Lab”: Mark Foster Gage

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

How does humor and play inform your practice?

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

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

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

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

During your conversations, were there moments that surprised you?  

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

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

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

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

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

What does recognition mean? 

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

To find out more about Practitioners visit thefabric.org.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking Forward with Craig Hodgetts and Hsinming Fung

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

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

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

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

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

What were some of the issues that the Forum started to tackle during your tenure, and what are some that you would like to see the Forum tackle now?

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

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

How would you say Los Angeles has influence the Forum?

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

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

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

What advice do you have for the LA Forum?

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


Strategically Planning with Mimi Zeiger and Ella Hazard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any parting wisdom or words of advice?

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

Exploring the Building Envelope with Facades+’s Marty Wood

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

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

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

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

What talks and events are you looking forward to?

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

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

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

Looking Forward with Christian Hubert

In honor of the LA Forum’s 30th Anniversary this year, Delirious LA occasionally features interviews with some of its founders. This week we continue our series with architect Christian Hubert. We spoke to Hubert about the LA Forum’s origins and critical role in the design community moving forward.

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

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

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

How did Los Angeles influence the Forum?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep it up!

Transgressing Borders with Andrea Dietz

Opening Saturday, September 23, “Tu casa es mi casa” is a collaboration between the LA Forum, Archivo Diseño y Arquitectura, and the Neutra VDL Studio and Residences that connects two modernist houses in Los Angeles and Mexico City via the exchange of texts, objects, and installations by contemporary writers and architects/artists. Three California-based writers— Aris JanigianKatya Tylevich, and David Ulin —were asked to craft a letter to one of the three Mexico City–based design teams— Frida EscobedoPedro&Juana, and Tezontle, who responded with site-specific installations at the Neutra VDL House. In advance of Saturday’s opening, The Forum talked with Andrea Dietz, speaking on behalf of the curatorial team that also includes Mario Ballesteros, Sarah Lorenzen, and Mimi Zeiger, about finding connections across multiple borders.

Talk a bit about the ideas and motivations behind “Tu casa es mi casa.”

It was late 2015 when we began to formulate “Tu casa es mi casa.” At the time, there was a growing buzz around Mexico City – recognitions that the city was a rising hot spot for architecture and design. We, too, were excited by the work that we were seeing from young Mexican designers. It seemed that they were innovating a design movement, one that expressed culture and materiality, politics and craft, historical awareness and forward-facing perspectives together. We were hoping to influence local conversations with these synthesizing sensibilities. That, and, we were responding to an absence of content dedicated to contemporary architecture and design in the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA line-up. We felt strongly that the ongoing developments in architecture and design deserved representation amidst the otherwise sweeping review of the arts.

Of course, all of this was before the 2016 elections, before the rise in xenophobic vocalization and action. So, while our original intentions still apply, we now also see “Tu casa es mi casa” in an ambassadorial role. We hope that it inspires continued collaborations between the creative communities north and south of the US/Mexico border – and that it demonstrates a deep appreciation for the long-standing bonds out of which such exchanges might grow.

“Tu casa es mi casa” crosses several borders: national, disciplinary, and institutional. What insights have emerged from these overlaps?

“Tu casa es mi casa” is organized around our interest in the phenomena of translation: it started with a place, a house; the Neutra VDL Studio and Residences. It became text after our authors, Aris Janigian, Katya Tylevich, and David Ulin, captured in words their experiences of inhabiting the house. These texts, sent as letters to our design teams in Mexico City – Frida Escobedo Taller de Arquitectura, Pedro&Juana, and Tezontle – now are taking shape as installations for the Neutra VDL. Photographs by Adam Wiseman of the installations then will travel back to Mexico City as an exhibition for Archivo. Each step is a departure from one context and methodology to another – a leap of unexpected proportions. It’s the unexpected that we’ve been after, the potential and risk of the unknown. Not only are we excited by the invention inherent to such processes, we’re recognizing a productive stance in the admission of uncertainty.

How do the events around “Tu casa es mi casa” fit into this process?

“Tu casa es mi casa,” clearly, is not static; we want the translations to keep going. Each of our design teams will be giving presentations at one of the local architecture schools. There will be a panel discussion with the authors and the design teams at SCI-Arc the Friday before the installations open to the public. And, we’re developing a series of additional programs throughout the run of the show. We want these engagements to propel a conversation around transgressing borders.

Playing the Back 9 with John Malpede

“The Back 9” opens at the Skid Row History Museum and Archive on September 8. The exhibition, a collaboration between Materials & Applications, the Los Angeles Poverty Department, and Rosten Woo,is a playable educational golf course about zoning and redevelopment politics on Downtown LA. The Forum spoke to Los Angeles Poverty Department’s Artistic Director, John Malpede, about what it means to Play the Back 9.

How did this project come about?

LA Poverty Department makes art with people living in the Skid Row community. We make performances, exhibitions, festivals, parades etc. We are concerned about the future of this recovery neighborhood. We initiated this project several years ago, when we became aware of Recode: LA and the new community plans that would accompany it, as we feared it would open up Skid Row to development and lead to the displacement of the extremely low income residents of the neighborhood, suppress any who avoided displacement, and totally disregard the homeless people who gravitate Skid Row because that is where the services are.

Why design the exhibition as a miniature golf course?

“The Back 9” connotes a place where decisions are made in private, among the powerful that pre-determine what the public, participatory conversation will be. In this case, the in the works zoning and community plans are designed to overwhelm Skid Row with market rate development and ultimately to push out the current residents and create an environment where any current residents who are able to remain in their housing will find themselves living in inhospitable surroundings. Even if they avoid displacement their neighborhood will have been hi-jacked. We asked Rosten Woo to design the golf-course because of his unique ability to make policy things and government processes, intelligible, fun and visually exciting. From the inception of the project, the golf course was planned as an installation playable by the public and as the set for “ The Back 9” performance that LAPD presented in June that addressed the same issues.

Why focus on zoning and redevelopment politics?

LA Poverty Department’s mission: Los Angeles Poverty Department (LAPD) creates performances and multidisciplinary artworks that connect the experience of people living in poverty to the social forces that shape their lives and communities. LAPD created the Skid Row History Museum & Archive space in 2015, specifically to address issues of community and displacement in downtown LA. Recognizing that Broadway has always been a vital street for the Skid Row community, we were eager to do our civic duty of “bringing it back”,—though completely puzzled by the thought that it was somehow missing.

LA Forum at 30: Looking Forward with Ben Caffey

In honor of the LA Forum’s 30th Anniversary, this year Delirious LA occasionally features interviews with some of its founders. This week we continue our series with architect Ben Caffey. We spoke to Caffey about the LA Forum’s origins and critical role in the design community moving forward.

What were some highlights from your time with the LA Forum?

When my friend from graduate school, Christian Hubert, moved to Los Angeles and subsequently introduced me to Aaron Betsky, who had also recently moved to L.A., I was tremendously inspired by their enthusiasm to explore the enigma of the city which, to me as a native, had always been a curiosity. What started as an idea for a reading group, grew through their ambition into the Forum and subsequently included Doug Suisman, John Kaliski, and others. The biggest highlight was simply to meet and learn from the collective intelligence of this forward looking group.

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

I recall particularly Craig Hodgetts’s thoughtful talk where he posited “If the traditional city is like a 19th century symphony, with a clear hierarchical structure, Los Angeles is more like a John Cage or Phillip Glass piece with a unique structure and texture of surprises. We understood that L.A. by necessity would evolve, but that it should happen in a unique manner, and that one was therefore obliged to explore novel ways of transforming L.A. into its own version of a true urban city.

Our pamphlets were individually conceived publications in form as well as content.  The Central Office of Architecture created Recombinant Images, a series of individual photos in a vellum sleeve. These captured the ephemeral beauty of L.A. as a phenomenon. Gary Paige produced a sublime collection of Grant Mumford’s photos that document the city’s surreally mundane silence. And of course, there was Doug Suisman’s revelatory Los Angeles Boulevard.

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

Barton Myers compared Los Angeles to London in that smaller towns and communities had been absorbed or surrounded by the magma (my word) of the metropolis. These embedded figures with their stories and secrets in dialogue with the grid, are the stuff of mystery in L.A. (to say nothing of their overlay on the Ranchos and original settlements). I suggest studying the city itself—continuing to investigate the social geography of L.A., its roots of prejudice and greed from the past might form an interesting counterpoint to explore its future.

LA Forum Voices Project with Siobhán Burke

The LA Forum Voices Project is a collection of informal sound bites that vocalizes the origins, design culture and other inspirations that led to the founding of the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design 30 years ago. As a piece of our 2012 exhibition, Unfinished Business, the audio project is the beginning of a greater vision for incorporating new media and podcast archives to the Forum collection. The Forum spoke to the project creator Siobhán Burke about what it means to hear these voices and how they have influenced her work today.

We’re excited to be launching the LA Forum Voices project as a feature on our website.  You produced that oral history project for the 25 year retrospective Unfinished Business.  Can you tell us about the project and how it came about?

I have always been inspired by the stories of others, and I thought, Why not trace some of the institutional history of the LA Forum through an oral history project, and turn it into a StoryCorps type feature on an iPad? Our goals were to solicit soundbites from the founders, board alumni, and anyone who was a past contributor to the LA Forum.  We aimed to touch on a variety of themes and not to solely focus on the past.  It was important to keep the subjects relevant – whether it was discussing the infrastructure of our city as a “backstage” to Los Angeles or why it’s critical to continue giving a stage to the femmes fatales in our profession.  We ended up with 18 soundbites, edited and condensed to around 4 minutes each. Interviews were conducted in-person, via Skype, and were also self-recorded.  LA Forum Voices was a year-long project in the making from conception to installation of a listening station that Lyric designed for the exhibition at the WUHO Gallery in July 2012.

Does your firm Lyric Design and Planning take any cues from collecting stories such as these?

Absolutely!  Storytelling and listening is one of my biggest forms of research.  My firm Lyric Design & Planning focuses on public space design projects, ranging in location from Santa Monica to DTLA, Boyle Heights, and South LA.  While it’s impossible to be “of” every neighborhood that I work in, it is possible to dig deep into what matters most to the people around me.  I remind myself everyday to “Look closely, listen intently”.  It’s my motto. I can’t begin the work or the speculation until I hear what residents, business owners and activists in other communities have to say.  That might mean taking a site visit and informally interviewing folks that I meet, or going to panel events that aren’t necessarily geared toward my projects, but give me real insight into the key issues of a community, specifically those dealing with shifting demographics and economies.

I just wrapped up a Metro Rail to River project that will be converting a 30-foot long railroad right-of-way along Slauson Ave into a pedestrian path and 2-way bicycle – the tracks will be removed and the corridor will be lined with shade trees and a bioswale.  Before the project even started, I attended a talk hosted by Zócalo Public Square at Mercado La Paloma.  Over 100 people from the community came to listen. It was there that I heard one of the panelists, Jorge Nuño of Nuevo South urge his fellow residents to “improve, don’t move”, suggesting a recrafting of the gentrification narrative to be one of positive development without erasure of an important social history. I urge anyone working on projects that are not in their area of residence to dive deep into the social history of their sites: Look closely, listen intently.

What is the mission for Lyric Design and Planning?  And what role would you like to see the LA Forum play in the design community?

My greatest mission is to continue to keep my ear to the ground while building for a beautiful and sustainable public benefit.  My hope is that the web launch of LA Forum Voices instigates a new curiosity in the exchange of ideas in multiple formats while striving for diversity in the voices that are represented.

Defining Public Spaces with Astrid Sykes and Christopher Torres

Edited by landscape architects and L.A. Forum Board Members Astrid Sykes and Christopher Torres, the latest issue of the L.A. Forum Newsletter explores the nature of public space, finding new definitions and dimensions through the prism of Los Angeles’s urbanism. In honor of its release, the L.A. Forum spoke with Sykes and Torres about the newsletter’s themes and their favorite semi-public places in the city.

The focus of the Summer 2017 newsletter is public space in Los Angeles. How did you arrive on this theme?

CT + AS: Since joining the LA Forum board in 2016, we have been wanting to curate a newsletter focused on public space. We both work in landscape architecture and urbanism practices and are fortunate to be part of some great public space projects in Los Angeles. With that work we have come to understand how sticky the term ‘public’ can be, and because of its complexity, how interesting it is to us. The very notion of a singular definition of public space is made void when examined through the lens of a city like Los Angeles that is defined by multiple publics, all connected or overlapping through the milleu of everyday life. Given the rising inclusion of public space in most design projects across the city, It’s clear that Angelinos are seeking moments for meaningful interaction and to live in a much more public way than past generations.

In your editorial, you discuss a developing “trajectory of opening up spaces to become more public, more inclusive, and more democratic faces an uncertain future”. How did the current political situation affect your editorial approach?

CT + AS: It was fascinating working on this issue through the 2016 presidential election. Many of our discussions to determine the newsletter’s direction were simultaneously playing out in the political arena. Questions such as ‘Who has a right to the city?,” “What is the role of public space in how we protest in a digital age?,” and locally, “Will Angelinos rise up and resist?” It was inspiring to be part of the demonstrations in downtown and LAX; seeing Angelinos quickly resist the regression threatening the public ideals we value. We believe in the importance of discourse on the state of public space, because without discussions such as those in this newsletter it becomes all too easy to take for granted what a special place in our society public space holds, both as a symbol of democracy and as a place that we all connect with on a personal level.

Your editorial mentions that “public” space in Los Angeles is sometimes appropriated, semi-private space, a blurred boundary. What are some of your favorite semi-public spaces in the city?

AS: I was lucky to be involved in the making of the Hauser + Wirth courtyard and garden – the use of this space by gallery visitors and the Arts District community was instantaneous and powerful. The gallery as a public paseo opens up an important conversation on the opportunities for alternative uses of interstitial spaces, and the importance of permeability in our changing city.

I think Los Angeles museums are providing provocative outdoor spaces where one can experience new types of interactions. For example, LACMA’s campus has become a beloved, well-programmed park space with Burden’s Urban Lights and Heizer’s Levitated Mass creating collisions that inspire my work.

CT: I’m interested in the semi-private vistas of the city, moments that remove you from the ground plane and provide a perspective of the region’s horizontal landscapes. Some of my favorite spots are the elevated walkways connecting the Bonaventure Hotel, the Home Depot rooftop parking deck in East Hollywood, and the Japanese Village Plaza parking garage roof in Little Tokyo. With the exception of the promontories of the Santa Monica Mountains and Baldwin Hills, there are few truly public moments to see the whole city; yet they are such a unique and necessary public experience for any city to have.

Exploring ‘Thick’ with Maxi Spina

On view at the SCI-Arc gallery until August 13, Maxi Spina: Thick explores the elusive condition of material thickness in architectural design through the topics of sections, ruins, fragments, constructions, figurations, simultaneity and representation. The LA Forum spoke to Spinagu’s Maxi Spina about what it means to explore thickness.

Why should we explore thickness?

Thickness in this project is a decoy for “the real,” for a set of questions posed around the tensions between architectural representation and architectural construction, about the translation between the two. In one way, it is a thought experiment around the representational conventions of material thickness how do we show something is thick?

How is thickness a constructive and representational problem?

Material thickness seems to always exist in representational form, whether it is an offset line or an offset surface. In traditional drawing, the appearance of thickness, the representation of thickness primarily depends on three architectural drawing conventions: the edge, the section, and the shadow. Edges are like sections in that they show the thickness of materials, but edges also describe the end of a material condition and are visible to the naked eye. Sections are the hidden figures within forms that are excavated through an imaginary cut line — but they are not actually visible as they are describing an unseen condition of the project. Sections can be described by lines, or they can be filled as in poche. Choissy’s drawings incorporate all of these within his archeological study, and the use of edges, sections and shadows are used unilaterally in the drawing to produce the form. None is privileged as a single mode of representation.

But material thickness is also about construction. You assign thickness when you begin to construct something, when the object acquires the specificity of real materials. That’s when it begins to take on thickness. And this really catches up to you at some point in a project. It causes problems.

What does materiality mean in the digital age?

I’m interested in how software and environment and working habits are inflecting upon our very definition of materiality, and how we can work through these inflections in a creative and thoughtful way. For example, think about how we render materiality onto objects, and assign properties to such materials, whether through UV mapping, bumps, or image mapping. Many people tend to think of this as just a form of representation, as representing something outside the screen. But this activity of rendering, of assigning properties, is also a decisive act. As digital objects are gaining new properties and definitions, I am interested in seeing how this can be brought back out to the physical environment, and what new working methods might evolve out of the literalness by which we translate our digital process into material and physical ones.

Clocks and Clouds with Frank Escher

Clocks and Clouds: The Architecture of Escher Gunewardena opens at the AD&A Museum at UC Santa Barbara on July 8th. The exhibition, a mid-career survey of the LA firm founded by Frank Escher and Ravi Gunewardena, highlights Escher Gunewardena’s generous and boundary-blurring exploration with art, craft and architecture. The Forum spoke to Frank Escher, a former LA Forum president, about his work, upcoming monograph and exhibition, and the future role of the Forum.

The title of both your monograph and UCSB exhibition, Clocks and Clouds, refers to a Karl Popper lecture on rationality and freedom. How does this lecture relate to your work?

In his famous lecture “Of Clouds and Clocks”, Karl Popper talks about his earlier scientific and philosophical thinking in relation to these opposites: determinism –arising from rational thinking (clocks) – and chance (clouds). Popper argues that most things, systems or phenomena are neither only clocks nor clouds, but fall somewhere in between.

Our book is structured around four interviews that editor Lilian Pfaff conducted with Ravi and me. In the first interview we talk extensively about ‘Clocks and Clouds’. To us it has to do with what in the art of architecture is measurable, and what is not measurable. We have always been interested in developing an internal logic, or a system of constraints to provide us with a precise intellectual structure. It can be as banal as a system of dimensions and proportions, but this internal structure is “measurable”, it has its own logic and can lead to its own conclusions. On the other hand, we have always been interested in the idea of chance, the random and accidental. What we cannot and should not control have always been part of our thinking, such as how a material ages/transforms through human interaction, or through other processes that you cannot control. These two seemingly conflicting ideas, the desire to establish “order” and the acceptance of the “accidental” is something we try to develop in our work.

How has your work in historic preservation influenced your practice?

We do not exist in a cultural vacuum – what surrounds us, influences us. It is difficult to work as an architect in Los Angeles without confronting, in one way or the other, the city’s rich architectural history. In our case, this history has led to us not only working on the restoration of iconic buildings, but we have worked on books and exhibitions, artists’ projects, and with historic archives and collections. We’ve even developed the libretto for a four act opera on Rudolf Schindlers wife, ‘Pauline‘, which was performed in 2013 at the Schindler House.

These two sides of our practice reflect not only Ravi’s and my own interests, they very much reflect the cultural conditions of Los Angeles: the laboratory of twentieth century architecture that is now a global center for contemporary art. We have always been interested in connecting these two worlds, the overlaps and the interstice.

What role would you like to see the Forum play now that it’s entering its 30thyear?

The Forum has the advantage of being nimble: an organization small enough to be well-connected and integrated in the architectural community, in particular with younger practitioners. But one has always also talked about the dis-advantage of not having a larger staff, or a fixed locale that would be known to the Angeleno architectural community, similar to the Architectural League of New York. Over the years there have been different ideas for locales, and despite the important collaborations with the MAK Center/Schindler House, WUHO gallery and now the VDL House, the Forum should eventually have its own space for lectures and exhibitions.

The important role for the Forum is to not simply provide dialogue within the architectural community, but with the city’s larger community. We must remember that the various schools in Los Angeles all have their respective and interesting academic agendas, lectures and exhibition programs. The Forum could be an important connector between the various schools through individual board and advisory members, and by expanding discourse beyond the confines of a particular school. We must further remember that, except for the Getty, none of the local museums have a dedicated architecture program and/or curator. Here the Forum could play an important role in generating content for these institutions: a regular series of panels, discussions or presentations at one of the local museums.

Learning from Las Vegas with Stefan Al

Noted Dutch academic, architect, and urban designer Stefan Al’s new book The Strip: Las Vegas and the Architecture of the American Dream explores the architecture of the Las Vegas Strip as a refraction of American values and modern-day capitalism. In anticipation of the book’s LA launch, hosted by the LA Forum on Tuesday, June 13, the Forum spoke with Al about the unique connections between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. 

What can Los Angeles learn from Las Vegas and vice versa?

Back in the 1940s, Las Vegas learned from Los Angeles how to build car-oriented architecture. The Flamingo Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, built by the infamous “Bugsy” Siegel, had a facade angled towards the road and a metal pylon with a neon flamingo, both beckoning drivers. It was designed by George Vernon Russell — an architect representative of the “Googie” architectural style, after the Googie coffee shop on the Sunset Strip, in Los Angeles. The Flamingo set a new standard for resorts on the Strip.

Since the 1930s, Los Angeles had the country’s largest percentage of single-family home and car ownership. Los Angeles had become the experimental ground for new buildings catering to the car, including drive-in fast-food restaurants. These buildings appropriated their clean lines and curvaceous forms from automobiles, symbolizing the new era of the car. Las Vegas developers like Mr. Siegel eagerly appropriated this new aesthetic and building type, which represented a more exiting suburban lifestyle, to which so many Americans aspired. It helped propel Las Vegas into the glamorous tourist destination of the Rat Pack days.

Considering both cities have iconic “strips” within their urban fabric, what are some similarities and differences between them?

Back in the 1940s, the Sunset Strip was the world’s most famous commercial strip. Today, the Las Vegas Strip has overtaken that title. The Vegas Strip was built on change. Since its beginning, Vegas developers have surfed waves of social, cultural and economic change to build casinos so compelling that they actually drew vacationers to the Mojave Desert. Not lingering in nostalgia, developers would destroy their previous creations for the next new thing, earning Las Vegas the title “Implosion Capital of the World.”

The fact that the Strip keeps updating itself to the latest fad obviously leads to destruction and waste; on the other hand, it has created innovative buildings and experiences that attract many to the desert. Las Vegas was a ghost town a century ago, but forty-two million people visited the desert city in 2015—ten million more than Paris. The Strip adapted to changing trends with such overwhelming financial success that it has even become a global model for urban development. Macau reclaimed hundreds of acres of the South China Sea, only to build a Las Vegas-style Strip. Even Singapore built its new flagship business district around a Las Vegas-style resort.


As we continue celebrating Forum’s 30th year, we’re taking some time to reflect on our past and plan for our future. To help us in that critical self-reflection, we’re reconsidering the very significance of our identity: what precisely does it mean to be a “Forum” in Los Angeles? Peeling out the diverse applications of our core practice, we get:
for•um•ing \ˌfȯr-əm-ˈiŋ\
a: to instigate dialogues on design and the built environment through public programming, exhibitions, and publications.
b: to take a curatorial stance framing and challenging what architecture means in an evolving city, understanding L.A. is a catalytic place for architecture and design, and offering lessons that extend globally.
c. mentoring, collaborating, learning, honoring, debating, exploring, listening, making, provoking, speculating, discussing, connecting, drinking, thinking, opposing, envisioning, . . . . .
How Forum continues to instigate architecture/urbanism discourse in Los Angeles will depend on you, our community — join us today.

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