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The current A+D Museum exhibition Come In! DTLA celebrates creative practices in Los Angeles. On June 11, the LA Forum will host a discussion with exhibitors Jessica Fleischmann, Tim Durfee, Lisa Little, Guvenc Ozel, Erin Besler and Ian Besler, moderated by Danielle Rago, exhibition curator and Jennifer Marmon, architect and LA Forum Board Member. We spoke to Fleischmann, Little, Ozel and the Beslers about what grounds and inspires their creative work in the city.
Erin Belser / Ian Besler: Our creative process is entirely determined by our access to material goods and fabrication processes. We spend a lot of time engaged in shop talk with talented and motivated people in Los Angeles about where’s best to buy things. Otherwise, mostly we spend all of our time trying to figure out how to sneak our way into various fabrication shops. Los Angeles enjoys a kind of embarrassment of riches of these resources and facilities.
Lisa Little: This work explores the intersection of craft and computation, both of which are part of my design and fabrication processes. I’m intrigued about a new order at the intersection of multiple opposing forces: organic versus computational, hand versus machine, and biological versus mechanical; provocations that challenge the primacy of the purely digital object and set forth an embodied structural methodology.
Guvenc Ozel: The exploration and dialogue regarding the significance and application of Virtual Reality is at its infancy. By providing a playful yet accurate depiction of our project, which is meant to exist in an extraterrestrial context, we hope to engage our colleagues and the larger entertainment and aerospace industries in this debate while finding powerful tools to communicate our designs.
Jessica Fleischmann: The idea of an infinite grid is behind all of our work—a base structure that everything responds to, either through alignment or refusal. This work uses foil-stamped paper produced specifically for the show. It’s a custom version of the paper used in our Grid by Line stationary.
Aris Janigian is a keen observer of the Los Angeles condition. His newest book,Waiting for Lipchitz at Chateau Marmont, is a bold and colorful critique of the California Dream through the perspective of screenwriter who has gone from riches to rags. We spoke to Janigian ahead of his reading and book signing on Saturday, May 21 at the Neutra VDL House.
I appreciate Los Angeles for how it heightens your consciousness, and sharpens your wits; the sheer friction created by the endless jostling of new images, people, and artifacts is exhilarating, but it can also exhaust your inner resources, easily distract your focus, and make the kind of muscularly meditative work that novel writing requires difficult to sustain. In Fresno, on the other hand, nobody is watching you, things change at a much slower pace, and the inward turn is almost too easy to make. So, in a way, I like to think that both cities are reflected in my writing: a certain edginess and liveliness alongside a certain quiet and heartfeltness.
Architecture is a central feature of this book, the result of teaching for fifteen years or so at SCI-Arc, and pondering regularly the function of architecture. In doing this book, I felt the Chateau, what at first was a perfect place to host my narrator, could also prove to be a useful spur for thinking through some questions I had about architecture, in particular about the Heideggerian idea of “The Hearth.”
The Chateau was built on a hill in the manner of a French Country castle, a place for the Hollywood elite to quaff martinis and slumber in sumptuousness; on the other hand, The Gardens, to my mind, a morality lesson in architecture, were built underground by an Italian farmer who only dreamed, at first, to escape the merciless valley heat. They are polar opposite structures, and in the course of the novel they enter into a conversation, if not occasional shouting match, that yields some provocative conclusions, I think, about the aims and values of culture, and the meaning and practice of architecture.
Will Wright is the Director of Government & Public Affairs for the AIA’s Los Angeles chapter. On Friday, May 6, the AIA LA’s “Design for Dignity: Changing the Housing Equation by Design” will convene a multi-disciplinary forum of architects, planners, affordable housing developers, non-profit leaders and other innovators to discuss and develop actionable steps for solving the city’s homelessness and housing crisis.
In regards to the name of the event, how are you defining “dignity”?
When one designs for ‘dignity’, one designs for an outcome that enlivens the human spirit, empowers a person’s ability to either regain, recover or re-discover a sense of self, and strengthens our connectivity to each other in such a way that respect, character and sentiment become intrinsic touchstones to our everyday lives. Dignity is health plus equity and delight. Dignity is a trusted foundation to rest upon no matter how challenging the storm. It’s a reminder that we’re are all in this together as humans with each other’s well-being deeply rooted as one.
What role do you think architecture can play in tackling larger, complex social issues, like homelessness?
Architecture’s role is as big or as small as the coat hook on the wall. But the role of architects — as a profession, their role is gigantic. As systems thinkers, as design thinkers, as professionals that can analyze all of the moving parts holistically and engage in an inclusive outreach process to better understand the nature of the challenge, architects are uniquely positioned to help stitch together the resources that will most humanely ameliorate the hardships of being homeless. Shelter is right up there with the other four prime human needs and architects understand the mechanics of what truly makes shelter a home.
What recent innovations and design solutions in the affordable housing and public realm are you most excited about and would like to see more of?
Innovations geared towards Net-zero energy outcomes (and greater emphasis on natural, passive systems) will help empower residents with lower energy bills and, at the same time, further restore one’s connection to the earth, a source of never-ending replenishment. Dignity isn’t high-tech; dignity is that sense of comfort and grace you find well-rested in the shade of a majestic oak; dignity is the sense of awe you discover waking up to the sound of the rain on the roof and realizing you’re warm and alive and hungry for another day.
Roman Mars is the host of the podcast 99% Invisible. His weekly show explores the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world. On May 4, 99% Invisible will be part of Radiotopia Live, a one-night only event at the Ace Hotel. The LA Forum spoke to Mars about telling design stories through the medium of radio.
What inspired you choose radio as a medium to talk about the world of design?
The reason I thought it was a good idea as a radio show was because I’m much more fascinated by the story of design and how design is used to solve problems than I am by the aesthetics of design. When pictures are available, the audience gets a little too hung up on how things look, and I like that I can strip that away and focus on how a designed object got to be the way it is. 99% Invisible is about using design as a lens to view our humanity and the audio constraint gives that even greater focus.
How do you select the stories you tell to listeners?
99% Invisible is now a team of really talented people who pitch story ideas back and forth all the time. I tend to favor the stories that are about a specific, even everyday, object, but reveal something larger about the world. The episodes that resonate with me are the ones that help decode the world in some way and give you new eyes for examining the built world and all the consideration that went into it.
In your TED talk you say that a well-designed flag can be seen as a great indicator of how a city considers design itself. Do you believe it’s time for Los Angeles to get a new city flag?
L.A. has a classically bad “seal on a bed sheet” flag and you could do so much better. Even if you just took the seal off and kept the tricolor zigzag, it would be better. I think a total redesign is worth exploring. L.A. is an amazing place, and it would be great to see a flag the residents really loved and rallied around. I sense more and more pride in being a resident of Los Angeles, so it’s a great time to get a great flag that people doing all manner of civic projects will embrace.
Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston (Monacelli Press) by Mark Pasnik, Chris Grimley, and Michael Kubo re-evaluates the progressive concrete buildings that transformed Boston during the 1960s and 1970s often grouped under the problematic label “Brutalism”.
As part of our In The Gutter reading series, the LA Forum hosts a conversation with Heroic authors Chris Grimley and Michael Kubo, with board member Michael Sweeney, editor of the LA Forum Newsletter Brutalism Los Angeles on Friday, April 8 at Hennessey + Ingalls. Free RSVP here.
We spoke to Grimley and Kubo about East Coast/West Coast concrete architecture and Heroic’s impact on contemporary architecture.
While Heroic buildings in the US were often products of the transatlantic urban renewal movement—a phenomenon that was especially acute in East Coast cities like Boston—there were variations among cities in both the amount that was built and the character of the work that was produced. One of the qualities that drew us to Boston’s concrete architecture was the enormous volume of Heroic construction relative to the small footprint of the city center, a relationship that is obviously very different in Los Angeles.
We were struck by the Brutalism issue of the LA Forum Newsletter, which describes the style as “particularly irrelevant to the Southern California milieu,” one that “presents a brooding intellectual aspect and the image of an East Coast/Eastern [sic] European rigor”—which is ironic considering that critics of brutalism in Boston (and in the UK) often claim that concrete is only really appropriate for Mediterranean climates. In that sense it may be less the architecture of the buildings than the character of their context that is different between the two cities. On the other hand, the most monumental concrete complexes in Southern California, like the Geisel Library at UC San Diego or the Salk Institute in La Jolla, have a majesty and grandeur that seems uniquely suited to the West Coast.
The lessons of the Heroic era are complicated and not always clear. Through bold, centralized action, cities like Boston rejuvenated their economies and established a legacy of modern buildings of distinction. At the same time, urban renewal strategies disassembled communities, fractured neighborhoods, and ran roughshod over the interests of individual citizens. Yet for us the concrete works of the era stand as reminders of a time when civic investment in the public realm was possible and, at its best, achieved with high standards. Today when we depend on commercial activity and private investment to shape our public realm, we think the buildings and voices from the Heroic era call for us to take the mantle back again, to rise to principles and aspirations that today seem more urgent than ever. They ask: “Can we be heroic again?”
Image: Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, courtesy of Monacelli Press
A few years ago, the LA Forum hosted the competition Dingbat 2.0, which asked designers to reinvent the “dingbat”—Los Angeles’ ubiquitous apartment building type—for the future. Results and reflections are published in the Forum’s newest book Dingbat 2.0: The Iconic Los Angeles Apartment as Projection of a Metropolis published by Doppelhouse Press. We spoke to editors Thurman Grant and Joshua G. Stein about what we can still learn from the lowly dingbat.
How did the Dingbat 2.0 competition come about?
The LA Forum has a history of identifying emerging issues that question the shape and inhabitation of the city. A competition is both a way to draw attention to overlooked urban and architectural issues and to consider speculative futures. [We] became interested in looking at dingbats as an aging housing type that originally constituted a surprisingly large portion of the housing stock of Los Angeles, but exists largely as an anonymous urban artifact today.
Why study dingbats?
We were curious about this ubiquitous building type that exists throughout Los Angeles but was largely ignored outside the city. We found that many of today’s pressing issues are embodied in the dingbat, either in its history or its current condition. Los Angeles (along with the metropolis in general) is faced with an increasing need to densify and provide housing for an influx of new urban dwellers. After World War II, the dingbat helped enable one of the city’s most significant periods of densification.
A thorough examination of the dingbat demands that architects reckon with factors that we often leave off the table: the role of zoning, financing, development, and ownership. It is hard to imagine innovative solutions to the housing crisis in Los Angeles without questioning some of the default assumptions we have concerning these forces.
What is the next step for the Dingbat typology?
With current zoning regulations that prohibit back-out parking from apartment buildings, the dingbat type could not exist as new construction today, and with the upcoming seismic retrofits required by the city, even existing dingbats are threatened.
One outcome of the Dingbat 2.0 competition and publication was the consideration of “dingbat logics,” as opposed to the continued propagation of the type. Dingbats allowed for the densification of the city, while maintaining a smaller scale urban neighborhood, and allowed for small-scale developers to impact the fabric of the city. Los Angeles’ current popular small-scale development model is based on the Small Lot Ordinance, which allows multi-family residential lots to be subdivided into smaller parcels for individual owners, and this was the strategy of the winning scheme in the Dingbat 2.0 competition. Small lots allow for a density similar to dingbats—between the scale of the single-family house and larger “stucco monster” apartment buildings.
Book Design by Jessica Fleischmann | still room.
The LA Forum’s Winter 2016 newsletter takes an oppositional stance to Los Angeles’ built environment. Guest edited by Wendy Gilmartin with board member Mimi Zeiger, and features work by Rob Berry, Ian Besler, Steven Chodoriwsky, James Benning, and Barbara Stauffacher Solomon.
Gilmartin is an architect and writer living and building in Los Angeles and a partner in FAR frohn&rojas, a design firm with offices in L.A., Berlin, and Santiago, Chile. We spoke with her about things ugly and indefensible.
I started writing for the free press in 1998 and that was a platform fueled by controversial opinions and contrarian thinking. But when I wrote music reviews for the LA Weekly, my editor at the time, John Payne, said to me something that’s always stuck with me. He said, “We don’t write bad reviews” —meaning record reviews or concert reviews. John said, “There’s plenty of bad stuff out there—let’s feature the good stuff.” That’s why when I was asked by other editors to write the “fugly buildings” blog for the LA Weekly years later, it felt so wrong to pan something, to mock something for only the sake of mocking. But I saw opportunity there, too. It’s always easier to pan something. What’s harder is to praise something, and what’s harder than that is to find the nugget of good that’s in something bad and bring it to an audience’s attention.
I do love the buildings I write about. I think there is something special about each of them. Ugly buildings and fancy architecture are two very different things. They are developed by and emerge out of two very different worlds. I practice in the world of architecture, but I write about buildings, mostly. Having said that, both architecture and buildings are part of our cityscape, and interact to form relationships and connections across the city, and they mark places that draw our daily routines, and together form the city in which we live. I am, in many ways, just as fascinated by the building where I take the dog to the vet, as I am by a concert hall or art museum. I follow the design press, and I’ve written plenty of reviews about good-looking, celebrated, successful, expensive buildings in my career. I like writing about those, too. But very little architecture and design writing tries to make inroads with new groups of readers, or opens up new subject matter to new readers, and that’s what I was trying to do with the ugly buildings project.
Building Portraits, on view at Industry Gallery, is a suite of elevation studies developed by Atelier Manferdini over the past two years. The show is both architectural research and an autonomous artwork and explores of the potential of intricate scripted line work at the scale of a building. The LA Forum spoke Elena Manferdini about the role of facades and representation in architecture.
The title of the show, Building Portraits, alludes to two distinct disciplines, the field of architectural drawings—building—and the one of fine artistic pictures—portraits. This body of work tries to claim a territory where these two attitudes find a common ground, where pixels and vectors get closer to the scale of perception.
Over past six years, the status of the abstract drawings versus the photorealistic pictures has been under close scrutiny in [my] artistic and architectural practice. After four years spent experimenting on how the realm of the painterly can be scaled to architectural spaces, the research moved to find modes for abstracted drawings to create literal pictures of building facades.
Half of Building Portraits are drawings, which are printed on powder coated aluminum and afterwards coated with a glossy finish, came from a series of elevation studies of Mies van der Rohe buildings in Chicago and New York for the Art Institute of Chicago’s 2015 show Building the Picture. The other half of the drawings are printed on watercolor paper and are studies for actual Atelier Manferdini projects.
Historically, architectural drawings have always been the product of an inherent dichotomy, because they are usually conceived as the expressions of “artistic” ability combined with “technical” savoir-faire. In the past twenty years of digital revolution, the dual nature of the drawing became even more polarized. On one hand there are technical drawings, on the other photorealistic renderings, giving rise to a perceived division between drawings made for a professional audience and those created for the general public.
The show suggests that “drawings” and “pictures” are [no longer] poles of a spectrum within which architectural production might be placed, but that they are getting closer and closer. This show supports the continued practice of thinking through drawing and suggests that they are not only didactic instruments, but are able to trigger imagination and convey a sense of immanence, which directs the mind to a reality not yet in existence.
Devin Gharakhanian and Mohamed Bensasi’s experimental short film “6” debuted at ForumFest this fall as part of Jai & Jai Gallery’s installation. The film is a love letter to the Sixth Street Viaduct. On the occasion of the bridge’s demolition, the Forum spoke to Gharakhanian about the film, Los Angeles’ creative culture, and the movie Grease. “6” is now streaming exclusively at The Creator’s Project.
Film and architecture are entwined Los Angeles. Coming from an architecture background, how has working in film impacted the way you perceive the city?
With architecture, we’re always in Google Maps view—we’re seeing everything in a more urban, diagrammatic, square footage manner, drawing the lines in a more general, Haussmann-ized way. We never get to taste the field, the textures, the city, the lives, and meet the people. When you study the city, it’s way more synthetic and physical, and you’re not really feeling or seeing the city for how it really is from a human-scale perspective.
With this film, we actually got to live and breathe the city. We met our star King Monster and he told us the story, he told us about the Sixth Street Bridge. It wasn’t through articles, or blogs, and researching or going to Wikipedia. We were hearing from the people who actually lived there; we got the full-scale picture.
All your senses are open when you’re making a film. You’re on site, and as an architect you’re on site as well, but to make a film, you really have to go there to get the full picture of what’s happening.
For us, this was a chance to finally make a film and practice this new way of expression. We had no budget, and we worked with our best friend who’s a fashioner designer (Drew Kessler of nolabel.sc) and another friend, Cliff Dweller, to score the film, and borrowed the camera from another friend. It was this cross-disciplinary group of creative Angelenos who are interested in the contemporary city.
Of all the Sixth Street Bridge cameos in popular culture, which one has meant the most to you?
We actually went through all of them and we weren’t impressed. But Grease is epic. You can drive down this tunnel and go into the river bed, and still to this day, people are racing their cars. Grease was showing that forty years ago and the exact same activity is still happening right now, but instead of leather jackets, they’re wearing Supreme shirts.
Bryan Cantley is a master of his own visionary form of architectural rendering. His work puts an emphasis on experimentation and self-expression through the acts of drawing and model building. The Forum spoke to him about “Drawings Lie”: Recent Works by Bryan Cantley, on view at The Christopher Mount Gallery through May 20.
Why did you name the show Drawings Lie?
There are several ways to answer that. Christopher Mount (the show’s curator) chose this based on conversations about a lecture/writing I had previously constructed. I think the context statement was “drawings lie—or they tell you the untruths you want to hear….” Perhaps another way to describe this might be to say, “drawings produce artificial mythologies.” Drawing, like text, has the opportunity to produce a myriad of readings and interpretations. Since architectural drawing is often about reduction of information and absolute truths, my initial take on architectural representation is to obfuscate that initial role of a truth-maker, and to challenge to typical relationship of occupant/viewer to the subject matter. What truth do they tell you?
What would you say is architecture’s current state of representation?
I think we are in an extremely fragile/critical stage in architecture (including education as well as drawing itself). There is a blur of media output that is very intoxicating, if not only for the potential of misinformation and reinterpretation—drawings lie—that an evolution allows. I think we are at the beginning of a new bloom/direction in representation as a research/explorative tool, as opposed to using it only as showing off one’s rendering chops. The difference between rendering and representation might be a more poignant inquiry. Architecture is still invested in the hyper-documentation of “the thing”. There is an opportunity to go beyond that mindset.
What type of spaces do you like to explore in your drawings?
Those that cannot/should not/might not be “built”. There has always been a series of multi-temporal space and non-stable environments (both the drawing and the subject matter) in my drawings. I might venture to say that if one sees a singular object/space/time in the drawings, then they (the images) have not done their job. They explore many ideas, including a search for what is not currently known, within the artifact of a single, flattened object.
Façades+ comes to Los Angeles this month for a 3-day conference on design, buildings, and architectural envelopes. Talks and workshops kick off on January 28 with a keynote from Enrique Norten of TEN Arquitectos. The LA Forum spoke to the conference’s curators Alex Korter and Kevin Kavanagh about the power of façades.
Façades are perhaps the most prominent part of a building and successful facades relate to their immediate surroundings. One goal we have for the conference is to remind ourselves, and the audience, that cities big and small should reinforce a sense of local identity. L.A. should be different then New York, London, or Shanghai. The process of developing great architecture might be quite similar, but building should represent the regional condition of place and people.
We are nearing the point where we can almost build anything we can think of through various evolutionary leaps in fabrication. The next question we need to start considering is should we be doing outrageous engineering feats just because we can?
90% of the buildings that will exist in 50 years are already built and in a constant state of decay. Façade design on the large scale is going to have to start dealing with the existing building stock on a scale beyond anything undertaken to date.
Today, a high performing façade generally consists of a non-leaking, that is relatively easy to clean, and is a somewhat ineffective thermal barrier.
The next façades will need to move beyond barriers and become integrated systems that not only support other buildings systems but also interact with one another on a building, community, and urban scale. This is one of the steps necessary to achieve measurable performance that will make a real difference in curbing the impact on the environment.
The Billboard Creative launched its second public art show on December 1 on 33 billboards throughout the streets of Los Angeles. This second effort features an outstanding number of emerging and established artists including Ed Ruscha, Jack Pierson, Andrew Bush, Shane Guffogg, Kim McCarty, Panos Tsagaris, among others. The Forum spoke to the show’s curator Mona Kuhn on how she decided to stop traffic with art.
Billboards have been around since the early days, when the land around Los Angeles, before it was even a city, started being divided and sold, a classic example of this is the history of the Hollywood sign. One of the things we cannot deny is that LA has a strong car culture, it is the place we spend a lot of our time commuting during the week and driving on weekends. It is an engrained way of life here but most of the billboards happen to be eyesores, at least to me. When Adam Santeli, founder of The Billboard Creative, mentioned bringing original works of art to be reproduced in Billboards around Los Angeles, it all came together perfectly from an aesthetic point of view as part of the continuing and new LA art scene.
A billboard exhibition can be a challenging proposition, because we are competing for attention within a busy urban setting with an audience that is mostly driving by. My first step was to observe traffic in one of the main intersections and study the audience’s behavior while driving. There were two distinct moments that I observed: the audience would be either be driving by or be stuck in a traffic jam.
In the first scenario my intention is to grab their attention by surprise with graphically strong artworks, pieces that are easy to read and understand in a relatively very short amount of time. But I also saw a need to reach out to an audience who might be stuck in traffic, so I thought about what works of art would have the power to transport me away from that, what would inspire me to mentally escape the traffic. All the works had a touch of the sublime to me.
During the selection process, I had access to the work, but not the artists’ names. It was a way for us to keep the process egalitarian. I am proud to say that I believe each work of art included in this exhibition holds an equal presence and deserves the attention they are getting.
Wayne Thom’s architectural photography captures the shapes and textures, the contrasts and reflections of the built environment. He spoke to the LA Forum about the current exhibition of his work, Matter, Light, and Form: Architectural Photographs of Wayne Thom, 1968-2003, presented by the Julius Shulman Institute on view at WUHO Gallery through December 20.
How did working with A. Quincy Jones impact your understanding of architectural photography?
The thing about Quincy Jones is that his projects were not about the façade of the building, but a balance of form and function. In this respect Quincy was probably one the most sensitive architects in terms of design, form, shape, and the functionality of the project. This idea of balance is something I always try to convey with my photographs.
Why do you shoot your photographs with nothing more than a spot meter and natural light?
The whole secret to photography is to visualize what the final photograph is going to look like and the final statement you want to make is before you even take the picture. In order to create a photograph that has a balance of both highlights and shadows some of the things you have to understand is sensitometry, optics, and brightness control. In order to do that I use a spot meter to take a measurement of both where I want there to be shadows and highlights, after that it is just knowing how many stop differences you need for your film and what it can handle to take the image. Through development and choosing the right exposure I don’t have to use any other lights.
How do you feel about USC acquiring your archive?
I love the idea of having the archive at USC because it can both stay in one place as well as be open to the public so that anyone who maybe interested in architecture of the era can take a look. Quite few of the projects I photographed have already been torn down, such as Pasadena Plaza, or have been altered from initial creation, such as Sherman Oaks Galleria. The archive will serve as a method of preservation of what these projects were meant to be.
The Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design is proud to unveil our new website and identity. Clean, fresh, and direct, the new logo and site foregrounds current exhibitions and events while maintaining our rich history and publication archive.
ForumFest 2015: Bridge, Tunnel, Channel. parties on, under, and along the L.A. River’s infrastructure. Come celebrate the final days of the Sixth Street Viaduct and support the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design.
Join us in the Sixth Street Bridge tunnel for a carnival mood and festivities that include DJs, live music, and food trucks. Artistic and musical surprises in store.
This year’s ForumFest honors the Los Angeles River. We applaud the concrete channel as an important catalyst for change in the city and recognize the efforts of designers, activists, citizens, and politicians in reimagining this singular piece of infrastructure.
On view will be temporary installations by architects and designers featured in the Forum’s 2015 Out There Doing It series including, Typical Office (Duygun Inal and Ben Warwas), LA-BOR (Jia Gu and Jonathan Crisman), and PAR (Jennifer Marmon). Jai & Jai (Jomjai and Jaitip Srisomburananont) will present a curated series of video works by Chris Gassaway, Devin Gharakhanian, Nick Korody, Juanito Olivarria, Tomas Koolhaas, Akiko Yamashita, and art by Mike Nesbit.
Supporting the LA Forum means supporting architecture and urban design in an evolving city. ForumFest tickets and sponsorships underwrite our innovative programing: exhibitions, events, and publications.
Cao Fei: Shadow Plays, on view at The Mistake Room through November 21, is inspired by the rapidly changing social and economic conditions of contemporary urban life. Curator Kris Kuramitsu spoke to the LA Forum about the artist’s utopian and dystopian video works.
Why is the exhibition called Shadow Plays?
I liked the reference to the shadow play, an ancient form of storytelling popular throughout Asia that often relays mythical or morality tales. Cao Fei’s “Haze and Fog” and “RMB City” are are modern myths—exploring the moral, ethical, and spiritual aspects of the contemporary urban condition.
Also, the works inhabit a shadowy territory, on the edge of visibility and tangibility, and they come from parallel universes, one being Second Life, a virtual world that is a fantastic mirror for our material world, and the other a surreally-inflected, crystallized version of our reality.
What made you want to bring a show by Cao Fei to Los Angeles?
Cao Fei’s work seemed so powerfully right for L.A., particularly for Downtown L.A., at this point in time. Although she sets much of her work in contemporary urban China, her distillation of the anxieties and anomie of the mega-metropolis translate perfectly to many other globalized cities like Los Angeles—our concerns about overdevelopment, population density, the shift toward a service economy, and the increasingly dramatic wealth gap, among other things, are shared across the Pacific.
Cao Fei’s work often represents architecture and urbanism. What lessons can multimedia art offer architecture?
The physical urban environment is such a crucial structuring element of our social system, and reflecting it through film, video, computer games and virtual reality are ways to shine a light on its reverberations. One could say that these works are fables, taking the contemporary mores around building and urban development to their most absurd conclusions. I think Cao Fei has a unique ability to distill an often-confusing morass of experiences into a powerful narrative moment or image, which winds up being the most valuable takeaway.
The LA Forum’s summer newsletter is dedicated to Brutalism in Los Angeles, complete with a guide to these often hard to love buildings in the Southland. In conjunction with the newsletter, our On the Map series gets into the concrete details in conversation with the engineers of these tough icons. We spoke newsletter editor James Black on why we should focus this period of L.A. design.
How did this newsletter on Brutalism come about?
The newsletter idea sprung out of a Google Map of LA Brutalist architecture that we started in 2012 with no particular purpose in mind other than to compile a catalog of these buildings. It’s a guilty pleasure—there is a taint of nostalgia that makes it almost embarrassing to show too much interest in this topic, and the editorial challenge was to harness content with specificity to Los Angeles as well as contemporary relevance. The newsletter’s material both focused a critical eye on LA Brutalism and also strayed to some unexpected places, like the mirror-glass office parks of Orange County.
Is there a LA Brutalist style? What is it and does it have certain local characteristics?
In his essay in the newsletter, Kimbro Frutiger argues that Brutalist buildings appear here as an “out-of-towner” style—this strangeness within local context is the predominant characteristic of our scattershot Brutalist structures. Community colleges in Orange County, such as Cypress College and Golden West College, comprise prominent clusters of righteous Brutalism in the Southland, and each campus offers its own concrete aesthetic. The near-Brutalist style of the New Formalist projects by Pereira, Becket, and Stone, share a classicizing lineage with the Hollywood Regency style, and constitutes a prominent local alternative to Brutalism.
As architects and designers should we defend brutalism?
It is no secret that architects’ design preferences often do not match those of their clients. As when a chef expands diners’ palates by offering unique and challenging flavors and textures in addition to the conventionally delicious, we all benefit when designers and critics can expand appreciation for provocative architecture by illustrating, writing, and talking about what makes buildings unique or interesting, and allowing to advance the terms of discussion beyond simple judgments of ugly or beautiful.
Shelter: Rethinking How We Live in Los Angeles, on view at the A+D Museum through November 6, challenges architects and designers to create residential solutions that respond to a changing city. Commissioned projects address pressing issues facing the cultural and physical landscape. Co-curated by Sam Lubell and Danielle Rago the exhibition features the new work by Bureau Spectacular, LA Más, Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects, MAD Architects, PAR, and wHY. The exhibition also highlights recently constructed or in-progress housing solutions a number of L.A. firms. The Forum spoke to the curators about how we live in Los Angeles.
What can we learn about LA housing compared to housing in other cities?
DR: Shelter is a basic human need. We decided to focus the show on this subject on account of the museum’s relocation to its new home in the Arts District, as well as the long lineage of important residential architecture in the city. The Los Angeles single-family home has long been studied and replicated in places outside of the city, but Los Angeles’ needs have shifted. The ideas presented highlight housing that is reflective of a new L.A., one that is more dense, with less buildable land, new transit offerings, growing diversity, ballooning costs, and intense environmental challenges —issues that other cities are also facing.
How does a cities infrastructure influence our housing conditions?
SL: Infrastructure has always been a major driver of housing in cities, from aqueducts to castle walls to freeways. We wanted to focus on housing near two of the most important infrastructure projects in the city now: the redevelopment of the Los Angeles River and the extension of Metro’s Purple Line along Wilshire Boulevard. They’re driving huge changes in development, and represent a city that is changing dramatically from the suburban-style development that it is traditionally known for.
Why pick L.A. architects to look at these parts of the city as opposed to architects and designers outside of the city?
SL: We chose designers that have been investigating issues in L.A. for some time, although some of the firms, like MAD and Bureau Spectacular, are recent transplants. We also wanted a mix of established firms and younger, more experimental ones. Overall we’re very pleased with the mix, and we think we’ve got a great variety of perspectives.
In the 1970s photographer Roger Vail began taking long exposure photographs of thrill rides: Ferris wheels, tilt-a-whirls, round ups. His images extend photography “decisive moment” into abstraction. Images in the exhibition, Carnival: Roger Vailtrace the kaleidoscopic light play of carnival rides in full motion. We asked Roger Vail about his photographic investigations on view at the Joseph Bellows Gallery through August 22.
You described your photographs as images painted with light, would you elaborate?
My education in photography at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago was heavily influenced by Bauhaus ideas. We worked a lot with forms of light and movement and were encouraged to explore photography as if there were no rules. My work with the carnival rides came out of that experience.
How did your interest in photographing carnivals come about?
I had been photographing at night for some time with a large format camera on a tripod and using time exposures. My initial interest was in hand-painted carnival facades. One evening I decided to try shooting a Ferris wheel. I had no idea what it would look like in motion. When I saw the film I was floored by what was there. This was Spinning Carnival Ride #1, 1971, and that led to my continued interest in these images.
You’ve said that carnival rides as “the best use of machinery ever invented” yet you use another machine to fully express their potential. Why use a static medium like the photograph to express the wild playfulness of carnival rides?
You’re right. I probably should have said “one of the best.” And you’re right as well that the static medium of photography allows us to stop time and motion to see things we don’t ordinarily see or are impossible to see. There really haven’t been any particular challenges in making these photographs. They were lots of fun to make and I hope this is apparent when the viewer sees them.
Heather Roberge: En Pointe examines the historical and spatial significance of the column. We asked Roberge, founding principal of Murmur: Architecture and Environments about the evolution of her architectural investigations. The installation is on view at the SCI-Arc Gallery through August 2.
En Pointe addresses structure’s ability to be both an object and series. What were your precedents in studying this relationship?
Initially we looked at the Egyptian hypostyle hall and its use of closely spaced, massive columns to define highly figural interstices between columns. While not central to the column’s work at the time, the hypostyle columnar series inadvertently stumbled upon the production of space. We expanded this initial research studying ten historical periods to understand the development of the column and its disciplinary significance.
The surface-active columns of Felix Candela at Iglesia de la Medalla Milagrosa and Mies van der Rohe’s cruciform columns influenced En Pointe. The most recent work studied was Japanese contemporary architecture. We analyzed technically innovative columns in the work of Junya Ishigami, Toyo Ito, and Sou Fujimoto.
What were the structural challenges?
Surprisingly, the engineering was rather straightforward. Our initial column series was determined using an open source video game engine called Unity. Its physics engine accurately simulated the effects of adjacent columns leaning on one another for stability. Using this tool, we were able to calculate the center of gravities of the individual columns and predict the resultant forces of small sets.
The geometries were constrained very early on by my desire to build the columns as aluminum shells without an interior frame. The column’s surface carries the self-weight of the object and partial loads from its neighbors. Our structural consultant, Matt Melnyk of Nous Engineering, ran analysis models to determine the aluminum thickness required and to assess the accuracy of our early simulations. Working together we determined the details necessary for assembly and erection without scaffolding.
The most challenging part of the project was the integration of manufacturing constraints into our digital model. This allowed us to produce accurate unfolded patterns for laser cutting and forming.
The New Creativity: Man and Machines, curated by Sylvia Lavin with the UCLA Curatorial Project, challenges the entire notion of creativity. On view at the MAK Center through August 16, the exhibition examines creative practice and its relationship to technology and human agency. Lavin described to the Forum what it means to be creative today.
What’s the relationship between man and machine in architectural practice?
Creative practices have always been inseparable from the social and technical complexes that support and constrain them. In the Renaissance, all the arts — architecture no less than and no more than the others — were represented by tools. Chisels, brushes, and compasses were the machines of the day.
As the concept of art became increasingly autonomous, more and more structures and concepts were developed to separate the producer from his tools. The studio, the genius, and the sketch, to name just a few, are all mechanisms used to construct the notion that creativity is a matter of human agency alone.
Today, however, we understand that the complex interactions between technical and human agency is a determining part of the creative process.
How has the idea of a creative practice morphed over the years? What does it mean to be creative?
All forms of art making have been radically transformed by the advent of digital technologies. As a result, creativity must be understood to encompass a much broader range of activities than in the past and to produce a much broader range of object types.
Even more important is the fact that the creative process does not end with an object at all. Instead, increasingly larger amounts of creative resources are being put into producing new tools and concepts that are designed not to make things but to amplify the creative capacities of others. The critical question now is no longer “What does it mean to be creative?” but “Are there any limits to the concept?”
Someday is Now: The Art of Corita Kent, on view at the Pasadena Museum of California Art throughNovember 1, presents is the first full-scale of the designer’s impassioned and revolutionary work. Kent’s screen prints and posters seem all to relevant today — she combined faith, activism, and teaching to spread acceptance and hope in the face of the glitz and glam of Hollywood and advertising. Curator Michael Duncan sheds light on the spirit of Corita Kent’s work.
What does Kent’s work say about Los Angeles and her time here?
Corita’s great 1960s Pop work fed off the billboards and signage of L.A. streets. By twisting and transforming advertising slogans and logos, she made pop culture a vehicle for upbeat humanism.
The exhibition also tells an important story about radical Catholicism in Los Angeles during the 1960s. The desire of Sister Corita’s order the Immaculate Heart of Mary, was to better serve their community, but their mission was stifled by the conservative Cardinal McIntyre and the order ended up leaving the official structure of the Catholic church. Corita’s own spiritual enlightenment and struggle with organized religion seems emblematic of the culture at large.
This exhibition of Kent’s work couldn’t come at a better time in our history; is there something we can glean from her work that seems especially relevant to what we can see and earn about the socio-political issues of today?
Americans are still blindsided by the hype of Hollywood and advertising. The web has only accelerated the ubiquity of advertising. Corita’s rewriting of advertising’s messages is still completely relevant. In particular, her gutsy and moving works about race could have been made this week. Plus her sense of poetry and word play is desperately needed in our increasingly literal and tone-deaf culture.
She had ties to people like Bucky Fuller and Charles and Ray Eames, but did the architecture and design of the time influence her work?
The sense of play and iconoclastic invention in Ray and Charles Eames’ work was a major inspiration. Her formal experimentation shows her to be a high modernist — but one with a streak of anarchism.
With Beachside Lonelyhearts, Jimenez Lai of Bureau Spectacular, transforms Jai & Jai into a black-and-white architecture exhibition that pieces together a fragmented memory. Lai’s tale, a half-remembered day spent on the beach, is told through a series of architectural musings — clouds, beach blankets, pillows — all over the gallery’s walls, ceiling, and floor. We asked Lai to reflect on Beachside Lonelyhearts, which is on view through July 10.
This is your first solo show since you moved to LA. How has living in Los Angeles impacted your work? Is this a lonelyhearted city?
Strangely, Los Angeles is teaching me about pragmatism. I need to get back to reality. I now live in the city of excess — and joy. Yet my newfound sense of catharsis dozes me into the sense of the total self — a total self that can only be understood by being entirely alone.
Otherwise I have to divulge the world of “how” I “measure” “which” “technique” to the “means” of “what” I do “or” say to “who” about “that”.
What is the story behind Beachside Lonelyhearts?
Deep down there was a memory I cannot quite recall. It was on the beach, maybe there was a car. Did I go swimming? I don’t remember. Was I by myself? Why do I remember this, did I remember a really good time that I can no longer share with anyone else? Can I document such sense of amnesia, or do I actually remember it all?
Telling a story through 2D and 3D forms that are deliberately fragmented is rather poetic. Is there space is the architecture practice for more of these moments of poetry outside the gallery walls?
The deliberate misuse of grammar and syntax is poetry. So, I think I accidentally became poetic — not for the lack of trying. I hate poetry.
On June 16, the LA Forum and Santa Monica Cultural Affairs presents Sailing Architecture as part of the Beach=Culture series at the Annenberg Beach House. The event is a pop-up exhibition of student work and a panel discussion. We asked architect and LA Forum board member Geoffrey von Oeyen to tell us more about the relationship between architecture and sailboats.
Sailing and architecture don’t seem to be a readymade pair, where do they meet?
Sailboats directly, responsively, and in real-time mediate between the natural world and people. Not only are sailing and architecture deeply connected through centuries of shared representational and construction innovations, but also their objectives converge.
Sailboats embody many of our current aspirations for buildings: to convert natural conditions into energy, to reduce material consumption, transport, and construction costs through stronger, lighter materials, and to create spaces that respond technically and aesthetically to dynamic environmental and programmatic needs.
What was the starting point for the work in the exhibition?
In Vers un architecture, Le Corbusier includes three essays under the topic of “Eyes Which Do Not See.” He proposes that ocean liners, airplanes, and automobiles embody ideas and techniques emblematic of the modern zeitgeist and are paradigms of what would become modern architecture.
In the course of the studio, which lead to the work in the exhibition, we investigated how contemporary boat hulls, sails, and rigging are designed and constructed, and most importantly, how each part of a boat solves a multiplicity of design problems formally and spatially.
Can you tell us a little bit about the panel?
L.A. is a catalytic place for architecture and design, including coastal design. With this event the LA Forum asks Angelenos to consider new ways of living in relationship to the environment: we have a drought, rising ocean levels, erosion, excessive energy consumption. We also have some of the world’s best architects and urban designers, so we have the opportunity to lead and envision solutions to these problems.