We are proud to announce the LA Forum Reader (Actar Publishers). The LA Forum Reader brings together three decades of discursive writings and publications on architecture, urbanism, and Los Angeles culled from the archives of the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design. This anthological volume includes essays, interviews, and reproductions of publications that have long been out of print, including pamphlets by Craig Hodgetts and Margaret Crawford, as well as early writings by Aaron Betsky and John Chase. In celebration of the publication’s launch, we asked three of the LA Forum Reader’s editors — Chava Danielson, Mimi Zeiger and Joe Day – about the content and the conception of this comprehensive collection that’s been over 15 years in the making.
Join us for the LA Forum Reader launch party, Thursday July 12th, 6-9pm at the MAK Center at the Schindler House, 835 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood, CA 90069.
How was the LA Forum Reader conceived?
MZ: The Reader is the result of multiple editors invested in creating an anthology that reflects the LA Forum’s long publishing history. It was initially conceived by Joe Day and Chava Danielson over a decade ago as a way to collect and document the varied and prolific writings produced by the LA Forum. Its current iteration was shaped by myself, Rob Berry, Victor Jones, and Mike Sweeney. With chapters entitled Experiments, Detours, Hunches, and Santa Anas, it’s meant to capture the vibe of making and writing in Los Angeles—a bit fragmented and experimental, but always in search of larger meanings and ideas.
JD: The Reader was conceived during Ming Fung’s tenure as President of the LA Forum in the later 1990s. There was a sense that the founding generation of the Forum and their peers—e.g., Aaron Betsky, John Chase, Margaret Crawford, Sylvia Lavin, among quite few others—had established clear perspectives within the field, and that the Forum had been a catalyst for their early development. As first editors, Chava and I hoped to connect some dots between those voices, as well as those that preceded and followed them.
CD: I think the underlying tension between the archivist’s impulse and the editorial one is really important here and a productive one, in the end. When Joe and I began there was a treasure trove of carefully (if inexpensively) constructed pamphlets and newsletters that had been passed around and mostly housed in the living rooms of whomever had extra space at any given time—the contributions of Julie Silliman need to be especially acknowledged in this regard. Concern over the frailty of newsprint stock and cheap print runs led to hours of laboring over glitchy output from crude OCR software. I can only imagine how many times those digital files have now had to be reformatted to keep them available and accessible.
But the point was always, also, the creation of an anthology that would make this highly randomized, exuberant and motley assortment of documents and ideas inviting and accessible. That structure—and editorial point of view—has emerged and been reinvented in each iteration, shifting significantly in response to the specific concerns and debate of the moment. Thank you, Rob, Victor, Michael and Mimi, for finally tripping the shutter.
What do you think makes the collection of thoughts, musings and revelations in the LA Forum Reader especially relevant in 2018?
JD: It’s a real-time first pass at history. The 1980s and 90s were complicated, churning decades in Los Angeles—think of Blade Runner (1982), the Olympics (1984), the L.A. uprisings (1992), the Northridge earthquake and O.J. (1994/5). At the same time, a wave of retrospective scholarship marked L..A.’s coming of age, with the late paeans of Banham and Baudrillard followed by Ed Soja’s Postmodern Geographies and Mike Davis’ City of Quartz. By the time Fredric Jameson cited the Bonaventure Hotel as a paragon of postmodernism in 1988, Los Angeles was the canonical US city, whether or not it had been for decades or remains so now.
CD: The writings collected here represent responses to an incredibly broad set of conditions—periods of economic expansion and investment but also of tremendous contraction and very short horizons. I think the message that there is always room for a critical voice; an unpredictable and possibly unsanctioned architectural project; that architecture provides a framework for imagining the world different than it is—whatever that ‘is’ is—resonates.
MZ: Los Angeles is going through yet another reconsideration of its urban identity and the design scene is struggling to keep pace. With questions of housing, density, gentrification on the table alongside more disciplinary ideas of form and practice, the Reader reminds us that we’ve been here before. There’s tons of material—like a whole interlude on the pasts and possible futures of Downtown L.A.—that gives context and history to current debates and discourses.
Why should everyone in L.A.’s design community pick up an LA Forum Reader?
MZ: Not only does the LA Forum Reader fill in the written narrative of L.A. design from the late 1980s until now (with some really fun pit stops in the 90s), it is beautiful. Jessica Fleischmann, with Jenny Kim, of Stillroom were inspired by the wild graphics of the early LA Forum newsletters and the Reader reflects that spirit with a restrained grace. We’ve also reproduced several pamphlets that are out of print, so once again you can read Margaret Crawford’s 1988 Ecology of Fantasy in its entirety.
JD: I agree with Mimi, too—I’d add just one slightly anthropological aside. While many of the authors included in the Reader are transplants from eastern, often Ivy, climes, Chava, Victor and I are Angelenos—and Mimi, like Didion, is a Bay Area emigre. LA Forum Reader is thus both the name of this anthology, and a rather precise description of its editors. As the newly arrived were reading the city, we in turn were reading them. The Reader brings together riffs from bemused newcomers as well as those of locals seeing their city, its design and discourse, in a fresh light.
CD: What Mimi said. It’s a gift.
Image courtesy of Stillroom.