The LA Forum Voices Project is a collection of informal sound bites that vocalizes the origins, design culture and other inspirations that led to the founding of the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design 30 years ago. As a piece of our 2012 exhibition, Unfinished Business, the audio project is the beginning of a greater vision for incorporating new media and podcast archives to the Forum collection. The Forum spoke to the project creator Siobhán Burke about what it means to hear these voices and how they have influenced her work today.
I have always been inspired by the stories of others, and I thought, Why not trace some of the institutional history of the LA Forum through an oral history project, and turn it into a StoryCorps type feature on an iPad? Our goals were to solicit soundbites from the founders, board alumni, and anyone who was a past contributor to the LA Forum. We aimed to touch on a variety of themes and not to solely focus on the past. It was important to keep the subjects relevant – whether it was discussing the infrastructure of our city as a “backstage” to Los Angeles or why it’s critical to continue giving a stage to the femmes fatales in our profession. We ended up with 18 soundbites, edited and condensed to around 4 minutes each. Interviews were conducted in-person, via Skype, and were also self-recorded. LA Forum Voices was a year-long project in the making from conception to installation of a listening station that Lyric designed for the exhibition at the WUHO Gallery in July 2012.
Absolutely! Storytelling and listening is one of my biggest forms of research. My firm Lyric Design & Planning focuses on public space design projects, ranging in location from Santa Monica to DTLA, Boyle Heights, and South LA. While it’s impossible to be “of” every neighborhood that I work in, it is possible to dig deep into what matters most to the people around me. I remind myself everyday to “Look closely, listen intently”. It’s my motto. I can’t begin the work or the speculation until I hear what residents, business owners and activists in other communities have to say. That might mean taking a site visit and informally interviewing folks that I meet, or going to panel events that aren’t necessarily geared toward my projects, but give me real insight into the key issues of a community, specifically those dealing with shifting demographics and economies.
I just wrapped up a Metro Rail to River project that will be converting a 30-foot long railroad right-of-way along Slauson Ave into a pedestrian path and 2-way bicycle – the tracks will be removed and the corridor will be lined with shade trees and a bioswale. Before the project even started, I attended a talk hosted by Zócalo Public Square at Mercado La Paloma. Over 100 people from the community came to listen. It was there that I heard one of the panelists, Jorge Nuño of Nuevo South urge his fellow residents to “improve, don’t move”, suggesting a recrafting of the gentrification narrative to be one of positive development without erasure of an important social history. I urge anyone working on projects that are not in their area of residence to dive deep into the social history of their sites: Look closely, listen intently.
My greatest mission is to continue to keep my ear to the ground while building for a beautiful and sustainable public benefit. My hope is that the web launch of LA Forum Voices instigates a new curiosity in the exchange of ideas in multiple formats while striving for diversity in the voices that are represented.