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.
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.
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.
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.