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It’s not quite Woodstock, and I’m not Joni Mitchell; but an illness is the only thing keeping me from being at On The Road right now. It’s happening until 6pm, so if you are in LA, you should go in my place.

For context – today (June 02, 2013) was supposed to be the start of the MoCA show A New Sculpturalism, the fate of which has caused much gossip and consternation of late. On The Road was intended by creator James Michael Tate and his co-conspirators, curators, and creators to be a companion and counterpoint to the Sculpturalism show.

While the “sculpturalism” moniker implies willingness to let figure stand as the be-all, end-all of the architectural practice, the frame surrounding all discourse; the work in On The Road is often participatory and / or performance-based; including live drawings on the side of a freakin-U-Haul by Jimenez Lai and Volkan Alkanoglu. Before the sun drove my infirm eyes away, these drawings were already getting interesting. I can only imagine what will happen by the time the city kicks them out at the end of the night. And unless Sculpturalism has some of its hell-with-a-pen draftspersons slinging lines real-time, it will have a hard time beating the performances at On The Road in a heads-up match.

Featuring many of the youngest and brightest lights of LA architecture, On The Road is rough but refreshing. I hope you read this in time and are able to go see something truly unique. Check out the website for all the participants, and go and be part of great work by hungry young practitioners, happening in what is clearly the emerging moments of a new chorus of critical discourse(s) in Los Angeles. If there is a way forward after the hermetic statements of a “new sculpturalism,” if is in a parking lot in Little Tokyo today.

The On The Road crew have promised more events throughout the year, and if this is just the first step onto the learning curve, 2013 will have some real treats for architecture in LA.

ON THE ROAD

TEMPLE @ ALAMEDA

LA, CA 90012

12-6 PM

The Robotic Universal Laboratory project is by Brian Harms: a colleague, collaborator, and friend of mine. It is a lab / factory that rethinks the means – and space – of production. Autonomous robots construct their next generation and the space of their manufacture through a process of evolutionary optimization.

It’s great stuff, and I’m honored to have watched Brian was develop it. I think it’s incredible on multiple levels. It has a simple and well constructed narrative dimension, but that is just a framework for Brian’s incredible technical excellence – shown in both his knowledge of technology and the construction of the project. It is both a plausible (nay, probable) and visionary project that has just the right edge of dangerousness.

Autonomous self-generating drones? Hold the Reprap right there and unplug SkyNet, thank you very much.

Enjoy the attached images – and go check out the whole project over at Brian’s blog, curvlabs. But most of all – his project is in the competition at SuckerPUNCHdaily.com for the Land of Tomorrow exhibition. And you should go vote for it!

But of course, the coolest thing Brian did wasn’t just virtual computer wizardry – it was the iphone controlled, six-legged, flying, robot that extrudes material through a delta-bot. All functioning.

(Except the “flying” part where Brian’s still waiting for technology to catch up with him.)

The Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design presents Out There Doing It 2011: AfterImage

A provocation to cross-disciplinary conversation through expansion of the synergies between architecture and related design practices.

 

DORIS SUNG – Thursday, 10/06
with response by
Jenna Didier and Oliver Hess

 

VOLKAN ALKANOGLU – Thursday, 10/13
with response by
Special Guest

 

B.A.D. – BUREAU FOR ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN – Thursday, 10/27
with response by
Monica Nouwens

 

LAYER – Thursday, 11/03
With response by
Roel Schierbeek

 

Architects today co-conspire with a host of key figures in a fluid exchange of imagination spanning from pre-design to post-occupancy.  Whether privately volleyed or publicly launched, these dynamic, ad-hoc, and non-linear exchanges provide the fuel that drives design and makes innovation possible. Through interrogating and encouraging these conversations, the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design hopes to offer a greater understanding of how architecture is produced, assembled, and disseminated in the contemporary cultural milieu.

All lectures begin at 7:30pm at the MAK Center for Art and Architecture at the Schindler House 835 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood, CA 90069.

All lectures are free for LA Forum members, $5 for students & $10 for non-members. To pre-purchase tickets via Paypal, click here. All lectures are outdoors, please dress accordingly.

Link to AfterImage Poster pdf

I find humor in the symmetry of this opposition. “Under the paving stones lies the beach!” was a 1968 anti-spectacular rallying cry to work against state control. This is a poetic idea of course and not literal, so take it as such, but it was thought that in the rustic and anti-state condition – so beneath the mechanisms of the state’s marking of territory, eg the pavers themselves, lies our freedom.

The current state simply provides a “beach” “above the paving stones” as an attempt to inoculate from the discontentment that would lead to anti-state actions. The spectacle tries to deflate any opposition to itself before you can go digging for it.

Of course, free things are what the value systems of late capitalism tell the people they want, but when you ask, what they actually want is self-determination. Freedom, not just free beer, in Stallman’s analogy.

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On a parallel note, this dialectic between the mechanisms of “state control” and the “primitive” state reminds me of the dialectic between the primitive and the “advanced” in much of Wes Jones’s early work.

To quote his project text from this underrated book edited by Aldo Aymonio and Valerio Paolo Mosco Contemporary Public Space – Un-Volumetric Architecture,

“This design for a lifeguard tower could be considered an illustration of Heidegger’s claim that ‘technology teases nature into unhiddenness.’ the job of the typical lifeguard tower is to provide the lifeguards with a vantage point from which they can keep an eye on the swimmers they protect. This project supplies the lifeguards with the simplest version of this requirement: a dune. No dune may actually be present on the beach, so a machine is brought in to construct one, demonstrating the effort required to achieve a ‘natural’ condition.” (Jones. p. 272).

In my previous post, I gave an explanation of the creep of negativism that accompanies “critique” as a genre. I then described two of the things I love the most in the world, explaining them thus, “…today I set aside the negative side of critique and focus on the other side of qualitative study: positivity. Here is an examination of some things that I love. This love is not necessarily untempered or unbounded, but it is certainly without irony.”

Bicycles:
“Get a bicycle. You will not regret it. If you live.” -Mark Twain

Bicycles merit inclusion to this list of Things a Critic Actually Likes for many reasons.
Often overshadowed by the automobile, the bicycle was as revolutionary to town planning when introduced as the auto was. The bicycle has long been overshadowed by the automobile, but were the car a superior technology, the bicycle would have been a 19th century technological oddity, seen only in museums and dusty midwestern barns. The bicycle has lasted because of its beautiful simplicity, its fitness to purpose, and the sheer enjoyability of riding. The bicycle transforms transportation into a healthful activity. That can’t be said for any motorized transport.

The maintenance and repair of a bicycle requires few or no specialized tools, makes the infrastructure necessary for their repair both diffused and portable, and the cost of maintenance very low. They are a low technology and high performance tool. If you analyze the bicycle purely upon its “fitness” as a solution to the problems of transit and repair – not even accounting for the reduced environmental impact – it scores very highly – much higher than modern automobiles.

As a machine typology, it has a literally timeless design. The basic two symmetrically wheeled, body composed of two triangles, handlebars, and a chain drive look and function have been with the bicycle since the introduction of the “safety cycle” in the late 1880’s. Throug a simple and delimited dialogue between its elements and the human body, there is no improvement that can be made to the overall typology without making a completely different machine. But within the details of construction and operation, there is almost infinite flexibility for customization and reconfiguration. It can be customized for personalization (custom colors, logos, saddles), powertrain efficiency (gears, weight reduction), comfort (fenders, geometry, saddle and handlebar types), safety (brakes), etc.
The small number of elements and their reliative simplicity means that each element has a high individual functional and aesthetic significance – and this adds up to high symbolic meaning. Thus, each can become an expression of the rider’s values through its enaction of those values.

I dwell on the straightforward and easily decoded way that each element displays and enacts the rider’s value systems for two reasons. First, because even owning and riding of a bicycle is an expression of a certain set of personal values; and secondly, because the cost of entry to the bike buying legions is so low, it allows an expression of values vis-a-vis the mere mechanical extension of a person’s capabilities and psyche. In other words, it is a rare culture constructed by inclusion, rather than exclusion.

Another key element is the rider’s reading of the city: bicycle navigation requires both reading of the map for things like physical distances, and decoding of the map for territorial clues – the grade of hills, etc – based on what the marks on the page mean. The terrain becomes re-engaged, the city becomes a series of obstacles and paths of choice. The rider’s relationship to the map and terrain – and to the whole city – becomes both functional and ludic.

Bicycles also enact political values. One of my primary motivations in riding is to lessen my dependence on fossil fuels. The vulnerable status of the bicyclist on the streets of the city also mean that by riding at all, one is taking a stance on who has a right to use the city, refusing the 20th century narrative of city planning based solely around automotive transit, and retaking the streets – one lane at a time – for non-motorized transit.

I am not even going to touch the rich history and current culture of bicycling, from dandies on penny farthings to the latest EPO doped carbon-fiber-everything riding Tour de France competitors. I’m not going anywhere near the rolling works of art that are Japanese track bikes, or the tank-built, comfortable workhorses that are Dutch bikes. Or the Belgian national identity and its ties to road racing, or the modern bicycle cultures that have sprung up in pretty much every city in the world, so wide in their scope that they defy classification as “subcultures.” I haven’t even touched a comparison of any specific piece of hardware, or made paean to specific construction methods or how knowing that the maintenance of one’s transportation is within your abilities leads to incredible self-confidence.

I haven’t touched any of this, and I don’t have to. Because mechanically, socio-culturally, economically, urbanistically, and politically bicycles open such a wide field for anyone to make their own, bring into their own world view and forge a culture pedal stroke after pedal stroke, all while enjoying themselves so thoroughly that the future rider can – and will – discover all of these things for themselves. And for that, this critic loves bicycles, how they work on all these levels, and what they represent.

Next Up: Things A Critic Actually Likes – Part 3: The BBC, and Early Modernist and Constructivist Architecture.

[Originally posted here, at The Satellite Show]

What was once a pinprick of a single private retail space masquerading as a “public” venue, the Staples Center, is metastasizing into a fortified island in Downtown LA.

We shouldn’t be surprised at this. The city of Los Angeles has long been defined by its powerlessness against individual interests. It is that powerlessness that allowed the rise of the Red Car trams, a privately-owned infrastructure used by the “public.” While every other major city in America was funding its own infrastructural networks in the public good or pitting individual investors against each other, driving innovation through competition for the contracts for these infrastructures; LA was too weak to do anything but allow Huntington to roll out his rails (and the suburbs he built and they served) from San Bernadino to the sea. This left the LA metropolitan area with the form and arrangement it still cannot outgrow to this day. It is that powerlessness that failed to prevent the Huntington estate from acting in its own best interest forty to fifty years later and letting the Red Car system wither as each successive line grew too unprofitable. Had the city invested in the infrastructure the first place, and run the system for a profit, or at least solvency, it could have afforded to keep it to this day, and Los Angeles could have avoided its now legendary hellish traffic gridlock.

The timely issue in question is the proposals new NFL football stadia. AEG’s proposal for a downtown stadium represents some of the the worst aspects of what has brought Los Angeles to the state its in today.  There are other better options for the future, and those will be addressed as well.

Wanting for major developments, but without the clout to realize plans of this scope itself, the city is continuing its tradition of flimsy opposition to individual interests. But are they giving a private interest carte blanche to tear down a piece of publicly owned infrastructure – the west hall of the Convention Center – and build a private profit-generating machine? This isn’t an argument for the existing West Hall, nor is a defense thereof. But this is a call to task of the conventional logic of the LA city “planners” willing to stand idly by while the citizens get an at-best-break-even deal and subsidize AEG’s corporate profits…. We’ll return downtown, but we have to go to suburbia to find the worst “Los Angeles” stadium proposal.

Majestic Properties’ 250 acre City of Industry proposal would follow the traditional model, even if that model is on steroids in this case. It is a suburban lawnscape containing a tiered stadium, a surrounding “entertainment complex,” and sea of surface parking nearby. Public transit options will next to nil. All of the renderings show massive areas of grass – which is simply not suitable ground cover in Southern California. The page of their site that describes how “green,” or “environmentally friendly” their proposal is is typical irresponsible salespersonship. The LEED logo is used, but only to state what LEED is. An arrow then points from this explanation to a quote from and picture of the developer. This is to equate their proposal with LEED. But if one bothers to read the quote, it simply states that they have completed two different Environmental Impact Reports. Which any project of this size would. The page simply states that there will be “mass transit options on site,” without any further information. There is one rendering that actually shows the parking in the distance, and it’s the large, large amount you would expect of a 72,000 seat stadium. I’m sure it will be laughed out of its LEED hearing unless the parking is considered a “separate facility.” Woooo hoooo! How “green.”

So, with existing public transit links, 1/5th the footprint, and only grass on the field, let’s entertain the possibility that AEG’s proposal for a downtown stadium complex is a better idea than the City of Industry proposal. AEG’s proposal replaces the existing West Hall of the Convention Center, and the new facility is planned to actually upgrade the amount of convention space. In objective terms, this isn’t that bad. The issue is twofold: the further fortification of a citadel of private capitalization disguised as public space, and the short-sightedness of the proposals.

The City of Los Angeles owns and operates the Convention Center. LA Live and the Staples Center are already listed as “in partnership” with the city on the Convention Center already, I assume this means the owner of the LA Live and Staples, Anschutz Entertainment Group. AEG is spending $1 billion on their stadium proposal, and getting the city to spend $300 million on renovations to the Convention Center. Is AEG buying this land from the city? What kind of deal are they getting? I hardly believe that AEG would build this thing privately and hand over operation of their facility back to the city. Does this mean getting the site at a sweetheart price from the city, tearing down previously-city owned infrastructure, replacing it with a private facility, and renting it back to the city at whatever rate they choose? I can’t find any evidence to support nor refute this, but I doubt AEG is doing anyone any favors, so I assume the city are the ones bending over backwards… Otherwise, AEG could just say they’re taking their football (stadium) and going somewhere else.

While most of the the renderings are quite nice, none of the AEG stadium proposals are worth discussing architecturally. They are unimaginative and uninspiring. Their stance on urbanity is regressive at best. This facility could be a magnet of future development and capital investment, but instead it’s thrown up to complete a wagon-circle formation, bayonets out to the city at large, with AEG’s other properties, LA Live and the Staples Center. Facilities like these could be used as a network to create zones between enriched by their proximity to multiple entertainment venues. Let’s look at a proposal put forth many years ago by a classmate and friend of mine, Daveed Kapoor, now director of Utopiad.org.

Daveed’s proposal (.pdf here), which dates from 2002-2003, uses the former Transamerica Center (now AT&T Center) as the eastern terminus for the stadium. This dialog creates a previously unseen typology of stadium and skyscraper. It imagines the city not as a discrete series of individual buildings as capital archipelagos, emanating their power and influence outward in competing spheres; but as a landscape, creating friction in the interaction of various manifestations and stages for capital. In other words, the proximity isn’t just smart capitalism, but a boxing match between the means of capital generation. Standing tall in one corner, against an uncertain future, we have Insurance. And in the other corner, exploding like the flash of a running back through the a-gap, we have Spectacle. The instantaneous thrill of sport is contrasted with the slow and methodical accumulation of predicting the future. (…and now that the tower is AT&T’s landmark, rather than Transamerica’s, the potential for highlighting AT&T’s technological prowess to not only the spectators, or on the LA skyline, but to the watching world is embodied.) This dialog is both poignant and compelling.

There are many exciting things about Daveed’s proposal, but it is germane here because, for those unfamiliar with Los Angeles geography, the four blocks that this birds-nest of a building would touch down upon are today mostly covered by privately owned surface-level parking for … tah-dah! The Staples’ Center, Convention Center, and LA Live. Daveed’s vision, in addition to being highly polemical and unique, was also visionary of the possibilities for the neighborhood. The AEG proposed location is between the existing facilities of the Staples’ Center, the South Hall of the Convention Center, LA Live, and the 110 Freeway. It bottles up a large large amount of “urban potential” – construction, pedestrian activity, economic activity, and spectator’s time – in an area already hemmed in on all sides – and easily “defensible.” Their proposal does the city no favors, as it only intensifies pedestrian activity to other AEG owned and managed facilities. What if they shared their profit-generation machine with the city at large?

Building a stadium adjacent to the Transamerica Center would create a zone between the existing complex and the new addition that would become a tapestry of competitive (smaller) entertainment uses and economic growth. Surface level parking might even cease being the most profitable use of the land, and a new densification could occur. Proximity to more major streets into downtown also widens the range of public transit options that are near the area. And very importantly, a new eastern node of activity reaches the potential for private reinvestment in the vicinity to a much wider area than the urbanistically stingy AEG proposal.

This area is a development zone, known by the city as the the “Figueroa Corridor.” That designation runs basically all the way from the south edge of Bunker Hill (eg: where most of the skyscrapers are) to Exposition Park 30 blocks south, and contains the entire area in question. Where for decades, literally all of the notable institutions along the “Figueroa Corridor” were to the West of the street, the growth of USC and the spread of its facilities to the East of Figueroa have rendered this an actual corridor, and provided a southern anchor for successful densification. The placement of a new NFL stadium to the east of Figueroa would be in the city’s best interests as an essential engine of development to extend this double-loading of the corridor back to the north, connecting it back with downtown and creating the kind of exciting “landscape” that Daveed’s proposal advocates. Hiding the NFL stadium where only AEG sees benefit would be an abdication of the public welfare and constitutes a tactical move of “chess board urbanism” that allows only AEG to benefit.

Served by the soon-to-open Exposition Line, and along with all of the phenomenal institutions in Exposition Park, USC’s straddling of Figueroa including the state-of-the-art sports facility the Galen Center, the new private developments along Figueroa, St. Vincent’s and St. John’s Cathedrals, and the entire South Park Entertainment complex in question, an NFL stadium along the lines of Daveed’s proposal would be the major needed catalyst to form a new Miracle Mile along Figueroa. This would be an engine of economic growth and a beacon of world class status that says that Downtown Los Angeles has finally delivered on the promise so many see there.

The worst part of the AEG proposal is that their type of pseudo-public space guarantees no rights of assembly or voicing opinion. This is a de facto erasure of these laws, as the public forum is basically being given to private interests just because they have the funds the city lacks to develop. The city of Los Angeles may be unable or unwilling to stop the large private interests like AEG from building huge landmarks of capital generation in lieu of proper civic spaces, but that doesn’t mean that they have to be ridden roughshod over by these companies. They could convince these developers that an unconventional plan is actually in their better private interests – which it is – and in better public interest – than the usual mediocre ideas.

Just as even AEG’s deeply flawed and self serving downtown proposal is worlds better than the City of Industry proposal, Daveed’s seven year old proposal is worlds better than AEG’s. This is a call to arms to be brave and defy convention for once. Even if we can’t democratize the space of Downtown, we can build a transcendent entertainment district in Downtown LA truly worthy of worldwide acclaim.

Two sided business card.

Front

Rear

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