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Eavesdrop: Alissa Walker

Well, October came and went and despite earlier announcements, if our keen Eavesdrop eyesight serves us correctly, the Grand Avenue project in downtown Los Angeles has still not broken ground. Where, oh where to place the blame now? Some say civic bureaucracy, some say steel costs, but we don’t buy either of those excuses since AEG’s L.A. Live seems to be progressing quite nicely just down the street. We do know that the designers are starting to feel the pinch. Our top-level informants tell us that Gehry Partners have put a freeze on hiring, a first in at least the last decade at the firm. And that was before the whole lawsuit from MIT citing “design flaws” in his Stata Center building. Meanwhile, Gehry himself was shilling for Audi’s new Cross Cabriolet Quattro at the L.A. Auto Show. We hear you can pick up some serious cash in those spokesman gigs.

No, those people sleeping in SCI-Arc’s parking lot in early November weren’t students down on their luck, they were actually four artists recruited to inhabit experimental structures built by instructor Stephanie Smith’s design studio. Iana QuesnellAlex NerouliasJelani Haywood, and Aaron Garber-Maikovska occupied the scaffold-like aluminum shelters for ten days, and were challenged to manipulate their dwellings to explore the architecture of temporary living situations. Quesnell, a Tijuana-based artist, spent all ten nights in the downtown parking lot foraging in the SCI-Arc trash for bedding materials, bathing in a bucket shower of her own design, and using discarded sawblades to keep rats from climbing into her living room. Although her past work has included living in her truck and a stint in a tent in Bosnia, Quesnell described the situation as intense. “The first five days were a blast,” she said, “but by the sixth day I was finished.” The structures will remain up until November 30.

World-famous mid-century modern structure. Seminal work by leading architect. Reduced to $495,000. That’s the reality in Desert Hot Springs, where a 1947 John Lautner motel can’t sell to save its life. Sure, the four-unit property, which went on the market after former owner Steve Lowe died suddenly in January, could use some work, but what gives? Tony Merchell, who managed the motel as recently as 2005, and now manages April Greiman and Michael Rotundi’s Miracle Manor nearby, says it’s actually because the neighborhood is just really …unattractive. “This neighborhood is basically no better or worse than other Desert Hot Springs neighborhoods, it’s just kinda ugly,” he said, describing the immediate area as speculative development, infill houses, vacant lots, and trailer parks. He says people who are familiar with the Julius Shulman photos showing the motel surrounded by 160 empty acres are scared away when they come to see the property. But once you get inside, says Merchell—who has slept in all four rooms—none of that matters. “All the windows and views are to the sky. It’s like looking into another world.” 

Alissa Walker