It seems lately that the center for exuberant urban experiment in Los Angeles is the parking lot.
At SCI-Arc’s lot sits the skeleton of P-A-T-T-E-R-N-S’ multi-story, shape-defying League of Shadows installation, the school’s solar decathlon entry, on rails so it can transform itself, and Oyler Wu’s billowing Storm Cloud installation made for graduation.
At the MOCA Contemporary’s parking lot I recently visited a thought-provoking exhibition called On The Road, with the work of several young firms presented inside U-Haul trucks.
At the Natural History Museum an amazing new garden—where museum exhibits and experiments are now on display outside—was made possible by removing a surface parking lot and building a parking structure on the corner of the site.
And at Cal Poly Pomona I visited an architecture studio in a parking lot where students created mind-warping designs for bicycle racks.
And why shouldn’t the parking lot be the place to be? As architectural experimenters become somewhat tired of the saturated virtual world, they are seeking to branch out… gasp… into the physical one. And it seems that our urban realm has become so overdeveloped that there are less and less spaces to do this.
Of course parking lots are not ideal places for such work. In SCI-Arc’s case, all the work has angered students and staff by taking up parking spaces. At many of these locations the heat island effect can be overwhelming; and of course there’s always the risk of getting run over. Maybe what we really need is real public cultural space? Not just leftover infrastructure.
As our urban fabric moves into the 21st century, we need to rethink our infrastructure in serious, holistic ways. While we’re stuck resorting to parking lot cultural space there’s so much wasted infrastructure that could be transformed into something better.
Outside of turning parking lots into parks, why can’t the concrete-lined LA River become a place to show off art? How about the subway? Couldn’t that be a place for artists and architects to show off their stuff in a much more profound way than it usually is? Have you ever seen the amazing subway stations in Stockholm? You should take a look. And why do the spaces under freeways need to be vacant concrete zones? In Mexico City, for instance, they’re the spaces for parks. Smart infrastructure planning goes a long way. Then of course there’s the most famous example: re-using an abandoned train line to become the High Line in New York.
Maybe if architects began to think more seriously beyond the building they could lead the way into rethinking our country’s infrastructure. It may take teaming up with planners, engineers, or landscape architects, as Diller Scofidio + Renfro did with Field Operations on the High Line. Maybe if this became more common we wouldn’t have to resort to parking lots as a means of public display.