An architectural Banksy lurks behind the well-tailored facade of Marmol Radziner.
While the architecture and design-build practice is best known for its modern and high-end contemporary designs—they recently received two preservation awards one from the California Preservation Design Awards for the rehab of Richard Neutra’s 1955 Kronish House and the Pioneer in Modern Restoration & New Design Award from the Palm Springs Modern Committee—the firm recently revealed that it has a radical soul.
In the late 1990s the firm created a series of what we would now call tactical urbanism interventions—acts of guerrilla architecture that drew attention to issues around Los Angeles. Ron Radziner spoke earlier this fall at the AIA San Francisco’s Architecture and the City Festival about the works he called Heavy Trash, thus linking the practice to previously anonymous installations. The title of the project came from the possible violation they’d be tagged with if caught: littering. As if the artifacts of their urban actions were like old furniture or construction debris left on the curb.
Performed over a series of years, the interventions took different forms. A bright orange stair and viewing platform to peep over hedges and gates was spotted around town, showing up in Los Feliz, Brentwood, and Park La Brea to draw attention to fortressed spaces in the city. One of the earliest projects was a metal staircase in West Los Angeles. It provided access to a public park that had been cordoned off with a tall metal fence in order to keep out the homeless.
What’s interesting about the installation is not only did it constitute a kind of protest to NIMBY attitudes in the neighborhood, but also the design reflected the material investigations going on in the office. The step detail—metal C-sections welded to a steel tube—is not so dissimilar to a staircase in a Beverly Hills residence.
Asked about what could be seen as a cognitive dissidence between high-end homes and street art, Radziner bridged the gap by stressing the firm’s hands-on approach across the spectrum. “The projects came out of our ability to make things so easily,” he recalled recently. The Heavy Trash actions brought together the firm’s designers and fabricators in the workshop, who volunteered their time to produce the pieces. When it came time to install, the teams would don reflective vests and put out orange cones to make things look “official.”
Perhaps the most prescient of their civic additions was a series of billboards erected in Santa Monica announcing a fictitious “Aqua Line” metro link from downtown Los Angeles to the beach. Radziner joked that the action made a difference on reality, “If you look at the Expo Line graphics, they are aqua.”