On Saturday, before we headed over to the Standard for my star turn on the media panel, Sam Lubell and I first swung by the Flat, home to celebrated LA restaurant Blue Velvet. We were there for an event hosted by colleague and co-panelist Alyssa Walker, part of her de Lab (design east of LaBrea) series. SCI-arc professor and hunk Alexis Rochas had installed easily the coolest green roof we've ever seen on top of the condo, and two dozen or so people had shown up for a tour, followed by a most-interesting lunch. The Flat, you see, is an old Holiday Inn motor hotel on the border of Westlake and downtown that was converted three years ago into luxury apartments. (I guess this is what passes for historic preservation in LA.) Well, shortly after the residences and attached restaurant opened, the folks at Blue Velvet asked Rochas to design a green roof for them, not only to retain stormwater runoff but also to supply the most local produce imaginable, at least for Downtown LA. With a group of his students, Rochas devised SynthE. The team took about 950 laser-cut panels, no two alike, bent them into the desired forms, welded them all together, and created what looks like Logan's Run if it were set on the Inner Mongolian steppe. Rochas explained that the form serves two purposes, directing the flow of water into the planted bands as well as subtly outlining the mechanical systems hidden beneath. Because the building was built before the 1967 code took effect, the weight tolerances of the roof were incredibly thin, and only 20 pounds per square foot could be added. This necessitated not only the use of the lightweight aluminum, but also a special soil, which only weighs, with water, around 15 pounds per square foot. Still, Rochas said the system absorbed 80 percent to 90 percent of all precipitation and had no trouble sustaining the plants that are product, or rather produce, of the roof. "As an architect, you design the structure and its shape, but also this time, its program and its use," Rochas explained. "The architect becomes a gardener, the gardener a planner." Indeed, the entire roof, but for a patch of grass intended for lounging by residents, is planted with various fruits, vegetables, and other edibles for Blue Velvet. Working 90-day crop cycles, the team grows all manner of tomatoes, herbs, greens, berries, wheat grass, even some monster cabbage. "It's a true, organic experiment, seeing what will grow and succeed," Rochas said. "And you can't get more local." Plus, it makes a decent slide.
Posts tagged with "Postopolis":
What better way to see LA than the way she was intended, by car. My colleague Sam Lubell was kind enough to chauffeur me around the city from time to time--when he wasn't, the buses were surprisingly nice, far more so than in New York, I must admit. While Sam drove, I did my best to take a few pictures. UPDATE: Here are some more pictures from the bus ride to Union Station, where I caught another bus to the airport. Also, I was wrong about the above building. That's a parking garage. See the comment section below for more.
Unlike Thursday night, when inclement weather forced us inside, the party raged--or, well, spoke, Tweeted, and blogged--on the roof of the Standard on Friday night, which is as it should be at the start of the weekend, even if the party was almost over. When I arrived on the roof, the sun had just about set and Matthew Coolidge, the director of the super cool LA-based Center for Land Use Interpretation, was giving a presentation on his group's work, which includes tours and exhibitions of the crazier places in the built environment. He touched briefly on a recent project about parking and another about LA waste treatment before launching into the real show, and CLUI's current work, on the "oilscape," particularly in and around Houston. "There's nothing like it anywhere," Coolidge, who's seen his fair share of the planet, said. At the behest of the University of Houston, CLUI was asked to put together an exhibition on this unique infrastructure that has both built up and slowly destroyed Houston and the nation at large. Coolidge presented pictures of such alien terrains as the massive Strategic Petroleum reserve, the polluted and ignored Houston bayou, and long-abandoned oil fields. (My colleague Aaron Seward wrote about the exhibit a few months back.) The capper was a 15-minute video the group shot of the Houston Ship Channel, a 50-mile stretch of waterway that is nothing but oil refineries and related facilities, a place with the greatest refining capacity in the world. Shot from an altitude of 1,000 feet by a helicopter traveling 70 miles per hour and equipped with an HD camera, the surreal landscape put forward--it nearly outstrips the rest of the world in refining capacity combined--is almost hard to describe, from carbon black pits to plots of storage bins as far as the eye can see. (Oh, were it only on YouTube to share with you all.) Seen from this angle, CLUI's approach becomes clear. As Coolidge puts it, "Our sort of institutional method is we look at the ground and say, 'Oh, what's that?'" If only we truly knew the answer. Appropriately enough, the next speaker explored what happens when the oil stops flowing, so to speak. LA Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne had recently returned from Dubai, and he had a startling report to provide, describing what recently transpired in the small emirate as "Ponzi scheme urbanism, or Bernie Madoff planning." As is well known, Dubai sprang up after its oil ran out and the state tried to diversify into finance and media fields. Hawthorne, however, counters that all the place really did was "serve as a vessel for liquidity." What's left, now, is a bunch of half-built vessels--hundreds of them, really, almost all abandoned despite the extant cranes, creating an eerily silent landscape stuck between construction and collapse. Hawthorne showed dozens of projects, including the ubiquitous (it looms in back of almost every shot) Burj Dubai, the "cruise ship-modern" Burj Al-Arab, and, his favorite, the Mall of the Emirates, which came to renown for its indoor skiing. "It's a full-on black diamond experience, but I find the outside far more interesting than the inside," he said. Hawthorne posited this as a perfect example of Dubai's penchant for copying wholesale: "What really struck me was this is a city that really learned from Las Vegas and themed environments. But unlike where no one would go to Las Vegas and believe they were in Paris--with its 2/3s buildings and replicas--in Dubai, they blow everything up to full scale, like, say, the Eiffel Tower, but then they blow it up again, and build the entire neighborhood, so you really begin to think you're there." If Dubai has been struggling of late, Fallen Fruit was only looking up. Begun nearly a decade ago by three artists, two of whom were on hand to present the group's work, it started as a one-off project to map fruit bearing trees in various LA neighborhoods--an attempt to help feed the hungry--that also attempted to redefine cartography and the landscape. But the more involved they got in mapping, the more new dimensions the project began to take on. It moved online, where people were encouraged to create and submit their own food maps. It moved to the streets, where foraging trips were set up, one of which was posted on YouTube without Fallen Fruit's knowledge. When the videos were flooded with hateful comments, it actually became another piece of art, where the video was shown with the offensive comments overlaid on the video. Examples: "Dipshit liberals./Always looking for a handout./That fruit will sustain more rats/than you left-wing nut jobs." "Are black people allowed at these events?" "Are straight people allowed at these events." "It's clear the people seeing this didn't want to be seeing it," Austin Young said of Fallen Fruit's work, which is why they have soldiered on, despite numerous court challenges. The group emphasizes only picking fruit on public property or overhanging it, and some of their latest efforts include encouraging people to plant on their property line, which has been a major success. Legally speaking, the practice is neither illegal nor legal--there are no laws governing at all, Young said. As for his partner, Matias Viengener, "When we started this all those years ago, I never imagined I'd still be picking fruit." Their latest project is Neighborhood Infusion, which take the particular fruit of a given neighborhood and infuse it with vodka so as to better understand the area's native character. They have tastings scheduled around LA for the coming weeks. Like Fallen Fruit, Ken Ehrlich is an artist and writer trying to connect LA's nascent arts community with the wider city. One major project was a competition for a proposed park near City Hall. After reading an article in the Times about a land swap with Caltrans--the state exchanged the then-HQ for a city-owned parking lot across the street, upon which a Morphosis-designed building would later rise--that would make way for a new city park, Ehrilich and some friends held a competition for the park, setting no parameters and getting proposals to match. The team presented the designs to the City Council with some success, only to later be both shocked and chagrined to hear that the new Police headquarters was being built on the plot instead of a park. "For whatever reason, we actually never saw this coming," Ehrlich joked. Another more successful project was based around the informal trash economies of Curitiba, Brazil. Ehrlich and friends built their own recycling cart from scavenged materials, which was then used to scavenge more materials that would later comprise an exhibition on the culture the objects represent, though not necessarily in their intended form. Two down, one to go.
After Mike the Poet finished his set Thursday night, I found Benjamin Ball of Ball-Nogues Studio still in the crowd. He had been the second to last presenter, mostly talking about the firm's work, and he was now taking compliments from admirers and shooting the breeze with friends. I, never not working, asked about the teepee in Woodstock he'd mentioned, though Ben was more interested in chatting me up about the paper, Venice, and my bowtie. Soon enough, a group of us found ourselves in the lobby, but the drinks being overpriced, we hit the street. The five of us--Ben, three of his artist friends, and myself--deliberated on one of LA's countless quiet street corners. The establishment across the street, Library Bar, was deemed "too USC" and abandoned. Where to go? A loud, hipstery joint, Bar 107 was settled on some blocks away. This being LA, everyone split up, with two headed for a car, another to her bike, and Ben and I on foot. As we make our we across town, I begin to interrogate Ben, especially about his adopted home, a place, during my brief stay, I find to be incredibly fascinating. Not very far into the conversation, we pass through Pershing Square, a park in downtown LA redesigned in the '90s by Ricardo Legorreta and Laurie Olin, a place Ben is not exactly fond of. "God," he says, as we cross the street and enter the park, "they need to bulldoze this shit. It's a perfect example of how stale thinking was in the 90s." Still, this hasn't hindered the development of downtown, a movement Ben is very much a strong believer in, having moved his and partner Gaston Nogues' studio into a loft building in the area. "The rent is still dirt cheap," Ben said. "You can get a place for less than a dollar a square foot, which the developers are happy to do because they know you'll pave the wave." When I pointed out that the streets were dead and devoid of many necessary amenities, he conceded that this was true, but as with all gentrification, bound to change--if you build it, they will come. When we arrived at 107 it was seemingly swamped with teenagers, so we opted for the adjacent Pete's Bar & Cafe, a neighborhood institution that seems like it's been there forever, with its lush interior and old black-and-white prints of the downtown of yesteryear, even if it opened less than a decade ago. I stepped out to find an ATM, something that took 20 minutes of wandering around desolate downtown blocks--like I was saying about those amenities--that, despite the postindustrial charms of the area, had me longing for a New York City bodega. By the time I returned, we had been joined by Ben's artist friend Beverly, who had arrived on her bike. Like Ball-Nogues, Beverly uses the computer to create much of her art, and the two got into a long conversation about the various design and rendering programs out there. As we shared Pete's delicious cheese fries, I sat back to revel in the excitement these two shared. My eyes glazed over due to jet lag, but it was mistaken for disinterest. Trying to bring the discussion back around, Ben expressed his frustration that all the SCI-Arc kids who only conceive of computers as a means to an end--usually some overly slick building--and not just another tool to realize a clever building. "It's why, in the end, we try and build everything by hand, to do all the fabrication ourselves," Ben insisted. "Architecture always has been, and always will be, a craft." Salut!
Though I already gave Mike the Poet pride of place, he was far from the only show in town Thursday night at Postopolis! LA. When I walked into the conference room--things had moved inside because the roof bar had been buffeted by a freezing wind all day--I saw a cluttered screenshot from World of Warcraft, something that had my inner-geek (aren't we all?) terribly excited. Indeed, Ben Cerveny of Stamen Design was talking about, among other things, deriving real life planning and tracking systems derived from more mediated sources, like MMOs. The talk was rather technical, and combined with my tardiness, I was kind of lost. Still, the potential is intriguing, especially after poking around Stamen's website. One of the examples Cerveny gave was the potential of cellphone apps. He proposed a program that would project one's preferences onto a wall, usually calibrated to some set of sounds and colors. When one person comes into proximity with another, it would create a cacophony or a melody between the two, depending on their settings. Another was a replacement for the personal library. As books decline in the digital age, Cerveny proposed a projection, ironically or not, the projection of one's digital self. "We're losing out real digital culture," he said. "Book-lined walls are being replaced with blank white ones, maybe a few modernist baubles." Whereas Cerveny and Stamen's work is about as technical as it gets, Steve Roden's is almost ambivalent to its very existence. A trained painter, Roden is seemingly obsessed with transforming one mode of experience, one sense, into another. His first, and probably best, example is how he found a piece of sheet music in his grandmother's attic. "I've never been able to let go of it," Roden said. But Roden does not play the music. Instead, he meticulously broke it down into its component scale--E-G-B-D-F, etc.--and then came up with a numbering scheme. That then gets plugged into a paint-by-numbers system that developed dozens of paintings. "I don't know how to read or play music," Roden emphasized. And yet, another major project was his installation for Alvaro Siza's Serpentine Pavilion in 2005. Roden, with the help of lay assistants working at the pavilion, mapped the structure in a rainbow of five colors, then transformed it into a painting, which, when he looked at it, resembled the scheme on a Tyco xylophone. He decided to turn the painting into a "player piano strip" that led to a recording played over an hour in the space. He played a minute of the composition. It had a haunting beauty for someone who seemed as though he could care less about what he was doing. Perhaps that was the genius of his art. Someone who cared very much, perhaps too much, was Gary Dauphin. An LA resident, Dauphin apologized for giving a presentation largely about New York, namely his home-hood of Fort Greene. As a gentrifier myself, Gary's talk about the cultural vampirism of gentrification really hit home. Dauphin argued that gentrifiers, specifically in Fort Greene but also beyond, are not always (white) outsiders, but generally ethnic (black/Latino) educated returners who make way for their new friends and thus feel guilty for it. The same goes for vampires, at least in the popular culture of Buffy/True Blood/Twilight/Blacula. More often than not, the story is about the "good vampire," the vampire who is trying to get beyond his vampirism, drinking synthetic blood or animal blood and not that of humans. When I asked if there was a solution to either problem, the answer was no. Finally, Benjamin Ball of Ball-Nogues Studio. I shared a beer with Ben afterwards--more on that later--but his talk was mostly on what he's done and everyone knows--Maximillian's Schell, P.S. 1, Venice--and what's yet to come--a teepee in Woodstock, a bird installation at Johns Hopkins Children's Hospital.
Thursday night was my first at Postopolis! LA, and while I saw lots of cool presentations from cool people, I couldn't help but start with the most unexpected, unusual, and exciting. Mike the Poet is a tour guide by day and a spoken word poet/rapper/genius by night. (Here's a nice profile from the LAT.) And while it's true that discussions about gentrifying vampires and planning for World of Warcraft is cool, can you really top a dude rapping about urban density? Or SOM!
Postopolis! LA is onto the second day of its second year now, and from the looks of the streaming video, things are off to a great start. But the fun doesn't really start until tomorrow. Why? Because that's when we arrive! I've been invited to join the media panel Sunday, along with my beautiful Cali colleague Alissa Walker. Not exactly sure what we'll be talking about--*gulp*--but it's something along the lines of print-web integration/the future of media/doomsday/etc. After all, I was invited on Twitter. Speaking of which, if you want to follow along, you can certainly do it there--I'll do my damnest to figure out how to Tweet from my phone, which has so far been a resounding failure. And be sure to tune back in here for daily, if not hourly, dispatches; the full schedule is here. And you better be on-hand Saturday, when the panel airs at 6:20 p.m. PACIFIC time. (That's 9:20 p.m. for all you New Yorkers, because we all know you've all got nothing better to do on a Saturday night.) Don't have too much fun without me, and I'll try to do the same.
You remember Postopolis! don't you? The reality show-worthy architecture blog-a-thon that sequestered five bloggers for five days at the Storefront for Art and Architecture two years ago? Well, hold onto your laptops, kids, because Postopolis! is back and promises to be bigger, better, bloggier and more exclamation-pointy than ever before...because it's coming to LA, baby! Geoff Manaugh announced the lineup today and it's a doozy; six bloggers hailing from Sydney to San Fran (and including Manaugh himself, who we know is still an Angeleno at heart): —David Basulto from Plataforma Arquitectura and ArchDaily (Santiago, Chile) —Jace Clayton from Mudd Up! (New York City, USA) —Régine Debatty from we make money not art (Paris, France) —Bryan Finoki from Subtopia (San Francisco, USA) —Dan Hill from City of Sound (Sydney, Australia) —Geoff Manaugh from BLDGBLOG (San Francisco, USA) Postopolis! will still be sponsored by the Storefront (who had temporary digs here last year) and the lovely folks at ForYourArt as part of the LA Art Weekend. From March 31 to April 4 at a TBD location, the bloggers will post at a feverish, around-the-clock pace. Students from local architecture schools will be hired to monitor feeding tubes, administer 20 oz. Monster energy drinks on the hour and empty their bedpans as needed. In addition to the ancillary interviews, presentations, lectures, panel discussions, and slideshows that we saw last Postopolis!, Manaugh promises: "This time it will be all that plus more art, film, and music, a larger international scope, hopefully several Spanish-language events and lectures, hopefully at least one minor earthquake." We'll try our best to deliver on that last one.