ARCHITECTURE LOBBY QUESTIONS PROFESSION’S PRACTICES AND PAY

To observe the city you must appreciate architecture, how it shapes and misshapes spaces and places for human endeavor, be it working, playing, whatever.

For me, architecture has been both an occupation and preoccupation, as a critic, author, urban designer, developer or simply a homeowner. It continues to absorb me.

Architects are another matter, as I comment this week on public radio 97.5 KBU, radiomalibu.net and select websites everywhere.

They are people, and like all people, good and bad, and many as designers with the skill, gifted or learned, to craft environments.

But I sadly observe architects as a profession is constantly being compromised by the cruel math dominating our society, of greed divided by fear, and megalomania by paranoia.

So, one might ask, in the world of development, populated by bureaucrats, bankers, builders and lawyers, whither architects? What value do they have, and how do they share it, if at all.

Those were the questions raised recently at a “think-in,” at UCLA, sponsored by the Architecture Lobby, a fledgling movement with chapters in select cities, including New York City, Chicago and now L.A.

Based incongruously in the historically preeminent white, male, elitist Yale School of Architecture, the lobby can be described as a clique of agent provocateurs.
The Lobby defines itself as an activist organization “trying to undo practical and conceptual constructs that both limit the relevance and financial rewards of the architectural profession.”

We’re talking here of an industry with a history of abusing rank-and-file architects, specifically by low pay, overtime demands and withholding creative credit.

The stories of gross inequities and unsavory behavior are legend, particularly by star architects and big firms, as if they had a license to be arrogant.

Led by Peggy Deamer of Yale, and joined by a panel of locals, the talk-in at UCLA focused on a number of controversial issues sure to raise the hackles of design firms, and, in general, the building industry.

These included what labor laws might apply to architecture, what could be new models for fees, and generally how living conditions for all can be improved.

Raised was the possibility of forming a guild or a union, however slim, given the romanticized notion that architecture is not a career but a calling, which is often used as a guise by management to shortchange staff.

Not much hope was expressed that the A.I.A. oligarchy might enter the fray on behalf architecture’s worker bees, beholden as it is to the profession’s principals.

There also was a panel on the media, and how it might overcome its obsession with star architects, and be more resistant to being compromised by the star firms. Noted was the increased blurring of the line between critic and publicist.

It was suggested if they would instead focus on design issues that affect people they perhaps would generate more public interest in architecture.  Not present was the mainstream media.

Indeed, only about two dozen people attended the Talk-In at UCLA, which not incidentally is offering, as do other designs schools, a full slate of lectures featuring wannabe star architects talking about their projects.

Students might find those self-aggrandizing offerings engaging, but unquestionably the issues raised by the Architecture Lobby are more challenging and perhaps prescient.  The profession should take note.

10.22.16

WEST MALIBU SHORT CHANGED AGAIN BY A SLEEPY CITY HALL

The new curbing is finished at PCH and Trancas Canyon Road but without a right turn lane as requested by residents and promised by the developer and City Hall.

Unless you live in West Malibu, as I comment on 97.5 KBU, radiomalibu.net and select websites, this is really not much of a concern, such as traffic on the east PCH.

But I did think it worth noting as an indication of the fog enveloping City Hall, and how such items annoy.

Indeed, my dogs become noticeably agitated if I must wait a minute plus before making a right turn at the light at the corner, on the way to Trancas Canyon Dog Park for their daily social engagements,

However, as some residents revealed, the failure to install the turning lane is just one of a number of oversights by City Hall concerning the development of Trancas Canyon Market.

And this was a development for which there were numerous  public hearings where residents raised a host of concerns, which both the Planning Commission and City Council promised to address. And so did the developer.

Apparently holding public meetings to review a major project is one thing in Malibu, while getting the actual plans for the project stamped and approved at City Hall, another.

To be sure, the shopping center is popular, if not a little pricey; the Starbucks and the Vintage market attracting both locals and tourists, as do the mom and pop’s, such as Natii.

And the outdoor concerts have been a big success. Parking is also adequate, though access and particularly egress onto PCH difficult.

Nevertheless, according to residents who have monitored the planning, the 17 acre project is not as promised, and not as environmentally and people friendly as it could be. No words were minced.

Observed a former city planning commissioner in an e-mail that was circulated publicly, the project was bungled from the get-go, adding, perhaps “deliberately? “

She contended the net acreage was not calculated correctly, of course in favor of the developer.

In addition, the dedicated equestrian trail recorded on the parcel map was not installed, although it was to be a condition of approval. Further, the east parking lot was allowed to intrude into the riparian habitat area of the creek, and added that no historical survey was done although demanded.

Also noted was that a pedestrian path to the beach from Morning View Drive was not installed as required.

However, she added that “a strange structure,  with no permits, popped up behind the employee parking lot, blocking the view of residents on Trancas Canyon.”

The residents were further short changed by the developer failing to construct an emergency evacuation route for Malibu West, as had been promised when a parking lot blocked the original route.

She added “with various conditions incomplete or ignored and obvious violations not addressed at all, the city allowed the shopping center to open for business.”

Though issuing a public e-mail, the planning commissioner requested her name not be used, out of fear that the city might retaliate, with flash property inspections or a law suit.

Another resident added another condition of approval ignored was that the power lines supplying the shopping center across PCH were supposed to be “temporary” and buried, and are not. Several others conditions also have not been met.

And I thought City Hall was just napping when it failed to follow through on the turning lane.  It now appears it was fast asleep on many items promised the public, or frankly just duplicitous.

Is its negligence endemic? To be continued.

HIGH TECH, HIGH ART IN A LANDMARK THEATRE

I’m making an exception for a limited engagement high tech, high art performance in a revitalized landmark theatre in Hollywood, as I explain in my weekly arts and entertainment commentary for 97.5 KBU, radiomalibu.net and select websites.

I usually prefer first experiencing the productions, exhibits and assorted offering I comment on, before recommending them, or not.

But since the production labeled Proxima will be at the Ricardo Montalban Theatre, a few steps south of Hollywood and Vine, for just three days, this evening, tomorrow and Sunday, I made an exception.

Prompting me was that the performance promises something distinctly different, which I tend to welcome, for whatever different is and does, it expands my critical context.

The cutting edge sometimes cuts both ways, and evenings can become forgettable, as well as memorable.

Proxima is being promoted as a unique futuristic melding of acrobatic dance in a bombardment of digital projections, composed of colorful, geometric designs.

The performance is by a Tokyo based dance company entitled Enra, a name with roots in the mythical shape shifting and smoke-like Japanese spirit called “enenra.”

And like a shape shifter lurking in a thick cloud, you have to catch a glimpse of it while you can. You may not like it, but you’ll never know if you don’t see it.

In this case, you can check it out, as I did, on You Tube, where its performance for Tokyo’s 2020 Olympic bid went viral. For happenings like this you have to love YouTube. Key word, ENRA. There are several performance pieces that can be chosen.

But seeing Enra live promises something special, particularly for performing in the Montalban. It is an eyeful, the theatre having been designed in the gilded Beaux Arts style by the renowned architect of his time, Myron Hunt.

Built in 1926, it has persevered over the years, and is one of the few remaining mid-sized and fully equipped proscenium theaters in Los Angeles, with excellent sightlines and acoustics No doubt from what I could tell from the You Tube teases, they, and the human form of the dancers, will tested by Proxima.

 

BEYOND MALIBU AND INTO THE FUTURE L.A., NOT!

 

Having focused on parochial planning issues in my recent commentaries for public radio KBU, in print and on various websites,, I thought perhaps a more universal perspective was needed, if only for a break.

With this in mind, and in a gesture of hope over experience, I attended a symposium on the future of Los Angeles.

Through the years I have gone to many, particularly back in the days of print when I was a design critic for the L.A. Times and several other publications.

Perhaps now that I’m an octogenarian, I frankly feel focusing on the future is an indulgence; an excuse not to deal with the present.

Whether labeled symposiums, conferences, or workshops, the gatherings prompt the infamous quip among the free loading media of, “call it anything, but don’t call me late for your lunch.”

The light feedings aside, the gatherings of late usually have turned out to be a parade of self-promotions for the principal speakers and a pageant for their self-serving sponsors.

These include the academic urban institutes justifying their own existence and paying homage to their benefactors, and tenure. And then there are the self-satisfied foundations with their supercilious staff secure in their sinecures.

There is also the assorted independent, non-profit think tanks, some admittedly I occasionally wrote for and whose largess I once enjoyed.

Most are staffed with articulate, earnest wonks, good government types, and indeed engaging. Though a few I must add sadly are simply well groomed, glad-handed grifters.

Whatever, in retrospect it is still mostly a mystery how they exactly affect policy as they purport to do, and improve anybody’s quality of life other than their own.

Nevertheless, I found myself at the recent Los Angeles Times Future Cities Summit, for, quoting the newspaper, “a discussion on urban development, resiliency, architecture and the design of the urban environment.” This is grist for my mill.

There also was the promise of the Times to “convene the world’s foremost thinkers, policymakers, developers, entrepreneurs and industry stars for a conversation on shaping the city of the future.”

My former employer frankly has not been doing well, and I was curious to witness its latest endeavor as an event planner and so-called summit sponsor, and perhaps see some former colleagues.

I did indeed saw a few, and that was pleasurable. But I have to report the Summit was not. It was a pretentious affair, and deserves to be criticized, indeed as if I would do if still writing as an unforgiving, if unloved,  critic for the paper.

The estimated 250 or so curious, half filling that the 500 plus seat Broad auditorium in Santa Monica, regrettably heard very little about the future of Los Angeles, and a lot of what the guests were doing at present. That is when they could get a word in edgewise.

The moderators were Times staffers who arguably might be decent deadline writers, but not necessarily discerning futurists and discussion facilitators. This made the speakers and the audience skittish.

There was a second string FEMA official reviewing preparation for the next disaster: boring. And art curator and gallery operator Paul Schimmel talking about a vibrant downtown arts district. Nothing new here and how lucky he was to be there, not mentioning his ignominious departure from MOCA.

But he did adroitly avoid answering a question about the egregious plans for a new LACMA and how it might negatively affect the city’s future cultural scene, but not its director’s edifice complex.

Particularly discursive was a panel discussion on how L.A.’s housing shortage and homeless problem might be solved, weighed down by a wordy and distracted moderator.

The only nugget came from was Tanya Tull of Partnering for Change, who declared the answer to homelessness, is a house, but stopped there.

Their was no real reaction from the architects on the panels, Michael Maltzan and Brian Lane, who did not seem especially inspired to lend a design perspective. Good architects do not necessarily make for good visionaries.

A cautious architecture critic, Christopher Hawthorne, did not press the issue, other than to comment, as he has in the past, that Los Angeles would have to face up to the challenge of a growing and changing population. As my annoying Green Amazon parrot squawks. having perched for years in a newsroom, “Stop the presses!”

The depth of discussion was like the paper these days: thin.

And so it went, prompting of the audience in this new age of communications to turn their attention from the stage to their I phones, for whatever.

Though if indeed you are interested in the future of cities, I found some excellent informed presentations on a TED playlist. Check it out.

https://www.ted.com/playlists/29/our_future_in_cities?

 

 

NEIGHBOR BOB DYLAN HONORED

A pause in my usual weekly reviews and recommendations on public radio KBU and select websites of cultural endeavors from wherever, to add my voice to the chorus of congratulations for my next-door neighbor for being awarded a Nobel Prize.

Yes, I’m talking about Bob Dylan, who doesn’t live exactly next door, but around the corner a half mile or so away, and I know is at home only occasionally, being on the road and seemingly performing constantly, everywhere.

In the score of years we have lived on Point Dume here in Malibu I’ve only seen him once, in a car, which I happily report was going under the speed limit.

Actually, I met him once, 52 years ago, in 1964, when he was a rising star and recognizable, with that wild, wiry hair, the slouch, and sheepish, if not a sly grin.

He was in a coffee house where else but in Greenwich Village, at the next table being interviewed by the music critic Nat Hentoff, who was a mainstay, in a then defiantly different Village Voice

I was a reporter at the New York Times, but to the exasperation of my editor occasionally wrote books review and critical commentaries for the Voice. I also knew Nat, havin met him several times, at the paper’s infamous parties hosted by its infamous publisher, the writer Norman Mailer.   It was very much a scene back then in a gritty, restive Village, and Dylan was a part of it.

At the time he was coming under a lot of criticism by the Voice and folk song purists for playing an electric accoustical guitar at a recent concert, I believe it was in Forest Hills, where he was actually booed. I was in the crowd that said let the kid do his thing, and cheered him.

And so seeing him, a few steps away, shook his hand, and to annoyance of Nat, said something to the effect that I liked what he was doing, and thought it was time for folk music to move on. I remember he smiled that shy smile, and murmured what I heard as a thanks.

He is the only Nobel prizewinner I ever met.

But not bearing witness to this, the only other Malibu story I eve r heard was from my late neighbor and friend, Al WInnikoff. He claimed to be Dylan’s realtor, and said he used drive him around looking at properties.

Al also fancied himself a singer, songwriter, and guitar player, and said on several times he got to perform for Dylan. Having tolerated Al’s indulgence, I can only shudder to think what Dylan experienced.    10.14.16

 

 

 

 

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WHY THINGS LIKE A RIGHT TURN LANE GO WRONG IN MALIBU

Every time I make a right turn from PCH to Trancas Canyon Road –and that is several times a week-– I am reminded how our city government disappoints.

Whether the powers-that-be are asleep at the wheel when it actually comes to enforcing agreements with private interests, or whether the city staff is just not motivated, whatever, the fact is the city’s persevering residents are not particularly well served.

And that is especially if they also are not well connected or deep pocketed, and live in West Malibu, as I comment in my latest city observed on 97.5 KBU, radiomalibu.net and select websites.

The failure of a right turn lane not being included in the curbing project now being completed at the northeast corner of PCH and Trancas is not a big item. Actually it is piddling in the public infrastructure realm of billion dollar traffic and transportation budgets.

But it is nevertheless a case in point of how local government – that’s the council and staff –just doesn’t seem to be functioning well these dog days of democracy. They fumbled the right turn issue several times, before simply dropping the ball.

Lot of fingers are being pointed in the social media and where West Malibu denizens meet whom might be to blame for this failure: the haughty owner of the market, the conflicted City Council, a remote Cal Trans, or a somnolent city staff.

To be sure, all are in part guilty to some extent. But mostly I blame a compliant city council and staff that always seems ready to tell you why something can’t be done, rather than how to do it, and indeed get it done.

At City Hall hearing after hearing over the years, whenever planning and development affecting West Malibu was discussed, inevitably the need for a right turn lane off of PCH was raised.

It was never, ever an issue. Everyone concerned apparently agreed, the area’s residents, the shopping center developers, the city’s public safety and planning commissions, the city council, and, of course, city staff.

Also giving a nod to the turning lane was various traffic consultants, PCH study groups, and the condescending Cal Trans. The right turn lane was no brainer: facilitate traffic at a busy corner, and make PCH a little safer.

However, when the plans for a new and improved 17 acre Vintage Market shopping center were approved by the City Council several years ago, the turning lane was not made a condition. The city dropped the ball, only to have it handed back several times by a concerned resident, but dropped it again.

Even when the item was brought back before the City Council, and the developer’s lawyer publicly agreed to the condition, the city did not follow through.

The city said it was Caltrans responsibility, Caltrans said it was the developer’s, the developer said it was the city’s, while alternatives have flown back and forth: move the curb, move the traffic signal, move PCH.

But no one wanted to move his or her ass, and so the construction being completed at the corner now does not include a turning lane.

With any gumption, the council and staff in concert could have taken the initiative, talk as they incessantly do about making PCH safer. But instead, they seemingly, blithely, went out to lunch.

And then at tables in the city’s favored eateries , they no doubt are wondering what the electorate seem so angry about, are our jobs in jeopardy, our pensions?

 

10.8.16

 

 

ART ON DISPLAY IN MALIBU CIVIC CENTER

As heralded here last week and reviewed this week  of OCTOBER 8. 2016,  in my arts commentary on KBU and radiomalibu,net, an exhibit featuring the photography of Fred Ward has opened at City Hall with a celebration of his prolific life.

The exhibit lends a welcomed dual use to the muted municipal building at the end of Stuart Ranch Road, organized by the city’s Cultural Arts Commission and the Ward family. He died at his home in Malibu this summer at the age of 81.

On display is an arresting selection of photographs culled from Ward’s career freelancing for the leading newsweeklies and preeminent magazines of a half-century ago, when print ruled the media, before the age of tedious television and the blathering Internet.

It was also a time of a magnanimous media for top tier writers and photographers, as Ward obviously was, a life of front row seats, exotic assignments, living wages, and generous expense accounts, making the exhibit particularly nostalgic for this former correspondent.

The assignments for Time, Life, Newsweek and the National Geographic took Ward everywhere around the world, evidenced by the exhibit’s display of the diversity of places and people he captured in composed and revealing photographs.

His was an art, be it capturing the obscure, such as the photos of a Maasai warrior in Kenya, or a little girl with a wig in Guadeloupe Or the famous, presidents Kennedy and Ford, the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Fidel Castro and the Dalai Lama, among the many.

And then there are also his exquisite photographs of gems, among them, the Hope Diamond, and crown jewels of Iran, hinting at his fascination with these earth treasures that he documented in several books, and led him in later life to be a gem dealer and gemologist. ,

Ward’s life was indeed fascinating, and well documented by tens of thousands of prints, which his son, Chris, culled with obvious love to about a hundred for the exhibit. Happily the display will be revolving, and several hundred other favored print s also will be shown during the exhibit, which runs until mid January.

It certainly will be an excuse for me to visit several times

Also on display in the Civic Center will be a special art exhibit this Saturday, from 3 to 7, at the Canvas Boutique and Gallery.  Organized by the gallery and the Los Angeles-based First Responders, it will benefit the International Medical Corp., and feature the works of local artists, including one of my favorites, the sculptor Eugenie Spirito. Check it out, at 23410 Center Way,

 

NEWS PHOTOGRAPHY AS AN ART

Malibu’s City Hall happily will be the site for yet another exhibit featuring the work of a local artist, the photographer Fred Ward. The exhibit opens Saturday, and promises to be haunting, as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU.

Though Ward was first and foremost a deadline driven news photographer, he was in my estimation an artist; his work having risen to the level of iconic images, evocative of a time and place. He passed away at his home in Malibu, in July, at the age of 81.

For some of us the exhibit will be a trip back in time to the turbulent 1960s, for which we can thank the Malibu Cultural Arts Commission in a its continual laudable attempt to tap into the city’s scattered artistic history and celebrate its artists.

Fred Ward was a photographer for Life, Time and Newsweek magazines, back in our fleeting history when weeklies were the crown jewels of print journalism.   And the most glistening, polished by a circulation that at one time topped 13.5 million copies, was Life.

So to be a photographer for the photo featured and promoted Life was to be a journalistic super star. The notable writers there that included during that time Joan Didion and Jane Howard were admittedly envious.

Indeed, all newspersons that toiled in the trenches of print at that time were envious, including those at the august New York Times, where I worked as a young reporter. Pay was said to be good at the newsweeklies, expenses better, and deadlines were only once a week.

And when journalists gathered then at select midtown watering holes to celebrate their publications being put to bed, getting a photo on the cover of Life was the equivalent to getting an Academy Award.

Ward had several, most notably in 1963 of a grief stricken, Jacqueline Kennedy with her two children before the casket of the assassinated President Kennedy. It was this photo that Andy Warhol turned into his famous print.

And in was Ward who a few days earlier had captured the image of the first lady returning to Washington with her husband’s blood on her legs.

These and other select photos of Ward when on assignment for the news weeklies and later the celebrated National Geographic are included in the retrospective. Also featured is a short video on Ward’s very full professional life, produced his son, Chris. The exhibit runs until January 13 of next year.