UCLA IDEAS CAMPUS VISITED

Something different this week for me on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere:

Taking advantage of the latitude of what constitutes art and entertainment, instead of viewing a performance or a new gallery or museum exhibit, as I commonly, do, I recently visited something called the Ideas Campus.

Tucked away on a non descript side street in Culver City, the industrial building and the tech interior cluttered with work stations and manned by earnest looking students, was promising.

Very much a conceit of UCLA’s department of architecture and urban design, the campus is the relatively new home of a post professional program labeled the Suprastudio. According to its publicity, this is where “students engage in real–world issues through intensive research to develop new methodologies of architectural design.”

It is a educational precept I enthusiastically embrace, having taught creative and critical thinking at the Art Center College of Design in the 90s, and several years later at UCLA conducting a graduate landscape studio focused on derelict properties.

My academic pursuit of imaginative practical applications also were tested by assignments I concurrently held in the real world, including senior creative consultant to Disney Imagineering and various Howard Hughes corporation endeavors. .

So when Suprastudios announced a symposium exploring, “how artists and architects can transform urban space through temporary events and intelligent actions in an increasingly digital and privatized world.” I signed up.

I for one am quite concerned for the pressing need of more friendly public spaces and places, especially in an increasing alienating tech obsessed world. But the event unfortunately turned out to be a very mixed affair, if anything demonstrating the need for more user perspectives and advocacy, and less CAD design.

To be sure, there were several engaging presentation. Patricia Ruel offered a glimpse into the impressive creative process of the Cirque du Soleil and the Moment Factory, though one must question its applicability to low cost placemaking.

This was the focus of the presentation of Elizabth Timme of the street smarts LA. Mas. It site specific efforts were laudable, if not particularly original. And it does deserve praise for its battles with city of L.A. whose bureaucracy, as most local bureaucracies, are a morass. Nothing new here.

Most interesting, and applicable, were the various projects reviewed by Paloma Strelits, of the London-based design group Assemble. I particularly appreciated its user advocacy, including on behalf of the increasing senior demographic, which not incidentally I am. Public spaces and parks should not only for mingling kids or milling millenniums.

I would have liked to have heard more relevant discussion from the panel, but the moderator Mark Mack unfortunately did not moderate his self reverential remarks.

Not like me, of course,

 

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?

 

 

DARK CLOUD HOVERS OVER L.A. COUNTY MUSEUM

While the exhibits continue to engage, a dark cloud still hovers over the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, as I comment on my weekly City Observed on 97.5 KBU and everywhere on radiomalibu.net and select websites.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art – LACMA for short – continues to be one of the city’s more iconic cultural institutions, for me always enlightening if not educational, a place where I return to regularly to find something of interest.

Most recently it was the very different and diverting Rain Room, a site specific installation melding science and technology to create an art work , that is if you can call a large darkened room where water falls constantly, except not on you, thanks to sensors. you walk over.

It’s a captivating and communal experience, the stuff of selfies and sharing with others a wonderous 15 minutes which is what each group of about two dozen are allowed to stand between the rain drops in a steady downfall. Everyone exits smiling, if a little damp..

No wonder the installation created by the artist collective Random International has sold out when first exhibited in the group’s base in London, then in New York Museum of Modern Art, and now in Los Angeles for an extended tour through the Summer.

It is such exhibits that lend attending a museum as LACMA a memorable moment. And this in turn is what lends institutions a sense of place and history, and need to be cherished and protected.

To enhance their stature, and better serve a wide a population as possible., I also think they should not charge admission, to their regular and special exhibits.

That is why I applaud such museums as the Hammer in Westwood, the Broad downtown and the Getty above Brentwood being free , and why I have urged LACMA to also be, especially since it is partially supported by county funds.

This is also why I am opposed to the audacious plans of director Michael Govan to replace the LA County Museum, yes, demolishing the existing core buildings, replacing them  with a biomorphic blub sprawling over Wilshire Boulevard. Aside from the questionable design by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, is the price tag—now $600 million, but sure to rise to a billion when all costs are calculated –and there construction of at least five years.

To be sure, there are problems with the existing museum: it is a fractured clutter of galleries. It needs better maintenance, better connections and graphics. And patched together as it is, it is not pretty. But it can and does work viewing for the art. And that ultimately is what a museum is about.

I raise these arguments again because it seems Govan is becoming even more persistent in satisfying his edifice complex, and continues to spare no expense promoting his vision.   At present the black model is on display in Italy, at the Venice Architecture Biennale , which this year I thought was to focus on “social housing.”

Commenting on this might be discursive, but for me it is urgent, for I consider the Zumthor and Govan conceit a dark cloud over LACMA. I am very much concerned over its threatened future, and you should be, too.

 

 

Hooray: Pritzker Prize to Chilean Architect for Social Housing

Today, on 97.5 KBU FM, and everywhere on radiomalibu.net and select websites, a departure from the usual touting of cultural attractions in and around Los Angeles, to comment on the recent awarding of the 2016 Pritzker Prize, the highest honor in architecture, to Alejandro Aravena.

Not only is the award noteworthy this year for tapping a relatively unknown designer in Chile, –most previous honorees have been from mainstream United States and western Europe – but for its focus on social housing.

This really sets Aravena apart, declared the Pritzker jury. which this year included the British Richard Rogers and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Beyer. The prize comes with a $100,000 award but perhaps more importantly is usually followed with a swarm of international commissions.

If so, it will hopefully lend additional attention to the groundswell here and broad for affordable, well designed, user-friendly housing, that also serves and involves the communities where located.

The 48 year old Aravena – that is relatively young for an accomplished architect,– is best know for his modestly inexpensive residential projects, and his commitment to create sustainable, affordable and resilent cities.

In the past, with a few exceptions, the focus of the designs of the architects honored have been on flashy forms and iconic buidings, stand out projects that generated media attention for its sponsors and celebrity status for its architects.

This increasingly high end bent in the profession was duly noted by this year’s intrepid Pritzker jury, which in a statement prefacing the award declared –quote:

The role of the architect is now being challenged to serve greater social and humanitarian needs, and Alejandro Aravena has clearly, generously and fully responded to this challenge. Unquote.

The statement and award frankly warms my heart, for in the years past as an urban affairs reporter for the New York Times ,and later as the architecture and urban design critic for the L.A. Times, I immodestly spotlighted social housing .

The definition I cited in my writings and teaching over the years was that first and foremost, architecture is a social art, used to create spaces and places for human endeavor.

I still believe that.  Thank you, Pritzker jury , for remind me of that

I’m Sam Hall Kaplan, and is the arts and entertainment observed, heard locally on 97.5 KBU, everywhere on radiomalibu.net, and read on cityobserved.com and discerning websites.

 

UCLA Landscape Architecture Students Excel

To end the year on a positive note –there be no bemoaning star architecture today, or censuring city government – I take heart in some graduate student presentations I recently juried for UCLA’s landscape architecture program.

Of course, I’m prejudice, having taught a city-scaping studio there for several years in the past, and having embraced and extolled the extension program’s praise-worthy emphasis on real challenges in real communities.

For me, it also was a refreshing departure from the many design schools where I juried in the past, and the architecture award panels on which I had sat.

Too many of the projects I felt tended to mimic the conceits of the current crop of celebrity architects, or ignored the context, culture and climate of the proposed project.

What made many of the student projects so appealing was that they were particularly site and user sensitive, with several addressing the challenge of derelict locales in under-served communities.

These included a master plan for an evolving Echo Park, with the design by the student Brian De Paz incorporating safety, comfort, health and a sense of place. I particularly liked his treatment of a small, odd shaped vacant site into a modestly landscaped mini park, a friendly place to sit.

Another of note was a plan to link Burbank’s transit center to the surrounding fragmented neighborhoods, Designed by student Tricia O’Connell, the linkages were not just paths, but greenways featuring sitting and play areas, to encourage connecting people as well as places.

Most noteworthy was a project by student Elisabeth Miller-Weinstein labeled Dominguez Crossing. Her ambitious project proposed transforming a swath of vacant land in the adjacent communities of Gardena, North Torrance and the Harbor Gateway into a web of appealing urban trails.

Actually, the land is not exactly vacant, but existing train, electrical transmission and storm channel rights of way. Satefy precautions of course will have to be enhanced for these easements, as the existing public agencies are sure to insist.

But much of the encompassing land is indeed vacant and raw.  just awaiting some imagination and initiative to be turned into useable open space, and the backbone of a linear park celebrating the history of the communities .

Miller-Weinstein’s very professional plans detailing the project’s scope and a timetable indicate a trail network of no less than 10 miles and 50 acres of designed open space, a much needed amenity in the sprawling and wanting south Los Angeles urban expanse.

It is the type of student project that renews one’s confidence in the future of the landscape architecture, and its vital role in the panoply of the design profession. Deserving credit was the studio instructor, Meg Coffee, and program director Stephanie Landregan .

To be aired Dec. 19 on 97.5 KBU and everyhere on radiomalibu.net

 

 

 

 

 

Architecture As A Social Art Subsumed by the Architect As A Social Animal

I don’t think it’s cynical to state that the noble pursuit of designing spaces and places for human endeavor is being corrupted by the cult of star architecture.

From my long tenure as an urban design critic, I see the scramble among a select gaggle of professionals to be anointed, as increasing insidious and insistent,.

This is no thanks in part to a celebrity obsessed media, and so I declare in my weekly commentary for 97.5 KBU, everywhere on radiomalibu.net and on cityobserved.com. and other websites.

And so we have tomes such as Paul Goldberger’s “Building Art: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry,” reading more like “The Art of the Deal” by Donald Trump, with architecture as a social art subsumed by the architect as a social animal.

If anything, the read reveals Goldberger’s transition from when he was a solid, if not stolid, critic in his early years for the New York Times, and then the more fastidious New Yorker, to his present vain-glorious gazing at Vanity Fair.

As for the ever-grasping Gehry, noted is his transition from an aspiring architect of modest talent, to a self-aggrandizing, celebrity-schmoozer who sadly believes his own press clippings, and to hell whomever doesn’t.

But Gehry with the gift of a grifter does know how to massage the media, as evidenced by Goldberger’s undiscerning biography, and clients as well, as evidenced by his hyped designs. Little is heard from the users or their advocates.

Granted, it is hard to blame some of the architecture elite for manipulations, given the competition in the profession for deep pocketed clients and prominent projects promising yet more publicity.

It is very much a merry, merry-go-round, unless of course it is not, and one fails to grab the gold ring, and hang on, resulting in what might be labeled, professional envy

Also, running an office is expensive, especially when the principals have to be out and about pontificating at endless forums and glad handing clients, while the actual designs are being produced by the talent in the back rooms.

I recall it was the august Philip Johnson, who was to the manor born, commenting that to be a successful architect, as he was in his time, you had to be a whore.

It is all very depressing, if you think of the effect it has on conscientious peers with a trace of talent and good intentions, desperate for attention, if not a little love, while trying to piece together a practice.

The bad books they have written about themselves and the mountains of monographs documenting their projects tend to be embarrassing, even if just circulated among family, friends and clients.

Still, hope springs eternal, and I appreciate and embrace design. When focused on those who will actually be affected by the crafting of spaces and places – the users– it can elevate the human experience.

12.9.15