Los Angeles

Mayer Rus On The Tyranny Of Taste

rus with love.jpgAh, we wondered what Mayer Rus was up to these days.  It's good to see his wit has found a suitable outlet.

Tropolism Books: After The City, This (Is How We Live)

Title: After The City, This (Is How We Live)

Author: Tom Marble

Book Designer: Juliet Bellocq

Publication Date: December 2008

Publisher: RAM Publications and the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design

ISBN: 978-0-9763166-4-0

This book is available through the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design's website. This book is not yet available at Amazon.

Review by John Southern.

In every dream home a heartache
And every step I take
Takes me further from heaven
Is there a heaven?
I’d like to think so

In Every Dream Home a Heartache, By Roxy Music, 1973.

I started out my career in architecture as a designer with a corporate firm in Washington D.C. that specialized in office parks, many of which were located in the rapidly developing Reston/Dulles Corridor of Northern Virginia. The experience, which only lasted 6 months, left me so cynical towards both corporate developers and the architects who serve them that I quit and went to work for another Virginia firm that focused on assisted living.

That however, is another story.

What I learned during my short tenure at that firm was that the development industry has neither an emotional attachment towards the social implications of the built environment, nor does it care for the utopian projections which began with the modern movement- both sentiments that are drilled into architects brains during their first year of design education. Instead, developers have learned to harness what architects typically eschew- society’s fondness for nostalgia and predictability, as well as an ability to conveniently ignore the implications of the environmental damage caused by suburban development.

Enter After The City, This (Is How We Live), a clever, exploratory pamphlet by Los Angeles architect, Tom Marble. Supported by the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design, After the city, (this is how we live) cloaks itself in the guise of a Hollywood script weaving a story that is both educational as it is entertaining. Marble seeks to unravel the why behind all of those “little boxes on the hillside”, how they got there, and the men who made them. Hollywood has long been infatuated with the suburbs, often portraying them as hotbeds of banal consumption juxtaposed with the prospect of illicit activities which often occur behind the carefully manicured hedgerows and modest facades. However, while many script writers have explored the psychology and sociology behind suburban living, few have sought to uncover the larger processes that gave us the suburbs in the first place.

Click here to read the rest of the book review...

Tropolism Books: The Infrastructural City

Title: The Infrastructural City: Networked Ecologies In Los Angeles

Editor: Kazys Varnelis

Publication Date: December 2008

Publisher: Actar

ISBN: 9788486854250


Review by John Southern.

During the last ten years of economic mirth a lot has changed in regards to the contemporary city, both in how it looks and how we inhabit it. Since the late 1990’s both cities and private capital have invested heavily in glamorous architecture and staggeringly beautiful landscape projects whose role it was to enhance a particular metropolises cultural cache in relationship to its global neighbors. Technological innovations in consumer electronics coupled with the increasing prevalence of the Internet have enhanced cosmopolitanism and network culture rather than creating isolation that early critics feared. And while the money poured in aesthetic beauty and civic narcissism reigned supreme.

Now, as capital flows across global markets evaporate and those markets begin to collapse, politicians and civic pundits alike are all whispering the same word: Infrastructure. While a new museum or concert hall will be a hard sell over the next decade they theorize, a new bridge or light rail project will not because of the construction jobs those projects generate. Even President-elect Barack Obama has stated that part of the U.S. economic recovery will hinge on heavy government spending and investment in infrastructure. As building commissions dry up it is only a matter of time before architects try to align themselves with these new State and Federal patrons, casting aside formal seduction in favor of survival.

They will no doubt find that infrastructure does not need them and in fact faces a crisis of its own. It only takes a book like The Infrastructural City to make this apparent.

Click here to continue reading the review...


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Less Stuff Is Better Design


I know I've been harping about this since I first got the idea for the Two Dozen list in 2004: the Roaring Two-Thousands created a lot of drek by designers because they were "designers", not because the designs were actually great. A lot of my writing has been focused on pushing designers to do better. What better opportunity for designers to really push design when all this money is sloshing around? Why not make things more efficient, more accessible, more inventively designed, and more beautiful, even if it costs a bit more? When the cycle downturns, we'll be happy to get scraps from the woodpile to make our stuff. Since September, most of us have been looking for that scrap pile.

Michael Cannell over at The Design Vote wrote a great article in the New York Times encapsulating these sentiments, looking quickly (as in long-blog-post quickly) at where product designers and architects are going to go from here. He champions sustainability in the production of goods and a good project by Lorcan O'Herlihy architects in Los Angeles that champions density over size of lawn. Welcome to the end of the decade, folks. We couldn't be more thrilled.

Neutra Renovation, Again


Speaking of Marmol Radziner renovations of Neutra houses, we came across this recounting of a visit to the Sten-Frenke house. The article includes a link to an amazing slideshow over at Pentagram, who collaborated on the renovation. The photograph I have included is of the renovated house, and is by none other than Tropolism favorite Julius Shulman.

Rosa Muerta


Add this to our list of productive takes on Mies's legacy: Mies Van Der Rohe gets detailed by a motorcycle gang. Rosa Muerta is the architect Robert Stone's design-build building in Joshua Tree, California. The house appears to have no traditional enclosure. In fact, it has traditional nothing! Appearing afar as if it is one of Mies Van Der Rohe's unbuilt court houses (or his Museum For A Small City), it turns out to be much, much weirder. The ceiling is mirrored, which is kind of amazingly brilliant. It is open to the elements, also a brilliant take on what Mies's buildings should be. The stainless steel columns, wrapped in black rope, reference something like an Alvar Aalto-like material kindness. But then we get to the black-painted concrete block. Which is everywhere. With a giant heart cut out of it. Or the wrought iron grid fencing, complete with iron roses. All black. It's so completely over the top we have nothing but affection for the whole thing. The mirrored ceiling, and how it reflects the desert, kind of sealed the deal for us.

It can be yours for $200 a night, two night minimum.

Coop Himmelblau on Grand Avenue Is Built


The crazy rendering we published back in 2006 turned out to be a real, live building. Coop Himmelblau's High School #9 is completed; our favorite write up is the amusing visual essay by Hello Beautiful!

Tropolism Exhibitions: Vanishing America


We are midwesterners, so we understand how fragile most of these structures are. They are remote. They are owned by people who use them for a purpose, not fawn over them for their aesthetic value. They have no publicity machine behind them.

Michael Eastmen captures decaying vernacular American architecture in his new show and book Vanishing America. The show runs through July 19 at DNJ Gallery in Los Angeles.

Frank Sinatra's House


For your next Palm Springs vacation, rent Frank Sinatra's house! The house was designed in 1947 (1946?) by E. Stewart Williams, who was also featured in the Julius Shulman show I wrote about a few months ago.

Via Materialicious.

Piano Gets Smacked, Deservedly


Today Nicholai Ourousoff puts the smack down on Renzo Piano's Broad Contemporary Art Museum, and addition to LACMA that has recently opened. From the photos in the article and the photos on LACMA's own website, we are left with a collective "HUH?". It's a little bit o'travertine, with a little bit o'Pompidou (via the 1980s). Or, perhaps bit o'Getty with bit o'Hugh Hardy (who did the awful 1986 Anderson Building at LACMA). And don't get us started on the flimsy entry pavilion, pictured. We like to think Mr. Ourousoff was channeling us when he said it:

And if to some the entrance pavilion’s flat, square canopy brings to mind a gas station, the reference falls flat. I’ve seen gas stations in Southern California with far more architectural ambition.

Preserving The Awesomeness That Is Richard Neutra


In today's New York Times, a happy preservation story about Richard Neutra's 1946 Kaufmann House. What is most intriguing is that this is a preservation project undertaken by a couple who just really like architecture. By "really like" we mean "obsessed to the point of doing an insane amount of research." And just so you know, this kind of obsession is something we respect. We hope they publish a book: We Preserved It, And So Can You!.

Tropolism Buildings: The Laurel Canyon House


Last year we visited The Laurel Canyon House, a project designed by Orenj (principals and friends of ours Mike Jacobs and Aaron Neubert) and completed late last year. The house is approached on zippy, hilly, and furiously trafficked Laural Canyon Boulevard; I turned into the driveway much the way one would in a stunt turn on an television car chase. Skid to a stop.


The house is a mute wall along the highway, mitigating its noise, presenting a blank stucco face to the road. One enters through the side of the house, around the blank wall, as if to turn one's attention away from the hectic nature of your near-death approach. Once inside, the house is breezily open, white, and oriented toward a dense thicket of woods improbably close to the road you were just on. The rear wall of the house is entirely glass, and because the ground slopes down from the road, the back of the house is high above a creek. You are living in the trees. The effect is nothing short of serene. At that moment, I lost interest in the house itself, and was captivated by the experience of watching the trees and the water.

Today's LA Times parallels my experience pretty well, as well as enumerating the challenges encountered while building on such a difficult site. Of interest is the trend toward sites like this: Los Angeles's version of "urban infill".

Skin + Bones: Fashion and Architecture at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles


Happy opening night crowds hovering around Greg Lynn’s bubble wall for the Slavin House.

When a colleague mentioned the title of the “Skin + Bones” exhibition to me a few months ago, I had to repress the impulse to vomit. It’s rare that I have such episodes without a heavy night of drinking, but the thought of pinning such an obvious title to such a tired topic evokes turmoil in even the most solid of stomachs.

Had I known that the exhibition would be so well produced, so perfectly in sync with the thesis of mixing fashion with architecture, I might have saved myself the gastronomic discontent. In fact, I think that even the most cynical of mind will find this show a delight to the eye, and a moderate mental work out to the mind. It’s certainly “theory-lite”, but it fulfills the need to simultaneously educate the public about something they tend to take for granted: Fashion + Architecture.

Click Continue Reading for the rest of the review.

Broken Chain: The Genes of the GenHome Exhibition


On a sunny afternoon in late November, I rolled over to the MAK Center at the Schindler House on Kings Road in order to make sense of GenHome - An exhibition of digerati-leaning architects who are engaged in “Genetic Modifications” of the Schindler House. The show was guest curated by Eran Neuman, Aaron Sprecher, and Chandler Ahrens of Open Source Architecture, and features work from both local and global practices such as Greg Lynn’s LA-based practice FORM, and Servo.

And that’s about all I could make of the content of the show.

Click Continue Reading for more.

460 Degrees Gallery


In a record two months, what was a totally free of commercial taint artwork (at Burning Man, you know it's pure if it was there), has been done in a very similar fashion (without the burning part) at the Lexus 460 Degrees Gallery in Los Angeles! Yes, the same artist whose minions took Greg Allen for task for criticizing his Burning Man project has designed the interior of a Lexus Showroom with the same motif. There is nothing that brings us more pleasure than the knowledge that unbridled irony still lives in this world.

Of course, nailing a bunch of 2x4s together in a sculptural way is hardly new: I draw your attention to Tadashi Kawamata's work in the 1980s, work of much more powerful shape, form, and beauty than of the references we've seen this year. And of site-specific relevance. The Lexus Gallery in particular seems strangely decorative in this context: it could well be a coffee bar, or an awning for a wedding, or a kitchen sales office.

Via CoolHunting.

Denari, Illuminated


The Flickering Field of Fluoroscape: Illuminated perspectives on Neil Denari.

On a culture-filled Sunday this past September 17th I tromped down to Downtown Los Angeles to take in several fantastic “Spectacles of Culture”. First, I visited the Banksy show, which was held in an out-moded industrial structure off of Santa Fe Blvd. in the heart of LA’s industrial district. Banksy, the merry prankster of the street-art world, jammed the warehouse with examples of his work, and an live elephant as well. I shall not comment on the show as it has already been done to death by the press and therefore can be summed up with the phrase “if you were there, you’d know what I’m talking about”.

The event was, however simply the primer for the next stop which was to take place at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc). Click Continue Reading for the rest of my review and another picture.

Tropolism Exhibitions: New Blood In the Water


Left to right: Throw a rock, hit an architect. Does anyone smell fire? The A+D's new home.

I’ve had the pleasure of surviving several parties associated with the recent AIA Convention here in Los Angeles last week, but none were so fascinating as the one held on Friday, June 9th in honor of the New Blood: Next Gen exhibition at the A+D (or Architecture + Design for those not in the know) Museum. I’d had a similar, far more intoxicated viewing of the show a week prior when it unveiled itself to L.A. The redux could not have been better.

For one thing the drinks at the bar were weak to the point of water (to keep those visiting architects from points afar under control no doubt), and to top that off, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art was opening its David Hockney: Portraits show across the street. Perhaps it would have been fitting to have visited LACMA first and absorbed those famous works of celebs and lovers gone by. However, this was impossible. Due to lack of operating budget, or fear of being overrun by all of those rabid visiting architects, the museum closed early, ejecting everyone across Wilshire Blvd. and into the brightly illuminated A+D Museum.

Where they probably wished the drinks were stronger.

To read the rest of the review, click Continue Reading...

Tropolism Exhibitions: Alvaro Siza At SMMOA


Alvaro Siza, “Drawings, Models, and Photographs”

Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica, California

May 13th-August 19th, 2006

The big problem with Los Angeles for most of us “culture vultures” is the distance: We can’t seem to bridge it. Many of the critics I know are ensconced in their own individual locales and are unable to figure out exactly what’s going on at any one point in time in the City. Despite my reputation for being an “East-side snob” I do venture to the Westside when events warrant and was thus drawn to Bergamot Station (Imagine a two star version of Chelsea with a parking lot) last weekend to catch the visual delights of Alvaro Siza at the Santa Monica Museum of Art.

Click Continue Reading for the full review

Tropolism Films: Sketches of Frank Gehry


Los Angeles Correspondant John Southern reports on the LA premiere of "Sketches of Frank Gehry".

There comes a time in an architect’s career when self-preservation (in an archival sense) begins to seep into the sub-conscious like water under a dam. Building great works of architecture can only provide one with the fleeting feelings of monumentality in as long as they are left standing. Film, however, is easily reproducible and thus may well exist for eternity. All you need to complete the equation is a friend with a movie camera and a penchant for probing questions and its “Lights! Camera! Action!”.

The last phrase invariably came to mind on Monday evening when I attended the LA Premiere of “Sketches of Frank Gehry” directed by his good friend, Sydney Pollack. The film was shown at an event entitled “Reel Talk” hosted by Vanity Fair and Tiffany’s at the Directors Guild Of America building- a piece of architecture so banal that it almost does injustice to the artists it seeks to unite.

Click Continue Reading for more screening shots and review...

Los Angeles Downtown: Coop Himmelblau On Grand Avenue


More on Grand Avenue, Los Angeles. Coop himmel-blau had an article in the sunday LA Times about their school for the arts that is starting construction, across the 101 freeway, but still on Grand ave. The New school is directly across from the Moneo Cathedral, creating architectural bookends, or a gateway at the 101. The image is pretty great, a little surreal, completely Los Angeles. The article also goes on to say that the school may go under a bit of value engineering in an attempt to cut back some of the bulging budget. This might actually have a positive effect on the building which is pretty wild. Excerpts of the article can be found at DesignShare

Another fabulous rendering of the crash landing after the jump. So LA.

Contributed by Colin Peeples.

Gehry Is Searching For Los Angeles


Yesterday saw the announcement by the Related Companies and Frank Gehry of the development of Grand Avenue, Downtown, Los Angeles. Curbed LA has a lot of word-on-the street, but it's the New York Times article that has us mildly inspired by the project:

"It's not New York, it's not Paris — it's a different image and we're struggling to find it," Mr. Gehry said. "You don't have a downtown. This is an attempt to find one."

Tropolism means staying focused on the possibility of things. Architects, at their best, create something from nothing, and our recent tour of LA's downtown gave us reason to believe a project like this would actually connect the bits of downtown and turn them into something resembling the city I live in. Except in LA.

Here There Be Monsters, Part 2


Our post about the new installation at Materials and Applications inspired a friend at Drowninginculture to send in his gorgeous snaps of the bamboo piece. Click "Continue Reading" so see a more Gilligans Island version (complete with LA hippie and child). Except Gilligans Isle with shopping across the street. And DJ booth in the water.

Here There Be Monsters


The latest installation at Materials and Applications had its formal reception this weekend. Although the Bamboo Bridge has been present for a week or two, this was the first time many people creaked their way across the bridge over a pool filled with bubbling fountains, and a rubber boot wearing D.J. The information at Materials & Applications promises that this monster will continue to grow, and evolve during the course of its residency. I am already impressed by the excellent use of zip ties to lash together the bamboo.

Contributed by Colin Peeples.

Farewell, Not A Cornfield


The Los Angeles Times is reporting on an open competition for the cornfield site east of Downtown Los Angeles. Historically a train yard, and most recently an installation by Lauren Bon called Not A Cornfield which, of course, was planted with corn. The open competition will close April 17th, and the 32 acres will become known as Los Angeles Historic Park. The site is in between two busy streets, with the hills of Chinatown on one side, and a warehouse no-mans land on the other. To add to the drama The Metro Goldline runs along side the park joining a twist of bridges and over passes at one end. For a city that has been maligned for it's dependance on automobiles, Freeways and the resulting sprawl. This park more than those modeled after traditional city parks, seems it can become a solution that is solidly about and for Los Angeles.

Contributed by our Los Angeles correspondant, Colin Peeples.

Detroit Demolition Disneyland


Land+Living has an extensive piece on Detroit Demolition Disneyland, an Anonymous group who has begun covering abandoned structures in gallons of orange paint. The great thing about the action taken on these buildings is that is allows us to see what we normally would not: that the status quo in Detroit is decay. It seems to me that this public action can bring so much more weight and meaning to the problems in Detroit, rather than constantly repeating the words Sprawl and Revitalization. Over the course of one night these Orange buildings become a place again, instead of a place that used to be. DDD's work reminds me of Group operating in Los Angeles under the name Heavy Trash. They also have an affinity for the color orange, and are helping us see what normally we would not.

I highly recommend checking out Google Earth for Detroit. The extent of urban decay visible from the sky is almost unbelievable.

Contributed by Colin Peeples.



If you are still attached to your computer tonight at 7:00 PST, click over to SCI-arc live. SCI_arc's lecture series is now being broadcast in real time over the web every week. SCI_arc's lectures run a wide swath of topics, and Tonight's lecturer Taft Green is no exception. A Los Angeles based sculptor recently featured in the fantastic Thing exhibition @ UCLA's Hammer museum. Taft's work is like cartography on silly putty.

I tuned in to the lecture last week and was impressed with the quality of sound and image, it's almost better than being there live. Special bonus for those of you who start at 7:00 sharp; Eric Owen Moss typically gives a baffling epic introduction occasionally focusing on the guest lecturer.

Contributed by Colin Peeples.

From Park To River


The LA Times is reporting on another park opening in Los Angeles this past weekend. The scale is minute compared to the great park in Orange County, but the shift in thinking is gigantic. Los Angeles is cutting a new network of parks and wetlands into the existing concrete drain we call the LA river. While the river winds its way through several neighborhoods in the Los Angeles, it is dramatically apparent in the industrial neighborhoods of South LA. The park is not only improvement of the quality of life, and environment it is pointing to a shift in urban thinking and living in Los Angeles

Contributed by Colin Peeples.

The View From Above


If you know how to use a computer and log on to the World Wide Internets, you've seen the series by Olivo Barbieri called "Site Specific". Metropolis publishes, and we blog.

But we cannot pass this up. For anyone who is accustomed to seeing the world as bits of balsa wood and gobs of plaster these photos have a haunting yet familiar feel. Metropolis claims that they are real, but I still have my doubts. Check out the Santa Monica pier, it's uncanny.

Now that you're excited: here's a link on how to build your own tilt-shift-lens from DigiHack. Tropolism means why buy art when you can make it yourself?

Contributed by Colin Peeples.

Ken Smith: Master


Our friends at Archinect report that Ken Smith has been awarded the title (prize?) of Master Designer of the Orange County Great Park. His takeover of Manhattan, now complete, he has skipped to the other coast to begin a bi-coastal strategy of national takeover. Next stop: the Heartland!

Of interest is the two-part PDF of his team's entry. It is densely packed with great information, and represents how his quirky imagination is supported by a deep respect for great public space in America. It's worth a read.

Opening and Closing in Los Angeles

opening closing.jpg

Some interesting shows opening and closing this week for those of us on the West Coast:

This is the final weekend for a Julius Shulman : Modernity and the Metropolis at the Getty Center. The exhibit covers images shot over the course of seventy years.

Shigeru Ban's Nomadic Museum has just been re-assembled in Santa Monica featuring photographs by Gregory Colbert called Ashes and Snow, and runs January 14th through May 14th.

Opening January 21 and running through April 22 is Dark Places features the work of several Artists and Architects exploring memory and social space. Exhibit design by Servo.

Contributed by Colin Peeples.

The New Real City, Future Architects Edition

sciarc_thesis copy.jpg

I went to SCI_ARC's Thesis presentations this weekend.

It appears that Maya-, Nurbs-, and Script-based form making have established a strong place in the visual language of the school. The majority of the work has a quietness, a demur sexiness. In contrast to the explosion of splines and reflections it was a few years ago, to softly lit, smoke like models and renderings. The evolution and advancement of the work in this specific area is interesting, but it has sapped much of the chaotic energy that Thesis at SCI_ARC feeds from. Selected works will be on exhibit in the SCI_ARC Gallery JAN 20th -29th.

Contributed by Colin Peeples.

City of Angels Close-Up


I am normally all over all over a story about a newly constructed artwork by Robert Smithson, but I am in the Pacific time zone, seeing some of Los Angeles' star buildings close up. I checked Curbed and they linked the New York Times article.

Pictured is Caltrans District 7 building, by Morphosis. Read more about it after the jump.