Los Angeles

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

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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

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Title: The Infrastructural City: Networked Ecologies In Los Angeles

Editor: Kazys Varnelis

Publication Date: December 2008

Publisher: Actar

ISBN: 9788486854250

Amazon

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...

Less Stuff Is Better Design

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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.

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Neutra Renovation, Again

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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.