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Friday, December 31, 2010

Downtown Stadium Plans Revealed

Stadium design rendering by Gensler.  Image from The Architect's Newspaper and Gensler.  All Rights Reserved. 
2011 may bring a new football stadium to downtown Los Angeles, at least as far as development group AEG is concerned.  The firm released three finalist designs for a downtown stadium a few weeks ago, and all of the schemes provide an interesting look at how a new stadium might be integrated architecturally into the fabric of downtown.  Less certain, though, is how a stadium would really augment or improve the landscape of downtown Los Angeles, especially given the concerns of parking, traffic, limited yearly use, and, of course, the simple fact that LA does not actually have an NFL franchise at this point.  Certainly, the stadium would be a draw during football season and events such as concerts, but a new stadium does not seem to provide much quality of life for future downtown residents beyond access to another sports-based activity center such as that currently provided by the Staples Center.  The Architect's Newspaper has further details and a number of renderings:
The LA Rams and the LA Raiders are long gone, and Los Angeles still has no NFL team. But that hasn’t stopped developer AEG from pushing ahead with an elaborate effort to lure one, unveiling three plans for a proposed $1 billion stadium in Downtown LA last night.
The three schemes belong to Gensler, HKS, and HNTB, which were narrowed down from an initial RFP list of 9. Their designs all include a 1.7 million square foot stadium with a retractable roof, to enable convention events when football is not in town. The winner, according to the developer, will be chosen within the next month, and the stadium would be located on the site of the LA Convention Center’s West Hall, which would be demolished and relocated to a site over Pico Boulevard to the south.
. . .
Should be interesting to see how the schemes develop, especially with a competing proposal suggested for the City of Industry.   Further info and comments on the proposals for a new stadium in LA can also be found at Forbes - LA Downtown vs. City of Industry.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Break-up Billboards

Billboard on Venice Blvd just west of the 405.  Image from AdiosLA.  All Rights Reserved. 
Map of Billboard Locations - all locations are tagged in Google Maps for easy directions.  Image from AdiosLA.  All Rights Reserved. 
In the spirit of change and new beginnings, an LA-bred designer brings some year-end cheer to LA with AdiosLA, an art project using billboards and the web to publicly break-up with the City of Los Angeles as he prepares to move to New York for a new job.    Curbed LA has the story:
Designer Jon Jackson grew up in Glendale and has lived in and around Los Angeles his whole life (right now he's in Santa Monica), but recently he decided to take a job as a creative director at an interactive advertising agency in New York, and he's breaking up with his long-time lovah via billboard. You couldn't have texted, Jon? Jackson tells Curbed in an email that he thought this was an appropriate way to say goodbye to "a city where art is always tough to find, but rewarding when you do." He writes: "I hope that there will be a bit of inspiration from the boards, intrigue and definitely a laugh. I think we all have things in our lives big or small that we know we need to 'break up' with." While a friend at a billboard company helped him out with the project, he says that prices are low right now and "I paid what anyone else would pay." Jackson's five designs went up yesterday and will stay up until January 15. You can see some outtakes here.
· Adios LA [Official Site]
Definitely a funny way to say goodbye to your hometown, and a nice way to use an iconic feature of LA to communicate your message, similar to the MAK Center's billboard-based art exhibit earlier this year.  Good luck to Jon in New York,  although I have a feeling LA will be happy to take Jon back if he changes his mind sometime in the future. She is a forgiving mistress. 

Year End Review

Near the top of the list of year-end, best of lists has to be the Curbed Awards 2010 at Curbed LA.  My personal favorites worth checking out:
Although, really, the whole list is worth a good look.  Hopefully, with a (slightly) rebounding economy, 2011 should bring an even better group of nutty renderings and real estate offerings to enjoy.

US Census Mapping

Image produced at NY Times website.  All Rights Reserved
As we near the new year, nothing like a bit of reflection on where we are at now, and what may lay ahead.  The best way to understand where you might be going is to know more about where you are, and the NY Times, with the help of Google Maps, has a great tool showcasing the results of the US Census in a graphic, interactive map.  Find out a bit more about your neighborhood demographics here.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Total Lunar Eclipse

Monday night promises a relatively unique celestial event - a total lunar eclipse will be visible from 11:41pm until 12:53 a.m.  This will be the first total lunar eclipse in almost three years.  Don't worry if weather might be an issue where you live (especially since LA might very well be in the midst of a long-lasting rain event that night) because NASA will be streaming the eclipse live on their website.

Further coverage of the eclipse is below from the LA Times:
A total eclipse of the moon will be visible throughout North and Central America from 11:41 p.m. PST Monday until 12:53 a.m. Tuesday, the first such eclipse in almost three years.

Weather permitting, observers will see the moon enter the Earth's inner shadow, or umbra, at 10:33 p.m., with a red-brown shadow creeping across the bright moon. This shadow has a curved edge, a fact that was taken as proof to at least some ancients that the Earth is round. The sky will get darker as the shadow progresses across the moon, and more stars will be visible as sunlight reflected from the moon fades.


The total phase of the eclipse will last 72 minutes, then the moon will begin to emerge from the umbra, coming totally out of the inner shadow at 2:01 a.m.


Unlike during a total solar eclipse, when the sun is blotted out, in a lunar eclipse the moon rarely appears black. Because of sunrises and sunsets around the world that scatter and refract light from the sun, the moon generally appears bright and coppery orange, or sometimes brown or dark red-black, depending on how much pollution is in the atmosphere.
The most recent total eclipse of the moon was on the night of Feb. 20, 2008.

Also unlike a solar eclipse, which can generally only be seen from select places on the Earth's surface, a lunar eclipse can be seen from anywhere on the side of the Earth facing the moon at the time.

The next lunar eclipse is June 15, 2011, but North America will be facing the wrong way. Another eclipse, on Dec. 10, 2011, will be interrupted by moonset and sunrise.

The next total lunar eclipse for the entire continent doesn't occur until April 14-15, 2014, an unusually long wait.

NASA will be hosting Web chats about the eclipse and, for those encountering bad weather, showing it live at http://www.nasa.gov/watchtheskies.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Capture Rainwater!


Image from Tree People and San Gabriel Rivers / Watershed Council.  All Rights Reserved.
Still wondering whether localized rainwater harvesting is a good idea in Los Angeles?  TreePeople recently posted one of the better graphics I have seen from the San Gabriel Rivers / Watershed Council detailing exactly where all of Los Angeles's water comes from, including how far it travels to get here.  As they noted:
This is a critical issue for L.A. County because more than half the water used by our ten million residents comes from distant locations such as the Colorado River. Transporting this water to L.A.'s faucets and lawns is expensive and wasteful.

Harvesting rainwater will reduce our need to import this costly water; supply us with additional water during dry months; and reduce urban runoff that pollutes our rivers, bays, and ocean.
Given how far the water travels to get here, the least we can do is attempt to use our water wisely, but the best we can do it maximize ways to reduce the amount of water we have to import to LA.  

Still not convinced?  TreePeople provides a great summary of options and resources on their website.  Here are some links on the benefits of capturing water and both small and larger steps you can take.

Tejon Wilderness Conservation Easements Approved

The state of California approved the purchase of conservation easements for 62,000 acres in Tejon Ranch a few weeks ago, ensuring the preservation of at least 62,000 acres, but hopefully laying the groundwork for more than 240,000 acres to be protected in the future.  This initial, but critical step, is vital to helping preserve ecologically diverse open space in Southern California for future generations.  The LA Times has the fully story:
The state on Thursday approved the purchase of conservation easements on 62,000 acres in Tejon Ranch, the first step in implementing an agreement that would protect up to 240,000 acres of wild lands in one of the largest pieces of private property in California.
The $15.8-million grant from the state Wildlife Conservation Board will establish one of the largest conservation easements in California's history.

"If the Tejon Ranch is the Holy Grail of conservation in California — and it is — the Wildlife Conservation Board is the people's knight in shining armor," said Joel Reynolds of the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of five conservation groups that signed the 2008 agreement with the Tejon Ranch Co., which owns the 270,000-acre ranch that stretches from Los Angeles County to Kern County and is thought to contain some of the state's most ecologically rich landscapes.

The conservation board's grant will be used by the Tejon Ranch Conservancy, which was created to manage the newly protected lands, to purchase easements on five parcels that include Joshua tree and oak woodlands, Mojave Desert grasslands, riparian woodlands and San Joaquin Valley grasslands.

Graham Chisholm, chairman of the Tejon Ranch Conservancy board of directors and executive director of Audubon California, said Thursday's announcement ensured the original deal will be honored.

"While the 2008 agreement was a landmark achievement for the conservation of these lands, the purchase of these easements really cements the victory," he said.

The conservation easements will prevent the Tejon Ranch Co. from future development of the properties but allows ranching and hunting activities to continue. The conservancy will have authority to plan for conservation of the land and public access to the property.
The Tejon Ranch Co. has agreed to place 178,000 acres in conservation easements, but that process is dependent on approval of the company's development projects elsewhere on the ranch.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Paper or plastic? How about just Paper

La-me-plastic-bags
Image from LA Times. All Rights Reserved.
This past Tuesday, Los Angeles County officially banned all plastic carryout bags from use in unincorporated portions of the County.  The vote marks a big environmental victory for LA County, with the potential to severely reduce the amount of plastics polluting our waterways and urban landscapes.  Admittedly, the ban remains imperfect, particularly because it only affects unincorporated portions of the County, but with more than 1.1 million residents being affected, the scale of the ban is still quite significant.   The LA Times has great coverage and recap of the vote, including comments from its detractors, and comparisons of the ban to similar efforts in California and beyond.  Below is an except:
. . . .

The ban, which will cover nearly 1.1 million residents countywide, is to the point: “No store shall provide to any customer a plastic carryout bag.” An exception would be made for plastic bags that are used to hold fruit, vegetables or raw meat in order to prevent contamination with other grocery items.

If grocers choose to offer paper bags, they must sell them for 10 cents each, according to the ordinance. The revenue will be retained by the stores to purchase the paper bags and educate customers about the law.


“Plastic bags are a pollutant. They pollute the urban landscape. They are what we call in our county urban tumbleweed,” Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said.


Mark Gold, president of the Santa Monica environmental group Heal the Bay, said previous county efforts to promote recycling of plastic bags at grocery stores was a failure.


“You cannot recycle your way out of the plastic bag problem,” Gold said. “The cost of convenience can no longer be at the expense of the environment.”


The measure is a significant win for environmental groups, which suffered a major defeat in Sacramento at the end of August with the failure of the state Senate to pass a sweeping plastic bag ban that won the support of the state Assembly and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger amid heavy and costly lobbying by plastic bag manufacturers.


But the ban could cause confusion. The action by the Board of Supervisors only covers the unincorporated areas of L.A. County, covering some neighborhoods like Altadena, Valencia and Rowland Heights, but doesn't cover 88 cities in L.A. County. City councils could adopt a similar ordinance.

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich  raised the prospect that small mom-and-pop shops could suffer financially because they won’t be able to buy paper and reusable bags in great volume, and could force low-income people to buy bags to pick up pet waste or carry their lunch.


“At a time of economic uncertainty, with a large number of businesses leaving our state and community this would not be an appropriate time ... to impose this additional regulation,” Antonovich said.


Opponents of the ban told the supervisors that a legal challenge to the ban is still a possibility.


With the Tuesday vote, L.A. County’s measure is more stringent than similar bans adopted elsewhere in California, Gold said.  


San Francisco’s ban, which passed three years ago, is less restrictive because it still permits grocers to offer bioplastic bags made from corn starch, which are imperfect because they also do not degrade in the ocean, Gold said. Bans in San Francisco and Malibu also do not add a surcharge on paper bags, Gold said, which does not give consumers an incentive to switch to reusable cloth bags.


. . . .

SM Civic Center Park - Updated Concept

Image from Field Operations. All Rights Reserved.

The updated concept for the Santa Monica Civic Center Parks was presented to the community last Saturday, featuring a dynamic synthesis of the three previous concepts based on feedback from the community, with additional design detailing.  The preferred concept from the last meeting was the Arroyo Wash concept, with added facets from the other concepts, and the new concept promises an interesting coastal park with elements people might recognize from other recent Field Ops work such as the High Line.  Check out the entire presentation here, and get ready for the next community meeting on January 29th.   

Friday, November 12, 2010

Westside Subway Route Approved

Proposed Route for Purple Line Extension.  Image from LA Times.  All Rights Reserved.
The future of public transit in Los Angeles took a meaningful, if not controversial step forward a few weeks ago when a general route for extending the Purple Line to the westside was approved.  Despite protests from Beverly Hills residents, and concerns about the likelihood of finding funding the project, the step marks an important opportunity for cultivating an effective mass transit system for all of LA. Here is the announcement from the LA Times:
Development of a long-awaited subway link from downtown Los Angeles to the Westside took a giant leap Thursday when county transportation officials selected a general route from the Wilshire-Western station to the veterans hospital in Westwood.

The decision by board members of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority sets the stage for the trickier business of going block by block to establish the precise path and determine where to place stations.

Construction is set to begin in 2013 after a final environmental impact review.


MTA staff had recommended the 9 1/2-mile route to the veterans' hospital because of higher ridership projections. The estimated cost of that option is $5.15 billion.


Four other options were under consideration by the board, which included Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has stressed the need for a Westside "subway to the sea" throughout his tenure as mayor.


Those included a nine-mile extension from the Wilshire-Western station to Westwood-UCLA; a 12-mile alignment to the beach in Santa Monica; a route to the veterans hospital campus plus a spur to West Hollywood; and a 12-mile link to Santa Monica plus the West Hollywood spur. The estimated costs of the projects ranged from $4.2 billion to $9 billion.


Also under consideration Thursday was a $1.37-billion regional connector through downtown Los Angeles that would allow light-rail users to travel across the county without time-consuming transfers.
The westside has certainly been their own worst enemy in gaining access to rail (or perhaps preventing access to the westside by others via rail), but this proposed route, along with the Phase II extension of the Expo Line underway in Culver City slated to terminate in Santa Monica, could dramatically improve the opportunities for LA residents to effectively move throughout the city without having to get into a car.  Great coverage of the decision can be found at the LA Times and Metro Source Blog, and below is an image from the Metro Source Blog highlighting the potential rail linkages to the Westside. 

Map of Proposed Purple Line Extension and Expo Phase II alignment.  Image from Metro's Source Blog.  All Rights Reserved.

Arid Lands Lecture Series

So this post is a day late and a buck short for last night's lecture featuring Aziza Chaouni and Liat Margolis, but the Arid Lands Institute at Woodbury University is featuring another excellent series of lectures on Thursdays this fall and winter.  The theme for the series is "Excavating Innovation: The History and Future of Drylands Design."  Recent lectures have covered such topics as the "Waters of Rome" and "Out of Water".  More information about upcoming lectures is listed below in their recent press release, and can also be found at aridlands.woodbury.edu/lectures.

Excavating InnovationThe History and Future of Drylands Design
Lecture Series: 2010_2011
The human need for water has ordered landscapes, given rise to culture, and shaped architecture + urban form throughout history.

Excavating Innovation: The History and Future of Drylands Design
 examines the role of water engineering in shaping public space and city form, by using arid and semi-arid sites in India, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and the New World to explore how dryland water systems throughout history have formed and been formed by ritual, hygiene, gender, technology, governance, markets, and, perhaps above all, power.

Excavating Innovation: The History and Future of Drylands Design brings together historians, urbanists, and contemporary designers to selectively excavate global historical case studies and reveal relevance to contemporary design practice.
Katherine Rinne:  The Waters of Rome
Thursday, October 7th, 2010


Aziza Chaouni + Liat Margolis
:  Out of Water

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Morna Livingtson
:  Steps to Water

Thursday, November 18th, 2010 

Nan Ellin, PhD:  
Canalscape
Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Vinayak Bharne:  
Urban Water Crisis/Perspectives from South Asia
Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Predock Building Doomed

Image from Tom Zasadzinski and The Architect's Newspaper.  All Rights Reserved.
The iconic Antoine Predock-designed Classroom Lab Administration building on Cal Poly Pomona's campus is slated for demolition. Built in 1993 and featured in a number of movies and television productions, the building appears to be little loved by its users on the Cal Poly campus.  The Architect's Newspaper reported the news, including direct responses from Antoine Predock:
In recent weeks, it has become clear that Antoine Predock’s iconic Classroom Laboratory Administration (CLA) Building on the campus of Cal Poly Pomona is likely to meet every building’s nemesis: the wrecking ball. The university claims it is structurally compromised and poorly designed for education. While demolition is not yet scheduled, on September 21 the California State University Board of Trustees voted to construct a new building in its place.


Meanwhile, Predock fired back in an interview that the CLA is not only structurally sound but an “irreplaceable” part of the campus. “In their haste to find a quick solution to common structural problems, university officials have chosen to raze this important visual landmark and, by doing so, will demolish a vital part of the university’s identity,” he told AN.


Designed in 1993 to be what Predock called “the new campus gateway” and “a pivotal, landmark building,” the CLA is composed of an eight-story triangular tower and an attached seven-story rectilinear structure. The tower, with its soaring form, is visible from the I-10 freeway and also doubles as a wayfinding device on campus, helping visitors move through a school that university president Michael Ortiz calls “difficult to navigate.” The structure has been featured in numerous films and television spots, and is even integrated into the university’s logo. Its presence will not be easily replicated.


While Ortiz admits that “the removal of the CLA will leave a void in the skyline,” he contends that “those who have to interact with the structure on a daily basis are not as fond of the structure.” The building, he and other administrators argue, is confusing to navigate, cramped, and plagued with problems. According to Mike Sylvester, Cal Poly’s vice president of facilities, the university was forced to pursue “a latent defect claim for design and construction deficiencies” shortly after the building opened, due to extensive water damage. That damage, he said, has still not been completely fixed.

Renovating the building would mean updating it for new seismic codes, among other things, and the university says it would cost $80 million, the same price they have estimated for a new building. 


Predock, who completed his plans for the building under the supervision of a California State University review board, is understandably upset by the news. “It is devastating,” he said, “to imagine that this iconic structure, one of the most important of my designs, might be demolished, creating a void in the Cal Poly campus fabric, an irreplaceable loss.”


Responding to the administration’s charges, Predock staunchly defended the CLA’s structural and figural integrity, calling his building “a project of which I am extremely proud…not to mention the fact that the structure survived both the Northridge and Chino Hills earthquakes unscathed.” He added that the school itself signed off on the building’s design. “During the construction drawing phase, the project underwent intense scrutiny by the university and its peer review panel,” he said, “continuing into the construction phase with a team of university inspectors.”


Cal Poly’s Sylvester differs with Predock about the university’s oversight of his work, revealing some underlying tension. “Although there were reviews during the development of the project, the liability for design and construction is the architect’s, engineer’s, and contractor’s professional responsibility,” he said.

Around campus, reaction to the impending loss seems surprisingly ambivalent. University message boards have been quiet, while local preservation groups have been mum. Said Sylvester: “There are many people in the university community that are disappointed that the building may be demolished, but overall most people agree with the university’s decision and are looking forward to a new replacement facility.”

According to Cal Poly’s Office of Public Affairs, construction on the CLA’s successor is estimated to begin in 2013, and will take approximately 18 to 24 months to complete after groundbreaking. An architect has not yet been named.
From the article, it appears to be a classic example of an aesthetic approach clashing with user needs, but it is hard to tell how much Predock's design or perhaps proper construction is really lacking in this situation.  Certainly the building satisfied a number of larger programmatic needs on campus, including wayfinding and identity, but did not function to the satisfaction of its daily occupants on a practical level.  Right or wrong, the design will be replaced, and it will be interesting to see what fills the void. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Riverside County Gets World's Largest Solar Array

The LA Times reported today that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has approved a proposed 7,000 acre solar project for Blythe, CA backed by Solar Millennium, a German-based corporation.  The 1 gigawatt installation would be the world's largest solar installation, at the same time effectively doubling the United State's entire solar production potential:
What’s the sunny equivalent of “when it rains, it pours”? Because that’s what’s happening in Southern California, as yet another massive solar plant cleared the permitting process Monday.

This time, it’s the Blythe Solar Power Plant, backed by German company Solar Millennium and planned for more than 7,000 acres in Riverside County. The project would be the largest solar installation in the world, doubling the amount of solar electricity the U.S. can produce.

The Blythe installation is the sixth in recent months to be approved for public land. Several proposed solar plants have been fast-tracked through the permitting process as they race to meet the December deadline for federal stimulus funds. One of those, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, is breaking ground Wednesday near Primm, Nev.

Winning final clearance to start construction from the Bureau of Land Management on Monday, after getting the go-ahead from California authorities last month, makes Blythe the first proposal of its kind to be approved for federal public land.

The installation will deliver 1 gigawatt of power using parabolic trough technology. The process involves curved mirrors that gather the sun’s rays, heating liquid that creates steam to run generators.

The multibillion-dollar Blythe project will consist of four separate, 250-megawatt sections that together would be able to power more than 300,000 average homes -– even up to 750,000 residences by some estimates.

The groundbreaking should happen by the end of the year, Solar Millennium said. But first, the company is in “advanced discussions” with the Department of Energy as it attempts to land $1.9 billion in government debt financing for the first two portions of the project, as several other solar projects have done.

Construction is expected to create more than 1,000 direct jobs, as well as thousands more throughout the supply chain, the company said. Once built, the plant will support nearly 300 permanent jobs.

The project, however, will have its share of impact on the environment. So, to mitigate any potential damage, regulators are requiring that Solar Millenium cough up funding to support more than 8,000 acres of habitat for native species such as the desert tortoise, the Western burrowing owl, the bighorn sheep and the Mojave fringe-toed lizard.
Certainly the announcement is great news, but also sounds a note of caution.  The plant is a great opportunity for the US to deploy solar technology in a large-scale capacity, and will hopefully promote desperately needed economic gains within the region via a green technology. But, the sheer scale of the plant also underscores the impacts all energy production technologies, whether traditionally oriented or renewable, impose upon the surrounding environment.  Each imposes a true physical cost to the landscape that may vary in scope, but does not waver in its lasting impacts. It will be interesting to see what mitigation measures are implemented, and how successful they are in offsetting impacts to habitat in highly sensitive landscapes.  Above all, I guess we can consider the  experiment known as the solar-era officially underway in Southern California, and hope that the promise of renewable energy rings true. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Long Beach Turf Rebate

Image from LA Times.  All Rights Reserved.
News flash - rebates and outreach work.  Or, at least they do in Long Beach, whose recent turf reduction rebate program has been a rousing success.  As Emily Green from the LA Times reported a few weeks ago, the first two rounds of the program, which offers a $2.50 per square foot rebate for lawn converted to low-water garden, are complete, and have produced a number of compelling and interesting outdoor spaces for residents of Long Beach:
It stands to reason that clean-ocean advocates would appreciate how important it is to check the stream of pesticide and fertilizer pollution that runs into the Pacific from lawn-sprinkler overflow. But what has dazzled everyone familiar with the Beautiful Long Beach Lawn-to-Garden Incentive Program is how citizens of this beach city have been so ready to do their part. The first day that the Long Beach Water Department began accepting applications, conservation specialist Joyce Barkley said, “They were gone in 45 minutes.”
Hopefully these great results will not only further such programs but pay dividends in making LA a more sustainable city.  Some great photos and stories of homeowners taking advantage of the rebate can be found at Green's column.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Santa Monica Glow

"Intersection" by Freewaves & SuperExpo
This post is a few weeks late in coming, but I had the chance to attend the 2010 Santa Monica Glow festival this year, and was duly impressed by the scope and scale of the event.  Glow showcases a number of light artists and light-focused installations for one-night in downtown Santa Monica, and on Santa Monica Beach around the Santa Monica Pier.  Typically the installations feature interactive components in addition to light-based art, and the event draws as many as 250,000 attendees every year.  As you can tell from some of the pictures, the projects vary from the whimsical to the reflective.  Because of the sheer scale of the festival, I wasn't able to see all of the projects, but probably my favorite was an interactive projection installation titled "Sandbox" by Spanish artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer.  Sadly, I did not get any photos of it, but the official description provides a taste of the project:
Visitors are are invited to dip their hands into two sandboxes, which are alive with the small 'ghosts' of the Glow audience projected onto their surfaces.  As visitors play in the sand, real-time images of their hands are transmitted into an 8,000 square feet area of the adjacent beach, radically enlarging human scale to the gigantic. 
- "Sandbox", Rafael Lozano-Hemmer
The result was a fantastic, slightly creepy, but wholly mesmerizing installation that captivated people's imaginations in a unique and compelling way.  Some other interesting projects included an architectural installation titled "Luminous Passage" by Predock & Frane, an interactive project called "La Bella Luna" by Anne Herlihy, a video piece titled "coast lines" by Steve Roden, and "shapednoise" by Celeste Boursier-Mougenot.  As the pictures and videos show below, "La Bella Luna" featured a floating orb with the projected faces of volunteer karoke singers, creating a disembodied, YouTube-esque display and icon on the beach.  "shapednoise" had perhaps the best, wonderously bizarre aspect to it of the evening, as a lifeguard tower was slowly consumed by foam.  All in all, an impressive group of projects that not only provided some interesting art, but also energized Santa Monica Beach as a mass public space for a night.  More descriptions of all of the projects at available on the Glow website

"La Bella Luna" by Anne Herlihy

"La Bella Luna" by Anne Herlihy
"Luminous Passage" by Predock-Frane Architects.
"shapednoise" by Celeste Boursier-Mougenot

Friday, October 8, 2010

CicLAvia this Weekend!

10-10-10 CicLAvia Route Map.  From CicLAvia.  All Rights Reserved.
CicLAvia hits the streets this weekend, taking over a large stretch of LA roadways on Sunday from 10am-3pm.  All of LA is encouraged to participate by taking to the streets, literally.  Streets will be closed to vehicular traffic for 5 hours, allowing LA residents to use the streets as pedestrian oriented open spaces to bike, walk, run, play, or generally make use of space usually not reserved for them.  And, in a city like LA, that is a lot of space.  Should be an interesting opportunity for LA to reimagine itself, even if it just for a few hours. A full list of activities is available on the organizing website.  Go CicLAvia!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

M56 - A Window into the Life of an Urban Cougar

Map from LA Times.  All Rights Reserved. 
The LA Times has an engaging and challenging story about M56, a 20-month old cougar tagged in Orange County back in March by researchers from UC Davis.  The story highlights his journey of almost 100 miles over two months through the urban matrix of Southern California before eventually being trapped and euthanized after attacking livestock.  It draws out the difficult realities of integrating wildlife, particularly predatory animals, into the urban matrix, while underscoring the profound capacity of certain wildlife to adapt and navigate through the urban landscape.  An excerpt from the article is provided below, and a slideshow of M56 and places he wandered during his journey is available here:
For eight weeks, M56 moved relentlessly, guided by a primordial compass. He covered more than 100 miles and climbed from sea level to a mile high. He traversed saw-toothed mountains, navigated busy highways and furtively skirted suburban neighborhoods.

The 20-month-old mountain lion, wearing a tracking collar affixed by UC Davis researchers, left his mother in the foothills of Orange County in early March and struck out on his own.

He traveled south through Camp Pendleton, then turned east toward the high country of eastern San Diego County, which opens on the horizon like a centerfold in a coffee table book.


M56 stunned scientists by becoming the first cougar in a decade of study to cross Interstate 15 — most likely via an underpass where signs point to housing developments that have pushed deep into Southern California's mountain lion habitat. Weeks later, M56 emerged from chaparral-choked wilderness and ducked under Interstate 8 about 45 miles east of San Diego.


Like any juvenile cougar, M56 was searching for food, potential mates and territory unclaimed by another male. Above all, he avoided people. He was learning to survive.

The night of April 24, he moved through a wooded area and stopped a few miles from the Mexican border, just north of Campo. After two months of moving south and east, M56 turned and headed northwest back into the woods.

Maybe it was the light of ranchettes less than a half-mile away. A stray dog might have spooked him. Or maybe he had picked up the scent of another cougar and turned to avoid a fight.

One thing is clear: M56 was about to make his first — and last — mistake.

Parking Day LA 2010

Image from BlogDowntown and Pamela Rouse.  All Rights Reserved.
Parking Day hit LA last week, and a number of interesting interventions took over the streets to celebrate.  Below are some links to coverage of the day, and pictures of some of the parking day projects.  
Parking Day LA

Downtown Blog - "Four Pop-Up Parks Contributed To Green Space For A Day"

LA Weekly - "Park[ing] Day LA Converts Parking Spaces Into Green Oases Throughout L.A."


LA Streetsblog - "Park(ing) Day Preview" 


LAist - "Park[ing] Day L.A. 2010: East Hollywood & Silver Lake"


Plants for Adoption.  Image from LA Weekly. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Santa Monica Palisades Garden Walk - Initial Concepts

Image from Santa Monica Civic Parks Project and Field Operations.  All Rights Reserved.
James Corner and Field Operations held the second community workshop on Sunday, sharing the results from the previous workshop as well as three initial schemes for the high-profile park project.  A complete pdf of the presentation as well as summaries of the concepts and feedback are available for download on the project's website.  Initial impressions: three interesting and distinct ideas for the space, but The Arroyo Wash Concept is my clear favorite.  Something about the lines and character of the graphic imply something genuine about the site in a way that the other concepts don't quite capture.  They feel more introduced, forced, or perhaps even over-designed at this stage, whereas the Arroyo Wash Concept has a simple, strong elegance to it.  Will be interesting to see how the feedback process and design development help shape concept selection and development. 
Image from Santa Monica Civic Parks Project and Field Operations.  All Rights Reserved.
Image from Santa Monica Civic Parks Project and Field Operations.  All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Green Walls - A Counterpoint

As you can probably guess, I am an interested party in the green wall movement, and intrigued by how they might be useful in Los Angeles from a sustainable and aesthetic perspective.  So, this week provided a couple of interesting perspectives to consider whether green walls make sense in Los Angeles, and if so, in what form.  The first was a blog post on the ASLA Sustainable Design and Development Blog by April Philips highlighting some her own experiments in the performance of green walls in California. Although informal, the experiments provided an anecdotal account of which systems worked best for her.  The second, was a pointed critique of the green wall fad by LA Times columnist Emily Green.  Green cast a strong, skeptical eye and asked some legitimate questions about whether green walls really make sense in an arid environment. Below is a long excerpt:
. . . My own feeling about vertical gardens in Southern California is that they are a plant fetishist’s tool for hastening climate change. Take a look at the Culver City party venue called SmogShoppe,[photos shown on this blog before] owned by the folks selling a vertical garden system called Woolly Pockets. Succulents such as sedum and senecio that are so hardy in the ground need constant irrigation to cope with heat and wind after being suspended in felt pockets against SmogShoppe’s hot walls. The concrete wall behind the bagged-and-hung garden is wet with runoff from an automated drip system. The sacks are calcified with irrigation scale. Even in an open-air setting, get close and there is a whiff of mold. It’s hard to imagine a less savory or more whimsically destructive system for a region in a water crisis.

Recently, L.A. has been gripped by a challenge from the Woolly Pocket manufacturer to put its planting bags on fences in hundreds of schools. I dread seeing abandoned, tattered pocket remnants fluttering from chain link.

School gardens should connect kids with Earth. As for other settings, the idea of using plants to animate walls -- be they in civic arenas, offices or homes -- is intriguing. But if we truly want to accomplish this in a way that speaks to the dry majesty of our region, then the right approach is to leave out the irrigation and work solely with appropriate building materials to create suitable planting habitat -- then seed it. Bring back the lovely old dry stone walls of yore. If you really want to marvel at the majesty of plant life, witness a wild buckwheat flowering from an abandoned stone wall in the foothills.

Proponents praise vertical gardens for beauty. This charm is irrefutable. Just as Turner became mesmerized in Paris, pedestrians stop short before the SmogShoppe. Yet enthusiasts lapse into nonsense when extolling ecological virtues to do with heat insulation and repositories for gray water. If you want relief from the sun, hang an awning, build a porch or plant a shade tree. Gray water is still water, and wasting it is still a socially disastrous idea in the dry West. Far better to put gray water in the ground, where it will be protected from evaporation and remain available to plants.

Finally, there is the energy profile. Roughly a quarter of the state’s energy goes to transporting water; of that, the majority is spent getting it from the Bay Area and the Colorado River to Southern California. Once that water gets here, the region needs a better way to green and cool buildings that doesn’t involve dinky pockets of captive flora.
Overall, Green provides a biting commentary, and while I don't necessarily agree with every assessment, she underscores some critical questions that all designers should be asking themselves, especially in the West.  In particular:

1.) What are the water and energy impacts of each potential system you might use?
In the West, if not everywhere, you have to consider these impacts as paramount concerns.  Many of the companies are investigating the impact of their components, and taking strides to improve the manufacturing cycle, but does the installation and operation of that system present an unnecessary water or energy profile?  Does it require too much water to keep the plants alive?  If so, is it really worth it?  Which leads to perhaps the underlying issue all designers must consider before specifying a green wall system . . .

2.)  Does this system accomplish something that might otherwise be unattainable? 
At its core, this question is really asking, does this system potentially provide a benefit or trade-off that might justify its use of precious resources?  The benefits of green wall systems are varied, but the primary benefit in my eyes is the opportunity to vegetate a space or surface that could not be vegetated in a traditional way, potentially introducing benefits such as visual relief, cooling, and habitat to places where limited open space has prevented traditional vegetation strategies.  As such, green walls in densely urban areas present an opportunity to bring back a piece of nature and greenery in places heavily impacted by development.   The bigger question remaining in the West, though, is whether our development conditions really warrant a green wall intervention.  As dense as cities like Los Angeles are, the by-product of low-profile, sprawling development is that there is a lot of space waiting to be reconfigured and replanted.  Designers need to evaluate each individual project and condition to determine whether a system is extending the benefits of traditional planting strategies by adding an additional niche for vegetation to thrive within, or is it simply providing an architectural folly.  Are you using a metal frame to do the job of a shrub or tree, (and if so, why are you reinventing the wheel?), or, are you creating a healthy foothold for vegetation where previously it was not considered possible? 

Other potential considerations include cost, both initial and long-term.  And in this arena, I disagree with Green somewhat.  While I wholeheartedly support Green's point that school gardening programs should be focused on reconnecting kids to the soil (and that ground-plane, soil-based gardening has a much larger positive ecological impact than any green wall system.), Woolly Pocket's program offers a cost-effective option for cash-strapped agencies who may not be able to afford the demolition costs (both financial and physical loss of space) for a traditional school garden.  It offers a foot in the door, so to speak, or, a vertical equivalent of a container garden to begin reengaging kids with the natural world.  It is not perfect or ideal, but it just may accomplish something that was otherwise not achievable. 

As any good skeptic and critic does, Green tries to remove the seductive draw of a fad and highlights the core issues that should inform the selection of any component in the landscape, green wall system or not.  Selection needs to be based on competent, informed judgement and critical evaluation.  April Philips references the same issues in her blog post.  Noting a recent LinkedIn discussion on the issue, she quotes Dean Hill, ASLA, CGP from greenscreen:
 “As designers, WE are responsible for matching the plant selection, irrigation design and maintenance commitments within the right system and intended use. In addition, I think that it is our responsibility to manage the client’s expectations. Interested clients might see pretty pictures and think that they’ve got to have one, but we need to take the opportunities to educate them so that their expectations will be met, especially with green wall systems (facade and living).”
Using and adapting green wall systems in the West is an ongoing process that requires us to consider our larger impacts, and use green wall systems because they are right for a particular situation, not simply because they are popular.  However, like all good design, effective selection of green wall components can create installations that are contextually sensitive, beautiful, and functionally adept.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Broad Museum to go Downtown


Broad Museum will be built on the parking lot adjacent to Disney Hall.  Image from LA Times.  All Rights Reserved.
The LA Times reported this week that Eli Broad has announced that he will build a museum downtown next  to Disney Hall to house his personal art collection.  Sites in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica were considered, but ultimately Broad is committing to adding another cultural destination to the downtown fabric.  The LA Times story outlined some of the motivations for the decision:
In a move that adds another contemporary art museum to the city's busy art scene, Eli Broad announced formally Monday that he would build his Broad Collection museum downtown and chose a blue-chip New York architecture firm to design it.

By choosing to build downtown rather than in Santa Monica and Beverly Hills, Broad will oversee the first building in the stalled Grand Avenue project, investing in his personal vision for Los Angeles, one in which downtown is a "vibrant center," as he put it, for the city's cultural community.

. . . .
But Broad was clearly thinking in term of its impact on Grand Avenue's rejuvenation. "I think we're going to create a downtown cultural alliance," said Broad, referring to the site's proximity to the Music Center and MOCA. He added that he hopes the museum will jump-start the Grand Avenue Project — a costly initiative intended to revitalize the downtown neighborhood with stores, hotels, condominiums and restaurants that has been stalled by the sour economy.

Diller Scofidio + Renfro will design the approximately 120,000-square-foot museum, which will include exhibition space, offices and a parking garage on a site that is now a parking lot. The Broad Foundation said the designs would not be released until October. The price tag for the building, which is expected to break ground in October and open in late 2012, is estimated at $80 million to $100 million, which Broad will fund.
Broad's intentions are highly laudable, and with noted architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro designing the museum, the downtown core will certainly have another flashy building to add to its mix.  Certainly moving the stalled Grand Avenue project forward  is a potential boon for downtown, and the project could dovetail nicely with the Civic Park project.   However, even with the best intentions, I guess the question remains as to whether another museum here will really help push downtown further.  At this point cultural amenities in that part of downtown are plentiful.  If anything, the addition seems to be promoting the immediate future of Grand Avenue as a sort of cultural district akin to the National Mall (minus the connective open space), with the Broad Museum joining Disney Hall, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, The Ahmanson Theater, Mark Taper Forum, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown.  If highly successful, the project could entice visitors to spend a day enjoying a mix of art, theater, and open space (in the form of the new, nearby Civic Park), and create another amenity to entice people to live downtown and promote redevelopment along Grand Avenue.  How successful this will be, though, remains to be seen.  At the very least, the addition of the museum to Grand Avenue will provide another asset to bring people downtown, and of course, provide the public an opportunity to access noted cultural assets. Should be interesting to see how the design for the new building develops, and what the residual impact of the museum will be for downtown.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

John Chase

Image from LA Times.  All Rights Reserved.
The LA design community is mourning the passing of John Chase, former Urban Designer for West Hollywood, author, and larger-than-life figure, who died suddenly last Friday, August 13th. The LA Times published an obituary this week chronicling John's life, and KCRW's architecture and design program, DNA, had a nice remembrance of John on Tuesday's show.  A number of people have also been blogging about John's personal and professional impacts.  A memorial service is planned for next Tuesday, August 24th from 4 - 7pm at Plummer Park in West Hollywood.  Below are some links about John - he will be sorely missed.
LA Times Obituary 
KRCW DNA
DNA Blog - Discusses projects that define John's fun, eclectic, and passionate approach to urbanism 
LA Observed
Gelato Baby - Personal remembrance of John's impact
LA Weekly - Includes link to an interview with LAist from 2005
WeHo News  - Includes info on memorial service

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

LA River Video

View more news videos at: http://www.nbclosangeles.com/video.


Here is an NBC 4 Los Angeles follow-up story on kayaking in the LA River.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

LA River Events and News

Image from LA Times.  All Rights Reserved.
The LA River has had a good couple of weeks, including first its designation as a navigable river by the EPA (which might seem laughable given its general low flow and concrete banks, but is actually an important step towards potential restoration of the river), and then a couple of interesting profiles of cultural uses of the river from the LA Times.  The first showcased a couple of environmentalists attempt to kayak down the LA River, and the second highlight an artist's performance project within the river
Image from LA Times.  All Rights Reserved.
Image from LA Times.  All Rights Reserved.
I thought both were interesting because they provided striking images and views of the river in a mix of environmental, cultural and aesthetic contexts, highlighting how the current form of the river has a unique value that shouldn't be minimized or lost, but also a great future potential. 

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Santa Monica Palisades Garden Walk + Town Square Open House

 (Image from Santa Monica Civic Center Parks.  All Rights Reserved.)
Today is the first Community Workshop / Open House for the Santa Monica Palisades Garden Walk + Town Square project.  The Workshop will include a presentation by Field Operations, the lead design consultant for the project, and a number of activities to engage the community.  Further workshops are scheduled for September (Concept Design), November (Schematic Design) and January (Design Development).  More information is available at the project website:
You're invited to a Community Workshop + Open House + Site Walk on July 24th from 1 - 4 pm (presentation at 1:15 pm).  This is your opportunity to meet the Design Team, led by James Corner Field Operations, and make your mark. Kids are welcome.

Details

Where: Enter across from Santa Monica City Hall (1685 Main Street)
Attire: Walking shoes, sun hat and sunscreen
Parking: Validated parking in the Civic Center Parking Structure (333 Civic Center Drive)
Bus: Site served by Big Blue Bus lines 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10 or Rapid 3
Bike: Santa Monica's popular free bike valet on-site

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

LA's Downtown Civic Park

(Image from LA Times, courtesy of Rios Clementi Hale. All Rights Reserved.)

The Downtown Civic Park project in LA has been both a great hope for the city, and also a paramount example of the problems with retrofitting LA.  However, Rios Clementi Hale continues to strive forward with the project, and their comprehensive design for the site is promising to become a reality very soon.  Not only is groundbreaking on the project starting on Thursday, but Christopher Hawthorne at the LA Times provided a great look at some of the prototypes for the project, courtesy of the project's designers.
As the Civic Park downtown edges closer to a Thursday groundbreaking ceremony, its designers, Rios Clementi Hale Studios, are putting the finishing touches on a number of design elements. Most striking is a series of street furniture including chairs, benches and tables in a shade of hot magenta. Two of the chairs are shown above.

According to Mark Rios, who is leading the design team on the project, the first pieces of architecture planned for the park are a pair of support buildings. Executed in a simple, modern style, the buildings slide small interiors and shaded outdoor areas beneath sloping roofs. One, holding a cafe, will be located at the western end of the park, near Grand Avenue; the other will sit near Spring Street.
Hawthorne also offers a great discussion of what grand future the park might present for the slowly, but steadily, reviving core of Los Angeles. Hopefully some of the aspirations can become reality, but regardless, the park should offer a great showcase of design in LA, and the work of Rios Clementi Hale.  I will be excited to see the final product, and how it partners with other efforts to transform LA. 
(Image from LA Times, courtesy of Rios Clementi Hale. All Rights Reserved.)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Bike Corrals at Santa Monica Public Library

(Image from Evan G. on Flickr.  All Rights Reserved.)
Stumbled upon this photostream while on LAStreetsblog.  It showcases the new bike corral installed at the Santa Monica Public Library, replacing two parking spots with 18 parking spaces for bikes.  Nice, simple action to encourage biking even more in already bike friendly Santa Monica. 

Dwell on Design

 Image of Vapur Anti Bottle - from ConstructLA.
Dwell on Design was last weekend here in LA.  Sadly, I had a number of commitments that prevented me from attending, but another blog, ConstructLA, has a nice recap of their top 5 products from the expo.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Community Based Water-Harvesting Update

View of planter circa May 9th (top) and circa June 25th (below).
I posted about a small, raised planter / stormwater management cell a local group installed in a parkway last month, and here are some updated photos of it.  The vegetation continues to grow in, adding a spark of green to the street along with the promise of some vegetables (Tomatoes, Kale, and more) by the end of summer. 
 View of planter circa May 9th (left) and June 25th (right)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Green Walls, SoCal Style #2 - Au Natural

  A local pub is even more "Cozy" with a vine wall.
In a continuing look at green facades and green walls in Los Angeles, I had to include the tried and trued method of just letting nature do its thing.  Vine-covered walls (or masonry walls on which self-climbing vines have attached themselves to) have been a long-loved part of LA for many years, and they come in many different forms based on the type of vine used, maintenance practices employed, and overall project type.

Much like plant-use in a traditional landscape, plant selection and horticultural practices dictate different aesthetic outcomes, presenting interesting opportunities for reworking building facades and little-used spaces into greener niches of the urban fabric.  Vine walls soften what would otherwise be a painted or barren masonry wall, and, when used en masse, can transform an entire building into a green shell of Algerian Ivy or Creeping Fig.  Each transformation is unique and compelling, providing texture, varied colors, and graphic qualities to urban form.. While vine walls require time to fill in, that time provides a strength to their character because it engenders a sense of time, history, and perhaps even a touch of romanticism.  You know this plant has been here for awhile, which in a place of constant change like LA, is meaningful.  What is also great about vine walls in LA is how varied the types of establishments are that have embraced them.  Whether a 5-star restaurant or a local dive bar, or whether in Beverly Hills or Culver City, vine walls flourish.   Here are a few images of some different vine walls near my house in LA, with more sure to come.    
  The sheared green facade creates a clean, architectural look.
 
  Another wall transformed through the mass and void of the creeping vine.
   Full vines provide screening and a softer, more naturalistic look.