08.18.09 Department of Water and Power Building

There are many drawbacks to being an L.A. resident (smog, traffic, no good BBQ), but one big score for the pleasures of the city is the ritual of going to pay your electric bill at this site. It's been argued that Frank Gehry was blessed with the best possible site downtown on which to place his Disney Concert Hall, but I disagree. Officially known as the John Ferraro building, A.C. Martin, Jr.'s 1965 landmark hovers at the edge corner of Bunker Hill and serenely floats over its landscape (thanks to the reflecting pool ground plane that covers the parking garage below). The place feels right in the nexus of the city and quietly distanced from the hustle and bustle at the same time. Its quiet, somber institutional feel, its tall lobby - with the famously uniform floors that are even better at night - takes you back to a time where institutions were entities of progress and respectful largesse, made material by buildings like these designed with a deep sense of civic pride.

08.16.09 Hidden Neighborhoods: What’s Up In Monrovia?

Continuing our series of neighborhoods we like, Citybuilt.org would like to introduce you to Monrovia. Two cities East of Pasadena - off the 210 Freeway - sits the quiet, hilly expanse of Monrovia. We were out there for a little get together and cased the joint one recent Saturday night. Thirsty for beer, and looking for a place to get it, we stumbled upon this strangely enormous sports bar, with the architecturally geometric theme of TRIANGLES throughout its three floors of building mass. What a space! And they had the only Air Hockey table East of Barney’s Beanery in West Hollywood (that I know of). Cheers, Monrovia. Here’s to your gargantuan, Postmodern sports bars with piles of Nachos the size of Texas. We’ll try to come back real soon.

08.02.09 L.A. County Sanitation District's Wastewater Plant and the Puente Hills Landfill

Citybuilt.org got a behind the scenes look at the LA County Sanitation District’s wastewater treatment facility on the grounds of the San Jose Creek, just off the 605 freeway this past Saturday – it was enough to make any lover of infrastructure and monster machines wilt a little in the knees. But that’s not all . . we also toured the Puente Hills landfill (across the highway from the treatment plant) – formerly the San Gabriel Valley dump – and saw the work they are doing with their highly successful PERG (Puente Hills Energy Recovery from Gas) program, in which methane produced by the seepage of buried trash is pumped into an adjacent power plant. The methane-fueled plant can produce enough energy to power 70,000 neighboring households – it’s a beacon of green infrastructure indeed, and its right in our backyard. It was a fascinating day out at the sewer plant and the dump – if you’re into that kind of thing. And we know you are.

06.25.09 Heath Tile Factory

Ah Sausalito - the sea air, the redwood trees, the tippy top of the Golden Gate bridge over the next hill and the earthy rich hues of Heath tile. Anyone who's ever poured over the uniquely glazed, one-in-a-million colors of the Heath tile catalogue really needs to hightail it to the bay area factory and store to see where everything happens.

Edith Heath's (1911-2005) life was dedicated to the craft of ceramics and the skill of the artisan glaze - many of her pieces live in the permanent collections of museums such as the MOMA in New York City. In 1948, following her one-woman show at San Francisco's Palace of the Legion of Honor, her pieces were picked up for sale at Gump’s of San Francisco and she opened the shop in Sausalito, which remains a model for local manufacturing and time-tested quality. And be sure to check out the overstock room where you can pick up a box of misfit tiles for $25 a pop.

400 Gate Five Road
Sausalito, CA 94965

06.21.09 Looking for Work @ Fifth Floor Gallery

Fans of sassy and innovative design work should check out Chinatown's Fifth Floor Gallery this month for Looking for Work, a show that features a group of L.A. designers who traffic in smart modern home furnishings and furniture.

Stand outs include Aimee Less' flat fold loft chair which cradles and supports the sitter via a balance of tensioned flexibility. Manufactured, shipped, and sold flat, Less uses architectural and fashion industry know how to sculpt the form (it pops into shape when it is laced up by the end user). Less' chairs are available in a variety of to-die-for fabrics and color combinations.

Architect Earl Parson creates his chairs and functional objects from cast off steel beams, powder-coated with super-bright primary colors that give the heavy industrial heft of the materials a light and huggable finish.

Fifth Floor, Chung King Road/Chinatown. Show ends July 18.

06.12.09 Citybuilt.org @ L.A. Forum's Pecha Kucha night

Thanks to everyone who joined us for the third installment of L.A. Forum for Architecture and Urban Design's Pecha Kucha "Femme Fatales" night, where 20 talented ladies from L.A.'s design community presented their wide-ranging scope of work via 20 slides. Citybuilt.org's Wendy Gilmartin took the stage to present the online urban database you all know and love. Thanks again to L.A. Forum, and specifically Siobhan Burke, for organizing the event.

Click here to see more images of the presenters and here to see the lineup. Look out for more enlightening and fun LAForum events in the future.

05.30.09 Public Works Cozies launch

Citybuilt.org has dropped our first set of Public Works Cozies on the city of L.A. Keep your eyes peeled for more drops around town, for more information on the project click here and contact info@citybuilt.org for more information on how to participate in your neighborhood.

05.20.09 Citybuilt.org project space

Citybuilt.org has acquired a physical address! Please stay tuned for public projects, announcements and events we'll be planning when we finally move in and the place stops smelling like old tires (that is, if, the place stops smelling like old tires . . . )

You can find us at 3420 Verdugo Road in Glassell Park, just down the street from the Glassell Park public pool and recreation center and Councilman Eric Garcetti's field office. Cheers!

04.15.09 Annenberg Space for Photography

The newly-opened Annenberg Space for Photography (located just outside the CAA Death Star in the center of the Century City security vortex) might be a great place to visit on your lunch break if you need a walk and work at offices next door, but aside from the fact that the new center for photography is a bastion of culture in the otherwise corporate office park of Century City, the place really lacks in terms of presentation, content and innovative means of expressing photography at this juncture in time (i.e. as the medium itself transforms from analog to digital representation, and hence from a specialist's field to the realm of the amateur).

The inaugural show (up until May 28) features eight “internationally renowned” photographers and artists, whose works “capture the complexity and vitality of the City of Los Angeles.” Without a doubt.

Some of the L.A. Times’ image archives are here, photo journalism by Times photographers Carolyn Cole and Helen Garber, Julius Shulman’s iconic architectural photography (yes, the one with the girl in the white dress inside Pierre Koenig’s glass cantilevered house is here), Cathy Opie’s home-is-where-the-heart-is family shots, and Greg Gorman’s icons of fame and fortune are all here as well. The breadth of artists to serve the “complexity and vitality of the city” seems correct, and yet something also seems very wrong.

It’s always a shame when the audience becomes passive in the viewing of art, and the new Annenberg Center does that in spades. Images are set to “Morning Becomes Eclectic”-style soft dance soundtracks, and many of the exhibits consist of wall-sized video projections of various images that blurrily segue into one another. This presentation takes a central participatory function away from the viewer, and changes their role from assessor, critic or empathetic observer into the role of casual consumer. We cannot look at the photograph for as long as we might like, and therefore, we miss its nuances, its ugly side, its beautiful side, it lightness or its weight. We also cannot revisit the image later in our visit here either because it’s been lost in the shuffle. And the soundtrack – that’s just plain annoying. We realize this is an attempt to represent (re-present) the work in a digital world, but it comes of half-cooked, clumsy and feeling like a trade-show exhibit.

Other gripes include:

Placement of Shulman’s photos are positively un-viewable (at lunchtime anyways) because of an outside glare bouncing off the pavement.

The L.A. Times’ archives are played out slide show style on plasma screens, accompanied by a VH1-esque, “hits of the 60s and 70s” playlist. Again, what’s with the friggin’ soundtrack? I don’t need to hear The Zombie’s “Time of the Season” to know the 1960s are being referenced.

And there’s a kitchen, “because all great conversations happen in the kitchen” (whugh?)

04.06.09 Marjetica Potrč, Teddy Cruz, Krzysztof Wodiczko @ USC’s Roski School of Public Art

USC’s artists talk “Architecture, Design, Art: Strategies For Survival,” as part of their Visions and Voices series, collected a stellar trifecta of activist/designers in last night’s line-up.

Whereas Cruz and Potrč are architects producing designs that work in the realms of housing, infrastructure and crisis planning (posing as “translators” for under-represented communities, as Cruz likes to say), Wodiczko deals in story telling – to assuage disassociation and trauma inflicted by culture, war or immigration – via video and machine-like prosthetics.

Their gathering together here seemed eerily timely: Three designers who craft adaptive architecture that communities can appropriate into their shantytowns and barrios, talking about lack of housing, lack of resources and more bold moves that need to be taken on multiple fronts. But all were surprisingly upbeat. Marjetica Potrč argued that right now was a time to work tirelessly, while the big money players are floating in uncertainty, it is a time when communities have an opportunity to step in and negotiate their own spaces, connections and solutions. Then she added, “After Neo-liberalism, it is culture that will be asserted again.”

04.03.09 New Infrastructure Solutions in L.A. @ MAK Center at the Schindler House

Eric Moss thinks L.A. holds on too tightly to the concept of democracy, and he also thinks that L.A. needs a Robert Moses. I suspect he thinks he should be the one to fill those contested shoes. He made his proposal (along with many others) Thursday night at an event celebrating the winning entries for the recent “Innovative Transit Solutions for Los Angeles” competition, and to discuss the proposals’ finer points, along with the process by which the winning entries were chosen.

The panel consisting of Moss, KCRW’s Frances Anderton, Santa Monica City Planner Francie Stefan, Countywide Planning’s Diego Cardoso, Art Center’s Stewart Reed, and transportation planner Roland Genick, proved that designers, planners, urbanists and engineers sure love to ponder big “I” infrastructure, but really still don’t know how to talk about it, or how to frame it within their own professional terms. It seems L.A.’s red cars just keep coming up. And the River.

But an ongoing discussion like this does seem to be getting us somewhere. After about an hour of Red Car-regurgitation stories and talk of high-speed trains, Genick came up with the most illuminating (and simple) statement of the evening. “There should be an organizing structure of how you want the city to operate. Its not simply shuffling people more efficiently.” And going further, possibly even taking a shot at Related Co’s new Civic Park project in downtown L.A., which has promised to connect disparate demographics in the city, he said, “You won’t be able to take a picture of it. Making our own Millennium Park isn’t going to fix anything.”

And it’s the truth. Moss can’t solve it himself, and neither can the planners. It will take many more discussions like these, and many more competitions like the “Innovative Transit Solutions” to frame the problem and solution. It will take time, and it won’t happen over night (as we’ve been told so often recently). But with organized, driven groups like the one gathered at the MAK center this cold, foggy evening, we’re on the road toward something.

04.03.09 Jessica D’Elena @ SCI-Arc

SCI-Arc faculty and part-time graphic designer for Morphosis Architects, Jessica D’Elena showed primarily her own student work for her lunchtime talk at the downtown campus Friday.

Before launching into her Cal Arts thesis, however, she provided her own pedagogical view – rather broadly – that students should attempt to do two things while learning: They should fail early and often, and they should mine themselves and their lives for inspiration.

It was easy to see that the search for identity was key to D’Elena’s own methodological procedure, and she really honed in on the spectacle of television and popular culture through the course of her life, how she (and the majority of us) grew up basting in it, and the consequences of "being born on TV" (D'Elena, in fact, really was born on TV - her birth was filmed for a documentary on natural childbirth).

But why Architecture? Jessica D’Elena is primarily interested in media representations and even more than that those representations’ impact on image and space. She argued that graphic design is currently not only a communication tool, but also a tool with which to combine the psychological, cultural, and technological. With the help of these tools, one can begin to facilitate new relationships between body/space/technology plus much more.

03.23.09 Enjoy Banking

This just in: More public art fun in NYC from Enjoy Banking, whose mega-sized decals epitomize the term “sign of the times” uh, literally. Find all their sites and additional photos here and they'll have more soon here.

03.22.09 You can Blame Robert Moses (again)

Hey disgruntled 90-year-old Brooklyn Dodgers fan, stop blaming L.A. and the O’Malleys for stealing your team and take your gripin’ to Robert Moses. Of course, you’ll have to get in line. Arch enemy of Jane Jacobs, affordable housing, liveable cities, blue collar workers and public transit, Robert Moses was the biggest political road block to a new stadium in Brooklyn at the time, and he provided the bullying impetus to move the team out of the city, as news of his involvement in the contentious Dodgers move to Los Angeles continues to come to light.

(Although yours truly thinks its high time the diehards bury the hatchet: Brooklyn’s boys in Blue mutated into “Los Dodgers” a long, long, LONG time ago and they’ll remain that way in baseball’s lexicon.)

Long time Dodger’s owner Peter O’Malley (from 1970-1998), along with "Forever Blue" author Michael D'Antonio, recently attended a bereavement-themed Dodgers symposium at the Brooklyn historical society that brought to light and highlighted the involvement New York’s most infamous urban development czar in the eventual transplant of the team to the West coast and the destruction of Ebbets field.

Walter O’Malley (father of Peter) wanted to redevelop to the derelict Fort Greene public market area for a new Brooklyn Dodgers’ stadium, but Moses wouldn’t have it. He was subsequently pushed to find other cities for the team, fatefully landing in L.A. Today the Atlantic yards site, at the border of Fort Greene and Prospect Heights – to be designed by Frank Gehry, er, or maybe not – hasn’t progressed any faster than O’Malley’s domed stadium. Presently, at the site where O’Malley would have built, little work has been done, private land remains to be acquired, and developers are scrambling to keep their heads above water.

03.15.09 The American Land Museum (Woodbury University)

Second-year Sophomores at Woodbury University’s School of Architecture presented their final designs for the new “American Land Museum” this week. The intention of the Land Museum as building project (infused with shades of landscape urbanism) gave students a formal freedom that drove some really impressive modes of making, representation and processes. In addition, the interpretive learning facility and museum was hypothetically sited on a very loaded site downtown – rich with environmental possibilities, but also problematic as students found themselves dealing with criss-crossing freeway onramps, historical buildings at Olvera street, Union Station, little space for parking and a fair amount of topography. Needless to say, the assignment contained some very complex programmatic and urban conditions.

The program for the new museum included a sky space, a green room, cityscape lookout, city map room and information & security kiosks. Students had previously researched Martha Schwartz’s Jacob Javits Plaza, the Cheong Gye Cheon River in Seoul, and the garden city of Esfahan in Iran for preliminary case studies and precedents.

Below are a few glimpses into the review and highlighted projects. Good work guys!

03.14.09 Buildings We Love . . . the Masonic Hall at Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery (Hollywood Forever) was established in 1899 by one Mr. Isaac Van Nuys, a farmer and businessman who bought one hundred acres between Santa Monica Boulevard and Melrose Avenue to the chagrin of community residents who were apparently very unhappy at the prospect of graves in their backyard. (Residents, however, grew to appreciate the grounds eventually with a sort of macabre pride in having famous “neighbors” such as Cecil B. DeMille, Jayne Mansfield, Rudolph Valentino and Douglas Fairbanks).

In 1931, the Southland Masonic Lodge moved into one of a group of Renaissance Revival buildings that stand at the cemetery gates on the Santa Monica side. (Not to be confused with the other stocky, stoic, Spanish-infused Renaissance Revival tower nearby, which houses the Eliza Otis chimes. Yes, that Otis.) These days, the Masonic Hall is mostly used for theater productions, small events and music shows – and possibly the occasional, secret underground grand knights of templar ceremonies involving sacrifices and large hats (but that’s just speculation).

Beyond the old Hollywood ghostliness of the place – the hulking stone walls, the meticulous mosaic tilework and the beautiful darkwood detailing inside – we especially adore the featured Mies Barcelona chairs in the sitting lounge off the main hall, the three-dimensional, rainbow pentagram pendant light in the main hall (scale slightly off), and the spooky, empty-of-all-human-life cemetery photographs hanging – off kilter – on the stairwell walls. Definitely visit the place if you get a chance.

And thanks for the extra photos Robyn.

03.09.09 Beehives

With only a concise description offered on a flickr.com member page (see below), the artist who goes by the name "bumblebee" has been out at night leaving drippy, yellow paint smashed "beehives" in a number of abandoned phone booths around town. We think its a great idea and a timely commentary on our changing communications infrastructure and its consequences on the broader ecology of the city. Nice work.

"Telephone companies have been abandoning their public telephone booths by taking out the phones and leaving the structures beehind. (Probably due to the rise in cell phone users.) I want to reuse these structures as a way of communication with the public once more by replacing that empty space with paper-mache beehives. To me, this symbolizes the irony beehind the question, 'where have so many of the bees gone' and the theory that cell phone signals have been misguiding their normal patterns of migration"