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.