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A Boom Interview: Mike Davis in conversation with Jennifer Wolch and Dana Cuff – Boom California
"Dana Cuff: You told us that you get asked about City of Quartz too often, so let’s take a different tack. As one of California’s great urban storytellers, what is missing from our understanding of Los Angeles?

Mike Davis: The economic logic of real estate and land development. This has always been the master key to understanding spatial and racial politics in Southern California. As the late-nineteenth century’s most influential radical thinker—I’m thinking of San Francisco’s Henry George not Karl Marx—explained rather magnificently, you cannot reform urban space without controlling land values. Zoning and city planning—the Progressive tools for creating the City Beautiful—either have been totally co-opted to serve the market or died the death of a thousand cuts, that is to say by variances. I was briefly an urban design commissioner in Pasadena in the mid-1990s and saw how easily state-of-the-art design standards and community plans were pushed aside by campaign contributors and big developers.

If you don’t intervene in the operation of land markets, you’ll usually end up producing the opposite result from what you intended. Over time, for instance, improvements in urban public space raise home values and tend to become amenity subsidies for wealthier people. In dynamic land markets and central locations, nonprofits can’t afford to buy land for low-income housing. Struggling artists and hipsters inadvertently become the shock troops of gentrification and soon can’t afford to live in the neighborhoods and warehouse districts they invigorated. Affordable housing and jobs move inexorably further apart and the inner-city crisis ends up in places like San Bernardino.

If you concede that the stabilization of land values is the precondition for long-term democratic planning, there are two major nonrevolutionary solutions. George’s was the most straightforward: execute land monopolists and profiteers with a single tax of 100 percent on increases in unimproved land values. The other alternative is not as radical but has been successfully implemented in other advanced capitalist countries: municipalize strategic parts of the land inventory for affordable housing, parks and form-giving greenbelts.

The use of eminent domain for redevelopment, we should recall, was originally intended to transform privately owned slums into publicly owned housing. At the end of the Second World War, when progressives were a majority in city government, Los Angeles adopted truly visionary plans for both public housing and rational suburban growth. What then happened is well known: a municipal counter-revolution engineered by the LA Times. As a result, local governments continued to use eminent domain but mainly to transfer land from small owners to corporations and banks.

Fast-forward to the 1980s. A new opportunity emerged. Downtown redevelopment was devouring hundreds of millions of dollars of diverted taxes, but its future was bleak. A few years before, Reyner Banham had proclaimed that Downtown was dead or at least irrelevant. If the Bradley administration had had the will, it could have municipalized the Spring-Main Street corridor at rock-bottom market prices. Perhaps ten million square feet would have become available for family apartments, immigrant small businesses, public markets, and the like, at permanently controlled affordable rents.

I once asked Kurt Meyer, a corporate architect who had been chairman of the Community Redevelopment Agency, about this. He lived up Beachwood Canyon below the Hollywood Sign. We used to meet for breakfast because he enjoyed yarning about power and property in LA, and this made him a unique source for my research at the time. He told me that downtown elites were horrified by the unexpected revitalization of the Broadway corridor by Mexican businesses and shoppers, and the last thing they wanted was a populist downtown.

He also answered a question that long vexed me. “Kurt, why this desperate, all-consuming priority to have the middle class live downtown?” “Mike, do you know anything about leasing space in high-rise buildings?” “Not really.” “Well, the hardest part to rent is the ground floor: to extract the highest value, you need a resident population. You can’t just have office workers going for breakfast and lunch; you need night time, twenty-four hour traffic.” I don’t know whether this was really an adequate explanation but it certainly convinced me that planners and activists need a much deeper understanding of the game.

In the event, the middle class has finally come downtown but only to bring suburbia with them. The hipsters think they’re living in the real thing, but this is purely faux urbanism, a residential mall. Downtown is not the heart of the city, it’s a luxury lifestyle pod for the same people who claim Silverlake is the “Eastside” or that Venice is still bohemian.

Cuff: Why do you call it suburbia?

Davis: Because the return to the center expresses the desire for urban space and crowds without allowing democratic variety or equal access. It’s fool’s gold, and gentrification has taken the place of urban renewal in displacing the poor. Take Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris’s pioneering study of the privatization of space on the top of Bunker Hill. Of course, your museum patron or condo resident feels at home, but if you’re a Salvadorian skateboarder, man, you’re probably headed to Juvenile Hall."



"Jennifer Wolch: Absolutely. However it’s an important question particularly for the humanities students, the issue of subjectivity makes them reticent to make proposals.

Davis: But, they have skills. Narrative is an important part of creating communities. People’s stories are key, especially about their routines. It seems to me that there are important social science skills, but the humanities are important particularly because of stories. I also think a choreographer would be a great analyst of space and kind of an imagineer for using space.

I had a long talk with Richard Louv one day about his Last Child in the Woods, one of the most profound books of our time, a meditation on what it means for kids to lose contact with nature, with free nomadic unorganized play and adventure. A generation of mothers consigned to be fulltime chauffeurs, ferrying kids from one commercial distraction or over-organized play date to another. I grew up in eastern San Diego County, on the very edge of the back country, and once you did your chores (a serious business in those days), you could hop on your bike and set off like Huck Finn. There was a nudist colony in Harbison Canyon about twelve miles away, and we’d take our bikes, push them uphill for hours and hours in the hope of peeking through the fence. Like all my friends, I got a .22 (rifle) when I turned twelve. We did bad things to animals, I must confess, but we were free spirits, hated school, didn’t worry about grades, kept our parents off our backs with part-time jobs and yard work, and relished each crazy adventure and misdemeanor. Since I moved back to San Diego in 2002, I have annual reunions with the five or six guys I’ve known since second grade in 1953. Despite huge differences in political beliefs and religion, we’re still the same old gang.

And gangs were what kept you safe and why mothers didn’t have to worry about play dates or child molesters. I remember even in kindergarten—we lived in the City Heights area of San Diego at that time—we had a gang that walked to school together and played every afternoon. Just this wild group of little boys and girls, seven or eight of us, roaming around, begging pennies to buy gum at the corner store. Today the idea of unsupervised gangs of children or teenagers sounds like a law-and-order problem. But it’s how communities used to work and might still work. Aside from Louv, I warmly recommend The Child in the City by the English anarchist Colin Ward. A chief purpose of architecture, he argues, should be to design environments for unprogrammed fun and discovery."



"Wolch: We have one last question, about your young adult novels. Whenever we assign something from City of Quartz or another of your disheartening pieces about LA, it’s hard not to worry that the students will leave the class and jump off of a cliff! But your young adult novels seem to capture some amount of an alternative hopeful future.

Davis: Gee, you shouldn’t be disheartened by my books on LA. They’re just impassioned polemics on the necessity of the urban left. And my third LA book, Magical Urbanism, literally glows with optimism about the grassroots renaissance going on in our immigrant neighborhoods. But to return to the two adolescent “science adventure” novels I wrote for Viggo Mortensen’s wonderful Perceval Press. Above all they’re expressions of longing for my oldest son after his mother moved him back to her native Ireland. The heroes are three real kids: my son, his step-brother, and the daughter of our best friends when I taught at Stony Brook on Long Island. Her name is Julia Monk, and she’s now a wildlife biologist doing a Ph.D. at Yale on pumas in the Andes. I’m very proud that I made her the warrior-scientist heroine of the novels, because it was an intuition about her character that she’s made real in every way—just a remarkable young person."
mikedavis  2016  interviews  economics  california  sanfrancisco  losangeles  henrygeorge  urbanism  urban  suburbia  suburbs  jenniferolch  danacuff  fauxurbanism  hipsters  downtown  property  ownership  housing  populism  progressive  progressivism  reynerbanham  planning  urbanplanning  citybeautiful  gentrification  cities  homeless  homelessness  michaelrotundi  frankgehry  richardlouv  gangs  sandiego  friendship  colinward  thechildinthecity  architecture  fun  discovery  informal  unprogrammed  freedom  capitalism  china  india  england  ireland  famine  optimism  juliamonk  children  teens  youth  development  realestate  zoning  sanbernardino  sciarc 
january 2017 by robertogreco
Architect Peter Zellner's Tijuana Experiment | San Diego | Artbound | KCET
""I went to Mexico trying to figure out how to work differently," he explains. "What I took back was learning to work on the fly and learning to improvise, not entering the discussion with preconceptions about the right solution, and sometimes not even showing up with -- this sounds horrible -- with finished construction drawings. Often we worked out things in the field, making the drawings on site."

This is how Zellner found himself in the field with the stonemason, sketching out a tile pattern for the marble shower. Details and material selections were more collaborative than up north. "Some days there wasn't a right answer," he continues, describing an almost artisanal process. "The question was: What materials are available today, for instance knowing what sort of marble we can source, how can we cut it? When you are working with people with 40 years of stone working experience, they're not scared to not know the answer that day. They worked it out on the spot. I learned something from that sort of approach.""

Zellner's shift from a professional paradigm toward a more ad hoc approach may seem anachronistic in an era when digital tools are defining the cutting edge of architecture and the act of building a has become almost a conservative byproduct. (He teaches at technological powerhouse SCI-Arc, after all.) A long history of artistic and architectural precedents underscores his philosophy. For instance, ZELLNERPLUS has no physical office -- it's a post-studio practice. The trappings of the professional atelier have been traded in for a laptop and mobile devices. Zellner cites minimalist sculptor Tony Smith, who phoned in his early 1960s sculptures as instructions to fabricators, as one inspiration for applying art world methodology to conventional architecture practice. And the influence of the L.A. School -- Gehry, of course, but also Morphosis, Studioworks, and Fredrick Fischer -- is there. Beginning in the late-seventies, those architects found experimentation in everyday materials combined with new formal expressions and spatial relationships.

"Experimentation now is understood as kind of the byproduct of toying with software and fabrication techniques, but I'm less interested in this rarefied concept," Zellner explains. "Today, the venues for experimentation are galleries and museums, books, the Internet, and the academy. However, my understanding is -- at least as far as subjective experimentation in Los Angeles from Schindler to the Case Study architects to the L.A. School goes -- that experimentation occurred at the bequest of the client and with all of the associated work and responsibilities. So there was the degree of possibility that things could and should go wrong. I think an experimental approach to making architecture has to account for and embrace the possibility of chance."

"At Casa Anaya, Zellner points out where experiments in poured concrete worked, where they didn't, and where a window was moved during construction. It's the language of details, of process, of labor. "I've always believed that architecture was bracketed by certain things -- and this sounds so banal -- a site, planning, context, the culture that you work within, a budget that you have to address." he says. "But in today's culture none of this makes architecture radical , right? That is at best a little short sighted but in the larger picture somewhat tragic. Many architects have abandoned an interest in the things that give architecture is power and relevance."

Zellner's approach is not a radicalization of architecture, but a deviation--an attempt to reactivate quotidian practice. By delving back into building, he questions the very notion of experimentation."

[See also: http://www.laimyours.com/52800/zellnerplus-casa-anaya/
http://archinect.com/firms/project/102848/casa-anaya/79381640
http://instagram.com/p/ZohFjMRvYx/
http://instagram.com/p/ZohBWoxvYo/
http://instagram.com/p/Zog6_8RvYg/ ]
tijuana  mexico  architecture  construction  peterzellner  mimizeiger  practice  2013  design  craft  collaboration  sciarc  experimentation  materials  casaanaya  california  losangeles  learning  flexibility 
november 2013 by robertogreco
Dan Hill Opinion on MOOCs and design education
"(Ah these names. "Coursera." "Udacity." They sound like recently-privatised former state assets. I next expect a slew of social media oriented services, with monickers like Smugly and Learnr, Swotly and Examinr, Cramly and Testr.)"



"And yet despite attempts to fold in collaboration and sharing, it will tend to a solitary pursuit of those exercises. At least currently. The whole point of MOOCs - one of their core values - is that they are *not* social and collaborative. Their dematerialised and dislocated state means they fit into your schedule, but in doing so, it cannot - by definition - bring you together with people at the same time and in the same space.

Design and architecture education however is, I believe, more than ever about collaboration, on working through holistic projects together, face to face, in transdisciplinary teams, learning through doing on real projects with real clients. While digital tools can support this, affording some new patterns of activity, the pull back to the physical, embodied and genuinely social is profound, particularly as systems and outcomes become more complex, more entwined, more hybridised. Schools and research centres like Strelka, CIID, Sandberg Instituut or the work we're doing at Fabrica, are exploring exactly this, as post-institutional learning environments.

It's difficult to see how MOOCs will really shift that aspect of design education.

The great graphic designer and typographer Erik Spiekermann once said: "You can teach yourself everything there is to be learned by observing, asking, taking things apart and putting them back together again. Teachers can help with that process as long as they stay credible. The only way to achieve that is to keep on learning themselves.""



"For me, the ideal design education space - showing my prejudices, here - looks more like the wonderfully messy SCI-Arc in Los Angeles or Royal College of Art in London. The RCA, especially in Tony Dunne's Design Interactions space, can sometimes feel like some kind of gloriously generative cyberpunk favela.

How will MOOCs fit alongside this? Or put it another way, what do you think the student bar at Coursera is like?

The huge opportunity behind non-certified, transdisciplinary learning is that it can be tuned to the 21st century's needs, rather than the last century's. Collaborative project-based learning ought to be intrinsically holistic in nature, with tangible outcomes. This is how design is practiced, and this is how design ought to be practiced in the context of learning. Putting lectures online is really just putting 20th century education on the internet, and there must be more to 21st century education than that."
mooc  moocs  danhill  2013  design  designeducation  openstudioproject  lcproject  schooldesign  sciarc  rca  teaching  learning  collaboration  education  howwetech  howwelearn  learningspaces  messiness 
october 2013 by robertogreco
The architecture meltdown - Salon.com
"Those who remain in the profession find design work scarce and are teaching, lecturing, entering competitions and moving into Hollywood production design. These gigs have always been part of the field, which revels in its synthesis of theory and practice, but the balance has shifted in a way that leads to architects doing less and less architecture…

It’s part of a professional ethos, he says, that stresses idealism, dues paying, hierarchy, optimism and a heroic self-image while ignoring financial realities. It’s something he’s become intimately familiar with as he tries to chronicle the damage the recession has exacted on the field. “I’m trying to talk to architects about the economy,” Horton says. “Forget it! It’s hard to get real information. They’re so conscious of P.R. – they’re worried about what’s going to get tweeted.”

The current uncertainty makes the old model – poverty in youth, payday sometime in middle age – harder to count on…"
coolhaus  sciarc  richardmeier  starchitects  frankgehry  remkoolhaas  renzopiano  zahahadid  2012  careers  architecture  barbarabestor  ericowenmoss 
february 2012 by robertogreco
Archinect : Features : Meeting Mike Davis
"“You know, in architecture school most people talk about icons and counter icons, rather than try to understand the larger social networks, hierarchies, and conditions that produce particular types of urbanisms. That is taken to its highest level of trendiness by Rem Koolhaas. His stuff on Lagos is crazy... In my mind it is a sleazy apology for social evil.

Sure, if you want to see human self organization at work, go to Lagos, but face the poverty and oppression by the military regime, destruction of formerly proud communities... Maybe he should talk to my friend Chris Abani about that stuff... Chris would laugh at his hyperbolic formal exercise...”"
architecture  losangeles  mikedavis  sandiego  elcajon  hellsangels  wholeearthcatalog  remkoolhaas  michaelrotondi  urban  urbanism  sciarc  dubai  chrisabani  lagos  favelachic  tends  society  slums  favelas  writing  via:javierarbona  interviews 
october 2009 by robertogreco
Benjamin H. Bratton
"Benjamin H. Bratton is Associate Professor of Visual Arts at the University of California, San Diego, and on the Cultural Studies faculty at SCI_Arc ... a social theorist working within and across multiple institutional contexts --academic, artistic, corporate, theoretical, projective, literary-- experimenting with their systems of production, and with how the means allowed by each can work in strong and weak relation to each other. His research, writing, and practical interests include contemporary social theory, the perils and potentials of pervasive computing, architectural theory and provocation, inverse brand theory, software studies, systems design and development, and the rhetorics of exceptional violence. ... Bratton is a theorist who intervenes within multiple institutional contexts: art, design, computer science, architecture, in order to, like those others to enact new connections between aesthetics and technology and how each works for the social."
benjaminbratton  design  internet  architecture  philosophy  ucsd  sandiego  sciarc  interface  media  newmedia  theory  sociology 
april 2009 by robertogreco
The new LA school | icon 52 | October 2007 - ICONEYE
"The new LA school is a band of digital revolutionaries. Obsessed with form and technique, this generation of young architects is milking the city’s resources – from Hollywood to the aerospace industry – to redefine how architecture is made."
academia  architecture  sciarc  digitization  future  design  losangeles 
december 2007 by robertogreco
This is RIDE-Arc.
"RIDE-Arc is a monthly social bicycle ride that originated out of the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), inspired by other organized social bicycle rides, but an entire animal of its own."
bikes  losangeles  sciarc  architecture  events  social 
october 2007 by robertogreco

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