LA Forum Newsletter_Spring 2013
All The Great Ones Leak James Michael Tate In 2012, Frank Lloyd Wright's Ennis House sold for $4.5 million dollars, a deal at 30% of the initial listing price. Built into the sale was the fateful condition: that the owner be committed to “complete rehabilitation of this irreplaceable icon.” While architects, preservationists and cult fans find themselves nostalgic about the edifice, the market places little to no value on the property. It begs the question how does one rehab an intentional ruin?
beckons with tall tales of ran 1 chos and modernisms, lost urbanisms, and had-to-be-there debates. Last summer, the LA Forum’s retrospective exhibition Unfinished Business shuffled After a long hiatus, the LA through our archives. This Forum Newsletter is back in spring, the Getty Foundation print. But the return to pulp revives its Pacific Standard and ink is not as perverse as it Time initiative with Modern sounds. Throughout the 1990s, Architecture in L.A., a citywide, the publication of a physimulti-institutional look at the cal newsletter was a defining built environment from 1940 endeavor of the LA Forum’s to 1990. But as the legacy of efforts to disseminate ideas the designers and critics of about architecture and urbanism the 20th century hangs heavy into the community. A decade overhead, our appreciation ago the newsletter transitioned and consciousness of that legto a low-overhead online veracy cajole and threaten us at sion, where obscurity led with every turn. Frank Lloyd Wright seeming inevitability to total dor- and Ray and Charles Eames mancy. The Internet’s fleet blogs haunt this issue, as do banal and digital imagery seduce and 1980s office buildings and titillate with a cheap ease. By retrofuturism. contrast, print is slow, outpaced “The past is where by millions of keyboards. Still, the romance lies now, not the we recognize an aesthetic value future,” writes contributor Simon in the experience of the newsReynolds. Indeed, the Forum’s print, the smell and smudge return to paper scratches the of old-fashioned inks and the itch to toss out incendiary misslapping sound of a practiced sives in newsprint just like our flap-fold. The broadsheet may feisty predecessors did. But be the most disposable of we intend this newsletter to be printed media, but it has a rela- more than just an exercise in tive permanence compared with nostalgia. As such, our plan is to web-only content—it may be accommodate the kinds of discollected and archived in a box course that best fit the medium: somewhere, ready to be redislong-form articles, interviews, covered years later. and commissioned, site-specific Yet gazing backward centerfolds. By bringing the can be a dangerous preocnewsletter back to the printing cupation. In L.A., the past (CONT’D ON PAGE 2) PAGE 1 LA FORUM NEWSLETTER SPRING 2013 (FROM PAGE 12) EDITORIAL STATEMENT: FROM ANALOG TO DIGITAL AND BACK AGAIN AND BACK AGAIN FROM VALUE HISTORICAL PAGE 2 LA FORUM NEWSLETTER SPRING 2013 CONSERVING THE EXPERIMENT — FRANK ESCHER It is difficult to exist in Los Angeles as an architect without confronting, in one way or another, the city’s architectural history. The idea of Los Angeles as a cultural laboratory is as old as the place itself, and each generation has added to the tradition of experimentation. The same openness that shaped the city into a global center of contemporary art attracted generations of architects who shaped the city’s fabric. But that interest in the Experiment, the Present, and the New and the city’s general disinterest in its own history are two sides of the same coin. This set of conditions—the contemporary art scene and a collection of architecture both important and extraordinary—has long been a focus of Escher GuneWardena Architecture, the practice I share with Ravi GuneWardena. These conditions reflect our own interests as much as our L.A. context. The engagement with contemporary art and culture is as important and interesting as an engagement with history: we don’t exist in a cultural vacuum, and what has come before us influences where we are now. On the one hand, this has led us to do a number of artrelated projects, collaborating with artists and designing exhibitions and galleries. On the other, it has led us to researching and conserving architectural history. The restoration of the Chemosphere (completed in 2001) and the Eames House (ongoing) are two such projects. The Chemosphere—designed in 1960 and arguably one of John Lautner’s, and the city’s, best-known houses—is a brilliant and radical structural solution: one support planted in a precipitous site. Occupied by its original owners until the early 1970s, the house suffered careless and disastrous changes made by subsequent owners, including the removal of built-in furniture and alterations in surface materials, and decayed through negligence. It is important to note, though, that the Chemosphere was not completed as originally envisioned. Changes were made during construction, mostly due to budget constraints: Lautner’s material choices were replaced with products donated by companies (which then used the house for advertising purposes), plans were modified, and new infrastructure systems were added. It made little sense, then, to restore the house to its 1960 condition. To develop an architectural strategy that would respect DO NOT ERASE (FROM PAGE 1) presses—as well as making it available for download—we hope to reinvigorate our discursive network and view the past production with a critical eye while building a platform for contemporary investigation. historic fabric while introducing visible changes, our project needed to address the requirements of a new owner and his family, as well as Lautner’s original intentions. We began with discussions with the original clients, project architects, and builders, as well as documentation research. However, Lautner’s original seven drawings neither reflect built conditions nor reveal much detail; interior elevations are schematic at best. The changes we made—replacing floor and wall materials, installing frameless glazing, reconstructing old and introducing new built-in furniture—were carefully considered, as were the repair, restoration, and reconstruction of abused or missing elements of the original house. The Eames House is different. One can’t overstate the importance of this building, a residence that was as carefully planned and constructed as it was lived in. There are architectural aspects: the relation of the two simple volumes (house and studio) to each other and to their site: the meadow, the hill, and the view across the ocean. There are explorations of modularity and prefabrication, of materials new and old, of spatial sequences and polychrome architecture. There is also the extraordinary collection of books and paintings, tin toys from India and paper objects from Japan, birds of wood and skins of tigers, prototypes of iconic pieces of furniture and carved stools, a collection that says much about the eyes and minds of the collectors. And then there are the friends, visitors, and collaborators of Charles and Ray, the people connected to the home. All of this makes the Eames House one of the great cultural places of the 20th century. As much a place of experimentation as it was a dwelling, the house continued to evolve from its conception in the late 1940s until the deaths of Charles (August 21, 1978) and Ray (August 21, 1988). Conservation began after Ray’s death: to secure the house’s survival, the Eames family set up the foundation that has maintained the place for the last few decades, often through great sacrifices of time and money. As a result, the six-decade-old house is in remarkable shape. LACMA’s recent borrowing of the Eames House living room contents—furniture, books, and art—for the museum’s Pacific Standard Time exhibition, California Design, 1930–1965: “Living in a Modern Way”, provided the Eames Foundation with an opportunity to undertake several restoration projects in the now-empty living room and to launch a major maintenance project: the 250 Year Project, aimed at protecting and preserving the house and collections for future generations. The project is overseen by Eames granddaughter Lucia Dewey Atwood, who is also the foundation’s executive director. The Eames Foundation’s stated goals and directions for the restoration were clear from the onset: do not erase; preserve the traces of the house’s history and maintain historic fabric where possible, even when and where this was not in pristine condition. This mandate recognized that the history of a house reveals itself in faint traces: the odd chipped pane of glass, slight dents in metal edges, discoloring or stains on wood. These delicate traces create atmospheric conditions as important as technical matters. We were particularly fascinated by the craquelure on the cabinet’s painted metal sliding doors. It was then, at a meeting early in the process while examining the house, that we concluded the house should be approached the way a conservator approaches a valuable painting. We turned to the Getty for recommendations for conservators. At the time, we were unaware of the impending launch of the Getty Conservation Institute’s Conserving Modern Architecture Initiative (CMAI), a program that connects a vast body of knowledge and research, historians, scientists, and specialists with 20th century architecture—a program that will change how we view and conserve architecture of the recent past. The Eames House became the first case study in this program. Restoration or conservation projects require a small army of specialists and consultants. The projects are less about the authorship of the conservation architect and more about collaborations of great complexity. In our case these experts, under project director Susan Macdonald (who heads the Getty Conservation Institute Field Projects) and project manager Kyle Normandin (manager of the GCI CMAI), are conservators, historians, and scientists. In the short time frame provided by the loan of the objects to LACMA, a first set of important measures were taken in the living room: the decaying and asbestos-containing floor tiles were replaced with a vapor barrier and custom-produced tile matching the original color and texture; the wood wall was cleaned and reconditioned; the operable casement windows and sliding doors were repaired. Other projects, such as climate and UV studies and paint and color analysis, are under way or in preparation—all part of the larger Conservation Master Plan project. Without a doubt, the opportunity to closely examine the Eames House is an extraordinary one, often producing moments of surprise and discovery. While researching strategies to recondition the living room’s wood wall, Getty wood conservator Arlen Heginbotham managed to identify the wood by comparing the microscopic structure of 5,000 (!) different species: the Eameses used Australian eucalyptus. The wall within the house, then, is the machined and industrially processed equivalent of the row of eucalyptus trees in front. And while the story of the house in relationship to the site is well known—the first project lofted across the meadow, the love and respect Charles and Ray developed for their land, and the second project that is placed with great precision between the hill and the row of eucalyptus trees—this dialogue between structure and landscape, a central idea of Modernism, goes beyond the spatial. Through conservation and research, other expressions evolve. For example, what now appears to be a stained cement board panel above the window from the living room to the terrace, awaiting cleaning or replacement, is in fact a photographic image of the trees on the site. The now-faint reflection on the site (the image was replaced once before and is likely to be replaced when the exterior of the building is addressed) echoes or mirrors the surrounding land. Within this rational building, the romanticism is surprising. And though the work on the living room may be the most visible evidence of our process, it is only the first small step in what will be a research and conservation project of many years. TIME AND SIGNAL TO NOISE: AN INTERVIEW WITH RADIO IRIS AUTHOR ANNEMARIE KINNEY How do we pick up a signal and find meaning in it amid the static of the contemporary city? Anne-Marie Kinney’s novel Radio Iris tunes in to the wavelength of single career gal Iris Finch as she turns the dial through the haze of her own life. A lone receptionist for the dubious Larmax Inc., housed in a banal office building, Iris’ grip on reality is just as tenuous as the company’s line of business. Like any good receiver, Iris tries to hold the signal as long as she can, but the crackle and noise are difficult to overcome. Anne-Marie’s narrative centers on Iris, but the novel also depicts the non-heroic architectural details of the everyday—the designs of late capital that defy authorship, authenticity, and nostalgia. Through Iris’ unsteady eyes we see atemporal interiors and economic aftereffects. To bring you the rest of the story “five by five,” Mimi Zeiger and Duane McLemore sat down with Anne-Marie on a crystal-clear Saturday morning in Los Feliz and discussed Anne-Marie’s writing style, the inspirations for Radio Iris, office carpeting, generic architecture, and Burbank. based on this thing I saw that sparked my imagination. The storage room was not always a storage room. It was once an account manager’s office, an older, vaguely European man who always dressed in three-piece suits and carried a handkerchief in his breast pocket, a smirking throwback. But since he left some months ago, his office has become the holding pen for broken appliances, unneeded papers, and surplus office supplies. These are the things that are no longer things, but not yet trash. They are to be forgotten, but reserved. She is not sure whose anxiety is manifested in the storage room, but because she sits across from it every day, she feels that it is her problem to ignore. Iris looks at the door, now kept closed at all times to keep the clutter out of anyone’s field of vision. Who knows where all these things were kept before. Opportunity begets utility. The space became, and now it is filling. MZ This isn’t Mad Men, where every detail of the secretarial pool is captured in vivid color. DM Not to get to architecture too quickly, but this brings up the example of high modernism, where designers were aiming for the universal and what they oftentimes wound up with was the generic. Your novel speaks to that genericness, replaceability, and placelessness of office buildings. We don’t know what Iris’ company does exactly, and we never know what her brother Neil sells. Was this idea that everything is a generic, replaceable commodity tangible to you as your wrote the novel? AK Well, the way I looked at it was, I had this idea of feeling like an ice cube in a tray. Take the office building, for example: all these doors are closed and it looks completely blank from the outside but anything at all could be happening behind the doors. And the same way that both Iris and Neil had these very dull jobs and they’re trying to fit into something that is very neat, but their psyches don’t fit in that little box. So everything is very neat and blank on the surface, and there’s this teeming unrest happening underneath. I can’t explain. Of course that did have an explanation. I can’t explain why they didn’t plan well to get it up there, and I don’t actually know how they ended up getting it up there. But there was an actual music publishing company in the building. The piano represents this music that’s always in the background, and then suddenly it’s this physical thing. And it just is there and it’s gone, but for one moment Iris actually sees a physical manifestation of this thing. No one deals with it because I think that’s something that happens in office buildings a lot. Something gets broken or messed up and it’s no one’s job, so everyone overlooks it. I mention at some point the custodian stops coming and they don’t know where he’s gone, so no one is really in charge of the building anymore. So who cares if it’s mangled? MZ And there’s so much built up around the company as artifice, but when it fails we never know what happened. Is that a commentary on our economic reality? AK It’s representative of the way that the bottom has dropped out of our work system. It’s the previous understanding that you work your whole life in exchange for some stability, but it turns out there really is no stability, and a lot of what we’ve staked things on is a house of cards. MZ I was struck by the lavender carpet as a color choice, just because it has a certain timeliness in that choice. It could be from any period from 1950 onward. AK Honestly, a lavender carpet, I just used it because it was the color of the carpet in an office building I worked in. I was always struck by the carpet in that building, and I looked at it a lot. MZ When you think of the office building Iris works in, where is it? AK Well, it is based completely on a building I worked in, in West Hollywood. The events that take place are all imaginary, but the spaces are all real because I don’t know how to invent spaces, so every space I have in everything I write is based on a real place. All I can do is describe a real place that I know. MZ Did it have a pattern or stains? AK No, it was very neat, and now in retrospect I’m not even really sure it was lavender. It was something in the purple family. But there’s something about office carpets. It’s never the carpet you would have in your home. MZ It also struck me that this emptying out of office buildings is a condition that we’re seeing everywhere. You said the building was in West Hollywood, but it could just as easily been in an office park in Sunnyvale or Phoenix. AK Yeah, even though in my head it was West Hollywood, I didn’t specify. I just wanted it to be anyplace. She stops when she sees a shoddily mounted chain link fence around a vacant lot, just half a block down from the office. It seems to her that there used to be something there, but she can’t say what it was. She feels that she would remember a vacant lot, would probably stare at it on a semi-regular basis. There is a rusted metal sign on a post, jammed into the patchy grass just on the other side of the fence. On bumper stickers affixed to the sign, in big block letters, it says: I’m home. I’m home. I’m home. DM How would you describe Radio Iris? AK Well, on the one hand it’s an existential thriller. It begins as a simple sort of mystery about a young woman—a loner, working in an office for an eccentric businessman—who discovers someone living in the office building. She becomes obsessed with this person and in finding out who he is and what he’s doing. But slowly everything else in her reality begins to unravel, and it turns out that not only the identity of this man but everything is up for questioning. Then I can describe it as chick lit on mescaline, because it starts out with all the elements of a young girl making it in the city, unlucky in love. And then the bottom drops out. MZ What’s that process? AK I don’t have a real good handle on how I describe a place, but I always do because I need some grounding. I need to know where people are, what the air feels and smells like, where the walls are—that’s really important to me, knowing where walls and doors are and how alone and not alone a person is, how private their space is or not. MZ It’s like they’re meant to do something more than just be carpet. It disguises stains and hides dirt. DM Even a banal material like office carpeting conveys a value system. MZ Yet you aren’t afraid to violate the banality of these materials. Can you talk about the holes in the walls and floor that pepper the book? AK Well, I feel like the part where Iris drills a hole in the wall to spy on the neighbor is something that’s done in desperation, because there’s no way in. All these doors don’t open. So the only thing she can think to do is to just make this as unobtrusive an opening as she can, something that maybe no one would notice. But meanwhile her boss is making even greater violations, hiding things in the floorboards and possibly not even being a real company. DM Was that conscious, to start with a joke? AK No, nothing was conscious. AK I only include the parts that are important to me. I include what I’m interested in and don’t include what I don’t find interesting. DM How personal is the narrative? AK Well, I mean, it was based a little bit on my life, working in an office and not knowing what I was doing with my life. I had always wanted to be a writer, and I majored in creative writing. I was just working as a receptionist and didn’t know how to take the next step in life. Then one day, I was walking in the building and I saw a door open, and it looked like an apartment in there. There were dirty dishes and a kitchen, and it just sparked this idea. I hadn’t written anything in over a year, and so I just started writing again MZ For all the sparseness in detail, you still clearly delineate the space: the walls, the doors. The reader gets a perfect understanding between elements, such as the relationship between the desk and the door. DM MZ DM And the wall behind it. And the wall behind it. And the window. MZ Perhaps you could tell us more about the piano that gets inexplicably wedged in the stairwell and the only solution to get it unstuck is to sledgehammer the walls, which we assume will never get fixed. AK I don’t know how well I can explain that. There are many things that are in the book are things that actually happened in my office. There was a time when I got to work and there was a piano stuck, and they couldn’t get up the stairs, and I did have to crawl under it to get to work. I had this ongoing file of weird things that happened MZ You equip Iris with a Sharpie that she uses to tag the street, the building, and objects with little messages. Why? DM It’s something I used to do, so I identified with that part of Iris. It was not tagging to mark my presence but to have points of reference. For years, if I saw a big blank white wall I would write one word in tiny type right in the middle. That was both a cute and slightly pathological behavior that I myself did, so Iris “had me” at that point. MZ And the storage room. But other than that, everything else dematerializes. The office building could be huge or it could be small— that sense of scale disappears. AK I wanted to have like a dreamlike fog. As if Iris is just wandering these rooms and halls. So I didn’t want it to be super exactly described because I wanted it to be foggy. (CONT’D ON PAGE 8) PAGE 5 LA FORUM NEWSLETTER MZ Still, there is something so vivid in the mundanity of Iris’ office, but the details are so sketchy. I was struck by how much you could convey with so little. SPRING 2013 NOT BE OF IT ALL THE GREAT ONES LEAK IN A (FROM PAGE 5) AK Well, I think Iris does it, writing things in places, just as evidence of her existence because she doesn’t really have any evidence that she’s really there or doing anything. She craves something physical to show that she exists. ALSO BE YOU CAN PAGE 8 LA FORUM NEWSLETTER SPRING 2013 MZ About the markings: Is that something you did? Are they autobiographical? AK No—actually, I don’t know where that came from. However, once I saw a blank sign in an empty lot and I wanted to write something on it. I notice empty lots a lot. Near where I live there’s this empty lot that has a bunch of broken furniture in it. It seems like: “Oh, that’s the place where everyone puts their broken furniture.” And I’m just fascinated by it. AK Good question, because I feel like a lot of offices are still stumbling to move forward. Everyone does have email, but a lot of times you do need a fax machine every once in a while. In offices I worked in the last few years, they had fax machines. But I bet there’s a lot of fax machines sitting in offices that no one ever uses, and they’re just collecting dust. But inertia makes people not get rid of them. The time I was setting it is basically now but … I could have gone to one extreme and just ignored the modern and not mention cell phones or email and set it in this stereotypical office space that we think of that hasn’t advanced. But I didn’t feel like I could really do that and have it be really relevant. Iris has a cell phone. than that. You can’t just see what’s happening. In any typical office building, people can be doing all kinds of things, but all you see are people typing on computers and talking on the phone. It’s not tangible. MZ They could be writing a screenplay or looking at porn or running a mega-million-dollar business. AK Yeah, you don’t know unless you’re actually in it. Everything’s a mystery to an outsider. There’s very little you can know just from looking. MZ Do you have favorite buildings in L.A. that are the most mysterious? AK Not really, although there are a lot of buildings, I think in West Hollywood, that are so imposing and pretty and you have no idea what’s up inside. Like the building where my husband recently worked, his company was in the penthouse, which used to be Hugh Hefner’s office, but now it’s a web development company. And American Idol is a floor down. It just looks like a big concrete tower, but there used to be a Playboy Club in the basement in the ’60s. DM There’s nothing more awkward looking than a five-year-old cell phone. AK You can also be in a time and not be of it. There are a lot of ways you cannot participate in the advancement of technology. I don’t have a smartphone, I have an old-fashioned cell phone. I don’t care to always be able to check email and stuff. I think it’s really pretty easy to just not care. AK I’m always curious about the concept of what does who someone is mean? How do you parse that? Are we talking about personality or essence or …? On the one hand, what does it mean? On the other hand, what does it matter? I don’t know how much it matters who someone is. The only thing that matters to me is the thoughts that someone has and the way they experience where they are. But I don’t know what part of identity that constitutes. Behind her, the building continues caving in on itself, but no one seems to notice. It sinks faster into the earth, sucked in as though the pavement were quicksand, gradually disappearing under the black tar of the parking lot into unknown earth, while people walk by on their way to appointments, meetings, and lunches. Soon, it will be just an empty space, to be filled or not, for the weeds to overgrow or wilt away. MZ What about it? That it’s empty or people are dumping things in it? AK Just the fact that it’s empty. There are very normal residential street apartment buildings and houses, and the middle is this wilderness, a big square of dead grass with broken things in it. Except for a blank sign. What’s a blank sign doing anywhere? Los Angeles is so designed. There’s so many explicable things, like nice buildings, and then there’s just vacancy and trash and stuff that’s been overlooked, dotting the landscape. MZ At the end of the novel the building sinks into the earth and Iris disappears into some kind of delusional fantasy. How should we understand that ending? AK I’m not sure. I feel like at that point she goes away from me and I don’t know. Like that’s the point where my relationship with her, the author/character relationship, is severed. So, I don’t know either. She’s just gone. I don’t know where she ends up per se but I do see her running beyond the city limits. I do see her winding up hitting water or some other non-urban landscape. MZ Regarding this question of time, why does Iris’ radio only play old songs? AK Well, that’s what she’s latched onto. Because if you listen to the oldies station and that’s all there is, you can really get hooked. I like to think she stumbled upon it one day and was captivated and never changed the station. It never occurred to her that there were other stations. Iris is obviously haunted by the past. It’s the only thing she dreams about, and I think it’s at this point where she has visions of a past place as a paradise that was disrupted— this idyllic land with horses and space, it represented peace, and then that peace went away, and she can’t get over that. For Iris the past is ambiguous, but to Neil, who shared that past, it’s something real that he never wants to think about again. And that’s what keeps him always moving. DM An echo of that: You both work near the Burbank Airport, and you might or might not know Lockheed had their super-secret “skunkworks” there, which is where they developed the SR-71, all these things you could never get away with having this technology out on display in what is now Burbank. It used to be on the very edge of the city. They could come and go in a clandestine way. And does anyone who goes there now know about that? AK I didn’t know about that. MZ Are these vacant, overlooked spaces a product of our time? AK I feel like it’s been that way much longer than that. I don’t know. DM And does it surprise you to find out that one of the most secretive places in the entire NATO world was within a mile of where both of you work for years and years? AK That’s actually the perfect hiding place because it’s so nondescript—it’s barely an airport. Our friend Blake describes it as a sports bar with service to Vegas. You don’t even feel like you’re really in an airport. Landings at Burbank are bumpy because their runway’s too short. It’s an airport horned in next to a strip mall. Tim Burton bases his suburbia on his childhood in Burbank, and he always perceived this sinister something underneath the sunny exterior. DM Basically, she continues in flight. AK Yeah. DM She doesn’t go back to her apartment. AK I don’t think she goes back to her apartment. And she can’t go back to the building. MZ Maybe it’s just the amount of space we have. AK Maybe there’s more space than we’ve figured out what to do with yet. DM There are empty lots dotted around central L.A., and one has to suspect that there had been a building there, but it was burned down in the King riots. And so they are evidence via absence of large struggles and oppositions playing out. Having spent time in that area, is there something about the empty lots that maybe you started to notice there first? AK I don’t remember it consciously, but I’ve always noticed vacant lots when I see them, and I always just stop. I always want to look at them and see what’s in the weeds. MZ We were arguing the other day about whether the building actually implodes or if that is part of Iris’ imagination. AK I think it does. I think that could easily happen and no one would actually notice. They just go on about their days. DM Something he’s literally running from. AK Yeah. MZ If Iris is in a foggy dream, is Neil a realist? Is he haunted by the past? AK I don’t think he’s allowed himself to be. He’s very disci plined in his thinking. Like in the scene where he’s at the conference psyching himself up by talking to himself in the mirror. I think he forces himself to only look forward. But when something forces him to look back, he gets mad and runs even more. He’s always in a form of transportation. He spends more time in cars and planes. DM Is it also an internal psychic collapse? AK This wasn’t the only ending I wrote. I had another one where she flees and just wanders the desert for an undetermined amount of time and then returns to find the building abandoned as though it’s been years even though we don’t know how long she’s been gone. But, yeah, I ended up with the more bananas one. MZ I think the real estate development signs are hard to look away from because they make you wonder what is actually being sold. AK And sometimes the signs are weathered, as if someone was planning on developing this at some point but nothing ever happened, like maybe the money went away. DM Which is classically L.A. in a lot of ways. In another way, do you think there’s a loss of identity that comes from being rooted in time but floating in space, like Neil, or floating in time and rooted in space, like Iris? Do you think there’s something those kinds of spaces—the nondescript buildings and the empty lots—have in common with the characters? A lack of identity? AK In a way a question that comes up in the book is: What is a self, what is an identity? That’s a question I feel like I can’t answer. So how can you have a lack of identity if you don’t even know what identity is? In the same way, what makes a space what it is? MZ And Iris is always in buildings. AK Mm-hmm. MZ There is this whole sense of loss that might be happening. There’s all that potentiality, but there’s also nostalgia for what it might have been had it not been just an empty lot. I was drawn to the timelessness or maybe atemporality in Radio Iris. Time seems somewhat generic, just as the building is generic. You write about emails and fax machines. What is time in the book? MZ We were talking about looking at empty lots, but do you also look at architecture? AK Yeah. I always find buildings. I always like the idea you can look at the front of the building and have no idea what its purpose is or what’s going on. And you can even go inside and not really know what the purpose is or what’s going on. You need more information MZ I think it almost goes back to when we were talking about how do you describe buildings. And how much you sketch in. There’s certain parts of the self in the characters that really are just sort of the minimal delineation of who they might be, and we’re asked to fill in some questions as readers about who this person is and maybe we understand some history of them. BETWEEN Los Angeles has a preservation problem. It is not that we are preserving too little, or even too much—it is that citizens (and designers) don’t know whom to blame, except for the person actually swinging the wrecking ball. Properly assigned, blame is positive, an assignment of responsibility for outcomes, but like fingerprints in a detective story, it is inexorably tied to evidence left behind at the scene. When individuals or groups are going out of their way to erase evidence of their involvement, its only natural to ask: What is there to hide, and who’s being set up to take the fall? At stake is the public’s interest and agency in the evolution of Los Angeles. Increasingly, in lieu of public study, discussion, or even debate about larger questions of the city’s future, the narrow specifics of identifying what in the urban landscape is to stay and what is to go are negotiated through litigation (and, frequently, even just the threat of it) and codified in narrowly defined settlement agreements. And it is this language, dense and litigious, that is incorporated to the legal infrastructure of projects’ environmental impact report (EIR) mitigations, development agreements, and voluntary conditions of approval offered by owners and developers. Most insidiously, thanks to the cloak of confidentiality thrown over the variously parties (occasionally with the city’s tacit blessing), it is nearly impossible for the public to unravel whose interests were ever really being represented, whether preservation was even the point, or if it was just another Astroturf battleground. As a design question, the pernicious influence of these narrowly tailored agreements means that specific design solutions are frequently preselected and codified far upstream, handcuffing the design team and adversely impacting the final project. Perhaps the worst example of this, but by no means the only one, is the Robert F. Kennedy Schools on the site of the old Ambassador Hotel, where an ostensible “mitigation” to offset the demolition of the original building was inserted into the EIR by mandating that a new Wilshire façade be located in substantially the same location. Not only is this barely even a fig leaf of preservation, but that restriction made it far more physically difficult to include the slated project program: the needed schools on the site. The hotel’s famous interiors were similarly required to be recreated, a process that also took money, time, and space away from the vitally needed classrooms and teaching spaces. Whatever nostalgic value the recreated spaces offer, it is monstrous to have them foisted on a school district that, even at its most unencumbered, struggles to provide the most basic educational infrastructure for a youth population that bears slim resemblance to the demographics of the hazily remembered L.A. of yore. The current ad hoc, pointillist approach to citywide preservation is fundamentally incapable of differentiating between nostalgia and actual historical value. While that is bad in theory and worse CONTRIBUTORS FRANK ESCHER founded the award-winning firm Escher GuneWardena Architecture with Ravi GuneWardena in 1995. He grew up in Switzerland and studied architecture at the ETH (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule) Zürich. He is the editor of the monograph John Lautner, Architect, served until 2007 as the administrator of the John Lautner Archive (now at the Getty), and serves on the Board of Directors of the John Lautner Foundation, as well as on the Advisory Board of the Julius Shulman Institute. Escher has served as president, and is currently on the Advisory Board, of the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design. In the summer of 2009, Escher and GuneWardena were invited by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa to serve on the Mayor’s Design Advisory Panel to the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Commission. Escher has been visiting faculty at the University of Southern California (USC) since 2011. ANNE-MARIE KINNEY is a writer based in Los Angeles and holds an MFA in creative writing from California Institute of the Arts. Her short fiction has appeared in Black Clock , Indiana Review, and Keyhole, and in 2010, her short story “Ask Us Anything” was performed by Los Angeles’s Word Theatre. She is currently the production editor of Black Clock. Radio Iris, published in May 2012 by Two Dollar Radio, is her first novel. SIMON REYNOLDS is the author of seven books about music and pop culture, including Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past (Faber & Faber 2011), Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978–84 (Faber & Faber 2005), and Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture (1998, to be reissued in an updated and expanded form in summer 2013 by Faber & Faber). Starting out as a staff writer for the British weekly music paper Melody Maker in the late 1980s, MICHAEL SWEENEY is an architect in Los Angeles. He has experience with a variety of project types, from private homes to institutional organizations, and he is familiar with all phases of project development, with a particular interest in urban design and master planning. Michael is a California Registered Architect and a LEED Accredited Professional. He is a member of the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and a board member for the LA Forum. He received his Master of Architecture from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Minnesota. JAMES MICHAEL TATE. Born in Conroe, Texas, in 1980. Currently lives and works in Los Angeles. Educated at Texas A&M University, Auburn University, and Yale University. Worked for Samuel Mockbee Architect, Common Ground, Eisenman Architects, MOS Architects, and Michael Maltzan Architecture. Taught at Rice University. Founder and leader of T8projects. LOS ANGELES FORUM FOR ARCHITECTURE AND URBAN DESIGN NEWSLETTER, SPRING 2013 DESIGN Neil Donnelly This publication is made possible in part by a grant from the City of Los Angeles, Department of Cultural Affairs (CONT’D ON PAGE 12) PAGE 11 LA FORUM NEWSLETTER EDITORS James Black Thurman Grant Duane McLemore Michael Sweeney Mimi Zeiger SPRING 2013 NOSTALGIA OP-ED: L.A. CONFIDENTIAL — MICHAEL SWEENEY in practice, it is absolutely catastrophic when projected onto the much larger problem of seismic safety. One of the persistently discussed (though little-publicized) problems facing Los Angeles’ urban landscape is the prevalence of post-war buildings constructed prior to late-20th century advances in structural engineering. It is the thousands of non-ductile concrete office buildings, soft-story apartment buildings, and swaths of mid-city and the foothills that are built on areas subject to liquefaction that are L.A.’s real preservation problem. How do we preserve the complex ecologies that make up the city while allowing for succession and improvement of the urban landscape? he has been a freelance contributor to magazines including The New York Times, Artforum, The Wire, The Guardian, Slate, and Frieze. He maintains a number of blogs centered around the hub Blissblog (http://blissout. blogspot.com). Born in London in 1963, he spent most of the 1990s and 2000s in New York and currently lives in South Pasadena with his wife, Joy Press, and two children. AND (FROM PAGE 11) LA Forum PO Box 291774 Los Angeles, CA 90029 www.laforum.org firstname.lastname@example.org MEMBERSHIP Membership helps sustain the Forum’s website, lectures, competitions, publications, and other events. By joining, you give support to the cause of architecture and design, while enjoying a stimulating year of Forum happenings. To join, visit http://laforum.org/ membership. 2013 SPONSORS DIGITAL BOARD OF DIRECTORS Thurman Grant, President Siobhán Burke, Vice-President Carmen Cham, Vice-President of Information Duane McLemore, Vice-President of Development Michael Sweeney, Vice-President of Operations Matthew Gillis, Treasurer Orhan Ayyüce Rob Berry Nathan Bishop James Black Gail Peter Borden Russell Fortmeyer Ella Hazard Eric Olsen Iris Anna Regn Linda Taalman Mimi Zeiger BOARD OF ADVISORS Hitoshi Abe Aaron Betsky Pamela Burton Paul Danna Joe Day Tim Durfee Frank Escher Hsin Ming Fung Margaret Griffin Brooke Hodge Jason Kerwin Alice Kimm Mark Lee Kimberli Meyer Norman Millar Merry Norris Linda Pollari Michael Pinto Janet Sager Mohamed Sharif Warren Techentin TO ANALOG PAGE 12 LA FORUM NEWSLETTER SPRING 2013 Partners Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts Los Angeles County Arts Commission National Endowment for the Arts Woodbury University School of Architecture Benefactors Joe Day and Nina Hachigian Abby Sher SagerMonti Sponsors John Friedman Alice Kimm Architects Wes Jones (Jones, Partners; Architecture) Mak Center for Art and Architecture Tom Marble (Marbletecture) Mohamed and Rehana Sharif Merry Norris Contemporary Art Osborn Architects Pamela Burton & Company Skidmore Owings & Merrill Southern California Institute of Architecture Suisman Urban Design Warren Techentin Architecture Contributors a l m project inc Bestor Architecture Johnson Fain Koning Eizenberg Tichenor & Thorp Architects, Inc. UPrinting Urban Operations Corporate Members Berry and Linné DSH Architecture Lyric Design and Planning Sara Daleiden, Development Consultant Knarik Harutyunyan, Administrative Assistant Ellen Knowles, Development Assistant Contents 11 OP-ED: L.A. CONFIDENTIAL — MICHAEL SWEENEY ALL THE GREAT ONES LEAK — JAMES MICHAEL TATE SIGNAL TO NOISE: AN INTERVIEW WITH RADIO IRIS AUTHOR ANNE-MARIE KINNEY FUTURE ANTERIOR — SIMON REYNOLDS CONSERVING THE EXPERIMENT — FRANK ESCHER (CONT’D ON PAGE 1) 6 5 3 2