offTOP Work Samples

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DEMAR MATHEWS

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Unearthing a Black Aesthetic South Central Pop Up Parks Proposal for Childrens Hospital Slauson Connect Recreation Center 37th Street Crescent (Re) Distribution Lowrise

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Unearthing a Black Aesthetic A while back, my girlfriend, Elizabeth, and I were driving back to Los Angeles after visiting my mom in Moreno Valley, California. We were on the 101 Freeway, about 50 miles away from home, when she spotted a small housing community. “Oh, my Godddd!” she cried out. “Look, it’s just like home!” Set back from the road was a group of vibrantly colored houses with an adjacent, bustling street market. It was a modest tableau, but it reminded my girlfriend of home. Elizabeth was born in Guanajuato, Mexico, and in this neighborhood on the east side of LA, she had noticed a small, discrete house that, through its architecture, reflected the predominantly Hispanic neighborhood in which it sat. For me, it was nothing special. Just another house in a city full of houses. But Elizabeth and I have been in other predominantly Hispanic communities around the city, and she says the same thing each time. I watch her face light up with pride as she looks at the buildings, storefronts, and markets that reflect the values and ideals of her people’s culture. These built environments reflect specific cultural values, norms, and traditions. Elizabeth identified with the buildings and the neighborhoods. As we drove, I realized that I never feel that same sense of pride. Where was the architecture that spoke to my identity as a Black person? I feel most comfortable in an environment with people who look like me, which means a predominantly Black neighborhood. That is where I feel at home. For the first time, I analyzed the common elements that make up the built environment in LA’s historically Black neighborhoods, including Compton, South Central, and Watts: old buildings, graffiti, metal bars covering windows and doors, chain-link and barbed-wire fences, and shrines to people who have been killed. This is where people play, grow, eat, and sleep. This is the background of their stories. But this is not an aesthetic that instills pride, nor does it reflect the lives and culture of Black people. So, where is the Black architecture? Is Black architecture even a thing? As I began to research these questions, I posed them to professors and architects, as well as people not in the field. Their replies were similar; something along the lines of, “I don’t know.” My follow-up question is always the same: “What image pops into your head when you think of a Black neighborhood?” I watch their facial expressions grow increasingly uncomfortable before I give them an out by posing my last question: “Is it negative?” The answer is always the same: “Yes.” Although there is not an architectural style that represents Black culture, there is a negative image associated with Black neighborhoods. Diving deeper, I found that often, the housing built for Black people has a negative impact on residents.

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“What if Black neighborhoods wer architecture that represents Bla


Viz. Techniques 1. In Spatializing Blackness, author Rashad Shabazz analyzed how carceral power within Black Chicagoans’ built environments shaped urban planning, housing policy, policing practices, gang formation, high incarceration rates, and health. “The children here are surrounded by wire mesh and fencing that makes their living environment resemble the catwalks of a prison,” he writes. The abundance of security measures in these neighborhoods, and housing projects specifically, includes “policing, 24/7 video surveillance, perimeter patrols, apartment sweeps and curfews.” These oppressive systems made it seem “as if [residents] weren’t supposed to escape.” Shabazz proposes that such measures have radically transformed the built environment. Perhaps they, along with the overall lack of minority representation during the planning and design stages of the built environment, are at the root of this negative image of Black neighborhoods. The institution of slavery stripped Africans of their culture in almost every way, including their building traditions. Most predominately Black neighborhoods are, and always have been, designed by people who know nothing about our way of life. The outcome superimposes someone else’s culture, image of us, and perceptions of our needs onto our neighborhoods. Having the opportunity to develop this architecture ourselves would provide a way to carve our names into the built environments of our neighborhoods. It is also a method of development without displacement: It gives people a reason to stay put and reinvest in their own communities. OffTop is the design studio I founded April 2020 with the aim of employing architecture and design to improve the built environment in Black neighborhoods, using a comprehensive and collaborative method that draws on strong relationships with local communities and a deep understanding of their issues. “Unearthing a Black Aesthetic” is a case study consisting of nine homes that will be built in Black neighborhoods across the United States. I’m hoping to work with young Black architects, artists, writers, philosophers, developers, and anyone else who can contribute to this conversation to begin defining a Black architecture, as this is by no means something that can be solved independently or unilaterally. Through the study, I’m looking to continue the work of Black architects before me, who asked these same questions about Black architecture, and to continue the development of an architectural language that derives purely from Black culture: design, dance, music, art, literature, fashion, traditions, values, and experience. Drawing from these resources will allow Black people to finally see their likeness reflected in the buildings that surround them.

re defined by the beauty of the ack culture?”

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Black Architecture. Demar Matthews

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COMMON FOUND OBJECTS

Common materials

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TAXONOMY OF BLACK ARCHITECTURAL CHARACTERISTICS

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Avant Garde

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TAXONOMY OF BLACK TECHNIQUE

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Perspective View 1

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Perspective View 2

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The fence line along the front yard is 253’ long. Instead of the common fence seen in Watts, we will build an interactive fence that includes: 1-frames for the local artists to display quarterly exhibits. 2-A free outdoor library for the community to take and give books. 3-A hanging garden with free fruits, vegetables, and spices with seeds and pamphlates on how to start to grow their own. Watts is a food dessert and only has 1 grocery store where the community can get fresh fruit and vegetables from. In order for the community to self sustain and thrive, they need to be able to depend on themselves for resources as much as possible.

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Visualization Techniques For this exercise, I was looking to turn the abstracted drawing into an evolving diagram with annotations. I chose an artist named Ladania from Colombia and a wall mural she did in Bogota. I diagramed in a style similar to processor and the way the program determines and outputs pixels for colors when processing an image. In the last step of the exercise, I created an alternative color scheme, and in true graffiti artist fashion, I put the art onto an existing structure;The L.A. Times Building. Through these exercises prove useful in understanding how to take established art/ techniques, abstract them, and apply the new process through architectural techniques.

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SOUTH CENTRAL POP UP PARKS The first of 4 parks in South Cnetral, Los Angeles. Each park includes a place for play, rest, refreshment, and learning. There were over 200 edible plants the first phase, as well as a free library, and art installation that doubles as a resting place. Unforunately this much needed work is illegal so, I can’t say for sure if we did it or not.

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PROPOSAL FOR CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL(GRAPHIC STUDIES) Taking imagery that; while associated with negativity outside of the community, is the shared heart string of those within it, is what will make the space stand out in a unique way. The bandana and even braid styles have held such a negative stigma because of their cultural ties within Black and Brown communities, however, within the community they symbolize tightknit bonds, heritage and cultural inclusion. The representation of this in the space will elevate the lens in which these cultural icons are viewed.

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SLAUSON CONNECT RECREATION CENTER MAP CONCEPT 2

CITY OF LOS ANGELES

SLAUSON CONNECT RECREATION CENTER AUGUST 5, 2022

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37th STREET

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CRESCENT - ADDITION - REMODEL

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(Re) Distribution Lowrise

This project highlights South Central Los Angeles’ (or Black Los Angeles) unique positioning as a dynamic hub of Black culture and creativity. South Central is the densest population of African Americans west of the Mississippi. While every historically Black neighborhood in Los Angeles has experienced displacement, Watts was hit particularly hard. As more and more Black Angelenos are forced for one reason or another to relocate, we are losing our history and connection to Los Angeles. As a way to fight this gentrification, we have proposed an architectural language derived purely from Black culture ie. Dance, posture,traditions and black experience. So many cultures have their own architecture styles based on values, goals, morals, and customs shared by their society. When these cultures have relocated to America, to keep their culture and values intact, they bought land and built in the image of their home lands. That is not true for Black people in America. In fact, until 1968, Black people had no rights to own property in Los Angeles, while others began the race of acquiring land in 1492, building homes and communities in their image, we started running 476 years after the race began. What percentage of land was left for Blacks to acquire? How then can we advance the development of a Black aesthetic in architecture? For our proposal we selected the Hollyhock House design by Frank Loyd Wright. We wanted to examine themes of cultural appropriation. This House exemplifies design colonialism at its finest. The Hollyhock house is classified mayan revival however we speculate that this hyperstylised, and sensationalized “Mayan style” has little true relationships to maya culture beyond aesthetics. We wanted to then contrast that with our proposal using hyperstylization as a less superficial design exploration. Our ornamentation and stylization are derived from LA urban culture, we used various icon graphics such as bandana prints to create a type of positive projection of appropriation.

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Our redistribution proposal examines the literal, we use meaning to generate design methodologies and procedures. More specifically we investigate the meaning of “Redistribution”, and according to our findings; our prompt asks one to “distribute something in a different way, to achieve equality”. In our case our something is the typology of the shotgun home. In our project we will attempt to modularize the shotgun, by introducing highly efficient and contemporary prefab shotgun units. These units of various sizes and types, will be aggregated to create a prefab living complex. Our shotgun units will then be slipped between structural slabs, these slabs will hover above and below the units. Our slabs not only act as the structural link between levels but also as the architectural signifier. We examined various roof forms of the shotgun aesthetic and generated a hybrid slab structure that mimics and transforms the “typical” movements of a shot roof. As a resultant we establish an a-typical roof and floor slab concept. To further develop this hovering shotgun slab we punchered holes into the form that allow for connectivity, air, landscape and vertical structural elements to weave its way into the project. Our shotgun slab signifies the link not only between levels but also to the historical significance of the shotgun aesthetic and new ways it can be interpreted into a new black aesthetic. Throughout this project we redistribute the historical syntax of the American Shotgun aesthetic in order to create an a-typical architecture that is equitable. First through the act of modulation; we designed shotgun prefab units that can be created off site then be slid into place on site. Second, our project establishes a visual syntax through our shotgun slabs, that pays physical homage to the shotgun aesthetic in a novel way. Lastly we weave connections and functionalities through our structural voids, creating not only community space but green space on every level. This three step architectural collage cites historically black quotations while creating new ways to build equitable communities.

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DEMAR MATHEWS FOUNDER, PRINCIPAL DEMAR@OFFTOPDESIGN.COM OFFTOPDESIGN.COM 36