Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Pop goes the city


Note: for some of the websites given you will need to use the translator on your browser in order to read it

The Greek financial melt down has gotten tossed around like a pinata a birthday party.  It's been held up by potential higher office seekers for political gain and by pundits who use it as a scenario of doom or as "a teaching moment."   Yet Vivian Doumpa, the author of "Three Inspiring Examples of Greek Crisis Urbanism,"  has managed to find something good in all this Greek tragedy.  Pop-up urbanism.  Why not.  We have pop up stores, pop up restaurants, pop up events, so why not pop up urbanism.  What is this phenomena?  In the case of Greece, it a response to the rampant mis-management by poor public-led urban planning strategies that took place before the economic explosion.  In the midst of all of this, there is a clarion call for bottom up initiatives that would be able to improve the urban condition.  Non-governmental organizations, citizens, private agencies, and institutions have begun to engage in urbanism initiative-slowly, place by place.  In doing so, each is attempting to conquer the negative mood and stimulate public dialogue through interesting projects that "pop up" in around the Greek poli and the periphery.  Ms. Doumpa presents three examples of inspiring efforts of bottom-up urbanism that hope to combat the negative mood inspired by the Greek melt down.

The first example is the Argallios project by the Athenian architecture firm Kolletivemind* (kolleketivemind.com
).  This is a public installation located on the fence of a primary school in a less privileged area of Chania on the island of Crete (I'll refrain from any Minotaur references).  The project was based on the island's traditional weaving patterns.  The colorful needlework was recreated on the fence by using 2,100 recyclable plastic bottles, cleaned, painted in six traditional color, and placed in the diamond-shaped holes of the fence.  This project was initiated by Kollektivemind* who invited the local community to participate in the project.  Other than recreating a landmark for a neglected area that holds ecological and cultural meaning, it was an effort to prompt the residents to engage in a community practice as well as raise awareness of the reclamation of public space.  All right I can see it, gather the community and various agencies, engage them in large-scale project.  It sounds like fun for about a day but what about long-term public engagement?  How is public space reclaimed?  What is inspirational about this?  To quote, Robert Harris, the great one of the USC School of Architecture, "So what?"

My general critique about projects like this is that they're great and bring the all the segments of a community together but how does this translate over the long-term?  In other words, how does this help address the real needs of a community-i.e. housing, health care, education, transportation, infrastructure, and so forth?

The next example is Syn-oikia Pittaki (Neighborhood Pittaki).  The project was undertaken by the creative studio Beforelight (www.beforelight.gr/)  and the non-profit group Imagine the City (www.imaginethecity.gr/), founded in 2010 and well-known firms in the cities of Athens and Thessaloniki.  Their  Syn-oikia Pittaki project took place in the downtown area of Psirri, which was seriously affected by the economic crisis and now faces the problems of crime and urban decay.  The result of these issues has given way to dead public spaces such as Pittaki Street.  In order to bring the spaces back to life, the group decided to gather up old lamps, repair them during an open workshop, and install them as new lighting infrastructure.  Great idea, because not only does provide something aesthetically pleasing but also something that was able to bring people out into the streets.  The street and the project have become a symbol of community power in Athens in the darkest times of the crisis.

Now this is a project that has some real impact.  On a pragmatic level, it introduces lighting into formally dead public spaces which help combat the criminal element.  Second, using lighting helps bring citizens out into the streets so they can experience the place and interact with each.  Quite literally, strangers become friends.  It also raises awareness of the space, thus, community members can take action to reclaim the space by improving it aesthetically and design-wise.  Last, by holding open workshops to repair the lamps, the architects are giving local artisans a chance to practice their skills and gain exposure.  Now this is inspiring.

The last example cited is Atenistas (http://atenistas.org/), an open community of Athenians who love their city.  They believe that their initiative offer a choice for citizens to the express their desire for a better quality of life through real action.  These choices include pop-up parks, cleaning and refurbishing public building (mostly schools), flash-mobs (sigh, eye roll), artistic interventions, social-related seminars, urban walks, and charity events.  By keeping costs down, their funding is derived from crowd-sourcing, and using a DIY approach to design, they involve the local population in each and every step of their actions.  Further, the collective runs a "civil" group which serves as an intermediary between the citizens and local government in order to foster more efficient public dialogue and problem solving.  Atenistas has become an urban movement all over Greece.  Presently there are almost twenty similar programs, on the mainland and the islands.  The common, but most important, thread is citizen participation.

Overall, none of the projects cited here can be considered successful and sustainable without citizen participation.  Yet, of the three, the last one has the most promise for short and long term sustainability because its work has a wider scope.  Instead of a one-off project, Atenistas is intent on becoming a very serious urban initiative that has the potential to overturn the poor planning policies of the past.  This is how bottom-up initiative work, public dialogue, citizen participation, and long-term thinking is the way to pull a society out of crisis.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Digital City

Hello France, South Korea, and Australia:
Welcome and bienvenue to the Preservation of Community Assets blog, the blog dedicated to issues of architecture, historic preservation, urban planning and design.  It's always great to have new faces.  I can't do this blog without people reading so the more the better.  Thanks for your support and I hope you'll keep coming back.

All right on to today's subject.  First, I have to apologize for yesterday's very short post, I was on my way to see the latest Bond movie Skyfall and I only had a few minutes.  Skyfall was the best Bond movie ever.  Although it was disheartening seeing James Bond blow up a Scottish Gothic manor house and I got pretty panicked during the opening sequence when James Bond was chasing a bad guy through the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.  I was worried the place was going to get trashed like the Elrod House in Diamonds are Forever.  Fortunately, the Bazaar and Hagia Sophia survived.

Now on to the topic at hand, really.  Digital technology and the urban landscape titled Invisible City (What is) the Nature of Los Angeles.  This topic comes to us through a great panel discussion that took place at the West Hollywood Public Library on Thursday April 25, 2013.  The discussion, sponsored by the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (http://www.aialosngeles.org) Committee on The Environment, featured four panelists: Amy Murphy USC School of Architecture associate professor, Dana Cuff UCLA School of Architecture and Urban Design professor, Christine Outram founder of City Innovation Group, and Alessandro Marianantoni Senior Researcher of REMAP UCLA.  Professor Murphy moderated the panel and the remaining speakers each took ten minutes to discuss their work, then they fielded questions.  The panel focused on the way digital technology is becoming more integrated into the urban landscape from the more pragmatic to the esoteric.  Oddly, the album Bored with the Internet and Prozac, a side project from Nick Rhodes and Warren Cuccurullo came to mind during the topic of the Internet and privacy.  Why was that, I have no idea.

The main focus of the panel discussion was the architectural implications of digital technology.  Professor Cuff looked at cyburbs (cyber suburbs), technoptia, and the City of Los Angeles.  In the pragmatic sense, mobile telephony-the use of cell phone technology.  One example was Millennium Park in Chicago, Illinois (?).  Digital technology was used to capture the faces of the people visiting the park.  Another example was "Movable Type," the use of digital technology to capture what's going on at the New York Times.  Kind of cool.  Pop-up shops was used as another case study.  Professor Cuff introduced the concept of "Political Shopping," making the shopper a smarter consumer.  This ties into Pop-Up shops which focus on a specific brand or item.  Political shopping caters to market forces, making use of shopper profiling in order to provide customized information and target the market, supplying tagged products.  The Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibits (LACE) Facade which works with cellphone technology to provide patrons with real time information for clubs in the Hollywood area.  Intelligent bus stops is another application that's slowly being rolled out.  Ambient information would provide subtle timely transit information to bus riders.  Very handy and would probably make mass transpo more palatable.  Wouldn't be great if you could pay your bus fair with your cell phone or debit card instead of fishing in your purse for change or having to renew your bus pass every month.  If you're a graduate student without a car, kiosks could serve as public works of art while providing real time information.  They would be quick,visually powerful, light, and inexpensive.  Professor Cuff also suggested using digital technology to create cultural events such as "Westwood Blows Up."  This would be an event based around a removable installation intended to generate a buzz and bring life back to Westwood.  This three weekend event would use a variety of technology, pieces of a puzzle would be spread out around Westwood Village and participants would bring these pieces together to create an installation-Pop Up Westwood-part of the LA 2050 Program-technology as a social process and making things happen.

The next speaker was Christine Outram the founder of City Innovation.  Ms. Outram described herself as a Civic Technologist-a person who's interested in integrating technology into the city.  Ms. Outram focused on how data affects the physical architecture (i.e bricks and mortar).  One example was "smart dust," micro chips that would be integrated into different things, effecting how we plan things.  She suggested that data was a new asset class.  On the pragmatic level bus stops could be sources of useful information.  This was the second instance of bus stops being cited as a public source of information.  People take the bus, either by choice or by circumstance, thus can be used as data market places.  The information can be accessed through a cell phone application.  This begs the question, despite the pervasiveness of cell phones, what if a person doesn't have a mobile phone?  Specifically, I'm referring to the elderly or indigent, how would they access transit information?  It was suggested that the city was a computer platform.  Ms. Outram cited New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's program to re-invent the pay phone.  Those things still exist?  Data and technology can be used to digital arts districts in cities such as San Francisco, perfect, a city near Silicon Valley.  This would integrate experience with data.  The artists, who will design the data, are the people in the digital world.  But, where is the architecture profession?  To provide the delight and beauty such as a prototype of information on a pole throughout New York City as an example of reusing existing infrastructure.  This would integrate user experience linking people to place through technology, providing an extra layer.

The final speaker on the panel was Alessandro Marianantoni, a Senior Researcher at REMAP UCLA.  The first project he discussed was the facade of the Otis College of Art and Design in Westchester, California.  Digital technology was used to create an installation for the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Futurist Manifesto.  Text was deconstructed zeroglyphics-creating deconstructed poetry to symbolize an element of fragmentation.  Mr. Marianantoni also described elements of fragmentation in relation to a visualization of carbon dioxide particles in the United Kingdom using information taken from flow meters.  Digital media layers were used in Italy as a way to construct an album of residents.  A medieval wall was used as a layer of digital media.  This creates a layer of engagement through story telling.  Another layer of engagement is through story telling using video.  Through the Freeway LA project, video bus presentations of poetry are install on buses traveling along Wilshire Boulevard.  Interesting way to bring literature to the masses.  It would create a fairytale connecting different neighborhoods..

Data technology has definite practical aspects.  One example is data transfer through the commuting app Wayz.  The issue of privacy and the pervasiveness of the Internet is always a concern that can never be fully addressed.  The cycle of data is also difficulty because of the built-in obsolescence.  The social, economic, and political implications becomes a part of architecture in such examples as monitoring security.  Ideas of branding versus homogeneity, information sustainability all were lightly addressed.  Designers have a role in shaping the physical and digital experiences.  Materiality was addressed in terms of smart materials, whatever that meant.  Corporate entities manage data.  Citizen science, using the social media for good-citizen science.  Indonesia is the fourth highest tweeting nation in the world, Jakarta is the highest tweeting city.  The tweets are abut everyday things such as housing and the price of rice.  This contrasts with the analog way the United Nations collects data.

In short, digital technology is slowly but surely remaking architecture and the way we interacting with the built environment.  It is changing the nature of that experience through customized real time information that has the capability of going beyond the quotient.  It is a brave new world.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Thank You

Just a quick note.  First, we're over 300 page views thanks guys you're the best.  Sorry about Thursday, technical difficulties.  I'll be back on Monday.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

We broke 300

Yes, we broke 300!  Thanks for all your support.  I'll be doing a live blog tonight 6:30p.m. Pacific Standard Time from the West Hollywood Public Library.  There's panel discussion on Digital media and Urban Landscapes.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Down in The Bowery

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/18/nyregion/on-the-bowery-vestiges-of-a seedy-past-through.html?_r=0

The Bowery, that place in Lower Manhattan that evokes so much history dating back to the pre-Colonial period.  This 1.25 mile area between Chatham Square and Cooper Square listed on the National Register of Historic Places (http://www.preservationnation.org) on February 20, 2013  and described by Kerri Culhane, an architectural historian and associate director of the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council (http://www.twobridges.org), as "the city oldest streetscape."  Major streets that intersect the Bowery are Canal Street, Delancey Street, Houston Street (pronounced Howston), and Bleecker Street.  All fabled streets.  The neighborhood boundaries are: Canal Street and the famous Chinatown to the south; East 4th Street and the East Village to the north; Allen Street and the Lower East Side to the east; and the equally famous Little Italy to the west.  All places that bring forth some wonderful and romantic louche images that so much a part of New York City's rich history.  Despite the wave of gentrification, traces of the block's seedy past remains.  Most of the area's fabled past has been obliterated but the bones of the nearly 200 buildings remain.  So what is it about this storied area that attracted so much interested?  Let's go to the history.

Bowery or more commonly, "the Bowery" and less commonly, "Bowery Street," is the anglicization of the Dutch word bouwerij, coming from the antique word for "farm."  In the seventeenth century, the road branched off Broadway, north of Fort Amsterdam at the tip of Manhattan to the homestead of Director-General of New Netherlands Peter Stuyvesant.  During the Colonial and Federal period, the Bowery was home to mansions and respectable businesses.  In 1826, the first slippage from respectability occurred with the opening of the Bowery Theatre on the site of The Bull's Head Tavern, purchased by John Jacob Astor.  Eventually, the mansions and shops gave way to low-brow concert hall, brothels, beer gardens, pawn shops, and flophouses.  By the late nineteenth century, the Bowery became a center for prostitution and bars catering to lesbians and homosexuals.  The area remained in a fallow state until the 1990s when it began to revive with the coming of gentrification.  Some of the notable establishments in the Bowery are: Amato Opera, Bowery Savings, Bowery Ballroom, the late and lamented CBGB, Bowery Poetry Club, New Museum, and Peanut Gallery.  In October 2011, the Bowery was placed on New York State Register of Historic Places and automatically nominated for the National Register of Historic Places.  Two grassroots organizations, the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors (BAN http://www.boweryalliance.org) and the community based housing organization Two Bridges Neighborhood Council led the designation charge which resulted in National Register designation this year.

So what's happening down in the Bowery today?  Plenty apparently.  Preservationists are button holing the New York City Planning Commission to extend some of the zoning protections against new obtrusive buildings on the west and east sides of the streets.  Author Luc Sante and director and Bowery native Martin Scorsese wrote testimony supporting the extension, siting the historic and aesthetic significance of the area.  Mr. Scorsese argued that high-rise apartments and condominiums would create more chaos and disruption, ultimately offering the Bowery up to elements of conformity.  Currently, about a dozen sites on the Bowery are protected by the New York City Landmarks Commission including the three-story red-brick Edward Mooney House at No. 18 (c.1785), believed to be the oldest existing brick row house in the city and the Bowery Savings Bank, No. 130, built by Stanford White.  The register includes No. 40-42, a Federal-style row house (c. 1807) acquired by Henry Astor in 1822.  No. 46-48, currently a Chinese restaurant was once Bull's Head Tavern. and No. 101 was the former location of Worth's Museum of Living Curiosities and so forth.  The point here is that this is a district that is so steeped in New York and New York City history that the idea of hipsterification seems an anathema.

Martin Scorese is correct when he asserted that the introduction of high-rises and condominiums would add element of conformity to area that has so defiantly resisted conformity its entire life.  There are signs of hipsterification already creeping into the area.  The ubiquitous Whole Foods Market and the hallowed punk rock grounds CBGB has been turned into a designer clothing shop.  People, let's remember that you can't have a Gap/Banana Republic/Whole Foods et cetera everywhere.  Malls are fine in their own context but not in historic districts.  You could argue that the introduction of upscale housing and and businesses would bring new revenue into the area.  Yes that could happen but at what price?  How do you balance the historically significant character defining features of places like the Bowery or Wyvernwood against further development?  This is an issue that continues to plague cities as we become more urbanized.  The stripping away of layers of history in favor of newer and not necessarily better.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Garden Apartments


In the continuing spirit of Earth Day 2013, I thought it would be nice to take a look at an ongoing preservation project in Los Angeles, efforts by the Los Angeles Conservancy (http://www.laconservancy.org) to save the Wyvernwood Garden Apartment from the wrecking ball.  The question of whether or not save Wyvernwood is something that more and more people are dealing with as the city of Los Angeles prepares to decide on the proposed Boyle Heights Mixed Use Community Project.  On the anti-development side, the focus of the argument is based on preserving a cultural landmark and avert another mass displacement similar to that of Chavez Ravine.  Regardless of what side of the argument you're on, a rehabilitated Wyvernwood will change Boyle Heights, one of the largest in the United States, will result in ecological change for Boyle Heights.

Before plunging ahead, a little bit of background is necessary.  Wyvernwood Garden Apartments was designed by David J. Witmer and Loyall F. Watson together with landscape architect Hammond Sadler.  The complex was intended to provide middle-income and worker housing close to downtown and the nearby industrial centers.  It was privately finances by the Hostetter Estate and insured by the Federal Housing Administration.  Wyvernwood was a testing ground for the FHA's new program for building this type of housing development and served as a model for similar garden apartment complexes in the Southern California area, such as Park La Brea in the Miracle Mile area, and throughout the country that offered affordable modern housing that met the standard required by the FHA.  Based on garden city planning principles, Wyvernwood orginally consisted of 143 two-story buildings laid out on six super blocks.  The super blocks allowed individual units to have open vistas in multiple directions.  Wyvernwood was lauded as "America's largest privately-owned community of rental homes," in regional and national publications such as Architect and Engineer, Architectural Form, Architectural Record, and California Arts and Architecture.  The complex is also significant as a primary example of the garden apartment movement in the United States.  In 2007 the American Planning Association recognized the important role of garden apartments for their design, function, sustainability, and community involvement.

This sounds like New Urbanism, an urban design movement that promotes compact, mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods as ecologically better alternatives to auto-centric developments, doesn't this?  Truth be told The garden apartment movement in the thirties and early forties were, if you want to extrapolate, the historical basis for New Urbanism.  The idea was first promoted by Ebenezer Howard in late nineteenth century Great Britain as an antidote to the urban social ills brought about by the Industrial Revolution.  In the United States, Clarence Stein adapted Howard's principles on the East Coast.  Eventually, the idea of pedestrian orientated, mixed-use, affordable, modern worker housing made its way to the West Coast.

Currently, the Miami based company, the Fifteen Group, which owns Wyvernwood has proposed to replace the seventy acre campus containing 1,187 homes and over 6,000 tenants with a more upscale development.  Sounds a bit like the proposal for the Jordan Downs Complex in Historic South Central.  The proposal contains plans for 4,400 condominiums and rental units; 325,000 square feet or retail and commercial space; recreational facilities for residents; and parking for 9,048 cars.  Just exactly who does the Fifteen Group envision living here?  More pointedly, how are they going to attract their targeted residents to come to East Los Angeles given the area's alleged louche reputation?  One of the key factors in attracting a more upscale clientele to providing amenities in the community so that people will want to roam about the area and check out some of the local businesses.  I seriously don't think that future renters and condominium buyers will just stay within the confines of Wyvernwood and patronize the amenities on the premises.  Of course you can argue that some of the local businesses will suffer if they have to compete with the on-site amenities.  I would argue that on-site premises would simply keep the residents isolated from the community at large and create a schism.  Since we're on the subject, what about the existing residents?  Would the be able to participate in a "right-to-own" program that would allow them to buy homes they currently live in?  Will they simply be asked to leave or will efforts be made to allow them to continue living in their homes?

This being Los Angeles, parking is always a big issue.  Despite the fact that the total number of proposed parking spaces is over five times than the current number, 1,799, the amount of proposed space could increase if Fifteen Group fails to obtain an exemption from the city minimum requiring 10,903 to 11,003 space for a development this dense.  While Fifteen Group justifies the project as a way to create "healthier place to live and work," in the same breath, the developers want to continue subsidizing automobile ownership after describing the current provisions, 1.5 parking spaces per home as "inadequate," corresponding to a time when there were fewer cars.  Truthfully, the average number of cars owned per Los Angeles households is 1.4, 1.1 cars per among renters.  Further, one of the selling points is proximity to several freeways.  Sounds great if you're a commuter, bad because those same freeways are responsible for Boyle Heights' unusually high asthma rates and other air pollution related illnesses.  In an effort to "improve circulation" within the complex, Fifteen Group proposes to triple the miles of car-accessible roads by cutting through the project area, eliminating the tree-line foot paths that a character defining feature of this community.  Does that sound ecological right to you?  I didn't think so.  In a stunning leap of logic, the developers contend that adding thousands of cars to the streets of Boyle Heights won't add to the environmental-related health issues because the new residents will likely be lured away from their cars by the seventeen bus lines serving the immediate surroundings.  In reality, only six of those lines are accessible by foot.  Nevertheless, the tendency for renters and minority low-income to walk, use a bicycle, or use public transit by necessity still holds for the current residents of Wyvernwood.  The numbers look something like this, 42% of the residents already commute to work by some means other than driving, and another 11% carpool.  There's no way to guess if the new residents would follow suit.  What is known is that higher income commuters generally drive solo.  Somebody want to tell the developers that this Los Angeles not Miami, where the car is an integral part of life. To quote the Missing Persons song "No Body Walks in L.A."

The Fifteen Group is offering ten acres of publicly available open space in a rehabilitated Wyvernwood, this number is a fraction of what was once widely enjoyed by the un-gated community.  Longtime residents have frequently complained about the curtailment of their own use of the open space-about 36 to 50 acres-after Fifteen Group bought the property in 1998.  This mega-project would not only create the most densely populated census tract in Los Angeles, approximately 94,000 people per square mile, even with the conservative estimate of 2.3 occupants per unit.  Does that seem like a lot people squeezed into one place?  I thought so.  Then add in the increase in automobile traffic and the need for sanitation services, you end up with something that's starting to sound like something not terribly well thought out.  Further, the project would bring the first set of high rises since the 14-story Sears Tower went up in 1927 in the area of Los Angeles east of the L.A. River (stop snickering we have a river).  Three buildings would stand 24-stories high, another three at 18 stories, and several more could reach seven stories.  Great, block out natural light.  Last, the Fifteen Group has requested that the New Wyvernwood be designated a supergraphics special district, which means Boyle Height residents could be subjected to bright digital billboard sitting on top of the skyscrapers lighting up the night.  Excellent.

Finally, the Los Angeles Conservancy has pointed out that whatever value in the proposed projects "green design" would be undermined by the demolition of 256 buildings that could be renovated, a more cost-effective approach to problems created by years of deferred maintenance.  Renovation and reuse are increasingly recognized as more sustainable than razing and rebuilding. To be certain, the Los Angeles Housing Department inspectors have the buildings targeted for demolition, to be structurally sound, in need of upgrades.  Further, the preservation of Wyvernwood would also prevent the loss of nearly 1,200 dwellings from the dwindling stock of rent-controlled housing, the city's valuable supply of affordable housing.  As previously stated, "the greenest building is the one already built."

With all these New Urbanist contradictions built into the proposal, it was mind blowing to read that the project received an award from the Congress for the New Urbanism (http://www.cnu.org).  Some insight into the decision is an article written by Mike Davis "Gentrifying Disaster" (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2005?10/gentrifying-disaster), which described the organization's participation in African Americans' exclusion from Gulf Coast communities following Hurricane Katerina.  Off topic for a second, this will be a forth coming blog.  Back to the subject.  Contrary to the democratic spirit of the group, the CNU's practice of judging proposals without asking the tough questions such as who or what might be replace and for who or what benefit-depicts it in the role of legitimatizing dubious projects.

"New Urbanism" is a potent buzzword, a rallying cry for its unquestioning supporters for any development.  Davis has been quick to point out that smart developers have been quick to label, what could be considered run amok land grabs and demolition, as New Urbanist.  Finally, one more reason to cast askance to the environmental claims connected to the New Wyvernwood, is first the promise that no one will be displaced and Fifteen Group's own history.  The company has no experience in real estate development but has acted more as the middleman for builders, carrying out mass evictions and unpopular demolition to clear off properties before selling them.  Still think that the New Wyvernwood is a great idea.  Me neither.

Happy Belated Earth Day.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Hello Finland

Hello Finland and Welcome to my blog.

This blog, Preservation of Community Assets is dedicated to presenting issues in architecture, historic preservation, urban planning and design.  Certainly Finland has contributed to architectural history.  I'm looking forward to hearing more from you.  So keep checking in, I can't do this without you.


The Layered City

docomomo-us.org/news/"green"_being_used_validate_removal_our layered_cities?utm?_source=Docomomo+revised+mailing+list&utm_campaign=b0444fb221-...

Is "Green" Being Used to Validate Removal of Our Layered Cities?
published by Liz Waytkus on Saturday, 2013-04-13
by Barbara Campagna

Cities have layers.  Specifically, layers of history placed on top of the other by people and events that affected the urban landscape in multitudes of ways.  Each city has different layers that effect its residents differently.  For example, Los Angeles is a city layered with the experiences of the migrants that have come from all over the United States and the world.  Each immigrant left their mark on the city that has become embedded in its history.  Taken in toto with the rest of the United States, the strata(um?) of Los Angeles have become part of American history.  So how does the "Green" trend affect the urban layers.  Should being green justify removing our layered cities?  This is the question being posed by Liz Waytkus in her post for the Documentation of the Conservation of the Modern Movement (DOCOMOMO).

In a recent study on energy efficiency in midcentury Manhattan recently published, "Midcentury (Un)Modern: An Environmental Analysis of the 1958-73 Manhattan Office Building," drew a sharp line in the proverbial sand.  This study suggested that it might be more energy efficient to demolish the old buildings and replace them with greener buildings.  Of course, the prospect of this has owners and developers salivating with glee.  However, the Preservation Green Lab argues that an understanding of this study needs to be more nuanced.  The recognition and acknowledgement of nuance seems to be a lost art.  In the rush to jump on board the green train, we make grand statements of condemnation or value judgments that draw sharp lines which shut out dialogues or balance.  In this case, it's either green and energy efficient or it isn't; beautiful or ugly.  Pretty black and white with no in between.  Historic preservation and urban planning and design doesn't work that way.

Discussions on the subject are far more complex than the broad-brush approach.  It's easier for studies such as the one above to be interpreted as a blanket statement that some midcentury modern buildings are inefficient and should be demolished.  It's hard for people to love bricks and mortar.  Bricks and mortar don't carry the same resonance as the story of a place.  Think about for a second.  If you remember the house you grew in or the elementary school you went to, what the first thing that comes to mind?  The memories of experiencing the place or the color of paint on the walls?  The same is true for historically significant places.  Historically significant places are fraught with so many memories both good and bad.  Yesterday, Sunday April 21, 2013, the news television program "60 Minutes" featured a story on the construction of the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York City, opening next year.  The museum is built around remaining pieces of the World Trade Center and loaded with artifacts of that terrible day.  What I genuinely connected with was the museum's decision not to exclude images of the hijackers so as not to white wash the story.  My point here is that future visitors will connect with their memories of that day, not the layout of the space.  Balance is the operative word.

In dealing with urban layers, the key issue is how to strike a balance between what is energy efficient and what has historic value.  How do we tell a story of a place without white washing it? The mid-century office buildings, previously mentioned, all have stories connected to them.  In terms of energy efficiency, some are more efficient than others.  Some use more electricity than others but rather than tear the whole thing down, change the light bulb, it you can.  Truthfully, I'm about the least sentimental preservationist around.  I don't get overly attached to places to the point where I want to chain myself to a building.  I operate from a point of logic and reasoning that's not inflexible.  If its more cost effective to change a light bulb or switch from gas to LEED, than great.  Something to that effect.

In place like New York City, density is a key issue, specifically increasing commercial occupancy without decreasing energy efficiency.  One example is a building located at 675 Third Avenue (1966, Emory Roth).  The "Midcentury (Un)Modern: An Environmental Analysis of the 1958-73 Manhattan Office Building," cited this building as a case study for increasing commercial occupancy without decreasing energy efficiency.  The study concluded that energy savings could be realized in locked up in obsolete parts of office buildings, which were not only inefficient but no longer commercially viable.  How can this be possible?  I suppose, the easy way is to shut off all systems in unused portions of older office buildings and sub-divide larger spaces into smaller office suites.  I'm not sure how all the planning would work out but it's an idea.  Does this also mean instead of "demolition by neglect" we now have "demolition by lack of energy efficiency?"  Take a building down because it's no longer energy efficient?

There are those individuals who don't particularly care for Brutalist architecture, popular in the late sixties and early seventies.  Just so we're clear, I'm not a fan of it either but I recognize the value of it in the broad spectrum of architectural history.  This aesthetic judgement appears to give some people a license to tear Brutalist buildings down.  Yes, they're not terribly energy efficient but does that mean we have carte blanche to eliminate a whole phase of history?  No.  It's like not including the hijackers in the 9/11 Memorial Museum.  Yes, it's not a pretty part of history but it is part of history.  Their inefficiency doesn't stem from the wrong kind of light bulb, rather from neglect.  Thus we have a case of demolition by lack of energy efficiency through neglect.  Perhaps the solution is proper maintenance and/or retrofitting.  After all, to quote an oft-used preservation aphorism, "the greenest building is the one already built."

Would replacing millions of square feet of existing commercial space with "greener" buildings improve the state of greenhouse gas emissions?  Maybe.  We still have to deal with two basic problems: inefficient building operations and adding to landfills.  These are human problems.

Happy Earth All

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Los Angeles is such a messy place


The city of Los Angeles is a city of architects but not public architecture, asserts Greg Goldin in his article "L.A. Only Looks Ugly: We've Got Lousy Public Architecture.  But There's Much To Appreciate."  For over a hundred years, residential architecture has been front and center but public architecture, not so much.  For every Dodge House by Irving Gill or Tadao Ando's Malibu House, there is a dumpy kitschy public building.  Yes you can make the argument that public buildings such as Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall or the Bradbury as genuine architectural gems but the list of jewels in the urban treasure chest is not very long given the fact that Los Angeles has been a mecca for some of the greatest architects, so what's there to appreciate.

Mr. Golding states that Los Angeles lacks a thrilling substation or an inspiring modern skyscraper.  I beg to differ, Union Station on the edge of Downtown Los Angeles, is not only thrilling but lovingly recalls the glamourous days when train travel was the way to go.  I agree with his point about Los Angeles lacking a truly inspiring modern skyscraper.  The high-rises that make up the Los Angeles skyline are not exactly the West Coast equivalent of the Empire State Building or The Sears Tower.  Mr. Golding also takes issue with the billions of dollars spent by the Los Angeles Unified School District on new campus construction, producing nothing of real architectural value except a single spiral folly that seem come from nowhere atop the main auditorium of the Ramon C. Cortines School Of Visual and Performing Arts.  Given the seemingly pathetic record of public architecture, is it possible to say that architecture even matters to Los Angeles?  Interesting question.  Let's clarify this by saying does public architecture matter in Los Angeles?  One can go for blocks and see nothing but dull and sometimes bleak swaths of the city.  Not a very pretty picture, it's down right depressing.  Mr. Goldin laments the lack of a consistent architectural motif and much of the urban landscape resembles a stage set, where the buildings serve as billboards.  In the very next breath, Mr. Goldin states that while this vision of contemporary Los Angeles may be true, in the very next breath he claims that this dystopia is a misreading of the city and the nature of it's architecture.  Let's look at what the author offers in support of this claim.

According to the article, Los Angeles is possibly world's first modern and nearly "infrastructural city."  True enough because there was no Daniel Burnham or Robert Moses to master plan Los Angeles like Chicago or New York, respectively, with no official blessing from civic authority.  In fact any effort to create some master plan for the city have ended ignominiously, leaving Los Angeles at the mercy and penny-pinching caprices of developers, hello Rick Caruso.  Thus, all the great public monuments are public works projects such as William Mulholland's Aqueduct (1913), freeways designed by the state Department of Transportation, and more than a dozen bridges that span the Los Angeles River (yes it does exist) built between 1909 and 1944 mainly built by city engineer Merrill Butler.  The river itself was cemented over by the United States Army Corps of Engineers.  Without the outside source of water, easy means of crossing the river, with the freeways (creating sprawl), and without channelized water from the river, this city would never have emerged the way it did.  These engineering marvels would never had existed.  True enough statement.  Water and roads are essential parts of urban growth.

What was the result of all of this and smaller scale infrastructure projects have allowed Los Angeles to move out beyond the center in haphazardly every direction, causing a decline of the center and its importance..  True too, read Reyner Banham's description of the impact of the Pacific Electric Rail Car in Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies (see previous post).  Even during the twenties while Downtown Los Angeles was booming, it was already losing its grip on the city.  In The Day of the Locust by Nathaniel West described the result of this hodge-podge growth, "Mexican ranch houses, Samoan huts, Mediterranean villas, Egyptian and Japanese tempes, Swiss chalets, Tudor cottages, and every possible combination of these styles..." which suggests be dynamited.  Well, okay.  West's peevish description of Los Angeles as a city with a lack of cohesive and coherent architecture motif is true but dynamited? A little extreme.  Instead of blowing them up we remodel them or let them deteriorate.

Out of this free-wheeling state, a vernacular architecture has emerged.  Its design has less to do with an original appearance of the buildings than their occupancy and purposing.  The buildings have become a cacophony of languages, scripts, fonts, colors, and materials.  The effect of this riot of letters and colors has made the facades all but disappear.  What used to be a Zig-Zag Moderne market or an ordinary concrete block repair shop has now morphed into a laundromat, pawn shop, or storefront church.  For proof of this, check out places like the West Adams Historic  District.  West's East Coast conception of architecture was one that was essentially a time capsule not an evolving collection place making where people can engage each other.  Perhaps, the architecture is a metaphor for the people that live here, ever evolving and repurposing themselves.  So back to the question of does architecture matter in Los Angeles?  The answer is yes, from the bottom-up.  Yes, it's messy, noisy, running riot allover the place but, hey, it's L.A.  

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Hello Canada

I almost forgot my manners, hello and welcome Canada.  It's nice to have on board.  I hope you'll be entertained and informed by what you read.  I look forward to you checking in.  Thanks for your support.

Form and Landscape: Southern California and the Los Angeles Basin, 1940-90

Hello Everyone:

Today I would like to continue on the subject of Los Angeles' architectural history and share with you some of my notes on a great panel discussion I attended yesterday evening at USC.  This panel discussion was based on an upcoming exhibition at the Huntington Library (http://www.huntington.org) titled, "Form and Landscape: Southern California and Los Angeles Basin, 1940."  This exhibit is part of the Getty Center sponsored (http://www.getty.edu) initiative "Pacific Standard Time Presents...", documenting the rise of artistic production in post World War II Los Angeles.  Last year, this program focused on painting between 1945 and 1980, showcasing the work of Los Angeles based-painters such as Ed Ruscha.  This year, the Getty is sponsoring a more modest initiative chronicling the rise of architecture in Southern California between 1940 and 1990.  As previously stated, Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne rightly pointed out that the period before 1940 is left out.  Therefore, it gives the erroneous impression that nothing of consequence happened until the Second World War.  Furthest thing from the truth.

This online exhibit presented by The Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West, together with more than a dozen writers, critics, and scholars, chronicles the built environment during this  fifty year period through the camera lens of the photographers employed by the Southern California Edison Electric Company.  The participants of this project combed through more than 70,000 images in the Southern California Edison archive at the Huntington Library, Art Collection, and Botanical Garden.  The project  was organized by USC History and the director of the ICW Professor William and University of Las Vegas History Professor Gregory Hise.  The curators include Deverell and Hise, artist Mark Klett, writers Ruben Martinez and D.J. Waldie, and the Huntington's own photography curator Jennifer A. Watts.  The geographic range of the images extended out beyond the basin, covering the entire region.  The photographs look at the impact of electricity such as the impact of electricity in the form of Household appliances and the landscape.  The photographers, such as also took pictures what happened when things go bad such as power outages.  The archive open to public; the curators divided up the vast holdings according to go themes.  The themes of the exhibit are: noir, domestic, landscape, compelling archives, consumption, fabrication, domesticity, labor, foodscapes, scale, light, noir collisions, streetscapes, technology, text, undocumented, flora.  Each theme is accompanied by 20-30 images with essays.  The presentation yours truly attended last was the second of three public forums staged throughout Los Angeles County.  The first was "Better Living Through Electricity: Los Angeles, 1940-1990;" a third forum is set for Thursday July 11 at the Pasadena Public LIbrary, Central Branch and titled "Laboratory for Modernity, Los Angeles, 1940-1990."

First, a little history to put this exhibition in context.  In the late 1880s, there were several small independent utility companies that worked to bring power to the region.  In 1897, the West Side Lighting Co. and Los Angeles Electric Co. merged to form Edison Electric Co. of Los Angeles, which went on to acquire other local utility companies and later an international conglomerate.  While Edison play an important role in creating and expanding the regional landscape and infrastructure, the photographers the company employed, including  C. Haven Bishop the main photographer for Edison, documented the process, leaving a huge treasure trove of pictures that present commercial, retail, residential interiors, architectural jewels, and images of the vernacular.  The project opens with an essay by Professor William Deverall and  Professor Hise.  Professor Deverall, who moderated the panel made note that the archive is underutilized by researchers yet, strangely, used by researchers in the People's Republic of North Korea (????).  Go figure.  Maybe the North Koreans are trying to learn how to layout an electrical grid or just spying on the United States.  Whatever.  The recently opened Overdrive exhibit at the Getty focuses on just architecture while Form and Landscape focuses on the commonplace using images with high DPI resolution.  The high DPI resolution image allow the viewer to clearly see the images in all of their glory or gory.

Following Professor Deverell's introduction, each of the panelest took turns briefly discussing the themes they took on.  One of the curators, Claudia Bohn-Spector, addressed the them of "Text-Alphabet City"-city as physical object.  In this case, text means signage and how its incorporated into the landscape.  Ms. Bohn-Spector's concept was how people experience the city.  A sense of urban poetry. What does the text do to the picture in a social and political context.  The text introduces real language into the image such as irony and mythology.  The billboards and neon signs acted as beacons of light that call out in the dark, both metaphoric and literal.  They become an evocative story of noir.  One great example was a sign advertisingUtilitarian needs that the city serve in the middle of the frame
Text is everywhere-when it enters the photograph become aware of it.

D.J. Waldie was the next presenter on the subject of noir.  After the assorted technical glitches, including a PC/Mac comedy moment, the author presented Los Angeles as contested landscape-Noir.  Mr. Waldie, who is writing a murder mystery for the exhibition attempted to open a Vimeo version of text but once again modern technology got the best of humanity.  Mr. Waldie's vision of LA is very noir city-flip side of suburban Southern California.  You take the everyday, add the right touches, and it becomes sinister.  The story can be told in a sinister way. Conceptualize Los Angeles in terms of existential dred whether the image is projected image or inherited-Critique of noir-"Here Friendship Dwells."

The next three presenters quickly gave an overview of their part of the exhibit.  Filmmaker Josh Oreck discussed his work on the theme titled "Repeat"- the unchanged view. Mr. Oreck chronicled the coming of electricity and how affected LA street life and faded glory.  USC History Leo Braudy discussed the cultural landscape as layers-Palimpsest.  He cited the example of domestic architecture-something from 1910 next to something from 1960.  The different layers of LA, changing idea of the city.  Finally, Professor Philip Ethington touched the use of signs and
signs and text and their reasonance.  Examining how shadows work-the light of the West Coast with the disintegration of bodies.  Neon light is part of the story-LA was first city to use neon.  It tells a story of a big city.  The point here, in a city of millions how to do justice to the millions of other stories?  The photographs present an intended element-thought they were photographing one thing while the curators saw another.  This was not unlike famed architectural photographer Julius Shulman and his depiction of the physical world, allowing to see the past and meaning, denotative and connotative quality.

In all, this was a highly informative and new way to look at the Southern California, through the power grid.  One thinks of electricity as something that is, like water or air.  Yet through Southern California Edison, electricity formed the region in ways that could only be imaged a century or two ago.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A summary of Boston Architecture


Good Afternoon Everyone:

My plan today was to write about a Frank Lloyd Wright car dealership in New York City being demolished but events in the city of Boston, Massachusetts have made it this idea seem pointless. Instead, I'd like to spend my time with you writing about the architectural history of this great American city.

The city of Boston has been home to many historical people and events.  The magnificent building and public spaces have served as a backdrop to some of the most important events in American history.  For example, Boston was the site of two very well known Revolutionary War period events, the Boston Massacre (1770) and Boston Tea Party (1773).  Let's also not forget Paul Revere's fabled "Midnight Ride" just prior to the Battles of Lexington and Concord and let's not forget the Battle of Bunker Hill.  Some famous Bostonians connected with the Revolution were John Adams, who became the second President of the United States, John Hancock, and Samuel Adams.  Even before the Revolution Boston was the place where the Puritans, fleeing persecution in England, settled.  One of the most famous Colonial period religious figures was Anne Hutchinson, a midwife who challenged the strict moral adherence and guidance of the Puritans.  In the nineteenth century, the city began to grow even more and the Back Bay Area was filled in to accomodate the expanding population.  The city also became one of the sites for the growing Abolitionist movement.  It was also during the nineteenth century that Boston was one of the first American cities to receive Irish immigrants fleeing the Potato Famine.  These newcomers eventually integrated themselves into the city forever giving it a certain identifiable Celtic character.  John F. Kennedy was a descendent of those Irish immigrants.  In the twentieth century, Boston continued to grow and, in the twenty-first century has become a site for technology industry thanks to Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University in nearby Cambridge.

In 1978, the Boston Preservation Alliance was formed with the mission of protecting and improving the quality of the city's distinct architectural heritage.  This task is accomplished through advocacy and education which brings together people and organizations to influence the future of Boston's historic buildings, landscapes, and communities.  One of the Alliance's accomplishments was successfully petitioning the city government to grant landmark status to the United Shoe Machinery Corporation Building, built in 1930 by the firm Parker, Thomas, & Rice. This building is regarded as one of Boston's finest example of Art Deco architecture.  Another example of preservation in action was the success with the Chestnut Hill Waterworks (1888 and 1895) by Arthur Vinal and Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge.  After the city stopped using the Chestnut Hill Waterworks in the seventies, this example of nineteenth century Romanesque Revival and Beaux Arts fell into disrepair.  A citizens group urges the city to maintain the buildings and the Alliance's Executive Director Albert Rex, chaired a committee was given the job of creating guidelines for the Request for Proposals for the building.  Eventually a plan was implemented to convert the Waterworks into condominiums and office space.  Finally, Fenway Park (1912) is the oldest Major League ballpark still in use.  In 1999 it was threatened with demolition and plans to construct a new ballpark were announced.  The Alliance and concerned citizens formed the SAve Fenway Park! to successfully  advocate the preservation and restoration of the stadium for use in the twenty-first century.

Beyond these examples of successful preservation advocacy, Boston is home to fine examples of architecture that has been integral in American history.  For example, Christ Chapel, known as Old North Church is the oldest still active church building in Boston.  The first stone was laid on April 15, 1723 (Happy 290th Birthday) and its steeple was immortalized by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere."  The Old State House (1657/1711/1747; attributed to Robert Twelves) originally was Town Hall of the provisional governor, the City Hall, before becoming the state house of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  Faneuil Hall (1742 & 1762 John Smibert/ 1805 Charles Bullfinch) was the place where the first stirrings of Revolution took place.  Trinity Church (H.H. Richardson 1872-77) was considered by James O'Gorman as important cultural event in American history because of its departure from the Puritan past and the emergence of American creativity.  The Boston Public Library (Charles McKim; McKim, Meade, & White; 1887-95)  was one of the first free public lending libraries.  In the twentieth century, the John Hancock Tower (Henry Cobb; I.M. Pei; 1972-75) is the most prominent building in the Boston skyline.  The glass facade offers an impressionistic view of the city.

Perhaps tomorrow I'll go back to blogging about the usual subjects.   For today, please keep good thoughts and prayers in hearts for the injured, the dead, and their families in the City of Boston, Massachusetts.  Please pray that the perpetrator(s) of this heinous crime be brought swiftly to justice.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Architecture and Thatcherism


Hello All:

In the wake of Margaret Thatcher's passing, I thought I might post a short blog on the architectural legacy of the late former prime minister.  This blog is based on an excerpted article written by Anna Winston and the full text was published April 8, 2013 in Building Design.  Essentially, Ms. Winston outlines five significant effect Thatcher's tenure had on the architectural profession

1) The privatization of local authority services leading to the United Kingdom becoming the largest export markets for private architectural services.

Living in the United States, I never gave it a real thought that architectural services were anything but private.  I never thought architects, engineers, planners, contractors, and everything else involved with the profession were subject to nationalization.  I know there are laws that govern the profession but an architect as a government employee?  Maybe if he/she worked for the federal, state, or local government but overall, no.  I guess when Mrs. Thatcher privatized the architecture profession, freed up providers to seek commissions outside of the United Kingdom , where, I assume that competition for work became very keen.

2) The Monopolies and Mergers Commission made it illegal for professional bodies, including architectural services providers, to establish or publish a minimum fee scale.

This would probably apply to members of the Royal Institute of British Architects.  Again, I assume, prior to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission ruling, RIBA members had a set minimum they charged clients.  Whether or not this keep up with the actual costs of construction, materials, and labor (the biggest costs in building) was apparently not the issue.  RIBA architects were required to charge their clients a set minimum.  The ruling enabled members of the building trades to charge what the market would bear.  This enabled architects and contractors to keep up with actual costs.

3)The Big Bang or deregulation of the financial sector in 1986 led to increased demand for office space and design in response to cultural shifts toward consumerism.

The eighties were a boom time in the Western world, especially in the United States.  The deregulation of the financial market enabled financial institutions to make loans for all sorts of investments.  Of course we suffered the consequences in the 2000s with the collapse of the global financial markets.  Be that as it may, in the eighties consumerism was running rampant.  In response there was a new demand for new commercial and retail spaces.  Thus, the need for architects and builders to accommodate.  For good or bad, the deregulation of the financial market was not something that just happened in the eighties but part of a process that began in previous decades.  In a turn of events, there are new calls in the United States for some re-regulation of the financial market to hopefully mitigate another meltdown.

4) In 1988, the London Dockland Corporation broke ground on Canary Wharf, the largest commercial project in the world at the time.

The Canary Wharf development is a mixed use space in the Hamlets Tower district in London.  It is one of two main financial centers in the city.  For better or worse, this development spurred growth in  previously neglected corner of London.

5) The Right to Buy program which led to a dramatic reduction in public housing both for tenants and architects and encouraged gentrification.

The Right to Buy program gave tenants and housing councils the right to buy the home they lived in.  The good was it encouraged ownership and pride in the place.  The bad is that some people got priced out of their homes.

The architectural legacy of Margaret Thatcher was appeared to be mixed at best.  On the one hand she helped free up the architecture profession in the United Kingdom to be more competitive with their counterparts in Europe and North America.  Government sponsored programs encouraged development and growth.  On the other hand, the deregulation of the financial market and the Right to Buy program had dire consequences that would be felt in the long term.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Yes real architecture does exist in Los Angeles and it's not shopping malls.


Recommended Reading: Esther McCoy: Five California Architects: Los Angeles, California: Hennessey & Ingalls, 1987

Case Study Houses: The Complete CSH Program: isbn-10 3836510219

Barbara Lamprecht:  Neutra: Complete Works: isbn-10 38312440

David Gebhard: A Guide to Architecture In Los Angeles and Southern California: ASIN: B0000E9VNW

After our romantic ride down Wilshire Boulevard, I thought today I might try to enlighten you on the history of architecture in Souther California.  Now, now I know what your thinking, architecture in Southern California? There is such a thing?  Well yes, and quite a rich history that has nothing to do with Hollywood or Disneyland.  In fact, the history of architecture goes back to the days of the Spanish missions and represents some of the most bold experiments in the modern movement.  Once again, Los Angeles Times architecture critic provides with our source.  As with yesterday, I've provided you a recommended reading list.  All the books I've mentioned are available at local bookseller or online.  Check it out, buy it, read it, you'll be enlightened.

About two years ago, The Getty Trust (http://www.getty.edu) helped organize and fund more than five dozen exhibits on twentieth century art in Los Angeles called "Pacific Standard Time."  The focus of the exhibit was the post-World War II period.  The war years, in a number of ways helped fuel both cultural and industrial production.  The Ferus Gallery opened in 1957 and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art was completed in 1965.  Now the attention shifts to architecture.  This new, more modest exhibit, which opened yesterday April 9 and runs until mid-July, is called "Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A.: (PSTP)  The anchor exhibit is "Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future 1940-1990.  Timeline-wise: the dates are fuzzy. Architecture, like any other form of art is fluid.

Mr. Hawthorne launches into his article by pointing out significant gaps and contradictions between the titles, the phrase "modern architecture in L.A.," and the years 1940-1990.  What he is alluding to is the supposition that the modern movement did not exist in the city until 1940.  The reality is far from.  He rightly points out that modern architecture in Los Angeles began well before 1940 and continues up to today.  True enough, the work of Charles and Henry Greene, Irving Gill, Rudolph Schindler, Richard Neutra, and the master Frank Lloyd Wright is proof enough.  On a side note, if you're in Southern California I recommend a visit to the Gamble House (1908) in Pasadena and MAK Schindler Center (1921) in West Hollywood.  Thus, the new exhibit is focusing on Southern California architecture's middle age.  Not that it's unexciting in any way but it ignores the history that came before and set the stage.  Another aside, some of the architects who were part of this middle period were alumni of my alma mater the USC School of Architecture (Fight On).  In conjunction, with this new focus on architecture, the Museum of Contemporary Art is mounting a group show opening June 2 called "A New Sculpturalism." (http://www.moca.org)

The choice of time frame, 1940-1990 and the inclusion of the words "modern architecture" suggests that the Getty hopes to uncover how the city was made modern.  The can accomplish these goal all in one fell swoop.  The time period overlaps the PST art shows mounted last year which covered the years 1945-1980.  They can match the mid-century glamour with presentations of the Case Study House and "Jettisons" architecture.  They can even find some space for an examination of the early careers of Frank Gehry, Thom Mayne, and their colleagues in what became know as the L.A. School, which did not emerge until the late 1970s.

While the mid-century period has been examined ad nauseum, the architecture in seventies and eighties remains underestimated not only in the work of the afore mentioned by also in the work of people such as Cesar Pelli, Charles Moore, Craig Ellwood, and Ray Kappe.  Two shows chronicle this period: first the recently opened show at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, "A Confederacy of Heretics" (http://www.sciarc.edu) and "Everything Loose Will Land" curated by Sylvia Lavin at the Schindler House (http://www.makcenter.org).  The title of this last exhibit is an amusing riff on the famous Buckminster Fuller epigram "If you tilt the world on its axis, everything loose with land in Los Angeles."  However, Mr. Hawthorne right wonders what about the period before 1940?

This period begins in the late nineteenth century when midwesterners and east coast natives dazzled by images of perpetual sunshine and orange groves began to flock to Southern California,the ex-patriot German and Austrian architects that fled economic hardship in Europe, or the architects from the midwest and east coast that came here bringing with them inspiration from Europe, Asia (Japan), New York, and Chicago?  The Greene brothers, who settled in Pasadena in 1893, fused their take on Craftsman Architecture with elements of Japanese Buddhist temple architecture they brought with them after a stopover at the Columbian Exposition.  Then there were the years between 1910 and the Depression where the modern movement was propelled by Irving Gill, Richard Neutra, and Rudolph Schindler, outsiders who brought with them European modernism and fused with the locale.  Gill is worthy of an extensive study especially when placed in juxtaposition with Austrian architect Adolf Loos.  Gill's own work makes use of a stripped-down proto-modernism, evident in his work in the San Diego area and much lamented Dodge House in West Hollywood.  Neutra and Schindler have been examined in every which way.  Of course, the textile block houses of Frank Lloyd Wright and the work of his son Lloyd could make up an exhibit onto themselves.

Further, Mr. Hawthorne points that any study of the connections between pre-1940 architecture, urban planning, and politics would have to confront the missed civic opportunities-how Los Angeles failed to take control of the red-car trolley network as it gave way to the freeway system or create a comprehensive parks system.  See William Deverell's book Eden By Design.

Perhaps it would've been nicer to present this new exhibit in more of a historic context so that visitors could see what came before in order to get a better sense of things.  The SCI-Arc exhibit is an attempt to expand on the Getty show.  Even better would be a more historically comprehensive show.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Boulevard of Reinvention


Recommended reading: Richard Longstreth: The Drive-in, The Supermarket, and The Transformation of Commercial Space in Los Angeles: 1914-1941, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1999

Rayner Banham: Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press, 1971

Wilshire Boulevard or as Richard Longstreth put it, "The fabulous boulevard."  Angelenos tend to see this boulevard which stretches from Downtown Los Angeles to the Ocean as our Main Street.  I chose this article to blog about because this is road I live near and have almost daily contact with.  I actually live near the storied Miracle Mile where the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the La Brea Tar Pits are located.  Thus, I felt compelled to discuss it.  In an ongoing series on memorable streets for the Los Times, architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne goes behind the facade of "the fabulous boulevard" to examine the true story of Los Angeles' Main Street and reveals a completely different side of a street that has been a part of Los Angeles' history.

My own experience traveling down the boulevard in either direction is akin to time travel.  Going east towards downtown is going back to a time when Los Angeles was a fledgling metropolis that attracted the hungry and the hopeful.  The buildings that line the eastern direction are some of the most beautiful you'll ever see.  There no pretense, just a sincere effort make a mundane place more aesthetically pleasing.  Even from the car, the buildings have, what I call an old smell, musty with life occurring within the walls.  In the western direction, going past the Miracle Mile, is the Los Angeles of the post-World War II period and the future.  The buildings are shiny, bright, recalling the sense of optimism that followed soldiers returning from the Pacific and European battlefields and migrant defense workers looking for a better life.  Further west is the Los Angeles of the future, the Los Angeles of the digital revolution on the avante-garde of technology and commerce.  Past, present, future-Los Angeles and Wilshire Boulevard.

Let's start with a brief history of Wilshire Boulevard before diving into Mr. Hawthorne's romantic analysis.  Wilshire Boulevard began it's life as two separate pieces of a whole.  Part of it began in the beach community of Santa Monica, California and the other part near downtown in the nineteenth century, "founded"by Henry Gaylord Wilshire.  The boulevard did not become whole until 1934.  In 1895, Wilshire, along with his father and brother purchased a triangle-shaped parcel of land just west of downtown.  Shortly after the purchase, he filed a plan for a new subdivision for the plot with an east-west road running down the middle he dubbed Wilshire Boulevard.  The first gated community, Fremont Place, was located on the boulevard and was home to  silent screen stars Mary Pickford and Harold Lloyd.  Between 1920 and 1923, the area around Wilshire Boulevard and Rodeo (Ro-dayo) Drive was the site for one of the first dirt auto racing tracks in the United States.  Bullocks Wilshire (1929), designed by architects Frank Donald D. and John Parkinson, was the first department store west of downtown to orient its entry porte-cochere and valet parking to the back to accommodate automobile traffic.  The former department story is now home to Southwestern University of Law.  The Bryson (1913) was one the elegant apartment buildings that began to displace the mansins in the Westlake area.  It was followed by the Talmadge (date unknown) built by United Artists President Joseph Schenk for his wife actor Norma Talmadge.  Today, the Talmadge continues to thrive and the Bryson has been restored and provides low-income rental.  There were about twenty-two high-rise office buildings put in the Wilshire Center between 1968 and 1976.  In the 1980s, scores of high-rise and high-priced condominiums were built along a portion of the boulevard, east of Westwood, the "Golden Mile," to reflect the value of the real estate.http://www.preservela.com/archives/000641.html

Definitely a fabulous history but what today?  What has this de facto Main Street become and come to mean?  Unlike Pico and Olympic Boulevards, which run parallel to Wilshire, the boulevard has distinguished itself as denser, more urbane, vertically oriented road.  Instead of acting as the prefect symbol of the city, it has become a  sixteen mile petri-dish for new ideas about architecture, transportation, commerce, and urbanism in Southern California.  It was on Wilshire Boulevard that civic planners first tried a linear downtown, stretching west toward the ocean, instead of the traditional consolidated plan beginning at the foot of City Hall.  Here was the place where Los Angeles built it's first synchronized traffic lights.  A quick digression, Los Angeles has recently synchronized the traffic lights in an effort to ease gridlock with mixed results.  Back to the topic.  The boulevard is dotted with beautiful and beautifully restored Art Deco apartments that harken back to the city's glamourous past.  Unlike some of the other boulevards profiled in this series which faded in prominence after World War II finding new strength in recent years, Wilshire Boulevard has remained the place where the city has embraced and tested the future.

If Wilshire Boulevard is the test lab for the future, then there have been few failed experiments.  Wilshire has been the site for a proposed subway to the sea, the world's tallest building, and many other big proposals that have stalled.  I'd like to address the proposed downtown to the ocean subway for a minute.  Los Angeles is a city that was built, in part, by transportation.  First the Pacific Electric Railcars then the freeways.  Reyner Banham, in his book Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies, does an excellant job of explaining the history of transportation in Los Angeles.  Los Angeles is a car-culture city and getting people out of their cars and into subways and buses takes a bit of doing.  The high cost of gasoline has prompted many locals to rethink their relationship to the car but overall, we remain committed to the relationship we have with our automobiles.  This partnership is also predicated on the vast sprawl that has been created, ironically, thanks to transportation lines making it possible for someone in the city of Torrence to commute daily to work in Beverly Hills.  This sprawl has also given way to a less dense city, thus less of a need for high-rise buildings.  I believe that as Los Angeles continues to grow into a more urban environment, civic minded people will rethink their hesitation toward the high-rise.  All of this is being acted out on Wilshire Boulevard.

The apparent signs of car culture are not present on Wilshire Boulevard.  As the city continues to grow denser and real estate becomes more expensive, the car and its attendant businesses are being priced out.  I can personally vouch for the Mr. Hawthorne's point about driving for miles along the boulevard and not finding a very necessary gas station or drive through that were central to Wilshire's identity in the first half of the twentieth century.  Now the boulevard is in this limbo state.  The car culture along the boulevard has faded but a rail system and pedestrian culture has yet to take hold.  Their are pockets of a pedestrian culture but not enough to make it interesting.  It gives the whole road a sense of disconnect that are a reminders of it boulevard's early days as a series of disjointed streets.

Bullocks Wilshire, on Wilshire and Westmoreland, pioneered the car-centric features that would become common in the city including a rear-facing entry that was as impressive as the street facade.  Developer A.W. Ross used similar methods in his audacious plan for developing a stretch of Wilshire between La Brea and Fairfax Avenues as the Miracle Mile.  However, as we all know for every successful plan there are several failures such as a series of triumphal arches patterned after the famed Roman arch.  More recently, there was a proposal to build a rapid-bus route along the western corridor, through Beverly Hills, Westwood, and Santa Monica, but these cities did not want to give up a traffic lane.  Typical of Wilshire's luck over the years.

As a place for stand-alone notable architecture, The Ambassador Hotel (1921) by Myron Hunt and Welton Becket's House of Tomorrow (1946, this is, by the way, now a private school) stand out as the boulevard's emblematic failures.  However, efforts to create a more cohesive road would require such a massive effort involving different municipalities that it just seems pointless.  The proposed subway system is the best example of efforts to create a more unified boulevard.  If actually completed, it would demonstrate the city's new commitment to public transit.  However, it faces a powerful and well-funded Westside based opposition.  The current incarnation of this plan is the Purple Line.  Despite the paranoid efforts of the Beverly Hills Unified School District, which continues to oppose a tunnel under the city's high school, the plan seems finally on track (some pun intended) for completion.  As the Wilshire line dealt with one delay after the other, the city was quietly building an expansive business and rail network that brought back to life the boulevards.  The subway as the capstone of Los Angeles' transit revolution has potential to act as potent catalyst.  This transit revolution is fueled by the growth of the bicycle culture.  If anything, the subway to the sea will intensify Wilshire's identity as a boulevard for reinvention.

When the proposed subway reaches Westwood in twenty years, it has the potential to bring UCLA out of its leafy suburban cocoon and let engage with the city.  Could the same happen to USC and other university campuses around Southern California?  Stay tuned.  The Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced plans to build a Purple Line station on a UCLA-owned seven-acre lot on the corner of Wilshire and Gayley (Lot 36).  Since the university is not subject to local zoning or height regulation, it could conceivably build a high-rise to accomodate its growing student population.  A skyscraper would be a dramatic statement and change the image of the university.  The subway could also radically change two cultural landmarks, the Getty Center in Brentwood and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on the western edge of the Miracle Mile by making them more accessible by means other than the automobile.  I'm sure that museum public relations people, accountants, and marketing people are just salivating at the prospect of more visitors.  To that end, LACMA director Michael Govan is working with Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, in anticipation of a Purple Line Station, to redesign the eastern edge of the museum campus to create a grand arrival space, key to the museum experience.  This type of ambition is just part of Wilshire's history as a place for reinvention.  Hey guess what?  That's what Los Angeles is all about, come here and reinvent yourself.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Ground Zero and the Performing Arts


Hello Everyone and welcome to the Monday edition of the Preservation of Community Assets blog.  I hope you all had a nice weekend and if you notice, I've posted a link to the article we will be discussing today.  Today's topic is a proposed arts center on Ground Zero.  Yes that's right THE GROUND ZERO in New York City.  The site has become a type of sacred site in pantheon of American history.  If you remember a few years ago the outcry over a proposed Islamic community center near the site and controversy it caused.  In a New York Times opinion piece Maureen Dowd rightly pointed out that while an Islamic community center near Ground Zero may not be be appropriate but neither are the off-track-betting parlors.  Now, there are plans for an arts center designed by Southern California based architect Frank Gehry.  Mr. Gehry is the visonary architect behind such cultural landmarks as the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, California and the Guggenheim Bilbao in Bilbao, Spain.  Though, the architect remains committed to the project, questions remain.

First, let's get some background information.  The proposed center began its life as part of former New York Governor George Pataki's redevelopment plan for Lower Manhattan.  Four cultural organizations were chosen to anchor the project: the International Freedom Center, the Drawing Center, the Signature Theater, and the Joyce Theater.  Of the four, only the Joyce Theater remains, for now.  In the meantime, the issue of cost remains.  The price tag for this new center has ranged from $450 million to $700 million.  In an effort to control the cost, the plans have been dramatically scaled, especially since the Joyce Theater cannot serve as the sole anchor venue.  Even still, the center's board is concerned about fund raising because it has no idea how much the whole project is going to cost.  How is this possible?  A nonprofit arts organization commit itself to a grand project with real community development potential and not know the cost or even have a solid estimate?  Who does that?http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/editorial/ground_zero_8uJmwcST1ovDXAVOOUc9M

So now in an article for the arts section of the New York Times, writer Anthony Tommasini raises some basic and important questions: What exactly has Frank Gehry been asked to do?  What is the purpose of this project?  Which institutions, ensembles, or companies will use the venue?  Who will be the artistic director?  These questions have even more resonance since the Joyce Theater will not be the anchor the center.  The Joyce was hoping to be a home for dance performances, the International Dance Theater.  Now it appears that the complex will morph into an multidisciplinary space for theater, music, film, and dance according to Maggie Boepple, the center's president.  The Joyce will have a more modest role.  That doesn't sound too bad.  After all Lincoln Center in New York and the Music Center in Los Angeles are also multidisciplinary spaces.  In this case, it's a euphemism for an arts center that lacks focus and a mission or an art spaces available for rent like a catering hall.  Not very promising.  However, experience has shown that when an arts building is designed to be adaptable to everything, it ends being not good for anything.  That doesn't sound encouraging.

Of course it's easy to say that art, all its forms, is liquid and can adapt to all types of spaces, but here we have a case of form not following function.  This is lesson one in architecture school and something Mr. Gehry has been diligent about during his long and storied career.  Mr. Gehry's greatest triumphs have come by meeting the programmatic needs of the institutions that commissioned his firm such as the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which opened in 2003.  Here, the architect designed a modern 2,265-seat hall that feels both warm and intimate.  As a side note, the building was designed and built using computational architecture-on a computer.  Recently, the New World Center in Miami, Florida, which opened in 2011, seats 756 concert goers in an airy auditorium.  Outside the hall is a park designed by the Dutch firm West 8, where people can watch video broadcast of concerts projected on a huge side wall.

In contrast, the New World Center cost $154 million with the projected costs of the Ground Zero Arts Center projected to be anybody's guess.  Arts complexes succeed when they are built for and run by institutions with a clear identity.  It's both sad and revealing to watch the plans for the proposed performing arts center at Ground Zero fall apart.  We can play hypotheticals and try to image what would've been had Paul Kellogg, the artistic director of the New York City Opera realized his dream of moving the company to the development site.  Mr. Kellogg was long convinced that the main problem facing the City Opera was its home in Lincoln Center.  The opera company was forced to perform in the New York State Theater (The David H. Koch Theater), an acoustically dull space built for the needs of the New York City Ballet.  It was also difficult for the opera company to assert itself in the shadow of the Metropolitan Opera House.

Mr. Kellogg proposed moving the City Opera, "the people's opera," to Ground Zero, a bold yet to some, a foolish idea.  The midtown Manhattan site had history of being a cultural destination point.  Mr. Kellogg took into account that he would lose some of his uptown subscribers but would gain a new audience from Brooklyn (what's with Brooklyn? It comes up all the time) and New Jersey.  He argued that the complex needed an institution with a proven track record and mission such as the City Opera.  True enough.  The Walt Disney Concert Hall got the L.A. Philharmonic.  He planned to increase the number of productions, schedule more matinees, and bring in other presenters.  However, it became clear that the space could not accommodate a theater big enough to meet the opera company's needs.  What really undermined the plans was the discouraging attitude of the neighborhood organizations and civic officials that the company was too specialized, i.e. elitist.  Please! give me a break.  Elitist?  Here was an opportunity to make use of a performing arts organization in the spirit of community economic development and it gets dismissed as elitist.  I would be even more surprised but this attitude is a typical American approach to the arts.

Over time, the attitudes of government and city officials over what types of arts institutions were appropriate to the site proved to be the undoing of two of the selected organizations.  The International Freedom Center, a museum dedicated to human rights, was jettisoned over fears of it being too controversial.  The Drawing Center was effectively pushed off the site after some of the presentations were criticized as anti-American.  The Signature Theater was interested in moving but the city decided that the needs of the theater would be too expensive and the company built a new home on Theater Row in Clinton and appears to be thriving.

Paul Kellogg retired in 2007 and the City Opera has undergone several crises.  Under its current artistic director, George Steel, the company did move from Lincoln Center in 2011, not to a new home, but became a roving company.  Would things have been different had the City Opera found a permanent home on Ground Zero?  Linda Shelton, the Executive Director of the Joyce Theater still remains committed to the site in whatever form it is.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Does the Creative Class Help Our Cities?

"Did The Creative Class Really Save Your City? Probably Not"
Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan

Hello Everyone:

I'd like to keep going on the subject of the urban design and the creative class.  I think it's a subject worth exploring because it impacts a city in so many different ways.  Today, I want to write about new research that looks at whether or not creative class does really provide benefits for a community.

An article posted on fastcodesign.com argues that the answer to whether or not the creative class really is beneficial to a city is no.  In his book The Rise of the Creative Class (2002), Richard Florida argues that gentrification at the hands of the creative class leads to widespread gains for urbanites.  However, this article suggest that there is a growing body of scientific and ethnographic evidence to dispel this assumption.  In January, a pair of journalists from Crown Heights (in Brooklyn naturally) published an investigation of efforts by new and long-time residents to sustain a sense of community in the face of rapid gentrification.  The story was shared through the social media sites and recently, Grist published a rebuttal to Florida's argument filtered through the lens of the City of Oakland, California where housing prices and upscale amenities have done very little to alleviate poverty and crime.  Writer Susie Cagle raised a secondary issue, that the dissolution of community ties could negatively affect residents in times of natural and man-made crisises.  I would agree here because, part of the idea of community is that you know your neighbor and can depend on him/her in times of emergencies.

Susie Cagle points to crises such as Hurricane Sandy, when grassroots organizations got straight away to the task of digging out New York while agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Red Cross were still trying to get organized.  She also points to Oakland following the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989 when the city banded together to rescue the injured.  Presently, the West Oakland neighborhood where the 880 Freeway (??) collapsed is dense with lofts, condominiums, and foreclosed homes of people who could keep up the mortgage.  Many of the homes were bought by investors who either rent them out at inflated prices or leave them empty waiting for the real estate market to it worth the effort to resell or rehabilitate it.  Ms, Cagle concludes that the so-called "urban renaissance" is not the solution for community development in the face of a crisis.

Even Richard Florida published new research refuting the simplistic idea that gentrification "trickles down" to benefit the lower classes.  Sort of an artisanal twist on "trickle down economics."  Repeat after me, trickle down economics, in any form, does not work.  Florida and his team of researchers concluded that while the creative class workers clustered in cities enjoyed increase income, blue-collar workers in the same city, in the same neighborhoods experienced  an inverse effect: rent increases without an increase in income that comes with a creative economy.  Florida's research also mentions the "well-being inequality" which is defined as what happens when the creative class workers are willing to pay more to live in neighborhoods with better food, entertainment, and jobs.  Really?  So how does this concept explain the attraction to former economically depressed neighborhoods like Downtown Los Angeles or Harlem in New York?  Lower-income workers can't afford to live in these suddenly upscale neighborhoods and move farther away from the city.  Oh, then how do you explain the phenomena of creative economy workers fleeing Brooklyn, New York for the suburbs they swore they'd never, ever live in?

Thus not everyone benefits when a neighborhood gentrifies.  The question become how to mitigate the process.  While gentrification may seem like a natural course for the real estate market and interfering with it may seem like an unthinkable task, this misconception is being challenged by grassroots organizations with varying degrees of success.  For example, in Crown Height, new and long-time residents formed the Crown Heights Assembly, an "Occupy-inspired" group to resist predatory housing companies.  Respect Our City in Oakland is planning to the same thing.

What do you think?

Shout out

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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Arts and Community Development

Alan Kay; "Art and Community development: the role the arts have in regenerating communities;" Community Development Journal; Oxford University Press, 2000 (http://www.usc.edu/libraries date accessed March 26, 2013)

I want to come back to the subject of Art and community development.  In this case, the role the arts have in regenerating communities.  Often, the arts are considered part of the periphery of the community development process, a minor player in redevelopment areas.  Even in the face of increased globalization, communities are beginning to recognize their cultural identity through traditional art forms and the value of working collaborative.  In a paper authored by Alan Kay and  published by the Oxford University Press and Community Development Journal, based on a study that demonstrated the role the arts play in community regeneration and at the local level, they can be used as tool within a wider scope of community redevelopment.

In the twenty-first century the method of information exchange has greatly shrunk.  Pictures and stories of event occurring around the world are instantaneously beamed into computers, telephones, and televisions immediately.  In the digital information age, there is confusion over what the term "community" means and how we identify it and where we belong.  Hypothetically, a group of people in far flung places who share an interest in the heavy metal band Black Sabbath can call themselves a community, coming together via the social media sites.  Communities are now defined either on the global basis in terms of the information technology (i.e. sms) or on a local basis as areas where people live together in families or in other communal arrangements.  Alternatively, communities can be defined in terms of mutual interest like our hypothetical.

While globalization has led to the world's resources coming under the control of large multi-national corporations, fracturing local communities, there is a residual power in acting locally and giving voice to the powerless through community development.  Many local communities have their culture and history, adding to the quality of people's lives.  In economically and socially depressed areas, community development workers have examined the possible ways to enable the local population to engage, develop social and economic skills, and empower them to determine their own future.  One of these tools is participatory arts projects.  There is evidence to suggest that art, as a medium, can enable individuals and groups to gain job skills, be more involved, more confident and active in contributing to local community development.  People-centered development strategies are increasing in popularity and art at the local level can add to economic and social regeneration.  However, are the arts an effective way to achieve this aim and what is the real and perceived impact on a community?

As a case study, we can look at the study commissioned by the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Arts Council by Blake Stevenson Limited to look into the role of the arts in regeneration.  The study included a literature review followed by an analysis of four very different case studies.  The findings from the case studies were used to comment on the role of the arts in redevelopment in terms of community consultation, involvement and ownership of the project, the measure and links between 'hard' and 'soft' impacts, the strategic use of the arts within wider regeneration politics, and how arts projects are evaluated.  The case studies reviewed the experience in Australia, Ireland, North America, and the United Kingdom.  While the examples do not provide knowledge based information on the role of the arts in community development.  They present evidence that indicates community arts projects are occurring simultaneously around the world helping people to develop skills while allowing them to express themselves through participation.  This type of community empowerment through the arts can mitigate some of the excesses of globalization.

The Australian Council commissioned a study in the long-term social, educational, artistic, and economic benefits coming from community-based arts projects funded by the Council.  The report revealed that arts projects have the potential to create a greater understanding of different cultures, more skill in community leadership and management, and a stronger sense of communal identification.  However, the report noted that there was evaluation mechanism for community cultural development that incorporated all the related outcomes which would inform real financial and economic impact of the projects.

In 1995, the Irish government's Department of Arts, Culture and Gaeltracht, decided to address poverty and area regeneration through the arts.  In evaluating the Arts Awareness Intervention, it was revealed that the participants in arts projects experienced 'a dramatic shift in attitude and appetite for arts education and training.'  See there is something you can do with that arts degree.  Arts projects had an impact on self-expression, communication, feeling good, working hard, pride in the making, having fun, and feeling part of the team as well income generation.  See I told you so, Art pays, just not in the United States.  Segueing into this, in America there is a move to counter the elitist image of the arts and emphasize the need to encourage decision-makers and people to recognize the role the arts in the greater society.  So, it sounds like the arts elite dismiss the art of immigrant and indigenous populations in favor of those with more name recognition.  I could into this whole thing about social capital but we'll set that aside for now.

In the United Kingdom, important work in Glasgow, Scotland focused on the economic importance of the arts.  This study was part of a national program which concluded that investment in the arts can influence the redevelopment of an areas by creating opportunities for training, establishing jobs, attracting arts-related spending power, increasing the attractiveness of an area for business and consumers, and encouraging facilities for commercial and non-arts uses.  Sounds to me that these studies are on to a unique form of community redevelopment.  Move the arts out of museums, galleries, studios, and auditoria and into the communities, invest in training and facilities, and watch positive results happen.  This is something that American community development organizations could implement.  Of course, in the United States we tend to see the arts not only as elitist but also peripheral.  Back to my point

Since the publication of The Economic Importance of the Arts in Glasgow (1988), there have been a number of studies highlighting the social impact of cultural and art-based projects,  mainly through Comedia in the UK, a now loosely structured organization begun by Charles Landry.  There is a recognition that those involved in urban renewal and regeneration programs are becoming increasingly aware of the human potential of a community, and how the arts can be used as an instrument to trigger individual and community development.  Use or Ornament? (1997) highlighted the social benefits of arts-centric development.  The author discovered that group and individual participation in the arts can improve self-confidence and self-identity and the social interaction that grows from active involvement in arts programs can greatly add to the social development within a community.  This was found to be particularly true when the marginalized and disadvantaged are encouraged to participate.  Interesting, there is a question mark in the title, I wonder why.  Is it implying the value of arts-based community development within communities.  From the findings it sounds like there is some merit but the conclusion doesn't seem to discuss the long term benefit.

In a subsequent study discussing the social impact of Belfast, Northern Ireland's cultural activity, the report indicated that community arts projects can impact positively on the personal development and community regeneration.  In Portsmouth, England local arts development was evaluated in terms of social impact recommending that the arts should be integrated into other services and more attention should be given to the benefits of arts project in the regeneration process.  So far, all these studies are saying the same thing.  Arts-based community redevelopment projects are good for the people and their communities.  I wonder what specific type of art are we talking about?  In Comedia in the UK, it's about using stand-up comedy to regenerate a community.  What about places like Belfast and Portsmouth?  What type of programs are we talking about here?  Performing or studio arts programs?  In 1999 an arts project in the field of economic deprivation in Plymouth, England was assessed using a combination of quantitative and qualitative data, allowing for anecdotal evidence, then comprehensively evaluating the project.  The conclusions revealed some difficulties the process and techniques used in the evaluation of arts projects.

A booklet published by the Scotland Arts Council in 1999 found that art does play an important part in empowering communities, providing jobs, skill and training, regenerating urban and rural areas, and the promotion of health and well-being. (Scottish Arts Council, 1999).  The main conclusion that emerged from these reports were:

1) the arts 'have a serious contribution in addressing contemporary challenges since they create social benefits integral to participation." (Matarasso, 1997)
2) arts projects would benefit from having clear, agreed upon, explicit, and understandable objectives that they can be evaluated against (Popple and Scott, 1999) and that  evaluation methods should be simple, integrated into the projects with clear objectives, requiring partnerships between agencies and on-going commitment. (Matarasso, 1998a)
3) community arts enhance and improves the effectiveness of community development projects and not mutually exclusive (Cullen, date unknown)
4) there is much evidence to suggest that productivity and revenue are increased as a result of greater attention given to the way people work together, build their relationships, and create a stake in their futures. (Williams, 1997)
5) arts activities were viewed as a tool in which people could exert greater control over their lives by exploring and expressing social issues of relevance to individuals and communities. (Bowles, 1989)

Fieldwork was conducted in Scotland in order to test and expand on the findings listed above.  Four very different arts projects were identified and subjected to detailed examination.  Initially, over thirty projects in Scotland were contacted and information was gathered on their relevancy to the aims of the study.  Four were chosen using a criteria which included availability of sufficient data and information on funding, the duration of the project, the geographical and sectoral spread of the project.  They were choses to reflect the range of projects and given insight into the community arts sector in Scotland.  The four projects that took part were:

1) a long established arts project in a peripheral housing estate in Central Scotland.  The project enjoyed widespread support, social and economic goals, initiates, funds, guides, developed a range of projects in drama. video production. music, visual arts and literature;
2) an arts program focusing on providing training for young people on a peripheral housing development, carried out in conjunction with community groups.  This concentrated on training and employment while at the same time generating community arts for local people;
3) traditional music and dance summer school in the Gaelic speaking areas in the Western Isles of Scotland.  The goal of this program was to culturally regenerated a socially and economically depressed rural areas through significant arts activity for one week in the summer;
4) a city wide arts partnership implementing an arts strategy integral to local authority's  overall aim of urban redevelopment.  The strategy was not only about community development in disadvantaged areas but also about capital intensive projects in the city center.

In assessing each of the case studies, several social audit methods were used in order be multi-perspective, reflecting the wide variety of stakeholders; comprehensive, covering all the main activities of the programs; and comparative, which would allow for comparison over time between similar projects.

Each of the programs was profiled and quantitative data was complied on each which contributed to the general evaluation.  Additionally, each program identified their stakeholders and they were consulted through a questionnaire or interviewed.  The consultation covered areas of community involvement in decision-making, ownership, level of participation, social and economic impact, policy and integration with other projects, and issues.  The main stakeholder groups consulted differed slightly between the case studies but typically included funders, management committee, beneficiaries, partner organizations, staff, trainees, and the wider community.  Key issues were identified and synthesized into a report which included the primary findings of the study, highlighting good practices and made a number of policy recommendations with regard to the future support of community arts projects.

The main findings that emerged from the fieldwork were considered in terms of the importance of community consultation, involvement and ownership; the measurement of the links between 'hard' and 'soft' impacts; the use of the arts within regeneration policies; and methods used for evaluation.

Importance of community consultation, involvement and ownership-in arts programs, community consultation is importance because it solicits the opinions of members of the community in terms of needs and interest.  If there isn't a need or interest within the community then it is unlikely that there will be a sufficient number of people involved to make an arts programs an effective vehicle for change.  It also encourages partnership between the arts project and local community who can influence the development of the program.  Also, community involvement is essential in arts-based programs because they tend to focus on personal development and attitudinal change within communities.  Since they are people-centered in their approach, thus change will happen only if there is active involvement by members of the community.  Community ownership is ultimately important within arts programs working in regeneration because it facilitates local control.  If we can accept that the arts can be part of the redevelopment process they they can be a powerful tool for empowerment.  Local communities feel sufficiently empowered to take control of arts programs and guide their development for the benefit of the wider population which can strengthen the capacity for the community.  Skills are developed, responsibility is taken and through the arts local culture can be changed.

Measurement and links between 'hard' and 'soft' impacts-the 'hard' information was used to justify arts activities and included in reports to funders.  The 'soft' data is valued by arts practitioners but not used in a systemic way.  If policymakers and funders gave more value to the 'softer' data then arts programs would more confident to publicize it.  There was evidence in all four examples to demonstrate links in both directions between 'hard' and 'soft' measurements.  Increased confidence and well being enables individuals to apply for work; and people in employment will feel that can contribute to their community through active citizenship.  Arts projects should collect, analyze, and present their data on a regular basis.  It could categorized to the original social, economic, environmental and cultural objectives of the program in order to a holistic evaluation of the project.  The presentation of the whole story of the organization could be independently verified who will attest to the accuracy of the self-evaluation and its reflection of the programs achievements.  This holistic evaluation can be used by the program in publicity and changing policy.

Strategic use of the arts within wider regeneration policies-it is important that arts projects be an integral part of an overall redevelopment policy otherwise they remain on the periphery of the development process.  During the study, it was frequently suggested by stakeholders that some community developers were leery of arts projects, thinking that they're a less serious addition to an overall program.  Thus it's vital that arts projects demonstrate why, how, and to what degree they are an effective tool for redevelopment.  Honest, accurate, integrated self-evaluation is the key to this.  Once the belief that arts have a crucial role to play in community development, then there are a number of elements that have to be looked in order to embed them into a policy-led framework.  This can be accomplished by integrating arts programs with existing local heritage or culture to concentrate on creating product-final product and process-at the same time making it accessible to as many people as possible while at the same time targeting excluded groups such as the young, elderly, unemployed, and disable.  Arts projects have to operate at different levels.  There should be a national arts strategy, which establishes a nation-wide framework.  At the regional and local level, it should be adapted to the specific situation and build on an already existing structure.  It is also important that an arts-based strategy fit into long-term plans for the area and not exist as a separate document to the wider regional strategy.  Further, a local arts-based program should fit into local development plans so that duplication can be avoided and the creative community can be used in many elements and local economic development.

Arts Projects and Evaluations

The evaluation of arts programs is critical and there are a number crucial considerations:

1) questionnaires-not popular are often not completed by the participants.  Other methods of consultation need to be developed.
2) evaluations should not be entirely dependent on outside evaluators.  Instead they could be done through self-assessment subject to verification by outside 'social auditors.'
3) every project is different.  Each project has its own set of objective and values.  A possible method of evaluation would assess the performance of each based on its merits.
4) evaluations should consider the main views of the stakeholder groups.  The benefits are that a range of views are gathered and enables the project to be receptive, and change in response to those views.
5) an effective evaluation methodology has to account for quantitative outputs and tangible outcomes.  Recordation has to be simple, relevant and be seen as relevant by staff and volunteers; one that relates directly back to the overall objectives of the project.

Based on the evidence from the case studies, the evaluations systems used are only effective and appropriate to a degree.  Generally, they are not entirely useful because they relate to funders' criteria not to the original objectives of the projects.  Also, the collected information was not always analyzed and presented as a complete picture of the project and how it performed.  Additionally, the evaluation methods were not fully comprehensive, since they did not take into account the opinions of the main stakeholders.  Evaluation methods are crucial for demonstrating the efficacy of a projects.  Thus it is vital for all the stakeholders to know if a project is worth the effort.  If it does not perform well against its objective then it should be changed.  If it does function well, then its success should be advertised.

Understanding the role of arts in regeneration

In order to fully understand the role the arts have in community development, it is necessary to the meanings of these terms.  "Arts" is a confusing and very broad term that means different things to different people.  It can refer to 'fine arts' or 'high arts,' exposure to which can refine the sensibilities of the local population.  I would even posit that the terms 'fine or high arts' have a broad and diffuse meaning.  Even though Alan Kay of this article from which I'm basing this blog attempts to give a quick summary, he still cannot really pinpoint a definition.  Suffice it to say that art can be expression of creativity and skill.  Question, why was this not presented at the beginning of the article?  Similarly, the word 'regeneration' has a range of meanings which have been broken down into four aspects:

1) Economic: regeneration through the creation of employment, reducing unemployment, bring revenue to the area through investment and employment, and providing outlets to spend money in the area and invigorate the local economy
2) Social: encouraging social connections through facilities, organizations, and clubs that can enhance the quality of life through human contact between individuals, families, and sections of society.
3) Environmental: improvements in the surrounding areas and buildings to improve the quality of life
4) Cultural: this word is used often in regeneration policy but not discussed in depth.  It has to do with how people collectively see themselves.  It is about the image and the self-image of an area, its heritage, history, traditions, and skills within a society.

The arts hinge on all of the above.  Active involvement in the development of arts projects can have an effect on all for and can assist in the redevelopment of an area.  However, the real question is the degree of influence the art can have on the overall process.  The arts can have a pivotal role in the regeneration of areas of social exclusion.  The research established that arts programs can:

1) be versatile, flexible, and wide ranging in the activities they offer
2) used for training and employment
3) be attractive to young people
4) be good in encouraging investment
5) be used for the development of communities through active citizen participation and increased involve ment in other community-based projects

In terms of individual regeneration, the arts can:

1) increase personal development by helping their confidence, skills, and motivation
2) assist in social development-participants can make new friends and become interested in new topics
3) improve the local image with people feeling more positive about where they live
4) help participants feel better and healthier from their involvement in the arts

The arts can have a significant role in changing the culture of an area.  The culture in areas of the disadvantaged are often complex but in the same way that schools and companies operate.  Peripheral housing developments often have a prevailing culture typified by unemployment, negative peer pressure, despair, disillusion, and overall negativity.  There is often a "ghettoization" of poverty and economic disenfranchisement that has left people and their with fewer choices.  Therefore it is possible that the arts and cultural activity can change the culture of an area and make it a more creative and vibrant place for all.

The arts cannot operate independently in the regeneration for a declining area.  They have to work together with a wider program of community development in a holistic approach to a people-centered development, one of the challenges facing the arts and community development specialists.  Finally, the realization of the how the arts function within regeneration may require an attitudinal changes among local people, development specialists and those working within the arts.


The arts have an important function in the regeneration of socially and economically depressed.  They can encourage job skills training and employment, support volunteers and participants in personal development, improve the image of an area, social cohesion and active citizenship, local recognition of cultural identity, enhancement of the quality of life and collective creativity.  This significance should be recognized and valued by policy makers and practitioners of community development.  This recognition is achieved through appropriate and relevant evaluation.  Arts programs are only effective when the community takes ownership of it.  If they are viewed as a tool of empowerment, they can have a dramatice effect on regeneration.  As globalization continues to increase, affecting personal and professional lives, the quality of life where we live will become increasingly important as members of the community.  Collective artistic expression by communities can assist local people in asserting and empowering themselves thereby countering the negative aspects of globalization.  Through the arts we can promote a vision of community development based on tolerance and dignity; one based on need and creative inter-dependence.

More to follow