Daily Features

Building on Never Built

Curator Sam Lubell discusses the Los Angeles that wasn’t, and what it means for our cities.

By Jennifer Krichels, Superscript August 22, 2013

Today, a few lucky L.A. visitors will get a behind-the-scenes look at the process behind the Architecture + Design Museum’s much-talked-about exhibition "Never Built: Los Angeles," which opened at the end of July. Co-curated by Sam Lubell and Greg Goldin, and designed by Clive Wilkinson Architects, the show by turns has allowed the public to lament projects that should have gotten off the boards and breathe a sigh of relief that some didn’t. The content is meant to start conversations about how cities can foster forward-thinking architecture and urban planning—visitors can also experience unbuilt sites live with a Never Built: Los Angeles City Tour app—and to give Angelenos a new understanding of the city they live in now. 

For those who won’t make it to the show in person, Lubell caught up with Jennifer Krichels to discuss the process behind creating the exhibition and answer the question on everyone’s mind: Will New York be the next city to have a Never Built show?

OMA's 2001 LACMA proposal. Photo courtesy of OMA

Jennifer Krichels: I'm sorry to miss the behind-the-scenes tour of Never Built today. For those of us who can’t be there, can you share your favorite anecdotes uncovered during the curatorial process?
Sam Lubell: The process of finding these projects was a fantastic treasure hunt. It took us to strange places like the city archives, located inside downtown L.A.’s Piper Center, which is one of the ugliest buildings in the city, filled with dusty documents from the dawn of the city. We got to meet amazing people like Frank Lloyd Wright’s grandson, Eric Lloyd Wright, and several architects who worked on plans throughout the decades. We got to leaf through original blueprints and documents from every major archive in the city and from most of the region’s best designers. Putting it all together was a challenge, but we had a team that got it from the start. One member of that team, Tommy Musca, is an incoming high school senior who built our Lego recreation of Lloyd Wright’s Catholic Cathedral for L.A. When Greg first suggested him we all said, "what?" But after he brought a few of his ridiculously good Lego models into a meeting we all understood right away that this kid was a genius.

Screen shots from the Never Built app. Photo courtesy of Parsing Place Productions

JK: What type of response have you had since the exhibition’s opening? Are visitors more excited to see projects that still have potential or to rejoice at bad ideas that have been quashed?
SL: People are excited to see both. There’s enthusiasm about the ambition and imagination (and visual power) of the best plans, and some degree of regret that they didn’t happen. As for the bad ideas, there’s certainly some humor at looking at them now. They seem so outlandish and in some cases ridiculous, you need to laugh as you breathe a sigh of relief.

The Book

Never Built Los Angeles Sam Lubell
Greg Goldin
Thom Mayne

JK: Are any of these projects likely to see new life thanks to the show? If you could choose one to resurrect, which would it be?
SL: I doubt that any of these projects will see new life now. More importantly, we want to encourage Angelenos to fight for projects of similar scope, audacity, and originality. Of course we hope they’ll be fighting for the better ideas, like plans to green the L.A. River and to cap various freeways with parks.

A proposal for the Santa Monica Offshore Freeway in 1965 would have been built on landfill. Photo courtesy of the City of Santa Monica

JK: Are there any projects that should never be realized?
SL: I hope they never bring back the offshore freeway between Santa Monica and Malibu. That would be an environmental and aesthetic nightmare. The surprising thing is that some people love that plan. They think it would have solved the traffic issues on the Pacific Coast Highway. I have sincere doubts about that.

JK: If you were to choose another city in which to revisit this theme, what would it be? What has curating this show taught you and Greg about Los Angeles and its ability to realize innovative architecture and urban planning?
SL: I think my first choice is New York, and we’re discussing that right now. You need a city with an equal amount of resources and ambition. It takes going through hundreds of projects to find the most interesting, impactful material. As for Los Angeles, it shows that Los Angeles is not very well equipped to realize innovative architecture and urban planning. There are so many reasons I can’t list them here, but in general there is a culture of accepting second best in the public realm, which is exacerbated by unambitious developers, NIMBYs, fractured politics, a disconnect between designers and potential clients, etcetera.

One of the show's half-dozen "floating airport" proposals for LAX. Photo courtesy of Never Built Los Angeles


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