Alissa Walker

Writer / United States /

Alissa Walker’s Notable Books of 2013

2 books
Sylvia Lavin Editor
Kimberli Meyer Editor

“Tip the world on its side,” Frank Lloyd Wright supposedly said, “and everything loose will land in Los Angeles.” Maybe he was talking about L.A.’s buildings, which at first glimpse seem haphazardly scattered across Southern California’s famously chaotic urban landscape. But I take it to mean L.A.’s residents: the dreamers, the punks, the weirdos, the outsiders, the nuts, the freaks, the geeks, who are the subjects of this appropriately named exhibition and its appropriately sprawling, rollicking catalogue.

The show, which took up residence in the Schindler House this past summer as part of the MAK Center’s contribution to Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A., examines the intersection of two nascent, experimental, and eventually influential scenes, as L.A.’s contemporary art and contemporary architecture worlds grew up together during the 1970s. As the two movements matured, they became intertwined in a sort of infinite cultural feedback loop, with architects like Frank Gehry, Craig Hodgetts, and Thom Mayne working alongside artists like Ed Ruscha, Robert Smithson, and Larry Bell, exploring new technologies together (this period saw the birth of the personal computer, after all) and employing an increasingly DIY aesthetic. The visionary curator and writer Sylvia Lavin spent years uncovering a vast trove of works to support this thesis, and after a few contextual essays, the book presents these works intelligently organized but largely unadulterated, thanks to the smart design of Roman Jaster and Colleen Corcoran.

While the entire book is an indulgent visual treat (worth getting for Archigram’s wacky collages alone), the most compelling section is “Works on Paper,” where for 172 pages the designers simply reproduced a jaw-dropping collection of untreated ephemera from the period: personal letters from Denise Scott Brown, notes and drawings by Judy Chicago as she dreamed up The Dinner Party, a children’s book about housing by Victor Gruen’s studio—all of which give the reader the same sense of discovery one imagines Lavin might have had combing some dusty basement archives. Throughout the catalogue, but here especially, the personalities of the projects emerge and you begin piece together the importance of this moment as well as the uniqueness of its artists and designers. They all landed here, and L.A. is so very lucky that they did.

Sam Lubell
Greg Goldin
Foreword by Thom Mayne

Los Angeles's civic center might have been a Lloyd Wright masterpiece of terraced gardens. There should be a lush housing development by Richard Neutra where Dodger Stadium stands today. LAX could have been encased under a massive glass dome. These otherworldly proposals for L.A. were unearthed during three years of intensive research by architecture writers Greg Goldin and Sam Lubell, who turned their findings into an exhibition, app, and this book of over 100 projects that might have changed L.A. for the better. (Of course not all the dashed ideas were good: a freeway was supposed to connect Santa Monica to Malibu—directly through the Santa Monica Bay.)

Armed with hundreds of models, sketches, and drawings, Goldin and Lubell worked with the designers at Volume, Inc. to capture the “on the boards” nature of the projects without succumbing to the bleary-eyed nostalgia of most retro-fabulous compendiums. While the book makes the case that L.A. is “always the exception,” it also admits that there’s something exceptional in the way we built up, tear down, dream big, and fail disastrously. We probably always will. In that way, Never Built Los Angeles is about a city that never was, but it’s also about the kind of city L.A. still wants to be.

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