Friday, May 25, 2012

Object Lesson: LA Live

[A landscape perversion:  the Staples Center and Nokia Theater in the larger LA Live landscape in downtown Los Angeles]

perverse [per-vurs]- willfully determined or disposed to go counter to what is expected or desired; contrary.

Further to our last post about which mentioned the NBA Playoffs (which I’m sure excited landscape architects across the nation) over on Grantland Bill Simmons writes about experiencing 6 playoff games (4 basketball, 2 hockey) in one weekend for three teams at the LA Live complex in Los Angeles:

My favorite LA Live story before last weekend:  A few months ago, a Kings [hockey] home game at Staples Center started at the exact same time as a Wiz Khalifa concert at the Nokia Theatre, inadvertently creating the single funniest swarm of congestion that’s ever happened.  Let’s just say there wasn’t a ton of overlap between the two fan bases.

Whereas Olmsted created landscapes of aesthetic effects that projected republican ideals of public space, and James Corner imagines the landscape as a totalized abstraction organized according to a notion of complexity, places like LA Live seem to conjure a special sort of visceral materialism and diversity of social relations.  Whether through a crass commercialism, logistical gymnastics (yo-yoing the performance surface of the Staples Center between ice and parquet 6 times in 74 hours), violent compositional and programmatic juxtaposition, or some brilliant concept interested in materializing a smorgasbord of American ideologies in one space, places like the LA Live Staples Center are capable of producing singular cultural moments that smash through design ideologies of complexity and contradiction, moving in to a sort of perversion of the public realm.

It should be noted that the Olmsted parks, and some contemporary creations such as Crissy Field or Brooklyn Bridge Park are proving robust enough to support a similar diversity of use and effect.  This is nicely illustrated in the fact that the Wiz himself also had a concert in Central Park just last summer.  However, places like LA Live seem to draw more from the historical vernacular park typology such as Coney Island or Elysian Fields than traditional European precedent or Olmstedian picturesque.  We’ve mentioned before the project of Brian Katen that looks at oval racing tracks in Virginia as materializations of cultural memory and social relations, and as Simmons notes, these sites are somehow capable of colliding and juxtaposing representatives from a variety of populations- an old white millionaire with a blond woman at his side settles in to watch The Dictator alongside two 18 year olds anticipating the appearance of Wiz.
[the notorious "shoot the freak" entertainment at Coney Island in Brooklyn, NY where contestants could shoot paintballs at a live person dodging and weaving behind old dryers and tires in a below-grade vacant lot; a bizarre and singular entertainment in an utterly perverse landscape]
Additionally, these places- arenas, theaters, stadiums- serve as singular materializations in the larger landscape; particular amalgamations of subway entrances, coaxial cables, impermeable asphalt, and gigantic light-emitter-diode assemblages.  A study might be underway in Brazil right now, looking at the relationship between the retrofit of the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro and the sweeping social changes occuring in the eccentric settlements at the urban periphery.  At least, we hope so.  Perhaps it will point to some possibilities that get beyond the park and the promenade and allow landscape architects to understand the conditions that give rise to these sort of perverse landscapes.

[It should be noted that Simmons has proven over the years to be a prolific, entertaining, and occasionally profound writer and cultural commentator.  That doesn’t excuse the tendency toward extremely inane jokes such as “personally, I would rather drive my car through the bike race and pancake some cyclists than take the L.A. subway.”  It’s not that he means those words- he obviously doesn’t- but just that it is a poor joke, not funny or interesting but a lazy throwaway.]

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Garbage Time and Garbage Space

Cartoneros in Buenos Aires make their livelihood sifting and transporting the material refuse of the city.
It's May and that means garbage time is over in the NBA- it's the playoffs baby!  No more sitting the starters on the last leg of a back-to-back-to-back, or pulling the star who's battling wrist and knee injuries for the last 10 minutes with a twenty-seven point lead.  It's all hands on deck, unless of course you've torn your ACL or your herniated discs require season-ending back surgery.  But who cares.

You may have noticed a precipitous decline in posts here recently.  This is not a long-term situation, but rather a symptom of being in heavy production on my thesis project.  It will, of course, be a failure, but we aspire to fail in glorious fashion.  In coming months we're excited to reshape the blog and looking forward to trying some specific experiments and exploring new areas of focus.

In the mean time if you are interested not only in garbage time but also garbage space, please head over to Places and check out a new article by Michael Ezban on the Monte Testaccio landfill in Rome.  He thoughtfully excavates the political economy of the Roman landfill and uses the term monadnock a lot:

Over the course of this intermodal journey the oil and clay would pass through a phalanx of bureaus and labor guilds. The historian David Mattingly notes the involvement of “thousands of people, including imperial officials, commercial associations, individual merchants, various guilds of boatmen, and a great many porters and dockworkers.”  At various points the amphorae were inscribed and stamped to indicate points of origin, net and tare weights, signatures of ownership and receipt. Upon arrival in Rome the amphorae were poured into dolia, and empty Dressel 20s were discarded behind the warehouses along the wharves. The 1,000-mile migration of clay and oil that began on the banks of the Baetis River would end with the construction of an artificial monadnock in the floodplain of Rome.
Monte Testaccio and the Tiber River in Rome; image via Places
Admittedly, it's a cool term, recalling Leibniz's metaphysics and meshing it with the geological oddity.  Though tightly focused on landfill reclamation and reuse, we think the essay offers up two important concepts for landscape practice in general:  material dispersal and program aggregation.  Please check it out, and if you have the chance to dive in to it, share your thoughts in the comments over on Places.