Architecture school launches publication series
The USC School of Architecture has released the first in an ongoing series of publications that will explore the multilayered urban landscape of Los Angeles and examine whether grand architectural visions and decades of urban plans have delivered on their promises.
Titled CEZI, after a Chinese term for small printed matter, the pamphlet series is intended to reflect the architectural studio tradition in which small, fragmented ideas are accumulated into a powerful collective, both in each individual publication and in the series as a whole.
The inaugural publication in the series, Grand Illusion: A Story of Ambition, and Its Limits, on L.A.’s Bunker Hill, examines a stretch of downtown Los Angeles that includes the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) on Grand Avenue; Walt Disney Concert Hall, designed by Frank Gehry ’54, Judge Widney Professor of Architecture at USC; and a planned $100 million Eli Broad museum. It asks why, despite these cultural monuments, the street often is empty and forlorn, even as further east, downtown Los Angeles experiences a revival.
For a spring 2011 graduate-level course, Gehry assigned his students the provocative task of coming up with redesigns for MOCA Grand Avenue, one of the anchors of the street. But first the students had to conduct an “autopsy”: extensive contextual research into decades of built, and unbuilt, visions for the former Bunker Hill.
Grand Illusion is the result of Gehry’s studio, showing the evolution, current condition and future potential for a street that has been the subject of great – and flawed – ambition for more than half a century. The pamphlet was edited by visiting professor Frances Anderton, host of the KCRW program DnA: Design and Architecture, who led the research component of the course.
Grand Illusion includes Gehry’s own words on why he set the challenge, recollections of his experience building on Grand Avenue and visions conceived by his firm for enlivening the streetscape. It also includes research by USC architecture students, who uncovered a pattern of planning decisions shaped too often by expediency.
Other voices collected in Grand Illusion include developers, politicians, cultural leaders, design critics and members of the public, the intended users of the street, gathered by Anderton over years of interviews for her radio show.
“Grand Illusion does not claim to be a manifesto,” Anderton said. “Rather it looks at one specific street and the hope, hubris and compromises that have underscored every step of its postwar development. It also looks at the contribution monolithic cultural buildings can – and cannot – make to a rich urban experience.”
Grand Illusion was completed before the dissolution of California’s community redevelopment agencies by Gov. Jerry Brown last year. The research inadvertently serves as a testimony to a six-decade period in Los Angeles history when the city’s mighty agencies, in tandem with powerful developers, shaped downtown.
“To the extent it does offer a prescription, Grand Illusion suggests that those who believe permanent structures are the remedy for urban ills might consider today’s temporary, pop-up urbanity and culture that has helped invigorate the now-popular parts of downtown Los Angeles to the east,” Anderton said.
Grand Illusion was designed by Julie Cho in collaboration with Anderton and Lee Olvera, assistant professor of practice at the School of Architecture and managing editor of the series.
The second publication, which is expected this summer, will focus on Exposition Park, which includes the Natural History Museum, the California Science Center and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.