In a beautiful love letter to Los Angeles a few years back, the always eloquent, ever-awesome Geoff Manaugh (a.k.a. BLDGBLOG) described the city thusly: “L.A. is the apocalypse: it’s you and a bunch of parking lots.” Manaugh sees freedom and liberation in the void, but to its detractors and the uninitiated, Los Angeles is a vapid town without a geographical or metaphorical soul, paved-over and palm tree-d, and tough to parse, even with the requisite car.
, an upcoming exhibition at the Architecture and Design Museum , aims to reveal a beating heart of the city through a history that goes far deeper than what meets the modern eye. Curators Sam Lubell, West Coast editor at the Architect’s Newspaper, and Greg Goldin, former architecture critic at Los Angeles Magazine, teamed up to curate the concept by A+D Director Tibbie Dunbar. What began as a survey of contemporary projects that weren’t ever actualized eventually expanded into a look at a century’s worth of incredible creative not-quites that present the question: What if?
“It was an amazing treasure hunt,” Lubell tells Co.Design of the epic two-year search for material that spanned existing architectural offices, braintrusts of architects, planners, and historians, and every major archive in the city, from USC to LMU to the Metro Transit. “Most of these projects have never been seen by the vast majority of Angelenos,” Lubell says. “It will be an entire new history.”
It’s not surprising that many of the earliest entries would have had the most significant opportunities to shape the infrastructure and character of the growing metropolis. A 1925 plan would have seen construction of over 140 miles of subway and 40 miles of elevated rail to the city that would have established a vastly different precedent for L.A.’s now-notoriously public-transport-parched urban sprawl. The 1930 Olmsted-Bartholomew Parks, Playgrounds, and Beaches plan would have added thousands of acres of inter-connected parks to complement the concrete. And, somewhat less dramatically, the Happiest Place on Earth almost made its Matterhorned home in Burbank, not Anaheim.
And while some of the discoveries would have had a largely positive effect, there were a handful that were serious near-misses, like new freeways criss-crossing through Hollywood, Beverly Hills, the canyons, and even an offshore route up the coast from Santa Monica to Malibu. “It would have completely destroyed the tranquility and character of the Santa Monica Bay,” Lubell says.
The technology used to picture architectural visions has also changed dramatically. “One of the biggest surprises was seeing how the architect’s hand plays such a significant role in conveying the power of their ideas,” Lubell adds. “Pen, ink, and watercolor are now something of a lost art, and seeing original drawings of the kind we’ve unearthed has opened my eyes to the real meaning of design.” Unrealized artifacts by everyone from John Lautner to Rudolph Schindler and Frank Lloyd Wright will shed light on this uniquely hands-on approach.
The show will be accompanied by a book (published by Metropolis/Artbook D.A.P) featuring in-depth examinations of around a hundred never-built projects, and Lubell and Goldin have turned to Kickstarter to fund the physical realization of the exhibition. “We really think this show can help change the culture of stagnation and less-than-inspired design that often characterizes major projects in the city,” Lubell says. “There’s so much incredible talent here, and it’s time for the city take advantage of it.”