Wednesday, June 9, 2021

On The Schedule: June, 2021

June 19 -- July 31

Low Rise, Mid Rise, High Rise: Housing in LA Today, at Helms Bakery District

How will we live tomorrow in LA?

Find out at Low Rise, Mid Rise, High Rise: Housing in LA Today, an in-person, pop-up, eye-popping exhibition of housing projects in the pipeline that advance the idea of home in Los Angeles. It takes place at Helms Design Center at Helms Bakery District.

30+ teams show renderings and models of multi-unit housing, at multiple scales, that are pending or under construction in the Southland. They represent a range of approaches as eclectic as Los Angeles itself, including: above, the Grand Panorama, a proposed high-rise variant on inside-outside living above the Regional Connector in DTLA by "critical regionalist" Farooq Ameen, Pariya Mohammaditabar and the team at City Design Studio; below, the Reese Davidson Community, affordable housing in Venice designed by the Hayden Tract renegade Eric Owen Moss; the "Lean-To ADU" by Ben Warwas, of Byben, opening up to sky in both directions ; and The Alvidrez supportive housing designed by Michael Maltzan for the Skid Row Housing Trust, and named for longtime SRHT head Mike Alvidrez, shown standing by the model.

The pop-up opens Saturday, June 19, with a public conversation about the work. It will be on view after that through July 31. Read more about it here.

Why this Pop-Up now?

Many of us have been out of circulation for more than a year, and the state opens June 15. This is a chance to reconnect and see what people have been working on, and get a taste of what might be coming to your neighborhood before too long.

What is the thinking behind it?

Currently there is a lot of public debate about the politics of housing and the crisis of homelessness. While this conversation takes place, housing construction continues apace, much of it ever higher and denser. And people will live in these buildings. This pop-up explores how designers are envisioning that lived experience.

After all, LA is famous for its innovation in the design of home. But today designers must navigate a web of constraints (including costs, zoning, parking, competing development and neighborhood pressures) and the buildings that result are sometimes sadly mundane. However, design teams and developers with imagination are creating buildings that are livable, sociable, have character, are sometimes affordable -- and add to the canon of residential design in LA.

How they do that is the through line to the show and the talks. 

Visitors will see transit-oriented, mid rise, multi-unit housing with apartments filled with natural light, flowing space and a taste of the outside. Projects will demonstrate planning for sociability, as well as new material and structural solutions to housing affordability. They will also show how buildings from the ADU to the very high rise can express the distinct and eclectic Los Angeles character. Finally, visitors will see how the pandemic may have altered planning priorities in the homes of tomorrow. 

Does this show have anything to do with the City of LA's Low Rise Housing Challenge?

No, and Yes. This pop-up was originally intended to take place in summer 2020 but was postponed due to the pandemic. It was already named Low Rise, Mid Rise, High Rise, and was based on work around housing design by Stephen Phillips and his CalPoly LA Metro students; and on longtime reporting on housing I had been doing for KCRW. That research is now the basis for a book I'm working on, "Common Ground: Multifamily Housing in Los Angeles," to be published in 2022 by Angel City Press. 

In the intervening months, LA Mayor's Office design chief Christopher Hawthorne launched his very interesting Low Rise Housing Challenge, calling on designers to create contemporary variants on the beloved low-rise typologies of yesteryear in LA (including bungalow courts and du-tri-four and six plexes.) I was honored to be a juror and witnessed the subtle thinking by Hawthorne and his team and the many design teams who submitted. 

However, the Low Rise Housing Challenge was speculative. It was predicated on the notion that LA's vast areas of residential land zoned for single family houses will have to upzone to allow the region to grow sustainably and that a gentle form of relatively low housing is the best way forward, in view of the deep resistance to upzoning by homeowners in many neighborhoods. The Low Rise Housing designs were intended to be alluring examples that could bring people around to the idea of slightly denser and higher housing, some of it based on new ownership or rental models.

Conversely, the Helms pop-up takes the view that while we might yearn for exactly this kind of distributed, non-invasive density, the reality is that developers are shoehorning housing into the relatively small areas it is designated and on those sites they are building has much as they are permitted to. Mid and high rise are the directions LA housing is going and we wanted to explore that.

Saturday, June 19 

Join the Conversation

At the public opening and conversation on Saturday, June 19, participating architects including Barbara Bestor, Ben Warwas, Angela Brooks, Elizabeth Timme, Eric Owen Moss, Farooq Ameen, Lance Simon, Li Wen, Lorcan O'Herlihy and Pariya Mohammaditabar will talk about their approaches to Low, Mid and High Rise housing. Stephen Sharp, editor of Urbanize LA, will offer his thoughts too. Michael Anderson will discuss his newly published book "Urban Magic: Vibrant Black and Brown Communities Are Possible." The talks will take place between 2 and 4pm, and we will ponder practical and aesthetic questions, such as:

What does our patchwork of low, mid and high rise housing tell us about Socal living today? 

The changes of scale result from zoning that mandates single family residential only in disproportionate swaths of land. What does this mean for affordability?

Much of the new housing today -- both marketrate and affordable is dense, with sometimes hundreds of units. This can be bland or unpleasant, especially when the solution is a double-loaded corridor giving onto dwellings with windows on only one wall. What can designers do to alleviate that experience?

Is it possible to sustain Southern California's desirable inside-outside living many floors off the ground?

Low Rise, Mid Rise, High Rise: Housing in LA Today is presented by Helms Bakery District in partnership with CalPoly, San Luis Obispo LA Metro Program, helmed by Stephen Phillips. Speculative housing designs by the CalPoly LA Metro students will also be on show.  


Tuesday, June 29

Apple Tower Theatre on Greater LA

It is rare that the ceiling is a bigger attraction than the iPhones in an Apple store. But that's the case at Apple Tower Theatre, a new outlet for the tech giant elegantly installed within the 1927 Tower Theatre, designed by S. Charles Lee, master of the fantasy movie theater in Hollywood's golden years. 

The team -- Norman Foster, Gruen Associates and a task force of preservation groups -- worked to repurpose the highly ornate theater, modeled after Charles Garnier's Paris Opera and slathered in decorative plasterwork, into a place that would function for shoppers (the raked seating had to go) while preserving and in some cases recreating original gems, such as the clock tower and the ceiling mural of puffy clouds. It was a labor of love and detective work, involving forensic analysis to understand the plan and the materials of a building that had been much altered, not to mention dark since its last screening in 1988.

The finished result is a fascinating collision of maximal and minimal, and new and old tech; Tower Theatre was the first movie theater to have air conditioning and the first to show Talkies. 

Apple says this will be more than simply a store, and promises a host of incentives and workshops for young, local creatives. It may be that some of them are drawn as much to the building crafts of yore as to the digital arts of today.

I visited the new store with KCRW's Greater LA host Steve Chiotakis and you can catch our chat about it on Tuesday, June 29.


Thursday, June 24

Treehouse and the Building of Community in Los Angeles

On the evening of June 24, developer Prophet Walker (above, right) and brand consultant Jason E.C. Wright (above, left) will come to Helms for an in-person conversation about Treehouse (Treehouse Hollywood, below) and creating community in new housing. 

Treehouse is the coliving building co-developed by Walker; Wright, founder of the Burntsienna Research Society, is a resident there. It was designed by The California Office with creative direction by Sean Knibb. The next Treehouse, under construction in Koreatown, will be on display at Low Rise, Mid Rise, High Rise: Housing in LA Today.

Seeding The City: Nature in LA in the 21st Century

Coming next month... After the Pop-Up closes, Helms’ programming will turn to the theme of landscape in LA and how to keep alive a connection to nature in a region that increasingly builds over it. Top landscape designers, artists and thinkers will take on “Seeding The City: Nature in LA in the 21st Century,” a day of tours, talks and installations, taking place Saturday, July 24. 

Expect Sean Knibb, creative director at Treehouse and designer of its landscaping, to be there, among other talents.  Watch this space for more details.

Helms X Frances Anderton

The events listed above are the first of many talks and installations involving LA designers, artists and architects that I am co-organizing with Angela Anthony for the Design Center at Helms Bakery District.

During the years I hosted KCRW's DnA: Design and Architecture, Helms and Angela were very supportive of the show. Angela and I share a commitment to the Los Angeles design community and to facilitating public dialogue around art, design, architecture and the urban realm.

Now we are working together on programming in-person events that will unfold over the coming year. The Low Rise, Mid Rise, High Rise pop-up is just the start. It represents a slice of the housing in design and development. We will turn the spotlight on work by many other designers in the coming months.

The collaboration is called Helms X Frances Anderton. Stay tuned!

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