Los Angeles is a breeding ground for grand, exploratory, and fantastical urban design concepts. This is partly because of the ever-expanding, horizontal reach of Los Angeles, partly caused by the county’s booming population since the early 1900’s, and partly due to the constant and dizzying fascination that Hollywood has always held in the nation’s sway. The city is global, diverse, and active. As a beacon for world commerce, Los Angeles is a city of intrigue for many that live outside its territory.
There is more to why architects and designers are fascinated by the potential for large-scale maneuvers in the city. Los Angeles has two major problems that need solving: the city does not have a coherent architectural identity and the city has failed to deliver on its potential as the preeminent city of technology and efficiency.
The LA Times Magazine article from 1988 projecting Los Angeles 25 years out gives us a hint at the desire for the progression of technology in the city and in turn, an architectural identity. The article hits accurately on micro-level technological advances around the house. However, in spite of the desire for a more efficient urban plan and transportation system that counteract the effects of overcrowding, as well as earthquake-proof megastructures – essentially cities in the sky – a viable solution has so far failed to present itself.
Blade Runner, set in a dystopic 2019 Los Angeles, depicts a highly commercialized city freed from the constraints of the ground. There is a clear desire for freedom of movement and coherent structural elements. These elements give Los Angeles an architectural identity by opening up possibilities vertically instead of horizontally.
The desire is evident not only in research articles and media, but also in various urban scale projects by architects in the past 75 years. These projects activate prominent landmarks in Los Angeles in a spectacular manner, whether it’s downtown, LAX, Runyon Canyon, or the 405 freeway. They attempt to establish these areas as pinnacles that can potentially link to the areas outside their own. Their ambitions are lofty and their structures grandiose. However, these urban scale projects that try to give LA an identity have failed to get past the drawing board.
What we do have are failed post-modern adventures, often times hollow and reflective of the shallow stereotypes of Los Angeles. Here we have the Westin Bonaventure Hotel, an ambitious but failed attempt at micro-urbanism encapsulated within a building that reflects back to the city but at the same time is mysteriously unapproachable.
This first condition of Los Angeles, articulated in this article, is less tangible than the conditions to be tackled in subsequent articles. This is the condition of promise and failure. What factors give designers a hope of realizing their grand desires? What conditions of Los Angeles have prevented it from fulfilling the desires in the past? What can a designer do right now to solve this problem of identity?