L.A.’s Do-it-Yourself Urbanism Featured in International Architecture Exhibition

Photo:##http://laecovillage.wordpress.com/2010/03/17/the-true-story-behind-the-citys-new-bike-signs/##L.A. Eco-Village##

From guerrilla bike lanes to seedbomb vending machines, a number of homegrown urban space interventions are doing Los Angeles proud overseas as part of the official U.S. participation in the Venice Architecture Biennale.

Stanford Alumni volunteer with L.A. Green Grounds to put a garden in at a home in Leimert Park

The American exhibition, Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good, showcases the best in innovative, small-scale, and informal local improvement from around the country. Each project in the U.S. pavilion – 124 altogether – is exhibited on a pull-down banner, attached via pulley to moveable wall tiles reflecting the urban problem it responds to. Many of the most exciting interventions will be familiar to Angelenos.

James Rojas, a former planner with Metro and founder of the Latino Urban Forum, is featured for Place It!, his alternative planning workshops that have participants playing with toys to get beyond formal constraints to find their ideal communities.

The SignBench and SignChair, “Post Furniture” created by Culver City industrial designers Ken Mori and Jenny Liang, represent a novel response to the lack of sidewalk seating along L.A.’s boulevards.

Another wonderful local project is L.A. Green Grounds, a program that grew out of a series of urban farming courses at the Natural History Museum and now works with the surrounding community to convert front yards into edible gardens around South Los Angeles.

When I was asked to join the curatorial team as a project research manager for Spontaneous Interventions, because of the research I’ve done on DIY urban design in Los Angeles and other cities, one of the things I was most excited about was the opportunity to help bring in some interventions that would likely never have submitted themselves to an architecture exhibition.

Take for instance the “Bunchy Carter Memorial Park” sign. The impeccably detailed faux-official “coming soon” sign was installed by members of L.A.’s Department of DIY at the corner of Wilshire and Vermont on Park(ing) Day in 2010 to agitate for public space instead over condo development. It only lasted the weekend before being removed.

Several banners also feature wider trends of intervention that can be found all over the country (and the world), but which Angelenos will especially recognize from their own streets. These include things like guerrilla gardening and yarnbombing, and of course DIY bicycle infrastructure, for which projects like the Fletcher Bridge bike lane, the “Pass with Care” wheatpasting campaign, and the guerrilla sharrows of Highland Park served as the most visible examples.  

Los Angeles has emerged over the past decade as real hotbed of alternative and informal urbanism, with not just architects and designers but everyday community members taking it upon themselves to improve the built environment of their city (in the face of considerable urban planning adversity, one might say). It’s a testament to this spirit that so many of the standout projects we chose to represent these trends came from L.A.

Other local projects in the exhibition include Silver Lake’s Parkman Triangle Park, from Urban Operations, Ari Kletzky’s “Islands of Los Angeles” campaign signposting traffic islands as “national park” land, and the Seedbomb Vending Machines created by L.A.-based COMMONstudio. Steve Rasmussen Cancian’s Community Living Rooms project – with incarnations in both Los Angeles and Oakland is also featured, as is San Diego’s Periscope Project, an arts and education space that began as little more than a few squatted shipping containers.

Projects were selected for Spontaneous Interventions from around the United States, with a large number coming from New York, Chicago, and the Bay Area, as one might expect, but also the likes of Saint Louis, Raleigh, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and Puerto Rico, among others. All 124 projects and other information about the exhibition can be seen here.

Spontaneous Interventions is open at the U.S. pavilion of the Venice Architecture Biennale in Venice, Italy, through November 25th

*** Gordon Douglas is a freelance writer and a member of the curatorial team of Spontaneous Interventions. He is also a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of Chicago, studying issues of local cultural identity and people’s interactions with the built environment, including “DIY urban design.” He can be found online at DIY Urbanism.

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