Edgy in LA
by Leigh Christy
In June 2006, downtown Los Angeles was overrun with architects in town for the National AIA Convention. When not exploring the burgeoning city center and notable regional architecture, these visitors were eagerly learning about the "next new thing" for the profession.
This year's convention combined big names and varied themes to create a full agenda of educational seminars, architectural tours, trade exposition booths, and business meetings. The event drew a record 25,000 registrants to the Los Angeles Convention Center.
This year's official theme, "Architecture on the Edge," was inspired partly by the coastal location of the host city, and partly by the role of architects as innovators. The opening session emphasized both interpretations by beginning with a speech full of promise from Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and ending with a discussion of iconic architecture, failed urbanism, and political opportunities.
Speaking to designers from throughout the country, the mayor touched on the need to "design our neighborhoods for our residents, not for our cars." He also admitted: "those of us in the public sector are sometimes slow in adapting your imagination," pleading with architects to "come to Los Angeles and show us what is possible. Design with us the city of our dreams."
Indeed, the most popular game at the convention was trying to define this city of dreams. Antoine Predock, FAIA, took his turn while accepting the AIA Gold Medal Award, referring to Los Angeles variously as a seething metropolis, a seismic cultural melting pot, and his "other favorite city in the world, second only to Rome."
Following Predock's lead, local-icon creators Rafael Moneo, Thom Mayne of Morphosis, and Craig Webb of Gehry Partners discussed the character of Los Angeles. Then they used the city as a springboard to discuss universal issues. The consensus seemed to be, ironically, that iconic architecture has limits, but the question remained as to whether those limits had been reached in this city.
Mayne suggested that architecture's relationship to the broader community is interesting, but that it "won't solve the problems that architects want to make it solve." Instead, he lobbied for increased designer involvement in the political process and planning decisions. Moneo countered by questioning whether urban scale decisions were really the role of the architect — then asked Mayne lightheartedly if he were "perhaps looking forward to running for office."
Webb took the intermediary position, noting that Gehry Partners had risen from the design of smaller buildings and therefore inherently participated in a more incremental planning procedure. "Cities get built one building at a time," he stated, "and we're all in this together." >>>
Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...
Walt Disney Concert Hall, a new icon for Los Angeles, by Gehry Partners.
Photo: Leigh Christy
The National 2006 AIA Convention drew crowds of architects to hands-on computer workshops.
Photo: Leigh Christy
Click on thumbnail images
to view full-size pictures.