Mimi Zeiger

Critic, editor, curator and instigator.

I can’t stop thinking about refugia. In the years, months, and days before the COVID-19 pandemic, the term was confined to the literature and philosophy of climate crisis, referring to pockets of life that through geographic isolation or species resilience manage to hang on in spite of the environmental forces against them. Think of clusters of Pacific Northwest barnacles nestled high on coastal outcroppings to avoid falling prey to sea snails. Or old-growth forests insulated from rising temperatures in cool mountain valleys.

As self-quarantine set in earlier this spring, the word refugia, at least for me, expanded in definition from specific ecological condition to conceptual touchstone—a necessary leap to metaphor when faced with planetary crisis. The magnitude of this pandemic falls outside human comprehension, but for the luckiest of us, refuge is manageable: a place of relative safety, of sourdough starters and online Jazzercise classes.

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The three design schemes look totally distinct on paper and come with different names — “Island,” “Soft Edge,” “The Yards” — but they all have the same goal: restore wildlife habitat, plant people-friendly landscapes and develop flood-control strategies for a place that has been the subject of so much neglect, speculation, dreaming and debate: the L.A. River.

Some of the loudest conversations about the transformation of the 51-mile L.A. River center on Taylor Yard, what had been a greasy, soot-filled tangle of rail lines and boxcars. Throughout the 1940s and ’50s, freight trains rumbled to and from the yard named after the Taylor Mill that once stood on the site. When Southern Pacific Railroad vacated the land in the mid-1980s, the company left behind a contaminated plot along the concrete-lined waterway.

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Tree. Person. Bike. Person. Person. Tree. Anya Domlesky, ASLA, an associate at SWA in Sausalito, California, rattles off how she and the firm’s innovation lab team train a computer to recognize the flora and fauna in an urban plaza.

The effort is part of the firm’s mission to apply emergent technologies to landscape architecture. In pursuing the applied use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, the research and innovation lab XL: Experiments in Landscape and Urbanism follows a small but growing number of researchers and practitioners interested in the ways the enigmatic yet ubiquitous culture of algorithms might be deployed in the field. Read More …

Guiding the transition of San Francisco’s Presidio from military base to national park may be the standout accomplishment of the landscape architect and parks administrator William Penn Mott Jr., who assumed the helm of the U.S. National Park Service in 1985, but it’s a little “monster” from early in Mott’s career that has received renewed attention.

In 1952, when Mott was parks superintendent for the city of Oakland, he commissioned the artist Robert “Bob” Winston to create a unique play structure on the sandy banks of Lake Merritt. Sculptural and organic, the chartreuse green piece was known as the Mid-Century Monster. It was one of the first designs in the United States to depart from conventional swings or slides and celebrate imaginative play, and from its opening, children climbed on and hid inside the Monster’s many haunches and niches. Read More …

Editors: Rob Berry, Victor Jones, Michael Sweeney, Mimi Zeiger, Chava Danielson, Joe Day, Thurman Grant, Duane McLemore

Design: Still Room Studio

The LA Forum Reader brings together three decades of discursive writings and publications on architecture, urbanism, and Los Angeles culled from the archives of the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design. Published under thematic sections: Experiments, Detours, Hunches, and Santa Anas, with interludes dedicated to Art and Architecture, Downtown, and the long-running LA Forum Newsletter, the collected essays and interviews track an uneven and lesser-known history of experimental architecture, postmodern geographies, and alternative urbanism in L.A. as told by the city’s key designers and thinkers.

Today, Los Angeles is a major architectural and urban player, but for decades the city was dismissed suburban and centerless. In republishing three decades of material on architecture and design in Los Angeles, the LA Forum Reader reclaims and reconsiders the city’s architectural and discursive histories. It establishes, or reestablishes, a textual context for critical experimentation and urban investigation. This anthological volume includes essays, interviews, and reproductions of publications that have long been out of print, including pamphlets by Craig Hodgetts and Margaret Crawford, as well as early writings by Aaron Betsky and John Chase.

Select Press:
Archinect, The LA Forum Reader Traces 30 Years of LA’s Architectural Discourse

 

 

Dimensions of Citizenship, the theme of the US Pavilion at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, co-commissioned by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and the University of Chicago, challenges architects and designers to envision what it means to be a citizen today. As transnational flows of capital, digital technologies, and geopolitical transformations expand, conventional notions of citizenship are undermined. How might architecture, then, express, and engage with today’s rhizomatic and paradoxical conditions of citizenship?

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“Armrest” appears early on in The Arsenal of Exclusion & Inclusion (Actar). The encyclopedic volume by Tobias Armborst, Daniel D’Oca, and Georgeen Theodore with Riley Gold (plus contributions from a host of architecture, urbanism, and planning notables) begins with “Accessory Dwelling Unit” and ends with “Youth Curfew,” but it is the armrest placed on a public bench to ward off unsanctioned sleeping that most efficiently summarizes what’s at stake throughout this 459-page book: access, control, and space.

As the three partners of Interboro—a Brooklyn-based architecture, planning, and research collective—Armborst, D’Oca, and Theodore are well versed in the contentious history of urban design and policy in U.S. cities. They manage to strike an editorial tone that is forthright but not strident. If anything, it is a bit self-effacing in regard to the legacy of urbanism’s discourses past and present. “For many nascent urbanists, this is where it all begins, with an excerpt from Mike Davis’s City of Quartz and an ensuing epiphany about space and power,” they write in a sidebar to the “Armrest” entry, all too aware that their example could be, in their term, “hackneyed.” Still, the trio stays with the lesson. Read More …

Images of the havoc that natural disasters wreak upon the built environment are part of our cultural consciousness. They have been since the birth of photography. Yet the past decade or so has seen a worrisome convergence: the parallel increases in the ubiquity of media technology and the number and severity of devastating storms, which are arguably linked to climate change. Katrina: drowned New Orleans freeways and neighborhoods (the latter re-created in Beyoncé’s 2016 “Formation” music video). Sandy: a darkened Manhattan shot by Iwan Baan. Harvey: Houston’s graybrown floodwaters captured by drone photography. Irma: cell phone footage of a battered port town in the British Virgin Islands.

The degree to which the two are connected—and the importance of that link—was most acute when Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, cutting out power and destroying telecommunications infrastructure. The Washington Post even attributed the Trump administration’s delayed response in part to not seeing the wreckage. Read More …

Ed Rosenthal grows weed. He has for decades. The Oakland, California-based horticulturist, author, and activist is the go-to expert on home cultivation. He’s written more than a dozen books on the subject and the policies that surround medical marijuana and legalization. Their titles fall somewhere between what you’d see in your local nursery and your corner head shop: The Big Book of Buds (volumes one through four), Marijuana Garden Saver, and Marijuana Pest & Disease Control.

“Growing is addictive,” Rosenthal says with a laugh, and then quickly clarifies that the drug is not. “Given the right conditions and a sunny backyard, marijuana can be grown almost anywhere in California.” He speaks poetically about marijuana’s diverse morphology: It has male and female plants. Some are tall, some wide, and there are different strains like indica or sativa that range in color—like heirloom tomatoes—from absinthe yellow–green to maroon and deep purple. To cultivate cannabis for its THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and psychoactive properties, only the female plants are grown. The male plants look a bit like wild mustard; the female plants are the ones that produce buds for consumption. “With humans and cannabis, the female is considered more beautiful,” he explains. “I have a bunch of marijuana plants growing, and they all look different, like six different varieties of a dahlia. Each plant is an individual.” He compares homegrown marijuana to homegrown tomatoes. “The person who grows the best marijuana is the person who is growing at home. Everybody loves their own produce.”

It’s a vision of cannabis production that is far different from what the public imagination associates with marijuana: the resource-heavy hydroponic “grow house,” which makes high demands on labor, energy, and water. Or the news reports of thousands of plants seized and destroyed on illegal grow sites on U.S. Forest Service land. Read More …

IN THE DAYS following the 2016 election, as a percentage of the US population partied and another reeled in disbelief, a flood of poll data poured in. Analysts and journalists sifted, categorized, and created slick infographics coded in blue and red. A trend emerged: the polarization of urban and rural America.

The Washington Post reported that “[t]he majority of counties with populations greater than 500,000 — where roughly half of Americans live — swung further to the left.” (Even in stalwart red states like Texas and Georgia.) Small and midsized counties, on the other hand, shifted right. Yes, despite our digital interconnectedness and the seeming ubiquity of globalized commercial culture — a.k.a. a Starbucks on every corner — the city and the country are still divided, splintering the American Dream. Read More …