Mimi Zeiger

Critic, editor, curator and instigator.

It was a summer of outrage and pain. The weeks after the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin and the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many other Black men and women, was a moment in the United States when veil that hung over the racism and white supremacy was ripped open and all the grief and anger tumbled out into the streets in mass protest. A history of oppression and a present heavy with generational burdens of inequity was laid bare. For Black and Indigenous, Latinx and Asian Americans, this is lived experience. For many white Americans, it was mirror held up to a country that is a democracy only to some.

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Imagining a new society begins with visionary design. What can we learn from the bold architectural schemes of the twentieth century?

The frontispiece of the original edition of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, published in Leuven, Belgium, in 1516, depicts a small island, nearly round with deckled edges. The engraver’s hand shaded the landmass with short, neat hatch marks to suggest topography and a river. More imagined utopia as a self-contained world where communities shared a common culture and way of life. This definition sets up two particular criteria: place and society. To convey these intertwined conditions, the illustrator dotted the woodblock print with buildings.

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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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Inspired by the recent tendency among architects and designers to opt out of traditional office work in favour of creating self-initiated interventions in public space, ‘Co-Machines’ map out a new architectural movement motivated by practices of place-making, occupying and squatting, and alternative economies. Ecological or technological in scope, all the interventions are mobile and nearly all of them are performed without permission from city planners. Presenting a selection of international projects by emerging designers, ‘Co-machines: Mobile Disruptive Architecture’ shows the life of the alternative, grassroots and DIY with an independent spirit. It seeks out approaches and strategies to complement established urban planning and city-building, and show the beauty and fun in the initiative. In a range of ways, ‘Co-Machines’ raises questions about the function of architectural permanence, the opportunities for social, ecological, ethical or dynamics otherwise in urban planning and the scope of architecture at large.

ON/OFF (Dan Dorocic, Mimi Zeiger, Kim Dovey, Alan Smart, Nick Green, Fiona Shipwright, Michael Maginness, Alison Hugill, Diane Barbé, Benni Foerster- Baldenius, Carole Lung, Sam Carvalho )

“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 …