Photo: Materials & Applications

Photo by Materials & Applications

I first came across photos of the construction of ‘The Kid Gets Out of the Picture’ on display at Materials & Applications – a “non-profit organization dedicated to building a public culture of experimental architecture in Los Angeles” – on social media and was instantly intrigued.

The undulating forms of unidentifiable draped textiles, minimal stacks of CMUs, and corrugated tubing scaled up to dwarf a passing human caught my attention. If it were a physical model on the desk of an architecture student’s work station, I would have stopped and inquired. If it was a 3D model on a computer screen, I would have reached for the mouse and panned around in wonder. But alas, this thing was real! Big and wild, simple and complex, and covered in people. It also just happened to be in my neighborhood.

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Photos by Erik Schmahl

Photos by Erik Schmahl

The static image in an infinite scroll of static images got me excited about architecture again. The installation itself is compelling, but I was initially even more intrigued by the context and culture that brought this exhibition into existence.

M&A describes their project as such:

“A contemporary update on the aesthetic principles of early 19th century English landscape architecture. By the early-nineteenth century, practitioners of the English picturesque had invented a catalog of objects (follys, ha-has, viewpoints) that worked to produce the pictorial effects of landscape painting within real space. Lumps, clumps, and masses made it possible, in a sense, to occupy the picture. 

‘The Kid Gets Out of the Picture’ is a three-month long exhibition that returns to the catalog of nouns developed by the picturesque to ask how these tactics can be deployed in reverse, extracting the qualities of images and literalizing them in the real world.” 

Photo by Erik Schmahl

Photo by Erik Schmahl

I finally visited M&A last weekend and was pleasantly surprised to be as excited by the physical space as I was by its virtual representations. The forms are incredibly common, especially to those of us who spend any amount of time around landscape architectural modeling, but the presentation is completely fresh.

The pink draping clumps are reminiscent of insulation foam, but the structure is grounded by its physical weight. It looks soft, but upon closer inspection it is very much rigid. The materials express themselves explicitly, but allude to the visual library of landscape: mounding, sloping, draping. Almost every element is a surprise, but the beauty of the piece is that it invites visitors in to explore its underbelly where you can get up close to its innards. You can see the router bit marks on plywood alluding to CNC machines and parametric modeling. The cinder blocks are bare and repeating, accentuating the beauty in their conventional design. Site furnishings are playfully bizarre and functional, situated in places that encourage you to climb on top of the structure.

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Photos by Erik Schmahl

The entire piece is a giant folly, but once you’ve become comfortable within its weirdness a new meta-folly appears on top of the roof: a glossy obsidian-looking boulder, perched out of reach, undescribed and smooth and alien in its materiality. I don’t know what is going on exactly, but whatever it is, I’m into it. I would encourage everyone to take some time with this space and see what happens. Here are a few of my little mediations/thoughts inspired by my visit:

  1. Techniques and technology exist to allow for the design and construction of complex forms and if these design exercises are followed through to construction the result can powerfully ratify the process. Making it real, not only makes the object real (which is cool in itself), but it also realizes the process validating the exercise as something real.
  2. The visual impact of bewilderment is powerful and stimulating. Not knowing what something is, why it is, and how it is demands inquiry and inquiry results in an active experience of exploration. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. But if the water is the color of Pepto-Bismol, the reflection of a raised equine brow in the purple puddle is worth the price of admission.
  3. Designers design for the public, but exhibitions offer an opportunity for designers to design for other designers, as well as the public. This piece makes me uncomfortable because I can’t instantly understand it, but that too challenges me as a designer to try to figure it out – to spend time in critical confusion, resulting a quite pleasurable experience of growth. Stretching my mind a bit. We need more room to play, and it is exciting to see time, energy, and resources put into alternative spaces.
  4. Finally, the participatory nature of the exhibit is on point. It is a private space, made public. There seems to be little to no surveillance. The sign reads,  “Enter at your own risk”. The exhibition could be easily compromised by long list of “DON’TS” directed at unruly users, but instead it is blank. The site respects the user, and in return, this seems to lead to user respecting the site. It is shockingly idealistic and inspiring to me as a designer interested in space. It doesn’t make sense in our landscape, but it exists, which is optimistic and hopeful.
Photo by Erik Schmahl

Photo by Erik Schmahl

‘The Kid Gets Out of the Picture’ – Up until January 8th, 2017; open for public viewing from 10am – 10pm at the Materials & Applications courtyard in Silver Lake (1619 Silver Lake Blvd. LA CA 90026). The collaborative installation is the work of M&A, LADG, First Office, Laurel Broughton / Andrew Kovacs, and Hirsuta partially funded by the Graham Foundation.

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