Posts by Jessica Roberts

All photos: Jessica Roberts

It is always eye opening to play tourist in the city you call home. My mom – a long-time lover of all things Art Deco  – came to town and signed us up for an architectural Art Deco walking tour of Downtown organized by the Los Angeles Conservancy. Although I work Downtown, time for exploration and lingering to take in views can be limited, so the opportunity to play urban tourist with my mom was a welcome occasion.

From a landscape designer’s perspective the tour was a lot of looking up at object-oriented architecture. During the 20s and 30s architectural styles were changing in the United States, transitioning from the favored Beaux-Arts neoclassical style to what was then considered a more modern style, Art Deco, a pastiche of many styles from all over the world. Our tour began in Pershing Square, a place of controversial style in and of itself. The historic Biltmore Hotel across the street was used as a Beaux-Art foil to the more modern styles of the surrounding Art Deco buildings.

The former headquarters of the Southern California Edison building is an interesting example of the evolving urban environment. As we stepped in to view its beauty you could tell the workers there took pride in the architecture. Our tour guide showed our group an image of the Victorian homes that once inhabited Bunker Hill, all eventually torn down. Bunker Hill itself had been slightly leveled to accommodate new construction. In the 1980s the interior of the Edison building was “modernized” with drop ceilings and carpets, covering up the ornate details original to the building. Thankfully the current owners are now removing those alterations and taking steps to restore the building to its original glory.

As we continued on our walk, we looked up at the towers that had replaced the Richfield Tower, an Art Deco landmark of 1929 that was demolished in 1969 to make room for the construction of newer and more modern construction. It was interesting to see such strong opinions of style come from the tour group. One woman shouted “What a shame!”.

Other buildings were described as “Disco”. I couldn’t tell if the group reaction was favorable or not. Our tour guide mentioned that she saw some public opinions starting to shift in favor of Disco Era architecture. I myself couldn’t help but feel a certain affection for them.

Some buildings represented a transition in style, such as the Los Angeles Public Library. To get the full story you’ll have to go on the tour, but my favorite takeaway was that architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue had allegedly switched out the neoclassical dome he depicted in his drawings – a style he knew would sell – for the Egyptian-inspired pyramid you see today. Apparently the cultural influence that led to this switch was the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1922.

We all struggle to understand the world around us, and these struggles often manifest in what we create. Style is political, personal, reactionary, and unpredictable. Style reveals priorities, views on nature, and technology, and is far from passive or innocent. When we got back to Pershing Square I couldn’t help but feel a certain empathy for the park, with its funky and seemingly outdated style, and wondered how opinions of it might change after it’s gone.

A city could be imagined as the sum of its various architectural pasts. If so, then our city’s historical and evolving urban environment are inherently the roadmap to Los Angeles’ future.

Depicting the character of a place is an ongoing process for me. I have fallen into the habit of taking many pictures of static details: paving, benches, specific plant varieties. But what about the movement and more ephemeral qualities of space making?

All images by Jessica Roberts

The images and GIFs below are an exercise in experimenting with both digital sketching and motion in drawing. As I continue to develop tactics to address this investigation, new tools give ways to experiment and sketch quickly, wherever you are.



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This Saturday I took a bike ride from Silver Lake to Long Beach via the Los Angeles River Bicycle Path. It was about a 30 mile journey, one way, with many memorable sights, sounds, and characters along the way. These images above reflect my experience and show a side of Los Angeles you don’t always get a chance to see.

All photos by Jessica Roberts

Creative Commons photo by Accord14 (CC BY-SA 4.0)

This past weekend was dedicated to Echo Park with friends. As we walked the loop around the lake, and even took a pedal boat out, we saw many interactions between people and animals. My high school friend who was visiting from out-of-town commented about the comfort between people, geese, ducks, and dogs – perhaps alarmingly so – a symptom of close quarters, I guess.

I thought back to our ragtag lunch table, which represented a similarly odd assemblage of individuals. A couple in a hammock swinging between palms traded feeding Cheetos to one another and a friendly goose (in my opinion, an example of misdirected but true romance). Arguably the cutest patrons of the park were the baby geese and turtles. We just couldn’t get enough.

Young red eared slider turtles poked their heads up out of the water while pursuing their algae-covered elders. Individuals that make it through their first year or two can be expected to live around 30+ years. They are the most popular pet turtle in the United Sates and are often considered an invasive species. However at Echo Park, these turtles are considered beloved members of the highly social ecosystem.

Photo by Jim, the Photographer (CC BY 2.0)

The resident turtles are all decedents of pets released into Echo Park Lake. I wondered how the shelled inhabitants handled/survived the park renovation four years ago. After some quick searches online I was unable to find what actually happened to the original turtles. Most articles point to the turtles being dispersed into other lakes in Los Angeles, such as MacArthur Park, to keep locals appeased.

One resident of Echo Park noted that she had been told that the turtles had been adopted, but she had found a number of dead turtles on the site during construction. These amphibians are not always thought of so fondly. In some states like Florida it is illegal to sell the red-eared slider, stemming from concerns about interbreeding with local turtle populations – a courtship frowned frowned upon by many ecologists.

My searches online led me to another odd couple of Echo Park: a gray Toulouse goose named Maria, and a retired salesman named Dominic. Their relationship blossomed prior to the renovation of the park back in 2010. The article mentions that Maria was to be temporarily relocated.

Odd ecologies and odd couples. I do hope Maria and Dominic found each other again.



All photos by Jessica Roberts

I recently participated in the pilgrimage to view the incredible spectacle of California poppies. It was around this time last year when I had just moved to California;  I was immediately awestruck by the California poppies and giant coreopsis along the coast. I couldn’t wait to see more this year, especially with the super bloom hype in the air.

A coworker of mine had posted an image of poppies at Lake Elsinore on Instagram. I quickly copy and pasted the name into Google maps, noticing that it was on the way to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. And just like that my pilgrimage journey was mapped. The display of flowers did not disappoint, but what was perhaps as spectacular was the number of visitors at the parks. Tour buses, traffic jams, and selfie-hunters were ever-present. How was the prevalence of social media and the construction of self-image impacting the landscape?

Last year a University of Vermont research team used geo-tagged social media images to measure the use and value of outdoor recreation on public lands. The study analyzed more than 7,000 images, calculating that conserved lands contributed $1.8 billion to Vermont’s tourism industry between 2007-2014. The team developed criteria that drives the use of conserved lands and they discovered that there were differences in use between in-state and out-of-state visitors. For example out-of-state tourists preferred locations with easy access to clean water and swimming. The study indicates how important it is to understand the dynamics of ecosystems in conservation.

Although the idea of using this kind of research to collect data on the value of outdoor recreation is exciting, what’s even more fascinating are the ways social media can impact the public’s perception of any landscape and its perceived value worth visiting and protecting.

The poppy covered hillsides of Lake Elsinore were populated as one might expect. The entrances and even the slopes directly adjacent to the interstate were filled with tourists from all over the world. You had to hike further to see the pro hiking gear and safari hat wearing local nature lovers in their element. Temporary accommodations were set up and there were volunteers everywhere. Clearly these parks do not usually see this kind of traffic.

Photo by Alex Reed

A friend of mine in Illinois uses Instagram to track seasonal morel mushroom sightings as they creep up from the south. Similarly, based on the tagged location and time of posted images on Instagram, I could predict when the poppies were fully opened and the quality of light I could expect to see. A quick #californiapoppy and #superbloom search had led me to all the hot spots. As overwhelming as the crowds were, I was pleased to see the masses appreciating the beauty of the landscape (with a little selfie-love in the mix). It will be interesting to continue to observe the intersection of social media and landscape value as the two continue to weave together.

A few related links for your superbloom flower expeditions:
• How to Shoot Epic Landscape Selfies – 6 Top Tips
• 10 Tips For Stunning iPhone Flower Photography
• 7 times selfies and nature didn’t mix
• Spatial and Temporal Dynamics and Value of Nature-Based Recreation, Estimated via Social Media