Posts from the Expressions Category

 

Image Collage: credits for photos are as shown in this post.

This is the second part of my coverage of Perceptions of the Los Angeles River, which is a photography exhibition by AHBE colleagues and friends. See part one for an introduction and a selection of photographs from the collection. I chose another set for this week and share the story behind each work, as told by the individual photographer.

credit: “James” by Andrea Klein

photo by Calvin R. Abe

Title of Work: “James”
Photographer: Andrea Klein (shown at right)
Artist’s Statement:  James is a plein air painter who I met while visiting the Los Angeles River in Glendale Narrows. He was focused on a landscape scene on the opposite bank of the river. Although people, like myself, stopped to chat with him, he remained single minded in capturing the view on his canvas. As I looked over his shoulder, I realized my attention was not focused on his painting but on his act of interpreting the context of the river. I took my photo at that moment of realization. I removed the image’s color component to draw the focus away from his canvas and underscore the moment of observation and perception.

 

credit: “Emergence” by Jessica Roberts

photo by Sahar Coston-Hardy

Title of Work: “Emergence”
Photographer: Jessica Roberts (shown at right)
Artist’s Statement:  I wrote at length about “Emergence” in an earlier post and share my thoughts again in this synopsis. By dividing the picture plane evenly in two, I hope viewers will focus on the horizon line and interpret its meaning in relationship to everything else they observe. The horizon line is a visual component that gives perspective to a landscape, and its quality is arguably the most defining element of a place.

Being in the LA River reminds me of being out in the middle of a desert, except sunken down further into the earth. The experience is different from the layered nature of a forest or the density of buildings in a city. The sensation can feel as disorienting and isolating as standing in the middle of a prairie, without even the sway of the grasses to distract attention. It is an uncommon urban experience.

credit: “iAguas!” by Darren Shirai

photo by Sahar Coston-Hardy

Title of Work: “iAguas!”
Photographer: Darren Shirai (shown at right)
Artist’s Statement:  The word aguas can mean different things in Mexican Spanish. It can mean ‘waters’, as seen flowing in the river channel on the right side of my photo or used as a warning in situations like the scene depicted on the left, where its meaning in American English is “Watch it!” or “Heads up!”.

Like the word aguas, this photo has a double meaning that conveys my perception of the Los Angeles River. I captured this “LA moment” along a stretch of the river in the Glendale Narrows. It represents the promise of an optimistic future where the river corridor and the landscape along it banks revitalize and reconnect people and communities – spiritually, socially, ecologically and economically. However, this scene also reminds me of the need for vigilance when our profession assesses the broader contextual impacts of a proposed landscape design, and the integrity required to creatively overcome impending design challenges in equitable and meaningful ways. iAguas!

credit: “Weedy Foreground” by Jenni Zell

photo by Sahar Coston-Hardy

Title of Work: “Weedy Foreground”
Photographer: Jenni Zell (shown at right) 
Artist’s Statement:  I took this photo in the channel of the Los Angeles River and was initially captivated by the audacity of this species to set up life in such a hostile place. Positioning my camera with plants in the foreground and middle ground creates the illusion of a future takeover of vegetative growth in the channel of the Los Angeles River. Takeover is unlikely, and the species pictured in the foreground is Plantago lanceolate, a noxious invasive plant. At closer inspection, Weedy Foreground crushes any dreamy vision of a restored native riparian landscape and instead predicts a future where only the most noxious and invasive species survive.

 

Perceptions of the Los Angeles River features the works of: Calvin Abe, Cristhian Barajas, Wendy Chan, Chuan Ding, Andrea Klein, Clarence Lacy, Brett Miller, Susan Miller, Jessica Roberts, Jennifer Salazar, Darren Shirai, Morgan Thompson, Yiran Wang, Mateo Yang, and Jenni Zell. You may recognize some of the names as regular contributors to AHBE Lab. The LA River is a subject of ongoing research and exploration for our staff, many of whom share their thoughts and discoveries through AHBE Lab.

Phacelia cicutaria (aka Catepillar Phacelia). All photos: Wendy Chan

As someone born and raised in Southern California, I’m always curious about the perceptions of other Angelenos who didn’t grow up here. I always wonder, “How is Los Angeles different from their own hometowns?”, and “What is their perception of the Southern California landscape and nature here compared to where they’re originally from?”

Transplants often mention the lush green garden landscapes and the amazing urban tree canopies of their own hometowns. They also complain about the lack of discernible seasons in Los Angeles compared to other parts of the nation.

Venegasia carpesioides (Canyon Sunflower)

Ceanothus spp._California Lilac

But what are some botanical indicators of seasons in Southern California? It’s often non-native trees that bloom across Los Angeles that offer observable visual indicators of the changing of seasons. For example, the beautiful purple blooms of the Jacaranda trees and white blooms of the Southern Magnolia tree bloom in spring, while the red leaves of the Sweet Gum trees reveal themselves in fall. These trees offer a more obvious change seasons in the city. The seasonal cues revealed by our native plants in the mountains require a more careful eye.

Bouteloua gracilis

Lately I’ve set out to document the seasonal indicators revealed in our Santa Monica Mountains. The goal of my project is to understand how our native plants change throughout the seasons – from their beautiful flowers in the springtime, to a period of dormancy through summer, to new life reveled in fall. Photographing California’s native plants reveals seasonal changes, including the striking warm colors of dried flower blooms lining trails and the swaying arid woody stems of our native landscape. The collection of photos here were all taken this spring, each revealing the subtle seasons of Southern California.

Bromus spp. (aka Brome Grass)

Encelia californica (aka Bush Sunflower)

Ceanothus spp._California Lilac

Eriogonum fasciculatum (aka California Buckwheat)

Eriophyllum confertiflorum (Golden Yarrow)

Lotus scoparius (Deer Weed)

Malosma laurina (Laurel Sumac)

Phacelia spp.

Salvia leucophylla (Purple Sage)

What if you could produce clean drinking water just by running your air conditioner?

This experiment was conducted this past summer to determine how much water could potentially be captured from a home’s rooftop package air conditioning unit during the hottest days of the year. Conducted in July 2017 during a particularly sweltering Los Angeles week, Eau De Maison documents the process of constructing the water capture system, implementing the experiment, and analyzing the results of the follow-up water quality testing.

Thanks to Wallace Laboratories for their assistance. Music by Protman. Produced for AHBE LAB.

Downtown Savannah. All photos by Clarence Lacy

I’ve been feeling a tinge of excitement building thinking about my impending return home to the Chesapeake Bay. Virginia will always have a special place in my heart, specifically Hampton and its location on the Peninsula. The Bay is home to some of the richest ecologies, including my favorite, the estuarine/salt marsh.

During a trip to Savannah and Tybee Island, I observed this ecosystem up close in a different context. While attending Landscape Architecture School I began to understand the importance of this ecosystem and the role it plays in our lives as coastal residents. Armed with my hipster camera and some old found film, I was ready to explore a new territory.

Panorama of Tybee Island.

My adventure begins amongst the enchanting oak woodlands. These woods feel and smell like something straight out of the pages of a fairy tale. Spanish moss covered live oaks shade a flood of palmettos, creating a varied texture unique to southern live oak forests. Wandering through these woodlands, each tree feels like an ancient spiritual guardian welcoming you into the equally divine salt marsh.

Skidaway Island State Park.

Leaving the woodland, solid ground gives way to a reedy edge. The oak woodland smell is quickly exchanged for an overwhelmingly familiar smell reminiscent of my childhood on the Chesapeake Bay. Those early days were spent visiting the wharf to buy a bushel of crab, where I would also stop to watch swarms of gulls perched or gliding mid-flight overhead over the piers. Many boats are docked here – a true show of Savannah’s boat culture. From this edge, my journey begins upon the water.


Our boat weave in and out of small tributaries that wind around the subtle topography of soft ground. A new understanding of the eco-diversity and local nuance of this landscape revealed itself through its broad visual monotony. A vigorous smell of salt water intermingles with a subtle, yet captivating smell of decomposition, accompanied by the surround sound symphony of life teeming within this ecosystem.


A combination of childhood nostalgia, love of seafood, and my education brought me to a truly spiritual nexus – a discovery of something unfamiliar, yet familiar. This moment solidifies my love for this ecosystem.


Looking back at my photos, the place feels ghostly and magnificent, yet also tinged with a spirit of the sentimental past. To this day, this trip holds great importance to me. The visit taught me that a true understanding and appreciation of an ecology requires more than academic research, but also a firsthand experience within it.

This month, AHBE Landscape Architects celebrates 30 years of transforming the landscapes of Southern California (and beyond). Created on the occasion of his elevation to the ASLA Council of Fellows in 2004, Expressions is a biographical portrait of Calvin Abe, FASLA, our founding Partner and President of AHBE.

The video above traces the design and development of three formative projects from our practice: the No Name Garden (1999) at the Japanese-American Community Cultural Center in Little Tokyo, the Infonet Corporate Campus in El Segundo (1999), and the Los Angeles River Center Garden Park (2000) in Los Angeles.

Happy birthday, Calvin!