Posts from the Expressions Category

Santa Monica – All photos by Clarence Lacy, except where noted.

The warm weather lately may say otherwise, but summer is over and it’s officially autumn here in Los Angeles.

I knew the day would eventually arrive, but I kept convincing myself, “just one more day”. Thankfully, California is blessed with a climate that allows us to enjoy its coast almost any time of the year. The coastline of California offers varied and diverse experiences, climate, water temperatures, alongside terrestrial and aquatic life to explore. Over the three years I’ve lived in the Golden State (I can’t believe I’ve already been here this long!), I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy many sections along the coast, exploring all that California has to offer.

Sea Ranch – Photos by Gregory Han

My coastal journal begins with one of my favourite places along the coast: Sea Ranch. Located just over 100 miles north of San Francisco, right off the Pacific Coast Highway, Sea Ranch is a small community of full-time and part-time residents located in a carefully planned and protected development. The coastline here is a mixture of cliffs and sandy beaches, where the frigid waters are still wild, offering a poetic and inspiring place for writers, artists, and anyone drawn to the ocean. The cliffs are covered in ice plants and dwarf small sandy coves, with numerous tide pools teeming with life to explore.

Closer to San Francisco in Marin County, Muir Beach hosts a small protected beach nestled in a valley that ends at the Pacific Ocean. Muir Beach, a cove, is protected from the turbulent Pacific Ocean, an unusually calm region of Northern California coastline. The wild, cold waters of the Pacific can be seen crashing on rock formations just offshore, an especially golden hued view just as the sun begins its descent.

Continuing down the coast further south of San Francisco, the shores continue to display similar terrain with more small coves. But the shape of the coastline begins to envelope outward, with bays of tamer and warmer water. While visiting Pigeon Point I spied various Dudleya, grasses, and native shrubs dotting the green hills – a scenic backdrop of both native and invasive plants that make up the California coast ecology.

Dudlyea

Pigeon Point Lighthouse

Green Hills at Pigeon Point Bluffs

As I ventured further down to the reaches of Southern California, I noticed the beaches becoming larger. Santa Monica, Hermosa and Laguna Beach are some of my favorites.

Santa Monica

Each of these stretches of shoreline offer a slightly different feel, but nonetheless, beach goers, surfers, and visiting landscape architects alike can appreciate their distinct and unique beauty.

Hermosa Beach (top), Manhattan Beach (bottom); Photos by Matthew Taylor

As I made my way down to the most southern end of the state to San Diego, a a mix of expansive beaches and cliffs welcomed  the end of my journey down the California coastline. La Jolla Cove is a perfect spot to catch a napping sea lion or a group of noisy cormorants. These cliffs seem to fold right into the sea, creating scenic beaches and bays.

La Jolla sea lion, cormorant, and seagull

Mission Beach

I love exploring the coast. Throughout my journey I recognized the California coastline presents a great opportunity to enjoy the change of the seasons, while also offering an opportunity to reap some of the awesome health benefits related to spending time outdoors and along ocean waters. Summer may have officially be over, but I wholly recommend spending this weekend or the next exploring a new beach. There’s always something surprising to discover that makes our part of the coast uniquely Californian.

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Photos by Katherine Montgomery

A few weeks ago, I pulled off the 210 freeway onto La Tuna Canyon Road to take in the devastation of the recent fire that engulfed and scorched more than 7,000 acres. Having been extinguished only a couple weeks before, the land was still raw with soot and ash. I parked at a trailhead, ignored the “Closed” signs, and wandered into an otherworldly canyon landscape.

When fires strike California it can feel apocalyptic. The contaminated sky changes to an eerie orange glow along the mountains. I could see the La Tuna Canyon Fire from my front porch for the first few nights, looming like Mordor in the distance. I woke up several times to check on it in the night, thinking about the fatigued firefighters, and the tragic loss of ecosystem. I tried to reason through my emotional response, telling myself that every region has its natural disasters, rationalizing wildfires as part of California’s natural systems. But is that still true?

The ground was black, except in areas where ash had swirled and gathered at the base of the canyon, mimicking snow. There were still oaks standing, with burnt brown leaves, and sycamores with white trunks and charred limbs. With the brush burned away, litter, old bottles, and pull-tab beer cans were exposed on the ground. The landscape was eerily silent except for the occasional scrub jay, and the twinkling of pebbles tumbling down the barren hillsides. How and when does life return to this landscape?

Understanding the natural history of wildfires in comparison to modern day occurrences, there arises a concern that the increased frequency is preventing native ecosystems from rebounding, inviting invasive plants to take over. I am curious to know more about how the land regenerates: which plants sprout first, which trees can survive being charred, and when do the critters return? La Tuna Canyon last burned in 1955. Will it be another 60 years until the tree canopy is as dense as it was a few months ago before the fire?

I hope to return to this site and repeatedly photograph it to document the changes. Also, the Theodore Payne Foundation is hosting a series of talks geared towards landscapes after the fire. I am especially interested in hearing insights from the perspective of the California Chaparral Institute, to better understand how we as stewards of the land can support the natural ecosystems that make California so beautiful.

Our back-to-school theme inspired me to revisit my graduate thesis, a document I haven’t looked at in quite awhile, but that I believe still influences my design thinking today. I started by skimming my references and remembering all of the essays that had inspired me while pulling together ideas.

I was taking an art theory class at the time entitled Art and Ecology, and some of the discussions we had really helped me articulate what I thought and felt about being an ecological designer. I remember re-reading one quote in particular, from Timothy Morton’s The Ecological Thought, which is both simple and overwhelming.

“…ecology isn’t just about global warming, recycling, and solar power and also not just to do with everyday relationships between humans and nonhumans. It has to do with love, loss, despair, and compassion. It has to do with depression and psychosis. It has to do with capitalism and with what might exist after capitalism. It has to do with amazement, open-mindedness, and wonder. It has to do with doubt, confusion, and skepticism. It has to do with concepts of space and time. It has to do with delight, beauty, ugliness, disgust, irony, and pain. It has to do with consciousness and awareness. It has to do with ideology and critique. It has to do with reading and writing. It has to do with race, class, and gender. It has to do with sexuality. It has to do with ideas of self and the weird paradoxes of subjectivity. It has to do with society. It has to do with coexistence.”

This quote and the discussion that followed inspired me to think more critically about empathy and affect in ecological thinking. It seemed to me that metrics and data often dominate ecological talk; I was curious about how I could begin to think about ecological design in a different way. My thesis title turned out to be Transparent Animism: A Framework for Participating in Ecological Design as Agonism. Animism became a way for me to talk about humans and nonhumans as subjects, and the political theory of agonism – a political theory that emphasizes the possibly positive aspects of certain forms of political conflict.

As I dug around and tried to better understand the political theories of agonism, a quote by Belgian political theorist Chantal Mouffe entirely changed the way I thought about ecology. Mouffe stated that, “the fetishization of consensus is an act of silencing”. I suddenly understood that a human idea of a harmonious nature was a fantasy. Rather than emphasizing consensus between humans and nonhumans as a goal, what was required was a platform for ecological design that allows for productive disagreement to take place.

I came up with four design criterias that I believed would help me work towards a more empathetic ecological design process, and I attempted to employ those criteria to four speculative projects. I’ll plug a link to my thesis here, because this ontological brainstorm took me close to a year to complete.

One of the projects, the video shown below, is something I recognize as a relational diagram. It was all about the challenge of exchanging perspectives. The construct is made of layered clear acrylic planes with laser cut holes that I then painted pink and blue. When staked the layers of colors create a visual field with a shifting organization of figure-ground. An understanding of existence as relational proposes that humans and nonhumans are in a continuous process of negotiation with one another.

As a landscape designer today I still feel it is necessary to be critical of and empathetic towards representations of nature and the ongoing discussion of what makes ecological design ecological.

““The unfathomable, gloomy elegance of this splashing and rumbling landscape painting — the movement of the waves, the circling of the birds, the lifting of the cloud cover — is followed by an arc shot resembling a brushstroke that tells us about everything we have already forgotten while gazing at the static and precisely framed mountain: the world beyond the image.” – Alejandro Bachmann

Austrian artist Lukas Marxt initially began in search of landscapes untouched by humankind – remote places across the globe unknown or forgotten, existing in what is often referred to in geological durations as “deep time”. Across these increasingly disappearing spaces devoid of human activity, Marxt’s solitary interactions and observations within barren landscapes conjures the temporal nature of humankind’s imprint upon the planet, appearing in an instant, then as quickly fading back into the confluence of time. Over time his work has evolved to fold humankind into the narrative of the greater landscape, superimposing our world back onto a holistic perspective. His works evoke equal moments of wonder and sadness, connection and solitude.

Currently residing in Southern California during a six month residency researching the ecological and socio-political structures surrounding the Salton Sea, seven of Marxt’s videos will be screening next week on Wednesday at the Goethe-Institut Los Angeles. Even if you’re unable to attend next, anyone can immerse themselves into the flow of Marxt’s deep time work thanks to Vimeo.

“Aerial photography has existed since we flew balloons. What interests me is that everybody now has access to it. It has sort of become a common object. I would no longer call it a god’s-eye view because it has become so present. What interests me most is that you can steer it yourself and direct it. You can take flight and rescale the landscape in ways in which it becomes difficult to distinguish between the macro and the micro.” – Lukas Marxt

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.