Posts from the Photography Category

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.

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.

Photos by Gregory Han

Halfway across the world I find myself thinking about my AHBE Lab colleagues, wishing they were here in Tripoli, Lebanon at the International Fair of Tripoli – a phantom landscape that never realized its intended purpose due to an outbreak of civil war that began in 1975 just at the precipice of the project’s completion.

Designed in 1965 by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, the International Fair of Tripoli is the sort of public utopian modernist project we never see today, an expanse of visionary landscape intended to unite people shoulder-to-shoulder under a unifying experience intended for global audience at a massive scale. The landscape of Niemeyer is grandiose, yet immediately inclusive – firmly, yet invisibly guiding visitors through carefully articulated arteries of walkways interconnecting 15 pavilions, halls, auditoriums, and other structures at a massive scale. The invisible hand of the designer still haunts these abandon walkways.

Perhaps the closest one could imagine as the modern day equivalent of Niemeyer’s International Fair of Tripoli are the commercial campuses of Apple’s or Google’s respective headquarters, each incorporating a similar architectural vocabulary of communal spaces and pavilions, but each restrictive and redefined by their privatized intent – a pale equivalent to an era of design that embraced an internationalist, humanistic egalitarianism rather than one manufactured and guarded by capitalistic mechanisms. For that, we are all a little less well off.

This is architecture at both its most political and apolitical state, somehow both defining and erasing the lines of where and how humans of different backgrounds interact and engage with one another. Ironically, it was the last gasp of optimism before the dire pessimism of conflict swallowed the region whole, leaving the grounds abandoned for years, now to slowly fall into a state of beautiful decay (but become a playground to skaters as the sun falls, a small consolation) – a crumbling concrete reminder our best intents occasionally succumb to the worst of social forces outside a designer’s control.

 

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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

All photos by Calvin Abe

I had the opportunity to visit Biei, the northern most Japanese island of Hokkaido, for the third year in a row this past winter. Although I have never traveled to the island’s quiet and beautiful landscape in the spring or fall, photographs online tell me that the location is equally beautiful during those seasons.

As I reflect upon my last visit – already almost three months ago – I wonder what is it about this place that piques my interest and ignites a strong desire to return. Biei is a place where I return to experience silence, beauty, and the sacred. The simplicity and the quiet is surreal, unworldly and restorative. And besides, there is nothing like sitting outside in zero degree temperature in an “onsen” (hot bath) naturally sourced from a hot spring, with long distant views of nothing but rolling snow covered landscape.

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