Architecture is probably one profession, expressed in a hundred different ways, all from diverse perceptions and approaches, and yet carries the scope and capacity of discovering elucidations to new lengths. The philosophies vary person-to-person because every individual unpredictably observes their surroundings. According to some, architecture is purely political; some say architecture is just background – not the picture, a frame. But as an architect, or a designer, or rather a common man, the question remains; how do you see, perceive, and feel the architecture that envelops you?
To answer all these queries pragmatically, Mark Allen, the executive director and founder of the Machine Project in this special episode named “The Machine Project Field Guide to L.A. Architecture” divulges his interpretation of architecture, illustrating a unique vision of Los Angeles. The Machine Project Field Guide to L.A. Architecture aired on 6th March 2014, as a distinctive episode of the series “Art bound.”
The project invited several artists to film and create performances that respond to notable architectural sites throughout Los Angeles. Mark Allen initiated the idea of The Machine Project in 2003 as an experimental research and expansion space to work with various performers, entertainers, etc., on ideas in performance from Los Angeles. Originating the plan in a storefront in Echo Park, the basic concept behind the Machine Project was to provide a place for all divergent types of cultures present in Los Angeles to collide, and work with each other.
As a part of the Getty initiative Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in Los Angeles, artists shot and edited small experimental films, which reflect a vision, a point of view of the architecture of this city. The sites are not a part of some architect’s grand revelations; instead, they are something the inhabitants of Los Angeles usually drive by or see at a distance while hiking, explains Mark Allen. The locations might be the ones that individuals relate to in T.V. Shows shot here or just random places that would retrospect the idea of City Planning gone wrong.
The videos of different artists interlace with one aim: “to investigate all the categories of architecture through the eyes of an L.A. individual that he/she might experience in their city.” Such a one-of-a-kind series helps address questions like, how is modern architecture understood in an art-historical context? How can architects and designers provide another voice for the concerns related to the user and their built environment? How does completing an activity feel like in a space, specifically designed for that work?
The Machine Project Field Guide to L.A. not only makes the viewer deliberate upon these questions, but it also establishes a firm connection between the culture and architecture of the space. Before knowing how, let us understand the entire episode, which is a collaboration of intermittent videos, named as follows:
- Welcome by Tara Jane o’Neil and the Sunland Dancers
- The Sky Above – Kamau Patton
- Everyone will be Here Now but Me – Jacqueline Gordon
- Glass Bang – Asher Hartman
- Wash by Ing
- Hafo Safo Chorus and Happy foot sad foot sign online – Jessica Cowley and Bennett Williamson.
As peculiar are the names of these videos, so are the records themselves. Starting with the first video by Tara Jane o’Neil and the Sunland Dancers, “Welcome” is shot on hilltop ridges in Montecito Heights, also referred to as “flattop” by the locals. The clip – 4 to 5 minutes, manages to depict the city of Los Angeles as an “environment.” The dancers perform with the setting sun and the skyline of the city as their backdrop. Instead of filming a particular section of the city, the artist Tara Jane o Neil decided to establish a connection, a partnership between the shooting location, the artists, and the public with this event. Now comprehending the depths of the video may prove to be a bit difficult, but the revelation here is quite simple; Architecture is incomplete without the symbiotic relationship between the site, the user, and the designer, and the artist has honestly captured the beauty of this holistic correlation.
The second clip featured in The Machine Project Field Guide to L.A. captured by Kamau Amu Patton, an intermediate artist is called “The Sky Above.” The artist here engages with the skyline, the suburban areas, noticing the landscape of buildings, the landmarks of downtown L.A., and their architectural style. As the name suggests, the clip reveals the built forms and their surroundings, for what they are, from the sky. For an architecture enthusiast, the video is like a collocation. The sounds of the city, the urbanscape, the various typologies of buildings, and the landscaped areas box together, forming a large volume when seen from the ground up.
The third clip by the artist Jacqueline Gordon is called, “Everyone Will Be Here Now but Me.”
Pictured in the food centre scapes of Los Angeles, this video is an immersive sound installation wherein the public explores infinite hallways, stairwells of a mixed-use building, and windowless offices. The building, located in Downtown on Olympic Boulevard, hides in plain sight, identical to the many independent buildings constructed just outside the fences of the enormous Los Angeles wholesale produce market. The artist here did an exemplary job of depicting the most used, yet the most neglected architectural elements of a building. The empty transitional lobbies, the stairwells, the blank walls, all such detailed features tend to evoke the human senses. The art installation (radio stations in unusual points) and the film combined explore phenomena like architectural acoustics in spaces, which helps induce sonic qualities, allowing the user to journey the volume with an unconventional prospect.
Asher Hartman, an artist and an experimental theatre director, head of the company called Gawdawful National Theatre, directed the fourth video of The Machine Project Field Guide to L.A., named “Glass Bang.”
The artist describes the location, “Schindler House” as a masterpiece; one of the most beautiful modernist environments in all of Los Angeles. The intriguing fragment of this video is the artist’s take of the location. An extremely desirable space, the skit played by several performers inside the Schindler House talks about how one cannot own a surrounding. The art piece speaks with several tangible aspects of human life, such as affordability and accessibility. The script combined with the movement of the camera, and the sheer focus of the artist on human emotions and the architectural spaces that they occupy result in articulating the senses of the viewer to a whole new level.
One extraction that this clip provides is that architecture is an entity that fits people. Architecture serves people, heals them in strange ways, and makes their lives beautiful and thought-provoking. At the same time, Asher Hartman also questions with which architects are moving forward. He keeps a basic query in front of the viewers, i.e., do we as architects, designers, and planners develop our designs that may suit every individual out there, or do we distinguish people in terms of class? Overall, the performances and the conceptualization of this particular video makes an individual rethink his ideals, which prove to be necessary.
“Wash” shot and performed by the music group and artists ING is located in the pool of Maranatha High School’s Campus, and also comprises the ambassador auditorium of Pasadena. Max Markowitz and John Wood demonstrate the architectural picture in a more subtle aura that focuses less on the obvious or big Ideas of Los Angeles. The performance by the fellow artists seems to be on a loop. A man inside a glass enclosure can look at the people swimming, whilst listening to the various sounds playing in the auditorium. Blending the reverberating sounds of the water ripples and the music in the area is an ingenious step towards illustrating the aural effects of the space. The artists reuse the sounds to create a different aftereffect. Understanding the peculiar characteristics of a pool through a performance that concentrates on the listening abilities becomes eccentric when compared to famous residential architecture or a commercial disaster.
The last video of the episode, by Jessica Cowley and Bennet Williamson, named Hafo Safo Chorus and Happy foot sad foot sign is a brilliant way of showing transitional architecture. The location of this video is “The Happy Foot/Sad Foot” signage, on sunset boulevard right on the border of Silverlake and Echo Park. The main idea behind the scene was to create something that connects to both happiness and sadness at the same time. Both the artists, selected songs that related to happy/sad vibes, and put together a show that included the entire public from nearby areas. The following video may not seem as architecturally inclined as the others but certainly provides its fellow viewers with an idea of how a public gathering/transitional space design can change the entire outlook of an area as a whole.
All the videos individually make the viewer pause and think about how are architectural practices. Architects can exert a meaningful lesson from the entire episode, which is the need and types of changes we as habitat makers should bring into our goals. Overall, the 58minute episode is exceptional in many ways and successful in elucidating that architecture is nothing if not an art form driven by cultural inhibitions, be it the historical propositions, or the modern-minimalist trends and ideals.
- Episode, The Machine Project Field Guide To L.A. Architecture, Online video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HlbJfmoFiC0&t=773s
- Articles from KCET.org, Online, https://www.kcet.org/shows/artbound/welcome-to-the-field-guide-to-la-architecture