Feral Figures in the Field

Second Year Undergradute Studio 2014-present at the USC SCHOOL OF ARCHITECTURE

The semester is organized as a series of three interconnected projects, The Source Book, a collection of feral buildings in Los Angeles, Feral Formations, a drawing analysis project, and Feral Figures, the design of a small house. 

Starting with the invention of The Grand Tour in the 18th and 19th centuries, architects have been traveling to acquire new eyes with which to see and create architecture. In the beginning, the purpose as bolstered by the Beaux Arts educational model was to learn from the ruins and structures of Roman and Classical Greek architecture by copying their examples. Returning to these catalogs became the basis of much architectural thinking back home. The tradition of architects examining and writing about the architecture that has come before them is a cornerstone of the discipline. Today, the value of architecture weighs not in a clear relationship to Classical Greece per se, but in the ability to create a discourse around architecture to legitimize it or relate it to culture.

An offshoot of the traditional catalog culture that star ted with Bernard Rudolfsky’s Architecture without Architects (1964) reexamined specimens of building considered to be “non-pedigreed” or non-canonical. More forth rightly for our purposes, Reyner Banham’s Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies  or Venturi, Scott Brown, and Izenour’s Learning from Las Vegas  opened the conversation to the value of previously maligned contemporary buildings and strategies, and the vernacular aspects of the city—signage, the freeway, commercial buildings, etc.—and validated their potential for 50 years of contemporary architecture. Importantly, these observational histories engaged with the fabric of the city itself and the cultural particularities inherent in the places that were needed to produce the architecture of Los Angeles or Las Vegas. In a slightly different approach, Rem Koolhaas in Delirious New York  rewrote the history of Manhattan as a (retro)active manifesto using the city’s development to create a lineage for his own architectural practice and desires. And more recently, Atelier Bow Wow’s Made in Tokyo  and Pet Architecture  guide books suggest a new way of looking at the conditions and consequential building stock of Tokyo as a means to extract architectural lessons that then became incorporated into it’s own body of work. In each of these books, the architect looks at what exists in their site or context and re-frames it in productive ways to push architecture forward. But also in writing about the world around them, each architect is creating a legitimizing discourse or narrative about the buildings they make.

Compared to cohesive cities like Paris or New York, Los Angeles’ morphology is messy. Apart from the geological aspect recognized by Banham, as a whole the city remains primarily illegible. Los Angeles’ rich mythology tells us we are at the end of the settled world. The narrative suggests that over the last 130 years generations of traditionally taught architects from the East Coast and Europe came here to bring civility but then often ended up acting out, testing out, or playing out new typologies of architecture and the living that might go on inside them. Today on the ground, the experience of Los Angeles is punctuated by moments of exuberant form, architect or civilian designed. There is a macro formlessness paired with a micro distinction. The micro distinction in form of a concert hall here, a strip mall, a museum there, a mid-rise skyscraper, a school, an elaborate mansion in a well-kept area–each is surrounded by the formlessness.

Following these precedents we too will be venturing into Los Angeles. We will be looking for form in objects, buildings, parts of buildings, or systems in the city around us that are not typically considered to be architectural relevant form. We will documenting and collecting them to create a studio-wide Source Book for use during the semester. Through this first project, our goal is to re-see the landscape of Los Angeles as alive with formal potentials.

Thank you to Ian Fitzpatrick for his drawings shown here.