Shelter: Rethinking How we Live in Los Angeles

Los Angeles

28 August 2015

“Los Angeles’ residential typology is known as the city’s bread and butter, it is what L.A. is most known for,” says journalist and curator Sam Lubell. “But it is important that the city does not rest on its history and its laurels, it really needs to push ahead and innovate.”

Lubell is the co-curator of Shelter: Rethinking How we Live in Los Angeles, a new exhibition hosted at the Architecture and Design Museum (A+D Museum) in Los Angeles. The exhibition presents a series of speculative residential proposals that respond to the changes prompted by Los Angeles’ rapid growth: its increasing density, growing diversity, expansion of public transportation, increasing living costs and shortage of developable land.

“Los Angeles has a reputation for being a sprawling metropolis based around the single family house, but there is only so far that the region can spread out. It just keeps growing,” says Lubell. “Los Angeles is changing as a city fairly dramatically.”

Lubell curated Shelter with Danielle Rago. It comprises six alternative housing models proposed by six Los Angeles-based architecture practices: Bureau Spectacular, LA-Más, Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects (LOHA), MAD Architects, Platform for Architecture + Research (PAR) and wHY.

Each practice was presented with a project brief in late-March and asked to focus on one of two existing, but rapidly regenerating, areas in Los Angeles: the Wilshire Corridor and the Los Angeles River. “They are not the only sites,” explains Lubell, “but they are very indicative of the new areas and new types of developments going on in L.A.”

The six resulting projects are articulated through an assortment of projections, sketches, photographs, architectural models and large-scale sculptures. wHY’s proposal, Un\folding Wilshire, is a response to the affordability and overcrowding crises currently facing Los Angeles. The project reimagines the public spaces situated along Wilshire Boulevard’s purple Metro line to accommodate a micro-city that sustains itself through community and shared resources.

Bureau Spectacular’s project Five Normal Houses: The L.A. River Story, conceptualises what qualifies as a “normal” house in Los Angeles. Through studying current housing typologies along the Los Angeles River, the practice identified five houses typical of the city: pool cultures, the embellishment of facades with plants and greenery, the dingbat vernacular (apartment houses with overhangs to create an open garage), the physical de-compartmentalisation of residential units, and those that reinterpret either the Queen Anne or Spanish Styles.

Backyard Basics: An Alternative Story of the Granny Flat by LA-Más highlights issues of development, and the disparity between the priorities of developer and resident. The studio proposes a resident-led and resident-owned model for low-rise, high-density housing based on the concept of the granny flat, a self-contained annex traditionally located in the grounds of larger dwellings. Backyard Basics comprises multiple lots of one-bedroom and studio apartments supported through cooperative development, combined entitlements, and consolidated services.

Shelter is the inaugural exhibition hosted in the A+D Museum’s new space in downtown Los Angeles. The museum’s relocation was coincidentally prompted by the redevelopment of Wilshire Boulevard (part of the Wilshire Corridor), where it had been located since 2001. “We had to vacate the space in order for the Metro to go ahead with its expansion,” says Rago.

“It is very close to home,” says Lubell. “We support transit and density, it is a great thing that the Metro is expanding, so it is not a statement against that but it is certainly important that we continuing to use the museum as a case study.”