Lawrence Scarpa: “Ordinary and Extraordinary”

Lawrence Scarpa: “Ordinary and Extraordinary”


Hello everyone, hi, thank you for coming. I am really happy to introduce today Lawrence Scarpa, from Brooks Scarpa. That is coming to lecture at Syracuse. His first time here. Do I need this? I need this.>>he’s going delivering the Dillenback lecture for
us this semester. I’m going to try and introduce a little bit
his work. The work of Lawrence Scarpa as we define the
role of the architect to produce some of the most remarkable and inspiring work today. Lawrence has garnered international acclaim
for the creative use much conventional material in unique and unexpected ways. He does this not by escaping the restrictions
of practice, but rather looking, questioning, and reworking the very process of designing
and building. As he himself describes it, making the ordinary
extraordinary. Mr. Scarpa has received more than hundreds
of major design awards, including 20 national AIA awards, the 2014 Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt
National Design Museum Award, the 2005 record houses, the 2003 record interiors, the 2003
Berner prize, five AIA top ten green buildings and I can keep going for a long time. In 2004 the architectural league of New York
selected him as an emerging voice in architecture. And his work has been exhibited internationally,
including the national building museum in Washington, D.C. And he’s also the recipient of the lifetime
achievement awards for Interior Design Magazine and the AIA California Council. He has taught at the University level for
more than two decades. And he’s currently at the faculty at the University
of California in Los Angeles. Prior to being a USC he was also visiting
professor at GSD school of design, University of Florida, University of Kansas, he was the
visiting professor at Washington University and the University of Michigan. And as well as their fellow at the University
of California in Berkeley. He is a co founder of liveable places, a nonprofit
development and public policy organization, dedicated to building mixed use housing on
underutilized and problematic parcels of land. And more recently he co founded affordable
housing leadership institute to help develop more sustainable and liveable communities. So without prolonging this too many, please
welcome to help me welcome Lawrence Scarpa. [ Applause ]
>>Thank you. I have a mic here, so I think I’m good. Thanks for having me. I’m not used to the cold weather. [ Laughter ]
When people come to LA that’s the first thing they always say, you know, first comment,
man, it’s so beautiful, the weather. And I always tell them, well, don’t get too
excited, it’s only like this about 330 days a year. [ Laughter ]
I’m going to start by showing you a couple projects by two artists. On the right is a project by Andy Goldsworthy,
on the left is an artist named Both. And when you look at their work the first
thing that you see is kind of this big, bold, like, in your face form. It’s like visually striking. But when you look further at each of the work
you begin to see something deeper unfold. Something more than just to look at. In the case of Voth, he draws this thing and
documents the making and Goldsworthy you noticed now this snowball like just completely out
of context. And both artists go to great lengths to document
the making or the process of how they make the work. In the case of Goldsworthy, the deconstruction
and Voth the construction. So what you begin to see is an experience
unfold that you didn’t know, the project begins to turn into something completely different. And you the snowball, you know, turns to a
pile of rocks and Voth takes this sarcophagus around these landscapes to tell you, you know,
maybe a little bit about us. And in the end for both artists the object
really doesn’t matter. It’s the experience that matters. And that’s what we try to do with our work. We try to leave something behind, whether
there’s a building there or not. So some of you can probably, you know, even
right now think about a place that’s special to you from childhood or maybe not even that
long ago, and you can picture it in your mind so vivid and so clear. But then always when you go visit it it looks
completely different than you remember. But the experience stays with you. And so we really try to the visual aspect
of our work is important, but really it’s the experience that matters to us. And I’ll show you how this came about, and
I think as young designers it’s always important to kind of uncover or learn what you do. And this didn’t just happen magically that
I thought about it, something that I discovered about myself. And this was one of the first projects I did
when I came to Los Angeles. And we I had no work, I didn’t know anyone,
and but there were these film directors who had money. They had they had were interested in design
but they did not have any time. And so they would have these big deals with
studio, they were almost like sports free agents, where, you know, they could command
a lot of money but they would make partnerships with big studios and they would say go, have
your own studio, you be the creative guy, we will do all the management, but we want
you working in 15 weeks. And so they would scramble to try and rent
the place and build the studio. And that’s kind of where I came in. So I was I think the only guy in town that
would say, yes, I’ll design it and, yes, I will guarantee you move in in 15 weeks. So what I’m going to show you are projects
that were done basically in your semester, okay, except that we just we not only designed
them, but we built them as well. And so one of the first ones was this project. And I would carry this little ad around in
my pocket that was in the sports page every day about these shipping containers you could
buy for nothing. And I wasn’t too interested in the shipping
container itself, I was more interested in the story within those containers. So if you go down to Long Beach, there are
thousands of them there, just sitting there. And what it talks about is kind of this transfer
of goods from east to west, our trade imbalance and a whole array of things that are embedded,
there’s a story already embedded in that container. And I would think what Venturi said when he
said that a familiar thing seen in an unfamiliar way becomes both perceptually old and new
at the same time. So, you know, we went down to the yard, we
bought that container, and we started. We basically what I’m showing you here are
design drawings, our client presentation drawings, and our construction drawings. This was all done free hand on 11 by 17 paper. And we literally just faxed it to the job
site. So you can see my drawing there and the final
product. And what I discovered in this process is that
the drawing the building for us really became a drawing at full scale. And, you know, the contractor, the builder
would say oh, that beam you designed, I can’t get it. These are the beams I can get. And we would have to redesign. It’s almost like erasing the paper or deleting
line on the computer. And in the end I thought we did something
that was pretty incredible given time, a budget, and everything. And it opened my way of thinking about how
I might practice architecture. And it made me think back to a time when I
lived in New York, and I worked for Paul Rudolph, and my colleagues dragged me out to this place,
it’s closer to Albany than here, it’s called Opus40, done by that artist that you see on
the right, Harvey Fight, and he bought this abandoned blue stone quarry and with the intent,
hey, you know, I’ve got like unlimited bluestone to make my sculptures, what he wound up doing
was creating this place that’s just magical, you know, if you get a chance to visit it,
it’s so beautiful. Way, way better than any sculpture he ever
made. And he worked on it for 40 years. But what was so intriguing is that he had
a preconception about what he was going to do, but his life changed and he did something
completely different. And so much better by sort of venturing into
the unknown or having that ability to let things come to him more naturally than to
kind of have like a plan, like architects do. So I looked at other sculptors, people like
Henry Moore. This is a drawing of his. And what they would do was not actually make
a drawing of their sculpture, but they would make drawings about it. It would become a frame of reference for how
they were going to approach their work. And not a physical or an actual drawing of
what it was going to look like. And that was really intriguing to me, and
I thought can I practice architecture like a sculptor, to have that freedom to think
like that, and at the same time make things come in on budget and all we’re stuck with
is architects. So what I did was I do what I usually do when
I have ideas, I test them with you guys, with students. So I did a little summer class at Woodbury,
this is a project for one of my clients that we built with eight students, eight undergraduate
students in six weeks for $3,000. Okay? No drawings. What we did do is we spent the first week
kind of, you know, everyone had their own ideas and we let the free association happen,
which included models and other things. And then as a group we discussed it. And we decided on a set of principles and
we started building. This is for a nonprofit group called Venice
community housing. And Venice community housing has a program
that helps inner city kids that haven’t received even a high school diploma, don’t have driver’s
license, former drug addicts, they teach them a construction [indiscernible] have people
working to build this with my students. And so the whole experience of putting college
level smart kids with people who never even finished high school was a great learning
experience for each of them. And they built this project, which, you know,
I thought was a pretty remarkable project. No drawings, really fast, and really expensive. You know, some of the things here like this
picture on the lower right, one student took this carpet tiles and he just turned it upside
down and there was by doing so, you get this really soft, spongy, you know, durable surface. And those things you don’t you don’t get unless
you touch your work. And so I was convinced that there was another
way for me to practice. And I sort of fundamentally changed how I
practiced at that point. And so we still operate this way today. And I like to say we work in parallel universes. So I have clients that come in and we do projects,
but we also have projects that we make up, and those projects we make up are just ideas
that we follow, they don’t have a beginning, they don’t have an end. Some find their way into buildings and some
just peter out. So this was one where I got really interested
in our perception of wood. And generally we think of wood as like a tree
or a building stud. There’s almost no in between. And I was trying to capture that moment where
the two co exist, where in a sense it’s organic and inert. So we just made models, we were trying to
broadcast light through thick and thin wood, we made little computer models. It had we just let it go. So we wound up, you know, with the CNC machine
and then doing computer models in a spot where we started to call this liquid wood. And it was about this time one of my staff
that was working on this, he handed me a piece of paper for a sculpture competition to go
in a park in Santa Monica, so we decided to enter it. And I made this little sketch and said this
is a park bench. And we got selected. Now I had to actually build it. For their price. On top of it. And when I went in they really loved the idea,
but they said but how is that a bench? You know? And how do people sit on it? And I told them, I said, look, have you ever
been really comfortable in a chair that’s always 16 inches high? People don’t they lean against things, they
sit low, they lay, there are all kinds of configurations in a park, and it took me a
while to convince them that this is a viable solution for a park bench. So we basically started to draw and make models,
again, I’m just showing you a few things as a way to just like Henry Moore would do to
get us in the kind of frame of reference to start making it. And we started making it. And it’s a series of typical micro land beams
that we sculpted and we glued them together and this is it in the park. And I’ve gone back now over the years to just
look and see what happens in the park because the city has told me like this is their most
successful piece in the park. And if you look, you know, what’s happened,
a whole array of people like use this. It’s the only bench in the park that actually
people use. You know? Which is the irony. And to me it’s art. And I like the fact that people engage with
the art. It’s not something to look at, it’s something
that they use. That they touch. And I started to think about that notion of
touch and how powerful that is when you touch something. So, you know, our exercise kept going with
the wood, and I started to think more about basically touching the building. And we had a commission come along to remodel
a Frank Gehry building that was built in 1963 for an edit company, and we just started making
things. And so we made it had a whole series of edit
studios, and we started constructing the a wall the entire length of the project. Now, this is a guy who had a five axis CNC
machine doing drawer boxes. So I would just go to vendors because what
I was finding with contractors is we’d show them these ideas and they’d look at it and
go ooh, that’s going to be expensive. And they just take their last job that was
expensive and they go just triple that price and we’ll make it work. You know? My client would freak out. I can’t spend that kind of money! So I started going right to the people who
make it. And they were so excited to see something
new. And so we worked with them, we had parallel
construction zones happening. And that’s why we do this so quickly. We were building in two spots. And these people were excited and then, you
know, they would build it in their shop, mock it up, number it, send it to the job site
with numbers on it and all the contractor had to do was follow the numbers. So this is it in place. And those are edit studios, you can kind of
see the crack up there, that’s a door. My client loves it, because he tells his clients
go to studio Number 2, you know, and he points at the wall and they just look at it funny,
you know? But they feel their way in. And every single person who goes here touches
the wall. You know? And I’ve done many edit studios now, and they
the people always tell me, oh, you’re the guy who did the one with the wood wall. They don’t know the name of it, they don’t
remember where it is, but they’ve touched the wood wall. And I think that’s powerful. And that’s you remember that when you engage
with the work and not just look at it. So we have an office full of these things
that we make. And what tends to happen is we’ll have clients
come in and they see them sitting around like this little moquette, which really wound up
having little to do with our wood study, but it was something we made and the one client
says, you know, can I have one of those? And, you know, I thought to myself, well,
I guess we could do something. And we did a space for them, they do prop
placement, they give away merchandise to celebrities and hope they get their picture taken wearing
their products. So they needed a dressing room. So I said I think we can turn that into a
dressing room. So we just started building it full scale. And I got to this point, and I had no idea
how to skin this thing. It doesn’t work very well as a dressing room
like that. And my client started calling me because they
were close to moving in, and says what are we doing with it? I don’t see any what’s the covering going
to be like? And I just didn’t know. And I was trying to figure it out, but I was
just at a loss. And I was about to fess up to my client and
tell him I have no idea what I’m doing. [ Laughter ]
And I was driving home thinking about how I’m going tell this to my client. And right at the end of my block the guy who
fixes my old Volvo, William B. Leaf III, I got there all the time because my car was
always broken down, and for the first time ever I see this sign on his building, it says
we’ll shrink wrap anything. And I pulled in. [ Laughter ]
You know, I’m like William, you shrink wrap? I had no idea! And he started laying it on me, you know,
I shrink wrap boats for the military, you know, it was like so I ran back to my office
right then and there, I got this mockette, about like this, asked him to shrink wrap
it. So I came back in a couple days, he was a
lot more humble when I came back. [ Laughter ]
It didn’t work very well. And so I talked to him and after about an
hour conversation I began to understand the problems we had. And I convinced him that he could do it. And so we modified this, brought it to the
space, and there is William doing the shrink wrap. We changed it so he could work in a bit like
a pit a pig on a spit while he did it. And this is the final product. And again, this is something you can’t really
draw, you know, you can’t predict it, it’s part of kind of the making or the touching. And, you know, the tools are there for us
always, even in today’s world to engage with the work. So we’re constantly looking not just for ideas
but for people. And ways to do things. And we don’t necessary try to invent, we just
try to uncover what’s already there in maybe a different way, to reveal something that
we already know is there. So this is another one, a guy who has this
equipment that can bend steel anyway you want it. So we started making these boardrooms, another
15 week project, it’s a 20,000 square foot building. But I also wanted to, you know, everyone hates
plaster or stucco, including me. But I was determined to find something beautiful
about it. So we basically rolled all this rebar and
we formed these conference rooms and we plastered through the lath. And so the plaster actually oozed through
the lath and it became like a bit of a carpet. And, you know, we know this is what the inside
of a wall looks like, it’s nothing new. I equate it a bit to psychoanalysis where
we know it’s there, we’re just reviewing it. So you get these the contrasts between the
smooth and the rough. And again, the same thing, everyone who walks
in here, the first thing they do is they go up and they touch it. So what I began to understand is that there’s
really a fine line between the peculiar and the beautiful. There’s very little difference, I believe,
between fine art and popular culture. And I’m interested in that moment where those
two co mingle. I’m interested in being both the teacher and
the student. And trying to find the ordinary within the
ordinary. So I’m going to show you a few other things
we’ve done. This is an affordable housing project made
with recycled cans. We had a local recycle company crush those
blocks for us. It’s really interesting too, you know, I guess
this too with my students, contractors told me that architects stop by the job site and
they ask them where they can buy these cans, like it’s coming out of a Sweets catalog or
something. A building, this thermal screen made from
industrial broom technology, you know, and this is kind of what we do. I go to the hardware store, we buy the brooms,
we try to make things with them, and then we call people and talk to them. So this guy I think we made, you know, maybe
60 calls to him about how he makes brooms and everything. And I think he sensed industrial espionage,
so he’s like why is this architect calling me all the time? So he came to our office, you know, to see
what we were doing. And, you know, he said, well, you don’t have
to buy those brooms, I can run these things, you know, 60 feet. And so I asked him questions that my client
asked me, you know, I said, well, isn’t it going to get dirty? He’s like oh, no, we have, you know, material
that won’t collect dust or anything. And I just regurgitate that back to my client
and they think I’m a genius, you know? [ Laughter ]
So, you know, you learn not by just trying to do everything yourself, you really, you
know, I find our projects get better the more we work with other people. This is a store we just finished in downtown
LA in the fashion district. And I walked around and like this is what
the streets look like, and you find these bolts from the fabric, the cardboard tubes,
they just throw them out. You know? So I went around and asked people to save
them for me. And so we made a whole store out of them. For Aesop, even the light fixtures, the selfing
all made basically out of paper. The fire department loved us. [ Laughter ]
Cabinets, the light fixtures [indiscernible audio of video playing loudly over speaker]
and here you can kind of see it overall. And in the space. This was my first corporate client, they’re
an ad agency in LA. And when I walked the site with him I was
both elated and nervous. Big project for us. But tons of offices. You know, something that just goes against
my [indiscernible] closing everything up. So I started I had this idea of maybe we make
these solar eclipsers in the office and really bring forth the light. And as I walked the site with my client, he
kept asking me, you know, what am I thinking? What are my ideas? And I didn’t want to quite tell him because
I was afraid I would, you know, get fired from my first corporate job, but he got it
out of me. And I said I’m thinking Dixie cups. And he said you are not putting Dixie cups
in my space. So I went back to the office, we made that
mockup you see there on the left and emailed it to him, and I get the email back with the
capital wow and the exclamation points, and he’s like what is it? And I send him back, I said Dixie cups. [ Laughter ]
So we did it, and this is it finished. And, again, I stopped by here from time to
time, I go in there one day, it’s all blue cups, and another day it’s all green cups,
he’s got lines of cups and everything. The guy who didn’t want Dixie cups is now
playing with our building. That’s fantastic! You know? Ping pong balls. Haven’t done many edit studios in the time,
every editor would tell me they don’t want light in their studio. Which is so weird. Why wouldn’t you want light in your space
to work? And they’re in there for 12, 14 hours, no
light. You know. What they told me was they can’t stand glare
on their screen. So in these studies we were doing I found
that the ping pong balls let light through the ball and also through the gaps to produce
this kind of no glare but a uniform pixillation, so we made mockups to show them and then we
did studios filled with natural light. And here you can kind of see what it looks
like in the space. And when people come in they see the light
but then when they get close and they see the ping pong balls, it’s something familiar,
something they can relate to, it heightens their whole experience. And so I’m always looking, and I try to look
not beyond and not we don’t invent anything, we just try to reveal what we already know
is there. And so like in this case I was going, you
know, 5:00 in the morning for my Starbuck coffee and they’re painting this bus shelter,
you know, and it’s like look, that’s amazing. The light of that. So that was what we started doing. Looking at light. Looking how it how light broadcasts through
color in different materials. So we started making things. And no client, we just started making them. And I got enamored with a little thing we
were doing on the bottom, and I bought these acrylics you can get from the hardware store,
and they come in thousands of colors, and there’s not one nice color in all the thousands. So we started stacking them to make a color. And what I found is the richness you will
get through the stacking and the depth and light quality that came through it. So we just put it in that building that we
were under construction on and we put skylights in the offices and backlit them so that the
light would return like into the building. And I began to discover this idea of light. But not how like light hits a building, but
how you see light. And so we also incorporate that in our work. It is the light this is a school we just finished,
but the light is actually coming through from the back and it’s you’re receiving the light,
you’re not looking at it reflecting off the building. And you get that depth. And so, again, it’s trying in some way to
make the light visible. And I may have learned this, you know, at
my time when Paul Rudolph where he used to always describe when he would do these skylights
with the light coming through, he would say that the light was coming in while the space
was escaping. And in some ways and he would do these drawings
of he would try to draw things you couldn’t see. And they’re beautiful drawings, if you ever
get a chance to look at them. And in some ways we’re trying to do that with
the light, is to capture the light or make the light visible. And so this is just a charter high school. Another building, the same idea, where the
building cannot just accept the light, but return it to the people. This is a building in Monterey, Mexico. It’s a fairly large office building. And you can see how the light comes through
the skin of the building and the reflection basically enters the building. And it’s these things too for us are and I’ll
talk about this in a minute, they’re not just for their perceptual or aesthetic value, they’re
also performative. But, you know, what I’ve become more interested
in is like what makes things beautiful or what makes things intriguing. This is on the left is a market in Mexico
City and on the right is a picture I took of the tourist attractions when you land at
Orlando airport. You know? And if you pick out any one of those things,
there’s nothing extraordinary about them, but the aggregation of them is quite beautiful
to me. And so I I’m beginning to think how does something
that simple, you know, like just a tarp or an ugly brochure for a tourist attraction
become so beautiful. And I found these ladies in probably one of
the poorest areas in our country in southwest Alabama called Geez’s bend, and the whole
community makes these quilts, and none of them are trained as designers. But they produce these remarkable, remarkable
quilts. And they’ve now become quite famous. And with no training at all. And I ask myself how can I be that good and
that loose? And we just as architects for some reason
always have these great ideas and then as soon as we put them down we stiffen up. You know? It never comes out like that. It never comes out natural. It’s hard to flow. So, you know, I look at how can I make can
I make a building or something that flows, that’s simpler that’s easy, and we were commissioned
for a sculpture in front of a city hall in Pembroke Pines Florida, and I started to think
about that idea of light, but also at the same time can I make this or in such a way
like they made the quilts. So we just wrote the script to try to let
the building design itself, you know, we made some parts, we put all the parts together
and we just had some variables where we would move things and then kind of look at it how
it kind of made itself. So we kind of picked one, we sent all those
components out to prefab, it was made in Denver, and then put in place. So, you know, I keep thinking too and I guess
maybe this just comes with time as like my work is trying to be more reduced. And I look at that to me is really quite beautiful. You can see the kind of vertical lines, but
the slight shift makes it really interesting. So I think can I make a building that’s made
out of one part, like one thing only? And so we’ve done things where we’ve tried
to do that by taking a component and just shifting it. In this case it’s another school, it’s got
650 solar panels built into the south facade, it’s basically a net zero school. But the idea that you could just repeat these
panels and then just make a shift or an omission for a window, and the windows come to the
surface but are also behind and so you get like a slight color shift. And as a result you get I think a moderately
successful building. But I think we’ve gotten better at it, we
continue to get better. By introducing, you know, this idea of movement. Like I think it’s all about, you know, the
stat it’s static, but it appears to move. So I would look again at other artists, this
is an artist named Patrick Hughes, he’s a British artist who has done these paintings
which he calls prospectivity. And the paintings don’t move but the way he
has shaped the canvas and the position of the viewer it may appear and so [indiscernible]
(video playing over speaker) we worked with a big company called CR Lawrence, they make
a lot of building products, any architects in the room I’m sure have specified some of
their products. But they made this shutter for us. And it’s a single shutter, once we got to
something that worked for us and we liked, we put them over the entire building. And so on this building it’s on a busy street
in Los Angeles, with great views facing east and west. Terrible for, you know, thermal conditions. Terrible for people looking in the building. But beautiful views downtown and to the ocean. So the shutter kind of mitigates a lot of
that. It allows you to be private when you want,
open when you want, cool when you want or hot where you want. So the building in a sense gets redesigned
by the occupants every day. Or every hour. So it’s ever changing the building through
just the single component. And it’s quite simple. You know, wrapper around the whole building. You can see it’s just got a small porch and
applied everywhere around it. So when we were doing this with this idea
we got the costing and our client it was about $300,000 to do all of this. And our client looked at it and goes we could
save a lot of money here. You know? Maybe we should just take it off, you know? And I told him, okay. Take it off. So they had the contractor remove it and save
$300,000. And our mechanical engineer said, well, hold
on, wait a minute here, we’re going to get a lot more heat gain now, we need to change
the mechanical system. Okay? 200 grand added right there. Okay? Then there were other things, we had to change
out all the windows because they were no longer protected. Another 50 grand. Okay? So at the end of the day the client goes you
mean I’m getting all that for only $50,000 more? You know? It’s like I’d be crazy not to do it! So for us it becomes a winning way. If you look at it as a performative piece,
not just aesthetic, but it becomes multivalent, it’s always a winner. If it’s just for the way it looks, it’s 90%
a loser. So you get these beautiful light filled spaces
and we had some fun on the interiors, those are the kitchen back splashes, we got a whole
bunch of old skateboards, we cut them up and recycled this especially to make them the
back splashes in the kitchen. And our work is we’re getting larger projects,
we’re being challenged more, you know? So a lot of things I show you, some of you
might be saying, well, that’s easy when it’s small. Well, it’s easier. But as you get we get larger work, it’s you
know, I think it’s great, it’s a new challenge. So we are working on this it’s a 500 unit
housing project in downtown LA. And the units, you know, people do housing
they a lot of times know what they’re going to do, the developers with the units. And so we say how can we make a good building
with that? And really we just take took in this case
the edges of the building, instead of it just being a slab that’s flat, we looked at what
we could do with the edges. And we basically started to make this sort
of origami that could change with the building. And you get this really interesting facade
that again feels like it’s moving. And really feels quite complex. But it’s, again, quite simple of an idea. The same idea we’re now doing on a mixed use
project in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. And they often look expensive, but they don’t
they’re not they’re not nearly as expensive as the contractors and our clients see that
they are. Or that appears to them. So we’ve developed these kind of strategies
to rationalize our work. And make them into components that can be
more easily understood. But also allow us design flexibility. This was a variation on the same thing that
I just showed you for a different high rise project that we’re working on in downtown
LA as well. So it’s 350 units. We’re redoing the flower market. It’s an existing building. So you get this kind of sculptural facade,
but when you look at it from the other direction it completely changes. And this is a rehab partly and part new building. We just finished this project in just outside
of Chicago. It’s that little house behind the white car. We tore that down. My client saw a project we did, it was a steel
house, and he wanted a steel house. And he said he wanted his neighbors to hate
him, you know. [ Laughter ]
I wanted to do a brick house. So we discussed that, I guess I won that argument. We did a brick house. But he was thinking that brick on the front,
you know, the beautiful red brick, I was actually thinking the brick on the side, what’s known
as Chicago common brick, which is the garbage brick, you know, they put it on the sides
so no one can see it, and they put all the good brick on the front. I said why don’t we make your building out
of Chicago common brick? He’s like but that is ugly! You know? No one really likes that. But, you know, we got to a point where we
both agreed on that, and I started looking at the brick and I liked that brick much better
than when it was like perfect and organized. It’s like the same like this, the stack of
books if it was straight, neat, you know, the vertical lines are there, but it’s the
shift that I think makes it really beautiful. And so we started drawing brick or we would
write some scripts to draw brick. And this is simply looking at in a way how
the brick might move. Or appear to or to get that sense of motion
a lot like I showed you with how Patrick Hughes did it. So we would make drawings, lots of drawings
of brick. And then build models. And you don’t get it just by kind of looking
at it, so I figured out that we have to actually do these animations to describe it, because
you see the building actually goes from solid to void and void to solid as you move by it. And we would try to make these drawings to
explain to the contractors and builders how to do it, and we always still have a little
bit of kind of hesitation right out of the gate. But once we show them that it’s really quite
rational and not so hard, we get a lot of excitement from the people who make it, like
this mason who at first refused to do it, was like saying, you know, hey, why don’t
we do this, he would start, you know, doing brick his own way, and I would just be like
can you just stick to the plan, please? [ Laughter ]
So away we went. We made it. There are columns of brick. Here they are, they’re self supporting, the
two literally just holds it laterally. But it’s a typical gravity load. And here it is. And like the project I showed you before,
the light comes through from behind. So this is the light, you’re receiving the
light or the light becomes visual. This is not a photo shop or anything, this
is how it looks. And the when the light comes, the building
moves even more. And so my client who’s been in the house now
for a couple months, he’s told me that people stop in front of his house, but they stop
and then they back their car up. [ Laughter ]
And then they pull it forward. You know? And back up. And it’s like he’s like I think they’re trying
to look through, you know? And I told him, I think they’re trying to
figure out if your building’s moving or not, you know? So you might just put a stake out there that
says no, the building does not move. I’m not going to show you the whole building,
this will be in architect magazine next month, but, again, you can kind of get a sense of
the space and the courtyard that’s behind it. And that’s our owner, Robert. We just finished this project or the design
of it. This is about 550 units of mixed use housing
in China. And it’s the exact same idea I just showed
you on the mega scale. So these panels are it’s one panel, the exact
shape and size over the whole building. And we’ve kind of made these columns that
move around the building to get you kind of a building that as you move the building kind
of appears to levitate in a way. So I’m trying to see if I can make a building
with get the most out of the most reduced down components of a building. And I find that I really like these things
which are simple but that they have like slippage. And it’s like the accident that appeals to
me. This is a diagram of a airport flight path. And, you know, they have the pilot’s given
the same coordinates when they leave left or right, but every pilot, you know, takes
a different path. And that is really intriguing to me, that
how a user affects what they do. And like how a user can affect the building. And so we try to build in something where
we can have a moment happen that’s not entirely planned. You know, so I started to think of that the
idea of a line and when I would describe this to my mother she’d pull out this drawing I
did as a kid with a Spirograph, I know some of you probably remember it, those of you
who are younger you don’t, but you stick your pen in this gear and you spin it around in
a circle, and it’s a line. This is like a ten year old kid that made
this drawing. You know, it’s spectacular! And without even trying. So, you know, it’s I thought about the power
like of the line, and like the pick up sticks in the box are boring when you roll them out,
they’re mesmerizing, you know, how they land and how you can pick them apart. So I started to think of what you can do with
the line. And through this idea of ruled surface geometry,
you can actually take a line or a series of lines and combine them into a really complex
form. So long as you get the top quarter and the
bottom quarter the same length, you could make all these interesting moving patterns
with just a series of lines. And so we were right around this time that
I was doing this, we were asked to participate in a competition. It was a design build, contractor led, design
build competition for $53 million transit hub in Seattle. And I thought that was great. So we made all these renderings based on this
idea and our contractor and design team loved it, and the client loved it, and we won the
competition. Now the contractor freaked out. You know? It’s like how are we going to build this for
can we build it for the $53 million? And I started to show him that it was just
really a series of lines that we would do. And so we work with them, we work with the
fabricators on developing the technology to kind of do this. At the same time, I was thinking again of
the idea of movement, but this is my colleague at USC, William Forsythe, who is a very well
known choreographer, and he would do improvisational pieces that he would call lines in space. So he would make space with lines of light
and I started to think can I make space with lines too. And so we wrote some scripts and just started
making all these drawings based on lines. And so in the end we wrote our own scripts
and such to rationalize the geometry and figure out how to construct this. So this was one of our first passes at it
based on our competition entry. And you can see this graph, if this was if
that was good, it would be like a flat line, meaning every piece would be the same. You could see there’s almost zero pieces that
are the same. But we worked you can see that line flattening
out to become more cost effective, more buildable. There’s over 8,000 pieces that we would do. What I failed to take into account during
the competition was that our facade is 65 feet tall and nothing is going to efficiently
span 65 feet. So the once you put an intermediate cord in
the equation, ruled surface geometry goes out the window. So it became a whole nother exercise of balancing
the support cords and the lines on that. So I’m just showing you, again, some of our
drawings. These we wound up doing direct fabrication
from our drawings. And so these are just some of those where
we rationalize all the geometry around the building. These would be the software would be sent
to the subs, they would roll the forms, and this is how they would come to the site. And they would go up. It all went up pretty as well, some of them
needed a little muscle to get in there, but by and large it worked. And then the skin or the lines, this is what
I thought we would do, you know, we would just go buy some stock shapes, that didn’t
work well either. You know, nothing would span. So we started to kind of try and make an extrusion
that would do all the work. So something that was efficient materially,
that was efficient to span. It’s like this whole process is a bit like
playing Jenga, you keep removing things until it’s barely standing. And so when we would change one thing, we
would have to change everything. So I’m just showing you the evolution of that
extrusion to where we got to the most efficient piece that met our design concept or criteria. And there it is. There they’re testing is for torsion and other
properties in the lab. And that’s our happy contractor with all 8,000
pieces getting ready to be shipped. It was put up by four people on two cherry
pickers in about 14 days. And so you can see, you know, there’s a very
large building with this kind of flowing skin that connects to the plaza and the light rail
station. And again, this kind of this is the main area
out of the structure to the plaza with the light that kind of streams through that. And then the subterranean parking. And I always love I love showing these, you
know, our clients in the end who, like, try to kill you during the process and then they
come out when it’s all done so happy. You know. I’m going to close out here with shifting
gears on something that I think is really important for us as a society. I’ve also found I prepared two lectures tonight
because I couldn’t decide what I wanted to talk about. And I remember while I was doing it, I was
a remembering there was a time where I would work so hard to just get enough material to
talk for an hour. So maybe you’ll invite me back sometime and
I’ll talk about in more detail what I’m going give you just a taste of. You know, it’s homelessness or housing. And it’s become a real big issue for our society. And we have been doing it for a long time,
but really one in seven people live below the poverty line. And it’s, you know, what’s so disturbing about
it is that it’s not like homeless people that you see on the street, it’s people who are
working. So we have a whole class of what’s become
the working poor. And I think we have to find housing solutions
to this to make housing more affordable. We have a particular problem in LA that we
have 55,000 homeless people in LA. That’s like a whole city. Because our housing is so expensive, we have
the lowest vacancy rate in the entire country. And it’s just not affordable. So we’re doing we’re doing a lot of projects
that are to try and do our part to help that. This is a 53 unit housing project for disabled
veterans. And it’s not only houses people and has a
lot of the kind of design things that I talked about, but it also has a lot of the performative
portions it’s a LEED platinum building. All of the projects we pretty much do are
LEED platinum. But does anyone know what a EUI is? Anyone in this room? Okay. A couple people. Okay. For all you students there, you better learn
it. Because that’s going to be the future. Okay? Building energy usage is becoming going to
be part of that crisis. This building uses, as you can see, like half
of the energy of a building of its type. And it is also 153 units per acre. So to give you an idea New York City the average
is 252 units per acre. So we have to build denser so we can get more
housing. But it has the whole passive and active sustainable
strategy that makes it efficient. But also the big thing for us is that, you
know, it becomes part of the communities. You want people to have privacy, but you want
them to be part of the community. And you know what we’ve done here is to I
don’t like the courtyards when they’re you know, the handrail on the second floor becomes
like a wall. So we use them to kind of step down with these
planters so that when you’re actually on the deck you don’t see any wall. It just opens directly to the community. So you get these courtyards which are private
but they connect to the space. And we help them get original artwork on loan
for their project. And so it’s really quite a beautiful place. This is all for disabled veterans. And you get a small but really pleasant environment. What we also have learned too is that windows
that are long and skinny that goes from floor to ceiling feel a whole lot bigger than the
same area of window done horizontally. So another one that’s under construction,
mixed use, 60 unit building in north Hollywood, a similar idea where the common space kind
of leaks out to the public realm. And one in Venice, this is 55 units with the
same idea. And Santa Monica, this is a true artist loft. So artists will live here, this is all done
proposed to do with CLT, the whole facade. And, you know, what’s the crisis in LA has
become so astute that the everyone’s trying to do something about it. So the voters in this past election, we approved
by a 70% margin almost a billion and a half dollars to go towards trying to house the
homeless, or do something about homelessness. And as a result late last year the county
came out with this competition, and the city just announced a similar one like this. They’re going to give away $4.5 million to
someone who can come up with solutions, scalable solutions to fight homelessness. So we entered in it, and about two weeks ago
we found this. So now we’re working on this kind of challenge
like can we make scalable, affordable, sustainable housing. And my idea when we entered this was to try
to do something like that, you know, part of our problem is in LA as we have a schism
between what the voters are saying and what’s actually happening. So we’re approving money to find solutions,
but nothing’s getting built. And part of it has to do with building departments,
council people, there’s a whole array of things which bog it down. So I thought if you can make housing like
an RV, where you just drive it onto the lot and you have instant housing and you just
hook up to utilities, you know, that’s kind of what we were thinking. And that’s what we designed. But I wanted it to have a little bit more
charm, you know, maybe like that. So we came up with this idea which we call
the nest design toolkit. And this was really weird for me or odd for
me to suppress myself from being the designer because our idea was not really to design
it, but to provide a toolkit for design. And so we one thing we did which they really
liked is we analyzed the whole Los Angeles region and 80% of the lots in LA are 50 by
150. But we have many cities within LA and they
all have their separate codes and planning codes and building codes. So we went through all of that stuff to figure
out what we could design that fit on everything. And so we designed units that would fit in
any location on any lot that was 50 by 150. And so we showed that how that would work. And then we came with this kit of parts. I’m not going to bore you with all the specifics
of it, but there are these service units which could be configured into private and public
bathrooms, kitchens and so forth. They have their own power module, we work
with some vendors who can make a power module, a water supply, a black water module. So basically we could just go and put them
on the site. And then we could add onto them later. So there’s configurations for sleeping units
as well that have the same thing. And kind of technology that allows it to work. And then this is where we basically have the
module but we left room on the site so that you could put a facade or skin or exterior
however the designer decides to do it. So we simply just showed some configurations
of how that might be. And site configurations as well for that. So I’m going to leave you with this short
little video that was done, which I think kind of explains it better than I can tell
you about what’s happening in LA and our housing issue.>>We’ve been a culture that ignores people
and looks the other way. Our homeless problem, especially in Los Angeles,
is so large now that it’s almost untenable.>>Los Angeles has the highest number of unsheltered
people anywhere in the country, which clearly you can see that in skid row.>>There’s a lot of suffering that goes on. If you’re not ready to live in the streets,
it gets pretty profound.>>For those individuals who have been largely
isolated and alone, beginning to try to build [indiscernible] I’ve known Mike for a long
time and this is really our first collaboration. The name of this project is the six that we
did for Mike, and that means that in military terms it means I’ve got your back. And really Mike is the six for homeless people.>>I think I was one of the first people who
had keys not the I thought I was dreaming. And I came and looked, it was empty. I was like whose house is this? They said yours. I got a radio, a microwave, a crock pot, what
more can I ask for?>>They have everything contained in their
own unit, but then>>Took my breath away. Because I’ve been suffering for a number of
years. Suffering for years. And what are you going to expect, you know.>>Breaking stereotypes of the homeless goes
back to design. It says something. It says we care about you.>>Design definitely can empower individual,
if you ask Mike he’ll tell you that good design is a part of the healing.>>Little bit like Frank Sinatra, if you can
do it here, you can do it anywhere. No one has a bigger homeless crisis than we
do here in skid row. I think all you need is the will to do it.>>These are our cities, whatever we make
here, whatever buildings we build here, they’re a part of the larger fabric that defines our
cities.>>Thank you. [ Applause ]
>>Questions?>>First of all, thank you for the lecture,
it was really inspiring. Going back to the first part, just because
I’ve prepared a question for that, I noticed an interesting contradiction, almost, because
you sort of gradually transitioned from speaking about architecture as a sculptor almost to
like architecture as algorithmic design without even really mentioning a transition. So in your later projects scripting seemed
to play a larger and larger role as a way for you just to explore an initial idea in
seeing how it would unfold. But in a superficial way that seems almost
like a massive contradiction of what you talked about at first of just exploring accidents. Do you see a contradiction there or how do
you see that they relate?>>Probably. You know? But, you know, my partner is my wife too,
and she often complains, she says can’t we do at least, you know, the same thing twice? You know? And I think I don’t I think if you’re not
moving or changing you’re going backwards and so it’s really a journey, it’s not a static
thing. You know, I showed you some things from early
in my career, and like I’ve changed. If I showed you the stuff that I did in school
you would you’d probably fall down. So I think, you know, a career in architecture
evolves. And I always I always said I would not plagiarize
myself, although I find myself doing that too. But I try to be open, you know, and find you
know, learn something, I guess. And so if that’s a contradiction, then, yeah. And I suppose it would be. I hope that answers your question. I would just say don’t, you know, like I explained
early on with Harvey Fight, you know, he was doing something that he thought was the right
thing and wound up somewhere completely different. And I think it’s okay to do that. You know? I’m not that good where I know what I’m doing
and I just keep doing it until I become great at it. You know? For me, I’m always searching. And maybe that’s part of the contradiction.>>I know that you draw like a reference from
like art, sculpture and everyday life in your project. But when you put those into practice are you
in like a different scale context there will always be something that’s like out of your
expectation. So I think like my question is how you negotiate
those preconceived ideas in your projects and between those [indiscernible] you gain
throughout the process or exploration.>>Well, ironically, design build is a great
method to keep exploring because if you do design build and you partner with the right
people, whatever scale it is you can constantly evolve your project. You know, it allows you to do that. Even on very big projects. It’s disastrous when you’re partnered with
people that are not of like mind. You know, what unfortunately there’s very
little architect led design build, it’s probably 99.9% contractor led design build. The only people who are doing it with architecture
design led design build are people like Jonathan Segal, who is doing like his own work, you
know, and he’s his own client. But like in the public realm it almost doesn’t
exist. You know, so it’s harder, you know, when we
don’t do it I’ve learned some tricks to get around it, you know, like there are a lot
of things we do do a public bid, like it go out for the low bid, and so we in our, you
know, in our proposals, you know, we always get questioned about our reimbursable number. Why is your reimbursable number so high? You know? Well, we have in there it’s usually for printing
and things like that. We have full scale mock ups in our reimbursables. So we wind up making things during that process
too. And working with people who build things to
make them. So a lot of the big scale things we are flushing
it out as we’re doing it, you know. So, yeah, it is harder. And that’s like a challenge. You know, I don’t want to be the guy who just
does these little idiosyncratic things, I like I want to, you know, work in the public
realm. But, you know, can I do it? I think so. You know? I just need more opportunity to do so.>>Hi, Larry. I really appreciate the stuff that you showed
at the beginning, it’s really amazingly beautiful, inventive, and personally inspiring to take
extraordinary ordinary things and elevate them to the extraordinary. But since you brought up the homeless stuff
at the end, I think we have to kind of talk about it a little bit. And I really I’m always questioning myself
about what the real agency of architects and architecture in general is in something a
crisis that large. And is our role really just to design things
that are more inventive and cheaper so that contractors and
>>No, no.>>And developers can do them cheaper or how
much of it is really like a policy issue? Because if they didn’t have that vote in LA
for the $1.5 billion, none of this kind of happens. So where do we really ground ourselves as
architects with consciences and not just a service industry people?>>Yeah, that’s my other lecture I prepared
tonight. I was this close from doing it. You know, I would we I founded two nonprofits
myself, I’ve done a lot of policy work. We’ve actually, you know, we’ve made changes
to policy. Of and it’s it you can do more with policy
than you can with anything you design. But at the same time what I found is policy’s
not permanent either. And I have a whole deal that I could show
you, but, yeah, we are we need to be part we can be and like we have been parts of movements
where we’ve been stewards for good things. Like I think the whole sustainability thing
was started by architects in a way, and we we tend we embraced it, but I think we can
do more. And I think everyone everyone likes things
better when they feel they’re transcribing. You know? And that’s just universal. That’s the way we are. So I think we have a role in that. But, you know, again, unlike when I went to
school, we were taught that you do everything. And today it’s the profession’s so big, you
can be good at one thing, like computational stuff. Or construction technology. Or materials. So we need in many ways we need specialists
that work together. And, I mean, we would have a whole new it
would open up where we’re one of the few professions that are still, you know, like trying to do
everything. So I hope that answers it. I could keep going, but I don’t want to keep
everyone here.>>Thank you for your lecture. I think my question actually related to [indiscernible]
question, so a constant problem has so much aspects, of course there’s an architecture
problem so the cost and the material, the typology, et cetera. One very important aspect is actually an urban
question. So is about position and then about policy,
when we are solving this homeless people housing issue often there’s a case about the concentration
of the poor. So which happen in 1967, so I you were experienced
architect, I wish to hear your thoughts about urban solution sites of response to this issue.>>Yeah.>>Thank you.>>That’s in my other lecture. [ Laughter ]
I just couldn’t put it all in one hour, I’m sorry. You know? But it’s you’re correct, that is a problem. And there are solutions, but what I would
say, you know, so I don’t keep you here, if you look up the affordable housing design
leadership institute, it’s now run by enterprise, which is something that I founded ten years
ago with the idea that we would do it once and now we’re on our tenth year. You know? And we’re teaching developers how to be stewards
and what are the benefits and we publish books and proceedings and all these things and we
bring experts to show, you know, by and large people who do affordable housing, it’s like
a specialist. You know, in some ways. And I got into it early in my career for actually
a very selfish reason, you know? Like I would look at these affordable housing
projects and go, God, it couldn’t be more ugly. You know? Like I can do way better than that. You know? And then when I started to do it, it’s so
hard. You know? For all of those reasons. And so, you know, the people who do it are
good people, they’re just mired in that same thing. And they don’t know. So with our institute we’ve been able to show
them the path. And it’s amazing what’s kind of happening
with these. So I’m hoping that we’re we’ve worked with
now over 50 nonprofit and community developers and they’re changing how they think. So hopefully in ten years or 20 years all
that really starts to take hold. But it is changing. I mean, and you’re looking like Michael Maltzon,
is now you know, people want to do like designers want to do affordable housing. Lorkin, they’re all over, it’s becoming it’s
people want to do it now. So I think it’s going to get better. And those issues, yes, are issues that we
can be part of the solution, we’re not “the” solution.>>Okay. This has been a wonderful lecture. Thank you so much.>>Thank you. [ Applause ]
>>There is a reception downstairs. So we can continue, mingle. Thank you.


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