Los Angeles Study Abroad Studio: The Possibilities of the Wrong Scale

Los Angeles has for most of its life had a deeply ambivalent relationship with the more canonical vision, forms, and mechanisms of urbanism. While seen by some as a failing delinquent vision of a city, most of Los Angeles, especially in the creative cultures, haven’t felt that same concern, and have instead flourished in the regions instabilities, juxtapositions, aesthetic irresponsibilities, and ambiguous scale. It is a place that supports a true sense of the possible, and the culture of making that often comes along with it.

More recently, the larger region has begun to grapple with a new phenomenon. While much of the city’s history has been defined by the design and possibility of expansion, the limits of that seemingly endless expansion have begun to be felt physically, and perhaps more importantly, psychologically. This new and discomforting perception has made itself felt in a wide range of political, social, and physical ways. Perhaps no part of this equation though is more important than the question of what becomes of a city, whose identity and culture, defined by the optimism that comes with seemingly endless outward growth, confronts the limits of that expansion. How can the deep culture of inventiveness begin to rethink this emerging context in a physical way, while also understanding that what is at stake may be nothing less than the city’s future identity?

In many of our more recent projects in Los Angeles, a phenomenon has begun to emerge in the buildings we are involved with. By most traditional formal parameters, they are too big for their surroundings. This is not to say in all cases they are large buildings, just that the scale is significantly different than the surrounding form-scape. I have come to believe that there is real potential for experimentation precisely in what normally might be negatively thought of as incompatible scales of development. As well as the architectural focus in the studio, Landscape Architecture students will work concurrently on the same themes of scale and urban invention. Landscape in Los Angeles has often been left the task of either mediating disparate scales or occupying the space “in-between.” This collaborative effort within the studio has as its goal the potential of producing a more comprehensive set of speculations and proposals that anticipate a future emerging urbanism for Los Angeles.