SUPERNATURAL URBANISM: Locating the Next American City in the Los Angeles River Basin

Richard Sommer and Mary Margaret Jones with George Hargreaves as Senior AdvisorSUPERNATURAL URBANISMIn the 1960\’s Rayner Banham suggested a new mode of urbanism in the \”Four Ecologies\” of Los Angeles\’s architecture: beaches, freeways, inhabited mountains and service valleys. More recently, a Brookings Institute study revealed the Los Angeles region to be the most densely-populated area in the United States. This studio will begin with a \”fifth\” ecology of Los Angeles left unexamined by Banham – the nascent paradise of the river basin on which it was first settled. The studio will examine strategies by which new amalgams of infrastructure, cultivated landscape and building may simultaneously thicken and remediate the surface of the city and suggest a highly urban, yet primarily horizontal lifestyle.. Seen in this light, Los Angeles-as an idea-provides the opportunity to examine the form of the next American city.We will focus on a set of sites at the virtual center of urban L.A., at the convergence of the Arroyo Seco, the 5 and the 110 freeways, the L.A. River and the old Taylor Train Yards. The heterogeneity of these sites is a consequence not only of the diverse forms of occupation lying on and adjacent to them-i.e. the river, the residential areas of Cypress and Echo Park, Dodgers Stadium, and Home Depot Headquarters – but of the overlapping local, city, state and federal entities that have an interest in the site. The studio will explore a form of urbanism that harnesses this programmatic and political dynamism, where ecological, social and economic concerns are framed by design. Identifying and engaging the \’supernatural\’ potential and hydrologic demands and of the L.A. river and its basin should be a central focus of design work.Studio Structure:Drawing on extensive technical and scholarly resources in Los Angeles, members of the studio will engage in an intensive design study for the future of these sites. After a structured phase of analysis concentrating on cultural, geographic and historical phenomena affecting the site(s) in question, each student will devise a project. Projects may, for example, begin with an investigation of new building or river reclamation techniques and end with proposals that model experimental planning procedures and detailed design interventions.Generously sponsored by the Los Angeles Mountain Conservancy, members of the studio will travel to L.A. to survey the site, meet with key figures, and again later to present the studio\’s findings. Upon completion, a publication will be made from the studio\’s work.