2013 Grants Challenge

Never Built: Los Angeles

Never Built Los Angeles is a rare and unprecedented exhibition: A gripping collection of civic projects that never came to be yet teach us new ways to think about the city’s future.

The show assembles for the first time original drawings, new and old models, large scale installations, videos, and interactive media to portray visionary works that had the potential to reshape Los Angeles. From buildings and civic plans, to parks and freeways, the show reveals exquisite ideas and the dreams behind them. No other show, focusing on this unique and unexplored history of Los Angeles, has ever before been mounted.

On public view for the first time will be such sweeping proposals as the Olmsted and Bartholomew “Plan for the Los Angeles Region,” which if it had happened would have turned the entire coastline of Los Angeles into a public park, and criss-crossed the basin with thousands of acres of new parks and landscaped parkways. Never before on display will be Frank Lloyd Wright’s hand-drawn images of his “Doheny Ranch,” which would have turned the slopes of Beverly Hills into a collection of one-of-a-kind Wright houses clustered in a landscape of dramatic terraces and ravines. Visionary architect John Lautner’s Griffith Park Nature Center, also buried for decades in an archive, will be among the more than 30 groundbreaking works never built and almost never seen.

Great cities rise around these kinds of ambitions, usually written in sticks and stone, and steel and glass. Then there is Los Angeles, always the exception. The city is a mecca for architects, home to two Pritzker Prize winners (Frank Gehry and Thom Mayne) and a roll call of modern architecture’s most famous talents. The entertainment hub of the United States, if not the world, it is a magnet for ingenuity, individuality, and imaginative ideas. Yet Los Angeles largely lacks the grand gestures of urban innovation. The gap between Los Angeles’s genius for design and its public output is what Never Built Los Angeles hopes to span. The exhibit is a lesson plan, based on a 100-year backlog of unbuilt proposals. By putting on view a catalogue of virtuoso drawings and renderings that, on a visceral level ignite the imagination, an unmistakable picture of a city that might have been – and still could be – emerges. Never Built treats this hidden past as something not complete but still unfolding. So, this is less an exhibition than a way of seeing the future of Los Angeles.

Typically architecture exhibitions explore the subject from a very narrow perspective; an academic and aesthetic exercise catered largely toward experts in the field. Our show is meant to demonstrate the relevance of the built environment to every citizen of our city and well beyond. It begins with anyone who is interested in Los Angeles, in the turbulent arc of urban development, and in the widest possibilities of the imagination. The projects will have a far reaching appeal to anyone who cares about Los Angeles and who has ever dreamed of something different: from a floating airport to giant skyscrapers to massive swaths of connected parkland.

The show and its accompanying book will become standards for the deeper study and understanding of Los Angeles. Not just for academics and architects, but for students and tourists and urban dwellers. The audience isn't just a local one, it's both national and international, not only because of the ingenious, alluring proposals, but because Los Angeles--a cultural nexus that defies all the rules of urban placemaking-- never fails to capture peoples' imaginations.


What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

The A+D Architecture and Design Museum > Los Angeles was founded in 2001. A+D is the only cultural institution in the United States showcasing continuous programs on architecture and design. Through exhibits, symposia, multi-disciplinary projects, educational and community programming, A+D is a showcase for the work of important regional, national and international designers, providing a forum for contemporary issues in architecture, urbanism, and design.

A+D has collaborated with important institutions such as the The Getty Center, AIA, SCI-Arc, the LA Forum as well as emerging and established architects. The museum has produced over 30 world class exhibits and received Awards of Merit for education programming from The American Architectural Foundation. It's also received multi-year grants from the Department of Cultural Affairs; explored the frontiers of design through concerts incorporating cutting edge computer graphics and electronic sound; and hosted panels moderated by a diverse group including L.A. Times Architecture Critic Christopher Hawthorne, City Planner Gail Goldberg, journalist Frances Anderton, actor/pundit Harry Shearer and Councilman Bernard Parks.

A+D has been awarded back to back grants from the Getty Foundation for Pacific Standard Time (2011) and Pacfiic Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A. (2012). For PST, the museum presented “Eames Words,” an exhibition that highlighted the ideas, rather than the creations, of the pioneering designers Charles and Ray Eames. For Pacific Standard Time Presents, the upcoming 2013 show, the museum has created “Windshield Perspective,” an examination of the Los Angeles urban landscape as seen through the city’s unexplored and unrepresented boulevards.

A+D hosts exhibit openings and events that are well-attended and garner attention and good will. These events are an integral part of the Museum’s purpose: comprehensive programming that incorporates academic and professional development with public outreach that is social and educational: Exhibitions of progressive architecture and design; topical lectures and seminars; student and professional design charrettes; education programs; architecture, design, urban tours; film screenings; book launches; internship opportunities; collaborations with community foundations focusing on at-risk youth; collaborations with cultural and educational institutions, locally and worldwide.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

Exhibition collaborators: Clive Wilkinson Architects, All Coast Construction, Olson Visual, LUNA Graphics, Shimahara Illustration, Buro Happold, Machineous, The Model Shop, The Lapis Press, Metropolis Books.

Participating institutions: UCLA, USC, UCSB, Getty Research Institute, SCI-Arc, LAX Flight Path Learning Center, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Library & Archive, Huntington Library.

Exhibition Partners: City of Los Angeles, American Institute of Architects/LA, American Planning Association, California Historical Society.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

There are a number of keys to the success of Never Built. Museum attendance will be one yardstick, of course. We're hoping that a huge amount of people come to the show and get inspired to change the city around them. We're also hoping that it's a very diverse audience: from children to the elderly, and along every line of race and class.

We hope the show's themes will spread far beyond those coming to the show. Never Built has already begun to achieve that, garnering considerable press -- from Australian radio to Forbes to KCET. By putting the images of past ideas out for a global audience to see, Never Built has already fired peoples' imaginations. To further promote our message, we're organizing a number of forums -- together with USC, the California Historical Association, the American Institute of Architects, and The American Planning Association—assuring that the question of how Los Angeles can imaginatively tackle its pressing urban needs, will become front and center in the public discourse.

The final metric of success is seeing the culture in the city actually change. That too is already starting to happen. The American Institute of Architects now uses the exhibit as a case study for why the city needs to be more invested in design, and people every day tell us how they're inspired by the show to make sure the next round of visionary projects in the city don't become Never Built.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

The stories surrounding these projects reveal a reluctant city whose institutions and infrastructure—from a fractured power base to risk-averse developers to reluctant neighbors —have often undermined visionary work. Our goal is to change this culture, shedding light on the city's many missed opportunities so that visionary, creative, innovative ideas in the large-scale pubic realm will once again be embraced here. Furthermore, much of Los Angeles is ugly and poorly planned. Another aim is to end the complacency about this fact. We want to connect the inherent appeal of unrealized designs to the daily experience of the built world. We want people in Los Angeles and elsewhere to regard beauty and livability as essential rights in their lives.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

Success in 2050 would be a city with a culture that embraces innovation and a public realm that is equal in accomlishment to its private one. The areas that Never Built highlights – such as mass transit, park space, river restoration, the city skyline, civic buildings – will have become well-planned rather than mere afterthoughts. For example, the city would have efficient, effective mass transit, with stations that are magnificently designed. A nondescription locale like the Cornfields, just north of downtown, would have been long ago made over into a thriving parkland accessible to all of the city’s residents. Stunning and effectively planned public buildings would be designed by a broad cross-section of the talented architects in the city, not just by large, well-connected firms.

The city’s bureaucracy would have embraced the bold and the adventurous instead of continually deep-sixing them in a mountain of doubt, redtape, footdragging, or worse, disdain. The city’s political apparatus, as well, would have been reformed sufficiently to promote the best in city planning and civic design, rather than remain almost powerless to achieve these aims, as it is today. Developers’ and citizens’ attitudes, too, would have changed to embrace the essential importance of design in building a better, more livable and thrilling city.