Materials & Applications

Materials & Applications (M&A), shares and demystifying concepts in art, architecture, and sustainable design in an outdoor courtyard open to the street 24 hours a day. Our projects create collaborative opportunities across disciplines and to explore new projects in public space. Our primary goal is the advancement of public participation in the built environment by inspiring visitors in their surroundings - while they explore the latest ideas in architectural design and theory on an experiential level. We push the application of materials beyond the limits of typical commercial, residential, and traditional gallery-based projects, towards more flourishing environments.

For ten years, M&A has transformed a parking lot in Silver Lake into an internationally-acclaimed center for materials research and artistic expression on an architectural scale exhibiting large-scale installations. M&A projects at this site are designed by artists and architects and built with volunteers from the community - winning three American Institute of Architects (AIA) awards, as well as other design awards and recognitions. M&A produced the inaugural performance for The Getty’s Pacific Standard Time with Judy Chicago - coordinating hands-on workshops for the public alongside the legendary artist to create an environment out of 25 tons of dry ice. The founder, Jenna Didier received the Neutra Spirit award 2010 and the Silver Lake History Collective award in 2011 for a lasting contribution to the cultural fabric of the Silver Lake district.

While M&A has been committed to working with “sustainable” materials and environments long before the term was popular, projects that have specifically sought to bring public attention to environmental and sustainability issues include a pneumatically-operated origami robotic garden by Eddy Sykes and the community-designed Taco Garden which explored sustainable gardening techniques in an aquaponics garden that re-circulated rainwater for growing tilapia and other fish taco ingredients—onions, cilantro and tomatoes.

Via a series of hands-on bilingual workshops commissioned by the Los Angeles Environmental Affairs Department, M&A managed the successful transformation of another blighted parking lot into a rainwater capturing surface with edible perimeter plantings tended by grateful mixed- use building residents and employees. Some benefits were: decreases in stormwater runoff from the parking lot, decreases in heat island effect, increases in social engagement between building residents and employees working downstairs. Prior to our work, then had not even been introduced.

Under its latest Urban Applications initiative which includes START SEEING UGLY!, M&A seeks to expand its activity into the larger Los Angeles area. Urban Applications is currently a finalist for an $350k ArtPlace grant from the NEA for the public art component of the Paseo and further development of its program.


1 Submitted Idea

  • 2013 Grants Challenge

    START SEEING UGLY! A social app to reveal and transform blighted parts of Los Angeles

    START SEEING UGLY! is proposed as a riveting demonstration of how emerging personal technologies and social media can—and most definitely will—become empowering tools for educating, engaging, connecting and organizing those living in community. The result will be a new twist on social connectedness, collective civic action and community empowerment where smartphones are put to use as instruments of social synergy.

    Materials & Applications (M&A), a 501(c)(3) corporation, proposes to create a set of online social outreach tools under its Urban Applications initiative for just such purposes. START SEEING UGLY! will empower anyone with a Smartphone or digital camera to take photos of physical blight in any community in Los Angeles and upload them to a correlated website database that will “pin” the geotagged shots onto a map - creating a hub for social action by community stakeholders. START SEEING UGLY! will both promote and support social connectedness for civic engagement in a breathtaking display of participatory democracy.

    M&A, as a group of online media developers, artists, architects, ecologists, urban planning students and other volunteers working in artistic fields, is interested in recruiting ordinary citizens in a sustainable campaign to clean up L.A. streets using processes of co-creation. By moving the participating public—especially young people—through a contiguous series of personal and collective commitments, we feel that we can help to transform our city—and our people—in positive ways for the future. Borrowing from an architectural concept, “urban acupuncture,” in which strategic small scale interventions have radiating effects, we expect to reset the power and energies of local distressed communities, one by one.

    Building on prior experience in organizing communities to create public art that galvanizes public interest for environmental solutions, we will identify parcels of land that deteriorate the environmental, social and economic health of neighborhoods. Citizens will be invited to document these parcels and add them to the START SEEING UGLY! website-hosted database and mapping system. M&A will then work with community stakeholders to find solutions that are supported by the collective will and resource bank.

    The first step, CONNECTION, is to encourage local citizens to see—really see—the decayed areas that they pass through each day and often ignore. We expect this project and its promotion will pull community stakeholders out of their complacency and into awareness. By having a platform on which to share what they see, participants will have stepped into a first level of personal responsibility for their community.

    The second step, ANALYSIS, is for M&A and community partners to analyze the sites identified, using matrices that will track the greatest concentrations of photos and reportings, compare and sort them, amass demographic and land parcel data from city and other databases, and, with community input, prioritize them for action based on public interest and urgency.

    The third step, TRANSFORMATION, is for M&A and its volunteers to connect to the sources of power who can investigate and negotiate solutions—City Council, City Planning and Cultural Affairs Departments, other governmental agencies, community organizations, and the private sector. In addition to spurring others to action, M&A will be alert for projects that deal with watershed and other environmental issues that could have a public art component. M&A supports the efficacy of working with community residents to plan and erect monuments to their successes in community engagement.

    For example, M&A is now developing a public art element for a project in Sun Valley spearheaded by the Council for Watershed Health (CWH). CWH’s Elmer Avenue Neighborhood Retrofit Project transformed an under-served urban neighborhood into a urban ecosystem. Phase I of the project employed ecological strategies as well as community-engaged design to transform traditional front yards and a residential street into a system for water harvesting and conserving; climate appropriate landscaping; and recapturing stormwater to replenish groundwater supplies in the Los Angeles River Watershed. In Phase II, residents were engaged in the transformation of a blighted alleyway into a new Paseo, a community pathway integrated with stormwater management improvements.

    M&A is working with CWH to expand on these efforts by engaging residents, schools and other community stakeholders to explore and interact with the new ecosystem through public art, environmental education, and community engagement. In so doing we are creating a model for building social cohesion and public art around community issues.

    Our video is the vision of START SEEING UGLY! as a citywide strategy to promote social connectedness and civic action in Los Angeles.