Navigating Los Angeles without a rental car for a visiting New Yorker like me was a task I took on at the suggestion of a Vancouver-based architect, Marc Bricault. Marc had designed a green house for his brother's home in Venice Beach, California, which I was going to visit. I decided to stay in Venice, renting a bicycle to get around the neighborhood, using public transportation and the generosity of the architects I visited for longer trips. Sure, I know making such a modest protest of the extravagant use of cars is ridiculously naïve in the greater scheme of things, but the experiment was taken on to set an example, rather than being a true carbon-saving gesture. In addition to seeing this house, I planned two days of scouting with a few architects, who would show me their new work in various locations, some of which were a considerable distance from Venice Beach. Arriving late on a Wednesday night, the plane glided in towards LAX. I looked down at the sprawling expanse of night lights of the metropolis. The size of the city overwhelmed me, but I was determined to move forward with my idea.
I might add that the moment I left my home that Wednesday morning in Sleepy Hollow, New York, I was transported via public transportation only. I walked to my commuter train that ran along the Hudson River to Grand Central, where I caught a subway to the west side, then another down to my office at 2 Penn Plaza. From there, a train and a tram brought me to the terminal at Newark Airport, where I caught my flight. This would also be the form of my return journey home.
After arriving at LAX and getting a Super Shuttle to the Erwin Hotel in Venice Beach, I retired right away to insure I had plenty of time the next morning to get to the New Carver Apartments in downtown LA, by Michael Maltzen Architecture. Venice Beach at 7:00 am on a Thursday morning is a funky scene! What a throwback to the sixties to see gatherings of graying hippies and toothless street folks and a Jimi Hendrix look alike playing guitar in a lively corner coffee shop. Streets lined with battered ancient RV's and buses plastered with cool graffiti, signs of bedding being disassembled by the homeless on the street, comingled with the charming modernized cottages of Venice, omitting the smells of breakfast.
I found my bus to downtown LA conveniently located directly across the street from the hotel. The cordial driver accepted my $1.25 in change for payment, a feat not possible in NYC with the ubiquitous MetroCard dominating public transportation. The driver warmly promised to tell me which downtown stop to get off at in order to find my way to the housing project. Arriving almost an hour early, due to a smart route that avoided the traffic-clogged freeways, I killed some time in a nearby hospital cafeteria, because there was no place else to go in this part of LA.
The New Carver Apartments sit alongside Highway 10 at Hope and 17th streets, providing SRO accommodations to 95 homeless and low-income residents. Its exterior opaque white circular form belies an extraordinary spiral-designed interior atrium/courtyard that apartments look onto, where a series of inner walkways provide a peaceful refuge from the noise of the highway.
Iwan Baan and Stacey look at the compelling geometry of the atrium at New Carver Apartments
Lucky me, Iwan Baan happened to be tagging along on my tour, since he was doing a photoshoot of the project that afternoon. If you don’t know who he is, you should. Hands down, he’s one of the best photojournalists of architecture around, finding fabulous, unexpected, little-known buildings around the world and photographing them. After touring the project, we headed to Maltzan’s office in Silver Lake, where marketer Stacey showed me models and photos of a diverse range of interesting work in various states of completion. Michael himself was poetic in conversation.
I was picked up by Stephen Kanner, who kindly chauffeured me around Hollywood and Santa Monica looking at some of his recently completed work terminating in a visit to his amazing office, located in a renovated warehouse shared with Daly Genik as his next-door neighbor (seehttp://www.kannerarch.com/) and http://www.dalygenik.com/). My next tour was courtesy of Kevin Daly who showed me the Tahiti, a recently completed low-income housing project, as well as a cool renovated bungalow in Venice, dropping me off at my hotel afterwards.
A residential highrise in Hollywood by Kanner Architects (note the enormous billboard that occupies the facade)
Stephen Kanner showed me his modernist gas station
Daly Genik's Tahiti low-income housing
Kevin Daly standing in front of a bungalow he renovated in Venice Beach
Slowly yawning, Venice Beach awakened the next morning. A miscalculation about when bike rental shops open in this laid-back, slow-rising place had me back on the bus for a $.75 fare early the next morning heading north to Santa Monica Boulevard to visit Julie Eisenberg (http://www.kearch.com/). After some stimulating conversation and viewing a selection of work with Julie and her staff, I was back on the bus to Venice Beach, where I rented a bicycle and went for a ride along the boardwalk, sharing the mid-day pleasure of a beautiful sunny 80-degree day with the abundant humanity gathered there. Meeting Marc Bricault a couple of hours later, I was able to report on my experiment in public transportation in LA, happily sharing that it’s easy to do, pleasurable to engage in, and gratifying to feel that I’ve done something just a little bit relevant, however small, for the environment.
A green wall in Marc Bricault's Brooks Avenue house in Venice Beach
One of several Jimi Hendrix look alikes playing "Hey Joe"