Saturday, 17 September 2011


There is no other choice but to submit to the all-out total metropolis of Los Angeles. It’s not surprising that countless artists, photographers and directors have treated LA not as a typical city but as a secondary artificial landscape. The folded up, spray-can-paint splattered concrete canvas of the urban terrain is a fertile playground of opportunity for people to investigate and exploit. The stretches of empty grey sidewalks and gridlocked 9-lane freeways are a test bed for architectural and artistic experiments; there seems to be free reign and an endless supply of blank wall or vacant lots to be used as proving grounds for any manner of creative undertaking.

The highlights and lowlights of this experimentation include the well-documented Case Study House program. Most are off limits to the public but fortunately the most successful one, #8 by Charles and Ray Eames, is easily accessible through appointment. The anomaly known as the Watts Towers which seem to twist up and tear through the concrete bedrock of the city are pretty much the only site worth visiting in most of South Central LA. Visiting the Bradbury Building and Ennis House shows how well Ridley Scott can use a bit of smoke and mirrors to create the post apocalyptic feel of Bladerunner

Past all the repetitive and over-used pop street art of East Los Angeles and up in the hills not too far from the Hollywood Sign is the sprawling Getty Centre, designed by Richard Meier. Whilst being efficient at holding and displaying its collection of 19th Century art, its white sterile design feels more like an industrial scale euthanasia clinic, very calming. Over in Downtown, The Caltrans HQ designed by Morphosis wins the “Worst Building of the Road Trip” award. The oversized street number doesn’t redeem the hideousness of its oppressive cliff like steel walls that bear down on pedestrians and makes Gehry’s Disney concert hall almost bearable.

Other urban peculiarities that inevitably occur in a city of 18 million people include the LA River, made famous by the race scene in Grease as well as many other movies, this wide concrete channel tears through the city and creates a very dystopic post industrial landscape. There is an abandoned zoo up in the hills with animal cages and habitats still intact that satisfied my hunger for derelict attractions. The refurbished Queen Mary sits uncomfortably between the oil refineries of Long Beach, the reason exactly why it’s here or why anyone would want to stay inside eludes me. Floating above the Staples Centre is the iconic Goodyear blimp filled with low-pressure helium so that it doesn’t deflate despite being shot at 50 times a day.

4 days is nowhere near enough time to do this mammoth city justice but our plane is waiting. So after 8652 miles, 21 States and about 45 cities, I’m sitting in the departure lounge of LAX writing this epilogue. I can’t say I’m particularly keen to leave the USA and its infectious opportunistic, ambitious mindset, its amiable people and the free Diet Coke refills, but I can’t imagine it’ll be very long before I’m back.

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