Bartlett BSc Architecture Unit 4 2012-13

Ana Monrabal Cook and Luke Pearson


[Image from They Live, John Carpenter, 1988]

“There’s no more beautiful city in the world provided it’s seen by night and at a distance”Roman Polanski, Chinatown
“LA, the most photographed city in the world, yet the least photogenic”Thom Andersen, LA Plays Itself
Unit Four continues its exploration into architectures of public delight, antipathy or bemusement by visiting the city that can truly attest to have been founded on such principles:
LA has always intertwined fact and fiction. The architecture of the city bears witness to an urban sprawl built up through capital investment and property developers who used their constructions to communicate versions of a history that is as fantastical as the productions of Hollywood itself. Buildings such as the Bradbury feature as film characters rather than subjects; they are more famous and have more distinguished filmographies than most film stars.In decades past, before digital technologies eased direct access to information, this export of the vision of a city was primarily through creative endeavour, through writing, music and most importantly films. This allowed a city such as Los Angeles to write its own myth, and then render this through architectures that suggest histories and futures that never truly existed.However, new ways of remotely viewing contemporary L.A. allow us to see beyond the curated image this myth represents. We now have tools for understanding the city that take the previous notion of the ‘survey’ the ‘map’ or the ‘view’ and turn it on its head. These new ways of remote seeing and understanding, allow us access to a representation of the city deemed true to the source; the city becomes a Facsimile.

Unit Four poses the question: Is a city that takes pride in the image it portrays adapting to the new and widely available surveying instruments and methods of reproduction to continue its hold on the image of the American Dream? Will buildings or components be choreographed to play along with the forecasted upgrades of new technologies?


This year we will focus on the difference between viewing and being viewed, reading and rewriting. Surveyors employ a number of instruments to survey the earth’s surface depending on the nature of the task; clinometers, alidades, topographical range finders and tacheometers to name a few. Similarly film directors employ certain equipment to record a setting and convey a notion of space and time. The two have in common the need for a physical location. Yet with new digital tools, this physical location may be understood remotely, as a FACSIMILE of the real city.

In Term One, you will investigate the implications of new technologies for mapping and reading space in order to propose an architecture that interrogates Los Angeles as a city of sprawling networks. Using these methods and contrasting the Facsimile to the actual LA we witness in person, in Term Two onwards you will derive new architectures that redefine the relationship that the mythology of Los Angeles has to the buildings that reside within it – choosing to define an architecture of character that exposes, denies or highlights the city and its extended islands of society.


As in past years we ask you to develop through investigations into the intertwining modes of architectural representation, and how this directly relates to an outsider’s view of Los Angeles compared to its reality. We encourage play between digital and physical, drawing and modelling. We anticipate studies into the production of:

– Hybridised drawings and models, that express architectures in the context of the conditions they reveal about the city around them. You will investigate how 2D and 3D techniques intertwine, and how the technologies of digital fabrication, meet the traditional tools of the architect.

– You will editorialise your portfolio into bespoke publications. You will keep a weekly hold on the progress of you project through a well handled sketchbook (1). You will be documenting your thought process through numerous iterations of your ideas eventually compiled to unravel the development of your project (2). Your final proposals will form a succinct portfolio that allows a fast track view of the results of an intense period of productivity. All three will be entirely appropriate to the project it represents, designed to convey another facet of your project, an editorial attitude towards your architecture.


Los Angeles has been compared to the circuit board – as a vast network of information and movement, where the hierarchy and importance of spaces is not immediately understood from its physical experience. It speaks of the ‘language of movement not monument’ (Reyner Banham). The city is a sprawling series of fantastical infrastructures that have a direct relationship to four key systems that allow it to function.

Although they have appeared as backdrops or settings in films and popular culture, these infrastructures are not in themselves necessarily used to sell the image and mythology of L.A.

You will begin the year by choosing to investigate one of the four following systems:

Air: Los Angeles is famous for its aerial view. It was also the first city to instigate the painting of addresses onto the rooftops of urban and suburban buildings in order to assist Police helicopter surveillance. Uniquely, it maintains a ‘restricted-air-zone’ above Disneyland Anaheim within its urban centre. You will speculate on the relationship between the sprawl of the city and its viewing and reading from above.

Oil: The city is punctuated with a series of camouflaged oil wells and derricks disguised as innocent and mundane structures designed to blend into the grain of the city. Conversely, oil seeps and leaks from the ground in a number of bizarre landscape juxtapositions, such as the La Brea Tar Pits or the Inglewood Oil Field. You will investigate the relationship between L.A. and its underground reserves of ‘black gold’ and technologies for finding and extracting it.

Traffic: L.A. is commonly known as the car capital of the world, not only for its famous custom car culture but for its ‘anti-pedestrianism’. It has a complex traffic system comprising tens of thousands of magnetic sensors embedded into the surface of its elaborate freeway network. These are designed to regulate and control traffic through sensing vehicles, yet the city suffers from inordinate gridlock. You will look into the vehicle as a forming force behind both the layout and the image of the city.

River: The name Los Angeles River denotes what is essentially a gigantic storm drain. Its concrete base is the backdrop for many a Hollywood car-chase and its feeble stream of water has been navigated by illicit sailing clubs. It is however, a manifestation of man’s ability to curb nature – what was once a natural river, is now a dead-zone running through the city no longer reliant on it for water – existing only as a preventative flood measure. You will suggest new ways in which the ‘drain’ might re- manifest itself and become part of the city or assert itself as a river again.

Your project will result in the production of a final scaled model. This model will articulate the relationship between the tool you use to remotely visualise Los Angeles, and the systems you propose for your architecture asserting itself within the city. It will become a hybridised piece of work directly informed by this digital/physical juxtaposition.


Travelling to Los Angeles to explore the many narratives and territories that make up this unique city, we will visit Case Study Houses gazing out across the constellations of street lights below. We shall see the dream factories of Hollywood and fantastical realities such as the Curiosity Rover conjured up by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Blackbird Stealth Bomber in Palmdale. We will encounter architectures immortalised through film: Union Station, Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses and the Bradbury building. We will gaze across LAX’s runways, visit the first McDonald’s and the last drive-in movie theatre. We will meet architects and universities to compare how LA’s unique nature drives its architectural thinkers. We will traverse plug-in Suburbias and buildings designed to resemble computer punch cards.

We will experience the sites studied in the first term to assess the appropriateness of both the remote readings and subsequent proposals. Gaining first hand experience of the scale of the sites and the true context at ground level, we will compare and contrast all we think we knew about LA and the tools by which we know this, to the reality we find.

How far will our FACSIMILES reveal themselves as realities?

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