Never Built: Los Angeles will explore the “what if” Los Angeles. The exhibition investigates the values and untapped potential of a city still in search of itself. A thorough compendium of projects that only saw the drawing board, the project asks: Why is Los Angeles a mecca for great architects, yet so lacking in urban innovation?
Co-curated by Sam Lubell and Greg Goldin, the show looks at visionary works that had the greatest potential to reshape the city, from buildings to master plans, parks to follies and transportation proposals any of which could have transformed both the physical reality and the collective perception of the metropolis. The stories surrounding these projects shed light on a reluctant city whose institutions and infrastructure have often undermined inventive, challenging urban schemes.
Large-scale visions include Olmsted and Bartholomew’s groundbreaking 1930 “Plan for the Los Angeles Region,” which if it hadn’t been upended by business groups would have increased the amount of green space in the notoriously park-poor city fivefold; the Maguire Group’s 1980 plan for Grand Avenue, which would have injected unity and architectural exclamation into the placeless spine of downtown; and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Doheny Ranch, which would have replaced the monotonous suburban housing model with a collection of unique buildings clustered in a landscape of dramatic terraces and ravines.
Unrealized buildings include Rem Koolhaas’s 2001 plan for LACMA, which would have united the disjointed complex under a giant plastic roof; Jean Nouvel’s 2008 Green Blade, a condominium tower entirely clad in cascading plants; and John Lautner’s Alto Capistrano, a series of spaceship-like apartments hovering above a mixed-use development. There were low- to moderate-income housing projects, 150-story towers, and plans for over 100 miles of subway tunnels. The list goes on, decade after decade.
Many of these schemes-promoting a denser, more vibrant city-still have relevance today, and many could inspire future projects. The projects beg the question: Why were they never built? Unlike most great cities in recent and ancient history, in Los Angeles nearly 100 years of booming prosperity has yielded little architectural or urban greatness. Think of Chicago’s skyscrapers and New York’s downtown and midtown grids. Think of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and the bridges of Paris. Even small cities, bursting with civic energy, produce masterpieces. Seattle commissioned Rem Koolhaas to build a library. A small town in rural France generated the world’s greatest modern bridge, the viaduct at Millau. Ambition is written in the stone and steel and streets of cities. But in Los Angeles a genius for public architecture is largely missing.
Never Built examines what it is about Los Angeles that causes grand architectural schemes to flounder. Is it the political power too highly concentrated in unelected and usually invisible commissions, from the airport to parks to public works – an unintended consequence of Progressive era government reforms? Is it the inheritance of meritocracy, which puts vast bureaucracies of engineers ahead of visionary architects, without portfolio? Is it the sheer size of the region, which often discourages consensus around any one vision? Or has this problem more to do with the siphoning of cultural talent and drive into Hollywood, where ideas and ambitions are closely held and rarely converted into public gestures or endowments?
The show will contain dozens of illustrations exploring the visceral (and sometimes misleading) power of architectural ideas conveyed through renderings, blueprints, models, and the lost art of hand drawing. Through these images, and accompanying narratives, the city is interpreted in a new light, with discarded projects understood as art. Never Built probes these schemes, setting the stage for a renewed interest in visionary projects in Los Angeles.