8 Hours BEFORE
Los Angeles. It's midnight, I've already taken my sleeping pills and too lazy to reach the remote control to turn the tv off. I was semi-watching/listening the last few seconds of porno film world award-winning documentary, Pornucopia. As the theme music is winding down with fine drum work slowly blending into the vocals, telephone rings...its editor-in-chief who is attending a Muslim wedding in Las Vegas.
The basic conversation goes like this:
"Hey O, can you cover AIA06?"
"Damned if I do, damned if I don't. Sure. I guess"
"Okay, you're all set, an intern with the rental car is going to pick you up 9 in the morning. Take pictures too. If you don't do it, nobody will. I don't care myself but people are asking for it"
"Thanks chief, nice touch with the driver, super elegante"
This AIA 2006 National Convention And Design Exposition is so large and far reaching, even the downloadable PDF guide is 116 pages. Seminars, lectures and other educational events, networking and photo ops, star gazing and spotting, exhibitions, cocktails, dinners, breakfasts, more cocktails, tours, tours and more. I wonder if I will see that transparent wall detail everybody is raving about.
Key words are "high expectations" and "unprecedented" to describe my feelings at the magnitude of the moment. These are the capital-A Architecture years. If architecture doesn't look good, nothing else does.
I imagine even the business card printers are booked in the LA basin. We're talking hi-visibility Hollywood type of meet AIA has rarely seen before. Or, am I midnight-exaggerating?
The BIG EDIT
'Innovation, Engagement, Inspiration, Architecture on EDGE' is the captivating theme this year.
About 400-plus officially-scheduled events and probably three times as much unofficial ones, if you include some backyard bbq's in designer homes. Busloads of architects already have tickets to attend.
I get overwhelmed at first and want to check out the maximum number of events until the end, but I can't. Plus, I have to have enough time and energy to write about this on top of it.
I must eliminate, have an agenda, and simplify. I got only 30 minutes to come up with a plan, before the sleeping pills burst in my empty stomach.
I get on my lap-tupper and click on the editing mode and start eliminating events...that people have spent months planning and preparing.
First I cross out, without blinking, 'Fheng Shui for Architects' and a continuing education lecture titled 'Art is Architecture / Architecture is Art'. No second thoughts there. I don't want to lose my temper early in the game.
Other lectures, seminars, events, tours and parties follow in a stream of decisive deletes.
'Is China right for you?', 'New York/New Delhi?', 'Copy-Catting: Is it Flattery or Infringement?'
Out, red indeed. I decide to avoid events that end with question marks and there are few of those on the list.
"So far so good ", I say to myself.
Then comes the stuff I think I can better get the low-down in Archinect Forums. I spot about a several dozen of them at the least; gone. What a relief. Thanks Archinect.
My coverage is getting manageable, but still, I have to discard more. Tours of private homes by architects in West Side and Vicinity, Mid-Century Modern Overkill, Brentwood High-End, Case Study and All-Glass Home invasions are axed without remorse. They consume too much time with so much going on. Plus, I've already seen the Fallingwater at Bear Run twice and drive-by Irving Gills, FLW and his son LW, Schindlers, Sorianos, Eames, Kappes, Gehrys, Neutras and others on daily basis. No visits to architects offices either, I've seen enough and relate to real lives of the Lifers behind the happy faces and flat screens, which makes me sad.
Although it would be great to go and eat a ham and cheese sandwich on the greens and watch movers and shakers and architects from Dubai and Alpolic Men putter around the Donald Trump Signature Design golf holes, I hesitantly let go of the idea of attending my midnight fantasy, the 10 th. Annual Chancellor's Cup Golf Open in Luxurious Palos Verdes where the course design tempts golfers to take risks and rewards well-placed shots. How true of golf's benefits to your business. Well-placed shots in Palos Verdes. Rewarded. I think a few business park contracts will be nodded in PV (around 144 golfitects attended at the time of the proof reading.)
Good going with editing. Few more not-for-me items like: 'Dine in Style' restaurant trips, and, hear/see Thom Mayne and Richard Koshalek, who says "designers should go into government and be leaders", but is introduced himself as the 'Thought Leader' which sounds a bit Orwellian and overrated for yours truly.
'Universal Studios Back Lot Tour w/ Cocktail Party' is out as well, and whole bunch of similar events which are mainly designed for corporate VIP's who are attending the convention out of town with their favorite 'date' and who are well versed to mingle and know of Hotel Figueroa's Casablanca Suite adjacent to Convention Center. I imagine, this caption from the convention guide is for them:
"Clothes to Bring:
The word casual was invented here-typical
dress codes for other cities just don't apply.
Hollywood's influences are prevalent and
dictate style so you'll always fit in if you wear
black. Pack your swimsuit and sunscreen for
our world-famous beaches when you've got
some downtime during the convention or want
to send your family for some fun-in-the-sun!"
What can I say? Black is black. Just add the music.
To be honest, I really just don't see how a responsible and ethical and concerned architect could go to beach and get a suntan, while their colleagues are busting their asses to make the right architecture profitable again, shaping the future. Gimme a break--pardon me--gimme the sunscreen. Huh?
I'd like to catch, Practicing Ethically: Giving Credit Where Credit is Due. And a few more titles I'd be interested if I don't get too emotional when I get there:
* the next architect: new paradigms in pro practice
* green building confessions
* building nuggets: the dilemma of salvage
* designing tomorrows architect
Finally, after 30 minutes of intense adobe acrobat browsing the 'guide' and plotting my game, I have the plan of action.
After the rigorous editing, I have plenty of time to hang out at the cafeteria area where i want to be anyway and I plan to attend the (turn up the speakers...) "WORLD PARTY", mainly there for: prospective, new and young members and old usual suspects, who want to dance and win awards and become stars for few hours on Olvera St, where I interviewed Glen Small...who is flat broke and has not been asked to do anything with the convention and its gazillion architecture related events.
If architecture is on edge, so am I. Pressward Ho.
I decide to go incognito and plant some copies of Team 10's DOORN MANIFESTO on a few strategic places as soon as I arrive just to get the whole job going. Next, I check and keep my eyes open for any sweepstake deals going on somewhere, a free SUV would be nice. After that, I go up to my base, the press room cafeteria from where I quickly put Archinect.com shortcuts on desktops available to reporters.
I've never seen so many architects under one roof. They are everywhere with name tags as far as Baltimore and Florida. How did they get here? Can you imagine everybody in the bathroom is an architect? When people notice my 'press' tag, they smile and pass the reefer (of course not...but similar). What a difference 'P-' word makes, power indeed. Electrical cable manufacturers, alarm sign-dealers, artistic finish reps, curtain-wallers, kitchen technology people and pre-fabbers; they all want to buy me breakfast, lunch, dinner. They must think I am a writer for the Blue Book. Most press people are basically ad space dealers.
The Texan architect with the nice camera and the sexy babe asks me what publication I work for, and when I mention I write for Archinect, he starts to talk about his recent projects and offers me whatever I want, if I write about his work (I look at his camera again). I say "no thanks" and divert the Payola attempt. I remember chief telling me not to take any bribes from strangers, unless it's computer software we can all use and benefit from. I walk the booths area and scale sexy women presenting interesting materials and delicious products. Not a surprise, its mostly a men-dominated industry and women are wearing bulletproof vests for good reasons, because all the guns are cocked at them.
I go to the AIA Village and they refuse my entry for free Vespa sweepstakes because I am not a member. Note: AIA no longer carries health insurance. According to the AIA Trust official I talked to: "AIA health insurance accounts dropped from 12,000 to 100 in 2004 due to high costs and they completely eliminated the health insurance program which were underwritten by others". There. Take two aspirin and hit the drawing boards.
So far I haven't really seen too much that is 'on edge' or inspiring or engaging or innovative, concerning the real issues architects like to talk about. Social conditions, war, peace, food supplies, water, crime and punishment, history, fair distribution of goods, etc. So far it is all about how to make good things more beautiful, more profitable and how to set up in another member's state of mind, if you know what I mean. And if you don't, fuck it, this article is poisonous for you.
That was the morning.
Instead of eating lunch, I had a dissatisfied reader. That is, somebody who recognized me and started to corner me about "how narrow minded I was when I didn't say anything too great about so and so, in one of my previous 'essays' and how I am nothing but a hound dog who bites the hand that feeds him". Auch! Like what, sir? Do you mean architectural writing degree xoxox , like saying amore to a three legged red dishwasher enough times to match the number of photos per page? Nope. "It ain't me..." is followed by two calmer-downers Tina put in my pillbox. No lunch but I am calm.
Architecture on Edge means a green badge also. Sustainability, ecology, environment, green design. These words are particularly prominent and found their way in most business cards I've been handed. For example; Bla Bla, vice president of green sales. Bli bla, sustainably green environmentaly safe petrochemical division head of sales. And many other good-for-you-and-good-for-our-country type of pitches. For some reason or another, everybody is against Arab oil. Not very convincing though, most of them are Dubai vendors as their picture galleries reveal with examples of their products and services photographed in UAE just recently. Manufacturers pushing so-called safe products before submitting to UL for certification. Most workshops taking a place at the convention are also sponsored by these companies. "Green up or drop dead" is a casual conversation. "Do you have a green light for my cigarette please?" (Asked in grey poupon accent).
This is a great place to introduce products and measure their popularity. The soy bean added insulation gig gets my attention. I notice people collecting free samples, brochures and asking to reps if they would be interested coming to their office bringing lunch and more product samples. Architects for free lunch, if you will.
I am convinced that construction industry beats up everything-else-industry. If there are no buildings, there are no cars, washers and dryers, and jobs. As if the fate of this nation totally depends on the number of plywood sheets and drywall panels, installed.
Hollywood? Just an industritito. Computers and electronics? Ditto. If you can compare the numbers, no one comes close to construction sector. If only architects were made to feel that 'building industry power' and thought about how to manipulate it. After all, we are master builders, aren't we?
Just a thought, imagine this: AIA going to Home Depot (or any other big box) and saying "you better listen what I have to say or you're getting a bad rap", and talking everybody into having an AIA booth and offer workshops each week to address the need and benefit of hiring an architect or two, to home owners and builders. Like, 'Architect is in' sessions. Excuse me for getting too far out, possibilities are endless, ahh...but you must first join.
I thought I would see many architects that I know but no. Funny sensation is...the whole event feels like part of who you are. The person in that golden suit could have been your classmate, the same guy you discussed architecture and poverty, many nights and days. She could be that girl who did those incredible drawings of floor plans at 3:00 am. Yes that's the feeling. Your extended relatives are here. Good or bad, rich or poor, member or not, student or full architect, men or women, everybody knows something about those long nights.
I look at the crowds and I see the faces behind those new stucco walls cross the street, red roofs down the hill and change-orders by the job site. I see complacent people working for survival, the industry that exploits them, and I see a less than heroic profession/art form. But I am quickly restored back to the mission at hand.
I am calm and uncollected. Sad too.
Why Glen Smalls are not here? Where are the subtopians? How come AIA didn't ask them to speak? And others? Why is there nobody howling about the state of things?
Why, here, the starchitectist Richard Koshalek is a thought leader? Why aren't there any debates and heated arguments? Why is nobody hitting the table with their shoe? What happened to Architecture Must Blaze people? Why did they turn into condo designers? Am I the only one who brought a sample manifesto to these meetings? Why is it all quiet on the Western Hall, regardless of so many architects walking around? If I stand up and scream "architecture must blaze, down with developers, architects unite" or something like that, people would throw me out of here for sure, if not communally kick my ass.
Forget about me, but, why the hell that guy in custom-made suit lost his sleep in architecture school? Or did he, really?
I am on the edge now.
The WORLD PARTY, FRIDAY, SATURDAY AND CONCLUSION
What an action-packed afternoon. I am now contemplating going to the "World Party". Good thing I have reserved couple of mild-speed Rx products, knowing this would happen.
I figure I go to SCI Arc before the profound discussions take place. Special exhibition there covers 200 linear yard of walls (btw, walls say what architecture is) with thousands of projects reading like, ummm, architecture as wall paper and unfortunately only 20 people show up to see or walk by when I was there due to the Thom Mayne cameo appearance on Olvera Street where the World Party was underway. I head on towards the party to snap some pictures and get out. My plan is to picture people cheating with extra-marital dates and French kissing in public. Sexual fantasy theme, as the chief would dig. But no matter how deep I gaze, I don't locate any socially unacceptable moves, not even a hand advance by anybody and it is too dark to see what's behind the bushes. I thought there would be people doing some good-book defying soft acts for sure. Instead, all I get a well behaved crowd not as loose as party webpage hoped. I just take pictures of some people, but decidedly stay away from the mobs and star architects. I do catch a glimpse of famous people on and off the stage posing for a group picture with that typical facial expression called 'paparazzi love smile', the grandpa-dearest of yellow smiley.
The party is dry and boring as predicted by me. Those award nights are only fun if you are one of the winners or have a trashy escort service lined up, a winning situation also.
In the backstage VIP section, I ran into Shelly Kappe who invites me to all Ray House Tours next day, which I go for couple of hours and see three houses by him within 100 yards of each other. It might as well be a Kappe Pl., just like Neutra Pl. in Silverlake. Architectural group tours give me the creeps but the saving grace was that I knew the owners of the one house and got a private tour. But the whole scene turned into a twilight zone when the bus arrived. Architects can be so inquisitive in tours, asking questions like:
"how do you keep all this glass clean?" and, "how did you get away without the railings?" with hosts answering, "we have a glass cleaning party every now and then!" and "they changed the handrail codes right after we moved in around the 60's."
Kappe Houses are interesting in that they visually take you to places without you physically moving an inch. His spaces don't stop. You can look but you won't see a line that doesn't depart, travel, connect or fly away into the canyons. He is daringly modern, moving you through the bottlenecks of organized combustion before dropping you in his poetry of space, architectural construction, scale, light and experiment. Hello Ray, once more. Se hablar xoxox, tambien.
Rewind to the Party...
Outside, the boarded up Olvera plaza is a different world, as the homeless dance to the music, there are at least half a dozen buses waiting to take people back to their hotels and cars. The World Party can't go on after 11:00 pm. I leave quietly and get on the Harbor freeway towards home and turn up the radio which is playing Clap Hands by Tom Waits.
At this point the membership tab for AIA is still too steep and benefits are mostly non-applicable for me.
But, 'to each his own', right? I know there is whole different side of the coin, better words, shining truth, the goodness, collective voice, representation and advocacy, education, and of course hands that feed. In short, this is definitely 'My AIA' right here, which does a tremendous job for the building industry sector.
I wanted to write more about the gossip but why bother, since there is so much of it already in the net.
This is hound dog. Live from the Edge. AIA06. Provoking discontent within reach. That's right, so what? Give me your dirty love. Architecture must revolt. Hear that? Now dance.
Los Angeles, 06/7-11/2006
Cast of Links in order of appearance:
Pornucopia & theme song by Arling & Cameron
AIA 2006 National Convention And Design Exposition
Donald Trump Signature Design Golfing
Annual Chancellor's Cup Golf Open in Luxurious Palos Verdes
"Designers should go into government and be leaders"
'Thought Leaders' and other special programs
plan of action
"WORLD PARTY" w/ sound
Glen Small interview
Team10 and THE DOORN MANIFESTO
United Arab Emirates
Khrushchev and his shoe in UN
The Uncanny and the Architecture of Deconstruction / Architecture Must Blaze also see Coop Himmelblau
la curbed, a special guest
Profound SCI Arc discussion
Maps to Neutra projects , bonus link
Clap Hands by Tom Waits, lyrics & music
internet gossip on the convention by Architectural Record editors xoxoxox galore
Doorn Manifesto Job
Homepage in cafeteria
Convention Hall and People
Robert F. Kennedy against Arab oil
Three Award Winning Projects at Convention Hall
SCI Arc Wall Exhibition
The World Party
Ray Kappe Tour
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.