The big catharsis for UCLA Architecture and Urban Design comes by way of RUMBLE, an all-school expo held at the end of the academic year, that includes student work, final reviews, program installations, and lectures. Mixing content from students, practitioners, critics and faculty, the event spans a full week in June, and gives the public a chance to peek into A.UD's world. This year’s RUMBLE included work from studios led by Neil Denari, Frank Gehry, Craig Hodgetts, Greg Lynn, Thom Mayne and many more, showcased across two campuses for the first time in A.UD history.
In addition to their facilities on the main campus in Westwood, UCLA acquired a giant airplane hanger in Playa Vista for its satellite Hercules campus, now home to SUPRASTUDIO, UCLA’s M.Arch II program. You can read more about the goings-on at Hercules from our visit in December. Similar in parts to Blue Tape, USC’s big-bang showcase for its entire architecture school, RUMBLE offers the public a unique chance to see the vast variety of work coming out of an architecture school, as well as mingle with students and faculty.
There is simply too much for one person to see every single thing that happens on a single day at RUMBLE -- I spent the morning of my visit on the Hercules campus, sitting in on the review for Thom Mayne’s studio in Cap Haitien, but then had to head out before Frank Gehry’s “Powerpack” review could begin, to catch presentations for Greg Lynn’s “Super Aero Robo Spatial” studio over on the Westwood campus. Feverish discussions are happening constantly, in corridors and courtyards far from reviews as much as within them, and the excitement is palpable (along with the exhaustion and anxiety).
Mayne’s ambitious studio, “Haiti Now / Cap-Haitien Now”, had students create a master plan for Haiti’s former capitol city, Cap Haitien, which is experiencing massive growing pains from rapid commercial and population increases, while also recuperating from the 2010 earthquake. The master plan would accommodate such rapid growth while preserving Cap Haitien’s historical identity, and use the city’s own heritage as assets for urban development. Student groups collaborated with the support of UNESCO, World Bank, the Haitian government’s Ministry of Tourism and the Office of the Mayor of Cap-Haitien, which provided (at least nominally) the connection to local representatives considered absolutely necessary for plans of this scale.
The projects were loosely varied by demographic or infrastructural focus, the entire city’s master plan divvied up between groups of half a dozen or so students. As such a drastically huge objective, after hearing two hours of presentations on water filtration systems and public health access, the critique stumbled to focus on any particulars of the students’ work, and instead chose to gripe about the affective political implications of such a master plan. This kind of critique be extremely frustrating, as it does not discuss the students’ work as it stands and in ways they can improve upon, and instead challenges the politics of the entire studio’s premise. Asking “should UCLA students have their hands in Cap Haitien’s development?”, while a necessary consideration for empathetic design, at this point does not serve the students to become better architects and urban planners -- why they are in school in the first place. The studio is effectively an urban planning assignment for architects, a forced consideration of the scale beyond the designed object and into the human ether, and one that students are constantly being berated for not having enough of in architecture projects.
A bit of added stress came by way of a “roving jury”, a gaggle of academics and practitioners (some affiliated with UCLA) including Sylvia Lavin and Jimenez Lai that dropped in on the critique well after most of the student presentations were finished, to add their two cents to the discussion. The concept behind a roving jury is admirable -- spontaneous contribution to critiques can liven up and perhaps break stagnating discussions. But the students do not necessarily benefit from such spontaneity, and such off-the-cuff comments can seem disruptive or uninformed when the speaker has literally been just dropped into the audience.
After relocating to the Westwood campus, I sat in on student presentations for Greg Lynn’s Super Aero Robo Spatial studio, where SUPRASTUDIO students imagined how to create robotic, flying buildings, with Boeing as an industry partner. I spoke with Lynn by phone after RUMBLE to learn more about the studio, you can listen to our conversation below:
Down the hall at Craig Hodgett’s “Excelsior” studio, students presented major building designs for a hotel at a pivotol Beverly Hills juncture. And across the way, the exhibition of Georgina Huljich’s undergraduate studio, “The Body of the Object”, displayed the gorgeous variety of forms derived from students’ exploration of software’s design impact. Part of A.UD’s undergraduate Digital Technology sequence, the course is meant to both get students comfortable with digital design methods as well as consider their conceptual and procedural implications for architectural products. For more about the studio, check out this brief interview with Huljich, hobbled together from a quick cell-phone call:
My final stop for the day was in Mark Mack’s “Stupid Cities/Intelligent Neighborhoods”, a research studio for urban design where students reimagined Los Angeles’ Venice neighborhood as a self-sufficient city, distinct from the car-dependent urbanism of the surrounding area. The abstract goal was to update a neighborhood’s outdated form of urban development into a more sustainable, networked urbanism. Students were given little programmatic restrictions on what “Venice CA 2020” could be, challenged with choosing the constraints and terms of their designs, as well as actually doing the design work, all in one academic year. I spoke with participating students Krysten Burton and Ellen Pierce after the critique:
RUMBLE is an essential event in the world of architectural education -- it creates a shared apex meeting for students across all disciplines, and puts the school on display for the local community, holding it accountable to the interior academic world and the external urban one. Aside from public engagement, though, year-end symposia like RUMBLE should make quality student critiques their top priority, to give students some sense of closure and constructive advice for their future work. Next year’s offerings from A.UD, including more with Thom Mayne’s “Now Institute” and a Hyperloop-themed studio with Craig Hodgetts, look awfully promising, and I can’t wait to see what students create.