Object Lesson: LA Live

[A landscape perversion:  the Staples Center and Nokia Theater in the larger LA Live landscape in downtown Los Angeles]

perverse [per-vurs]- willfully determined or disposed to go counter to what is expected or desired; contrary.

Further to our last post about which mentioned the NBA Playoffs (which I’m sure excited landscape architects across the nation) over on Grantland Bill Simmons writes about experiencing 6 playoff games (4 basketball, 2 hockey) in one weekend for three teams at the LA Live complex in Los Angeles:
My favorite LA Live story before last weekend:  A few months ago, a Kings [hockey] home game at Staples Center started at the exact same time as a Wiz Khalifa concert at the Nokia Theatre, inadvertently creating the single funniest swarm of congestion that’s ever happened.  Let’s just say there wasn’t a ton of overlap between the two fan bases.
Whereas Olmsted created landscapes of aesthetic effects that projected republican ideals of public space, and James Corner imagines the landscape as a totalized abstraction organized according to a notion of complexity, places like LA Live seem to conjure a special sort of visceral materialism and diversity of social relations.  Whether through a crass commercialism, logistical gymnastics (yo-yoing the performance surface of the Staples Center between ice and parquet 6 times in 74 hours), violent compositional and programmatic juxtaposition, or some brilliant concept interested in materializing a smorgasbord of American ideologies in one space, places like the LA Live Staples Center are capable of producing singular cultural moments that smash through design ideologies of complexity and contradiction, moving in to a sort of perversion of the public realm.
It should be noted that the Olmsted parks, and some contemporary creations such as Crissy Field or Brooklyn Bridge Park are proving robust enough to support a similar diversity of use and effect.  This is nicely illustrated in the fact that the Wiz himself also had a concert in Central Park just last summer.  However, places like LA Live seem to draw more from the historical vernacular park typology such as Coney Island or Elysian Fields than traditional European precedent or Olmstedian picturesque.  We’ve mentioned before the project of Brian Katen that looks at oval racing tracks in Virginia as materializations of cultural memory and social relations, and as Simmons notes, these sites are somehow capable of colliding and juxtaposing representatives from a variety of populations- an old white millionaire with a blond woman at his side settles in to watch The Dictator alongside two 18 year olds anticipating the appearance of Wiz.
[the notorious “shoot the freak” entertainment at Coney Island in Brooklyn, NY where contestants could shoot paintballs at a live person dodging and weaving behind old dryers and tires in a below-grade vacant lot; a bizarre and singular entertainment in an utterly perverse landscape]
Additionally, these places- arenas, theaters, stadiums- serve as singular materializations in the larger landscape; particular amalgamations of subway entrances, coaxial cables, impermeable asphalt, and gigantic light-emitter-diode assemblages.  A study might be underway in Brazil right now, looking at the relationship between the retrofit of the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro and the sweeping social changes occuring in the eccentric settlements at the urban periphery.  At least, we hope so.  Perhaps it will point to some possibilities that get beyond the park and the promenade and allow landscape architects to understand the conditions that give rise to these sort of perverse landscapes.

[It should be noted that Simmons has proven over the years to be a prolific, entertaining, and occasionally profound writer and cultural commentator.  That doesn’t excuse the tendency toward extremely inane jokes such as “personally, I would rather drive my car through the bike race and pancake some cyclists than take the L.A. subway.”  It’s not that he means those words- he obviously doesn’t- but just that it is a poor joke, not funny or interesting but a lazy throwaway.]

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