Los Angeles Design Group, an architectural firm in Hollywood has combined pure research with an economically successful practice engaged in projects in a range of scales. At a recent lecture at SciArc (www.sciarc.edu) principal Andrew Holder presented a unique design process that starts with the goal 'to relentlessly question the fundamental assumptions of design and construction'. Included in this approach is an analysis that sometimes includes facetious examples within an apparently academic discourse.
Projects are often conceptualized using a common object as a somewhat tongue in cheek symbol that represents their design strategy. For a large redevelopment project in an industrial section of Houston that required a soccer stadium with parking at one end and a Chinese themed garden at the other end connected by a retail and entertainment strip the analytical model was a KFC spork. This object transitions from a highly functional device for conveying the disparate textures of chicken and mashed potatos to the mouth capped by a figurative and sculptural handle depicting 'the Colonel's' smiling countenance. The shaft of the fork carries the textual information 'Kentucky Fried Chicken'. A walking path through this project starts in a functional stadium, moves through connecting retail and concludes in the sculpted landscape of a garden.
Another project used the 'Sperry Topsider' shoe as a conceptual model for a retail space that stitched together the floor and walls with functional elements (display cases, seating and sales equipment furniture) into a unified branded whole.
A page from their website elaborates on the LADG philosophy:
We are a business committed to buildable, pragmatic architecture with the aid of a professional staff and sustainable balance sheet. We are also a design collective committed to advancing the state of architectural discourse through research, provocation, and novelty.
Our built work depends directly on our speculative, research-based projects. Speculative work is the laboratory which allows us to discover new solutions to design problems that can later be selectively borrowed and applied to commercial projects. The relationship between the two is analogous the relationship between concept cars and mass-production vehicles. The more radical design proposals of our speculative work inform our built work as innovations in structure, materials, form, program, and aesthetics. Our clients take advantage of forward-thinking design strategies without incurring the risks of experimentation. Our goal is not to produce innovation for its own sake, but to relentlessly question the fundamental assumptions of design and construction in order to find a solution that satisfies the specific demands of each project.
For our commercial clients, the portfolio demonstrates our design responses to practical building problems, long-term planning requirements, and issues of corporate branding and strategy. With any luck, these design responses will exhibit moments of beauty and visual sophistication. There are also moments in the portfolio, however, where our work is not easily identifiable as a conventional building type such as a house, office space, or retail interior. It may be difficult to identify some of the projects as architecture at all: the images may suggest something untoward if not outright weird, and the explanatory notes to a project will seem obtuse and inaccessible. This is as it should be. Despite the recent spate of reality television programs that encourage the novice to think that anyone can “build their vision” with a sufficient supply of hot glue and 2x4’s, architecture is an exclusive discipline with a body of research that is sometimes intended only for other architects.
For our academic audience, the portfolio may seem too loaded with projects that can be easily dismissed as conventional. That is also as it should be. For us, the radical, if it has any hope of situating itself in the world and disturbing the conventional order of the discipline, must emerge from a relentless exploration of real, built work. The projects on display here are motivated by a research agenda, albeit one that has been happily invaded by the errata of construction loans, general contractors, insurance policies, real estate agents, building codes, city council members, neighbors, and clients’ parents. This invasion is not an excuse; it is the optimism that our firm is finding an alternate path to the avant-garde. The analogy of concept and mass production vehicles is actually a fluid exchange of information as built and speculative projects freely influence and transform one another. Ours is a process of working into the radical as the work finds an aesthetic footing, organizes a commercial audience, and slowly alters the landscape of architectural desires and requirements.