Design, People and Nature: James Corner Field Operations; Hitoshi Abe

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At a talk he gave last Monday, the landscape architect James Corner, of the firm Field Operations (seen in white with blue baseball cap, left) declared that one of the biggest changes in the design of public space is that today the client is truly “public.”

“We no longer work for kings,” he said, adding later that if he were ever to do a book about his firm’s work, it could be as much about the people he and his team have met, as they hopscotch the world, as the designs themselves.  In Santa Monica one of those personalities might include the ponytailed former Mayor Michael Feinstein, who amuses Corner with his schtick of gliding into every meeting on roller blades.

Corner, whose projects include the High Line in Manhattan, Fresh Kills on Staten Island, huge urban planning projects in China as well as the unfolding Palisades Garden Walk and Town Square in Santa Monica, is a very effective practioner of community-based design, inasmuch as he and his firm have developed a systematic process that envelopes the public while never losing sight of a larger idea.

In Santa Monica the process began last year with people visiting the site, and offering up their preferences for views, favorite spots, and hoped for elements in a new park. This was followed by workshops where groups pondered design proposals, numerous meetings between FO and the plethora of local commissions, and presentations before the City Council.

Along the way Corner appeared, even in the face of efforts to dial back his design, persistently unflappable and effortlessly political, as demonstrated at a City Council meeting when he innocently called on Councilmembers to “advise” him on whether they want something bold or  simply “competent.” Hear him and the multiple participants in the process of creating Santa Monica’s new civic park on this today’s DnA.

Little Tokyo Design Week. Abe is a native of Sendai, the nearest major city in Japan to the epicentre of the  March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which transformed LTDW’s proposed celebration of Japanese and Angeleno ingenuity into an event that also honors the tragedy.

LTDW will raise money for victims, showcase such relevant products as Daiwa’s prototypical robotic shelter and command center, EDV-01, and consider the essential connection between technology and nature. Abe speaks movingly of his efforts to gain connection with his family immediately after the quake, and the lessons about nature’s power that he and other architects have taken away from the devastation, and from their forefathers.

Michael Sylvester approaches the same theme with two exhibits he discusses that will be at Dwell on Design, starting this Friday: Yakitate, a show of “freshly baked” furniture, accessories and art; and Sasaki, a performance artist who renders people’s “empathy” through tracking their heart beat in red paint. Hear more on today’s DnA and read more, here.