On The Road: Driven By The Pleasure of Architecture

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Every new generation of designers wants to make its own mark. And for ambitious young architects that can be tricky in a profession that tends not to kick off for most practitioners until they reach their 40s. . . unless they create their own venues to showcase their work.

On The Road Jamie Kowal

Young Architects On The Road

Every new generation of designers wants to make its own mark. But for ambitious young architects that can be tricky in a career that tends not to kick off for most practitioners until they reach their 40s. . . unless they build a house for their parents, win an open competition or create their own venues to showcase their work.

The latter is what Jonathan Louie, Courtney Coffman, Danielle Rago and James Michael Tate (shown below, from left to right) have done, with On The Road, a series of five pop-up events exploring ideas in architecture, art and design in relation to specific locations in the Southland.

OTR on beach

On The Road began last summer as an expression of the designers’ frustration at the limitations of “A New Sculpturalism,” the show about contemporary architecture in Southern California at MOCA. Their first show, a display of drawings and models exhibited in U-Haul trucks, took place in June, right in front of the Geffen Contemporary, just before the opening of New Sculpturalism. In February this year they touched down at the Amado Hotel in Palm Springs for what reporter Carren Jao described in the Los Angeles Times as “an epic pool party — two days of follies. . .”

But this was, Jao wrote, “more than just poolside fun. The weekend of installations, coinciding with Palm Springs Modernism Week, was exploring the swimming pool as architectural space.” In one of the installations (shown top, and bottom of page) a “12-foot-diameter wire-frame beach ball rolled down the hotel roof and splashed into the hotel pool as a crowd of onlookers cheered. A tower made of a hundred bricks of ice — a reinvention of Allan Kaprow’s 1967 “Fluids” happening with the Pasadena Art Museum — slowly thawed at pool’s edge as participants swam close and indie rock blared.”

OTR lined up at Geffen

Their last event takes place this Saturday May 17, and takes its inspiration from L.A.’s most prominent icon, the Hollywood sign; six projects will be installed on the Hollywood sign trail, providing interesting sights for passing hikers.

Hillside Symbolic of Professional Endurance

“The first event was very much about projects in progress,” say the group. “It was put together in two weeks, which conceptually demands that it be contemporary work not work from the past. Our second event dealt with the occupation of conceptual and physical islands within the infrastructure of the city. Our third event was about the role of representation and domesticity and the actual physical object of the house. For our fourth event we sited the program poolside. Beyond fresh water the pool is a collector of people and objects within the domestic setting (see floating platonic solids in installation designed by Matthew Sullivan of AQQ, curated by Maura Lucking, below).”

On The Road floating shapes, Jaime Kowal

“The end is always more poetic,” they added. “For the fifth event we chose the hillside because of the climb and the endurance that it takes to build a young practice. From that specific site, you can overlook the city as an object and see where we’ve been over the past year.”

The team describes some of what you’ll see:


“Elly Ward‘s project explores ideas about narrative and the ability to interact with iconic letters that are otherwise at a distance from the viewer. For Guvenc Ozel, the idea of being in a physical space and being mediated by technology – moving between physical and digital realities when looking at either the Hollywood Sign or the city itself. MAS is interested in capturing the informal through a time-lapse video of how the trails are activated during the day by OtR5. Corey Fogel is interested in exploring the conversation about music and space here in LA and creating a work in a larger setting. Nicholas Hanna is interested in the idea of real estate/development and exploring the architectural object/built form in relation to the hillside. Narineh Mirzaeian‘s project Double Take is meant to be an indiscernible billboard, a lenticular surface designed to offer up alternating images of a continuous image (The Hollywood Sign) to passers by.”

OTR, Louie and car

Driven by Pleasure of Architecture Itself

Every generation has its preoccupations and style and ideological concerns – often in opposition or reaction to the previous one — so DnA wondered what motivates the sixty or so On The Road participants, ranging from their mid-20s to late 30s.

The projects of theirs that DnA has witnessed seem conceptual and cross-disciplinary; ranging from hand-drawn illustrations on the theme of headaches by Joe Alguire in the first pop-up to gigantic letters (being transported by Jonathan Louie, above), they exhibit less preoccupation with the digital experimentation that has informed the work of many late 30/early 40-somethings. Nor does the work appear to be motivated by the societal concerns nor the embrace of craft of some of that same prior generation. So what drives the On The Road designers?

The team wrote collectively to DnA that “On The Road was intended to tap into a diverse set of practices that weren’t quite on the radar yet. LA is big enough and complex enough that there isn’t one totalizing ideological position. We sample the full breadth and range of practices that are out there in LA; strategically making sure each program has diversity and tying into the broader culture of the city.  Our name itself – On the Road Project LA, conveys that we are not trying to solve a problem but rather taking on something for pleasure, curiosity, and growth.  Ultimately what drives all of us is the pleasure of architecture itself.”

All images by Jaime Kowal