Wednesday, 15 December 2010

At UCLA You See LA

I went to the University of California, Los Angeles on the weekend of December 4th and 5th to the Spaces and Flows conference Being a psychogeographer, I was very excited to be able to walk in a totally new kind of urban space. This was my first visit to an American University and to the US. This is my blog on UCLA:

Mapping UCLA

Just having logged into the university site, I find that a high level article is discussing how recent research is using GIS to map geographic areas where fastfood is located, and comparing this to public health.

Putting Public Health Concerns on the Map

I also found this great map in the Daily Bruin (the UCLA newspaper), while I was there. It comes under the heading Crimewatch and maps the crime in a one week period on campus. These are my favourite crimes:

"On Nov. 27, a man yelling at security officers was escorted from the Doris Stein Eye Research Center."

I'm not exactly sure why I like this one, and why it makes me laugh. I think it's the specificity of the place name and the possibility that the chap may simply have been poked in the eye by a researcher.

"On Nov. 22, marijuana was confiscated from behind Canyon Point."

Well it is a university campus after all. What more can I say. If there wasn't any marijuana (or, by the way, illegal alcohol - it is a dry campus), I would be concerned.

University Architecture

The campus at UCLA is pristine, elegant and I would even say beautiful. Most of the buildings are of the style in my above photo, and like the ones below:

However, the campus does not seem to have a lot of 'character' probably because the architecture is not diverse enough to enable that. There were some modernist buildings as well, but most buildings were similar to the style of the ones above, built with the pale salmony-pink brick. It tended to give the campus a homogeneous look - which I guess some will find attractive and some not.

Urban Décor

This section of my blog looks at the usual psychogeographic urban phenomena that I tend to observe, and I will include a series of photos with short comments.

The university staff (maintenance, etc) seemed to have access to these buggies to enable them to move effectively around the space. I even saw a student with a suitcase on the back of one at one point:

These lovely little signs appeared on the pavement outside the sports stadium. I assume they guide the supporters to their terraces. The university mascot is a bear (Bruin the Bear, actually its called Joe). However, I would like to challenge that and propose that the lovely mango-tummied squirrels replace the bear. The Fox Squirrels are all over the campus. See my future blog for more images on the UCLA squirrels.

These signs were outside the Ackerman Union. They even remained overnight. Although they were located only in one specific area, I got the feeling that they would not be allowed on the University of Leeds campus, unless it was for a specific one-off event.

I was handed this document outside the union.

The following three images are of various types of pipes, although I don't know what the first one is. The last two were on the periphery of the campus. I really like the blue and red pipes next to each other.

I also found this 'No Dumping' notice on one of the roads surrounding the campus. I like these signs that are made of concrete and situated on roads and pavements. They are less dominating and aggressive than vertical signs. I've never seen any like this in the UK.

This is the UCLA Guest House, where I was staying, and below that is an interesting church that was very near the campus.

Aesthetic Observations

What I found particularly interesting is that on one level at least, UCLA reflects the way that LA operates spatially. There does not seem to be a centre to the UCLA campus. There was not even a central administration building that I could find where I could get information about the campus. I asked people but no-one seemed to know. Also, there is no main entrance, like for instance, there is at the University of Leeds (the Parkinson Building and its famous steps). There was only a number of insignificant entrances which were oriented around LA's favourite object: the car. Here is one:

The entrances were not designed for the person entering on foot, as they all lead to car parks. Nor were they designed as symbols of the university that may represent a brand, as indeed the Parkinson Tower does for the University of Leeds: University Tower

Note the tiny tower symbol on the logo:
University of Leeds

UCLA, like many campus universities is a mini city. But it is not a mini city in the conventional sense, it is much more like the Westin Bonaventure in its postmodern disorientation. The university buildings and those in the surrounding area, bleed into each other and do not appear clearly on relative sides of the distinctive boundaries like they do on the map provided online: UCLA campus map

I have walked around the periphery of the University of Leeds campus, and there is a much more clearly delineated line where the campus ends and begins: The Forgotten Solo Dérive

Letters from UCLA

I wanted to sign-off with a really juicy and appropriate quote from someone like Baudrillard, or maybe find an entertaining youtube video about campus life. Most of what I found on youtube were really gushy films that I just couldn't subject anyone to; some were university marketing department created ones. Anyway, I don't even think this one is ironic. I thought it was at first, but then, reading the responses, I doubt it. But it is worth looking at as it is the most creative and interesting of the ones I found:

UCLA University of California, Los Angeles, Westwood

This is Tina Richardson, situated in a studio flat in Headingley, signing-off...

Relates websites:
Wikipedia on UCLA
UCLA Bruins

Saturday, 11 December 2010

The Good Adventure: A Psychogeography of the Westin Bonaventure

A Miniature City

Before I went to LA this month, my only impression of the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Downtown LA was based on the text of Frederic Jameson: Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991). In his critique of postmodern architecture he uses the hotel as an example:

"...the Bonaventure aspires to being a total space, a complete world, a kind of miniature city; to this new total space meanwhile, corresponds a new collective practice, a new mode in which individuals move and congregate, something like the practice of a new and historically original kind of hypercrowd." (2009: 40).

What a perfect place to do some urban walking!

Westin Bonavanture

The Entryway is Always the Seam That Links the Building

"In this sense, then, ideally the minicity of Portman's Bonaventure ought not to have entrances at all, since the entryway is always the seam that links the building to the rest of the city that surrounds it: for it does not wish to be a part of the city but rather its equivalent and replacement or substitute." (2009: 40).

As I was walking to the Bonaventure I entered it at street level. When approaching the hotel it was difficult to get a good shot of it, as it's surrounded by flyovers and, as you can see from my first photo, trees. The point I entered was on South Figueroa Street. You don't really feel like you are entering a hotel as such, because really it isn't just a hotel. The section of the building you enter from there is not even shown in the image on Wikipedia. The top section - the shiny glass tubes - is floor 6 upwards. Floors 1-5 feel like they are underground, although they are not. They are the concrete base, which appears under the ground of what you see in the image. The top of this section forms its own outside floor, where the swimming pool is located. Here is the swimming pool, and below the image I took of the building from that level:

It is Our Pleasure to Welcome You as a Guest

This is how the little booklet of the hotel opens. It lists the facilities, services and eateries that belong to the hotel, including a revolving cocktail bar on floor 35 (the lift wouldn't take me there at the early time I went, though). But alongside the hotel services are many others provided by retailers that are not part of the hotel - because it is also a shopping centre. I even found a actual brewery right near the swimming pool.

The building is so complex that there are two massive illuminated displays that provide information on what is to be found in this giant minicity:

There are signposts, that look like street ones. They are colour-coded (if it is not apparent from the image, this one is yellow):

This is the floor plan, which shows a horizontal slice through the building.

The People Movers

Apparently this is how Portman described his elevators: "people movers". The four glass tubes that surround the central tubes, all have their own lifts. Each tube is not only colour-coded but also shape-coded. For example, the one below is green and square. This sign appears outside the relevant lift:

" seems to me that the escalators and elevators here henceforth replace movement but also, and above all, designate themselves as new reflexive signs and emblems of movement proper..." (2009: 42).

There are staircases, which are very apparent in the concrete base section. I'm not sure what they appear like above this level though. Below is a photo from under one of the staircases:

Since people don't tend to take stairs, and are not even encouraged to walk in LA in general, I was a little concerned that my behaviour may draw attention. But, I think because this place is not purely a hotel, anyone could potentially be there for a number of reasons, i.e. you don't have to be a hotel guest or hotel staff to be in the building.

Dynamic Paths and Narrative Paradigms

"...recent architectural theory has begun to borrow from narrative attempt to see our physical trajectories through such buildings as virtual narratives or stories, as dynamic paths and narrative paradigms which we as visitors are asked to fulfil and to complete with our own bodies and movements." (2009: 42).

The Westin Bonaventure is only the second building of which I have done an internal urban psychogeographic walk. The first one was the Union Church in Hunstanton: A Journey Around My Church However, this hotel lends itself perfectly to the psychogeographer because of the complexity of its space and the multiplicity of its signs; and, here, I mean literal signs. How fortunate I was to find that part of the building was under construction and, as with outside urban space, had all the relevant notices on display. Although the grey 'branded' ones were a little more stylish and more polite than the ones provided by the British Highways Department:

Here is a rather unfriendly sign I took near Kirkstall Electricity Substation in Leeds, UK. Please click here for the relevant blog: Kirkstall Valley Subdub or The Prozac Walk

Locating the Human Body

"So I come finally to my principal point here, that this latest mutation in space - postmodern hyperspace - has finally succeeded on transcending the capacities of the individual human body to locate itself, to organize its immediate surroundings perceptually, and cognitively map its position in a mappable external world." (2004: 44).

Most of us (in Cultural Studies, Postmodern Philosophy, Sociology, etc) are aware of Jameson's famous plea for the need for a cognitive map to help the postmodern subject navigate the urban (and psychic) domain. However, some of us relish in the profusion of reflexive signs (Baudrillard), the Spectacle (Debord) and our decentred place in a society that no longer has a cultural identity for us to pick up and put on, rather like a hat (Lyotard). Urban space may be confusing, it may be overcoded, it may even be psychologically distressing. Nevertheless, it is historically rich and culturally abundant, and maybe the best we can do is appreciate its complexity by attempting to spatially navigate it. By situating our physical bodies in these spaces, the osmotic effect makes them become benign and familiar. We no longer see urban space as something 'out there', but become connected to it in the most basic of ways: through the physical act of ambulation.

Relates websites:John C. Portman (architect)
Westin Bonaventure, LA (official site)

Bibliography:Jameson, Frederic. 2009. Postmodernism or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (London and New York: Verso).

Thursday, 9 December 2010

An Englishwoman in LA

I'm just back from a conference in LA (at UCLA) called Spaces and Flows where I gave a paper on schizocartography. I managed to get over there a couple of days before the conference in order to check out LA and do some urban walking. The following blogs will be covering a psychogeography of LA and will be appearing here on particulations over the next couple of weeks:

1 - An Englishwoman in LA (this blog)
2 - The Good Adventure: A Psychogeography of the Westin Bonaventure
3 - At UCLA You See LA (urban walking on UCLA campus)

You Can Check Out Any Time You Like But You Can Never Leave

These photos are views from my hotel in Downtown LA (Little Tokyo). The first one is from my hotel window (early morning), the second one is at street level.

The Hotel Miyako was really well situated for 'cultural' Downtown LA. I could walk to a number of galleries and museums and, more especially, the Westin Bonaventure which I really wanted to see thanks to Frederic Jameson:

Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism

Walk/Don't Walk

I was slightly disappointed not to see the Walk/Don't Walk signs that I associate with the States. Maybe they only exists in some states, or maybe they are a thing of the past:

Walk/Don't Walk

Instead they had a red hand and a white walking man. The red hand counts down after a while to tell you how many seconds you have left to cross. It took me a few crossings to work out what the protocol was - and the roads are big, so you don't want to get stuck halfway. It seems that even when the white walking man appears, that cars can turn into the road providing you are not on the crossing. I must admit, I was confused and slightly anxious when crossing at first, as it was early in the day and not many pedestrians were around to mimic. But eventually I worked it out by seeing what others did, and reading the instructions on the side of the road. By the end of my trip I was getting quite cocky and even running across when the red hand was counting down.


Urban Décor

Here is a sample of some of the urban décor that I came across.

I think I may start taking pictures of fire hydrants from around the world - we don't have them in the UK, or rather they are under man-hole covers. I got a nice image of a red one in Marrakesh when I was there in September. I took the above one in LA. They appear on the corner of every street.

Here is a heavily graffiti-ed rubbish bin (dumpster?). It's not artistic at all, but I was interested in the layers of graffiti that have appeared over time.

I had to take a photo of the signage for the bail bond agent as we don't have them in the UK. I went into the office to ask if I could take the photo. The manager was fine and appreciated that, being from the UK, they are of interest to foreigners.

This is how wikipedia describes Bail Bondsmen:
"A bail bond agent, or bondsman, is any person or corporation which will act as a surety and pledge money or property as bail for the appearance of a criminal defendant in court. Although banks, insurance companies and other similar institutions are usually the sureties on other types of contracts (for example, to bond a contractor who is under a contractual obligation to pay for the completion of a construction project) such entities are reluctant to put their depositors' or policyholders' funds at the kind of risk involved in posting a bail bond. Bail bond agents, on the other hand, are usually in the business to cater to criminal defendants, often securing their customers' release in just a few hours."

The above two images were taken quite close to each other in the region of Los Angeles St and Temple Street. I can't remember the exact location. I went into the mall. When I first spotted it on the map I was hoping for a really grand American mall like the ones you see in films. Sadly, it was more like an Arndale Centre (see my previous post on Headingley Arndale Centre: The Headingley Arndale Centre: Today and yesterday). Actually, it wasn't even really like an Arndale Centre, that would have been a compliment. It was one of those like the ones we get in the UK on the edge of towns. They are scruffy and concrete and look like they emerged in the 1970s. There's one in Norwich called Anglia Square which the Los Angeles Mall reminded me of: Anglia Square.

I liked the public art that looked like a space ship. It was massive and was really colourful in the sun. I don't have the name so can't look up any information on it. It looks like it might be Central American influenced. There were many homeless people in the area around the sculpture, on the surrounding benches. I saw lots of homeless people in Downtown LA and didn't even get as far as Skid Row. However, they do seem to have more 'stuff' than the UK homeless, which they moved around in shopping trolleys or by other means, sometimes piled over six feet high.

The Museum of Contemporary Art

MOCA is well worth a visit if you are in the area. There are works from Jasper Johns, Claes Oldenburg and Jackson Pollock in the permanent collection. The following images are from outside the gallery:

El Pueblo Historic Park

One afternoon I went to El Pueblo Historic Park which was about a 15 minute walk from my hotel. These are the images I took in that area. The mural photo came out really well. The park itself was a strange place, really rather like a non-place. It was quite fragmented. I couldn't work out who it was designed for. The Christmas tree looked strange to someone from the freezing north of the UK: seeing it in the sun surrounded by palm trees was very disorientating.

Be Yourself No Matter What They Say

I could have easily spent a week in Downtown LA, walking around the district. While I have not done a typical psychogeographic blog of the area (i.e. ignoring the obvious and taking photos of mostly signs and other urban phenomena), I hope that I have provided a somewhat alternative view to the conventional tourist approach. There were plenty of interesting buildings that I thought about photographing, for instance the Walt Disney Concert Hall, home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. Also, I didn't want to do a conventional psychogeographical urban walk and ignore objects that interested me. So, I guess, this blog is somewhere in between the two: neither anarchic, nor customary. I suppose it does reflect the title: An Englishwoman in LA. Perhaps this is my Crispesque subaltern response to Los Angeles. Because of this, and also because I may have short-changed those hardcore psychogeographers out there, I will close this blog by including the lyrics from the Stranglers song Dead Los Angeles. That way, no one can accuse me of totally selling out ; )

The Plastic Peaches There
On Concrete Beaches There
You See The Leeches There
You See The Leeches There
They're Soft Marshmallow There
It's Oh So Shallow There
In Dead Los Angeles
In Dead Los Angeles
The Dredged Up Mastodon
Has Got His Glasses On
He's Never Seen The Shit
From The La Brea Pit

The Lunar Base Camp There
With Burning Midnight Lamp
They Call It Frisbeeland
It's Just A Disneyland
Android Americans
Live In The Ruins There
In Dead Los Angeles
In Dead Los Angeles
The Dredged Up Mastodon
Has Got His Glasses On
He's Never Seen The Shit
From The La Brea Pit (repeat x 6)

They Get The Tremors There
Been Give Babylon
Plenty Of Companies
Such Lonely Company
I Hear A Symphony
Of Lonely Tympanis
In Dead Los Angeles
In Dead Los Angeles
The Dredged Up Mastodon
Has Got His Glasses On
He's Never Seen The Shit
From The La Brea Pit

Relates websites:
The Stranglers, The Raven Album
Spaces and Flows
An Englishman in New York by Sting
Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)