Archives: Research

Graduate Summer Institute ’18 Project Archive

Summer 2018 welcomed the ’18-’19 UHI graduate cohort to the Summer Institute (fondly known as our ‘bootcamp’), led by Dr. Ben Leclair. With this intensive exposure to urban humanist methods, students began their preparation for work in and about Shanghai, as well as Los Angeles.   As an introduction to the graduate Summer Institute the students participated in thick mapping exercises focused on different aspects of the Chinatown neighborhood of DTLA.  The results were extremely diverse – from investigations on the role of language in urban space to the recollection of displaced urban memory, the maps worked to tackle counter-narratives through the urban humanist method of the thick map.   Transient / Durable Created by Spike Friedman, Heather Tipton, Ellie Tse, and Amy Zhou DURABLE_TRANSIENT.jpg   More than Chinatown Created by Lennox Chaiveera, Martha Kriley, Zizi Li, and Zhiyin Lin GroupB_map.png   Whose History Created by Taylor Dinehart, Kate Taylor-Hasty, Melissa Peter, and Cassie Halls unnamed (8).jpg   Contested Inscriptions Created by Bertha Calderon, Yidan Chen, Salvador Herrera, and Yushan Men CONTESTED INSCRIPTIONS.jpg   Muted Territories Created by Jacinta Williams, Ni Zhang, Paula Thomas, and Naveen Agrawal 1.jpg   (Im)Mobility Created by Claudia Diera, Annie Kao, Rayne Laborde, and Alma Villa IMmobility.jpg     The second project involved the conceptualization, direction, and editing of short films on an urban issue facing Los Angeles today.  Relying heavily on the method of filmic sensing, the students used the strong narrative capacity of film to bring these counter-narratives to life.  The resulting films focused on a wide range of issues, and were all filmed in or around Downtown Los Angeles.  Links to the student films can be found below.   Triforium Created by Spike Friedman, Heather Tipton, Ellie Tse, and Amy Zhou   More than CHINAtown Created by Lennox Chaiveera, Martha Kriley, Zizi Li, and Zhiyin Lin   Displaced Memories Created by Taylor Dinehart, Kate Taylor-Hasty, Melissa Peter, and Cassie Halls   Contested LA Created by Bertha Calderon, Yidan Chen, Salvador Herrera, and Yushan Men   Untold Stories Created by Jacinta Williams, Ni Zhang, Paula Thomas, and Naveen Agrawal   I ONLY LIKE ICE IN MY RASPADO Created by Claudia Diera, Annie Kao, Rayne Laborde, and Alma Villa    

All of the student work from the Summer Institute can be viewed on the inaugural UHI Summer Institute website created by this year’s cohort.

CDMX’18 Final Projects

Find links to materials created as part of the current cohort’s final projects from Mexico City —   Better Left Said (Aryeh Cohen, Isabel Duron, Kevin MacDougall, Siqi Zhang) Gentegrama (Alexander Abugov, Thomson Dryjanski, Carlos Guerrero Millán, Ryan Kurtzman, Paloma Olea Cohen, Melanie Xu) Dancing Peripheries (Natalia C. Cantu, Donatien Gam, Hiroshi Holloway, Joyce Sin Ying Ip, Cameron Phillips, Kaelyn Rodríguez) Calle Regina (Kim Zacarias, Dulce González, Ale Guerrero, Neta Nakash, Max Greenberg, Gabriela Barrios) Alameda (Izul de la Vega, Christian Duran, Daniel Greteman, and Hilary Malson; with Manuel Campina and Guillermo Chi of UAM)

Finding the Commons in LA: Short Films

Urban Humanities concluded its 2017 Fall seminar with a screening of students’ final projects: short films depicting various commons in Los Angeles, speculating on their potential futurity to reveal what is possible. Each film is linked below.         The Living Garage Filmmakers: Zhoufan Chen, Melanie Xu and Rebecca Svehla                                 Humanscapes Filmmakers: Aleli Balaguer, Christian Duran, Tianyu Kan, and Jenny Zhou                                 City Flow Filmmakers: Joyce Ip, Jian Xie, and Cameron Phillips                               The Undercommons of Beverly Hills Filmmakers: Siqi Zhang, Izul de la Vega, and Hilary Malson                                 Future Transit Filmmakers: Thomson Dryjanski, Jena Meeks, and Henry H. Yang                                 Trejoteria Filmmakers: Mark Kamish                                   The Network Common Filmmakers: Aryeh Cohen, Neta Nakash, and Kristen Young                                   Tsunami Filmmakers: Kevin MacDougall, Daniel Greteman, and Kaelyn Rodriguez                               DIY City  Filmmakers: Yessenia Juarez, Brian Lee, and Alejandra Guerrero                               The End Of Walls Filmmakers: Eric Lin, Gaby Barrios, and Isabel Durón                                 Make Yourself At Sidewalk Filmmakers: Alex Abugov, Esther Claudio, and Ryan Kurtzman

Tokyo Ghost Guide

The Urban Humanities Initiative would like to celebrate the end of a successful fall term. In preparation for the spring 2017 fieldwork in Tokyo, students participated in a series of evening seminars and workshops led by core faculty Dana Cuff, Maite Zubiaurre, and Benjamin Leclair, learning about the urban and cultural history of Tokyo. Specific focus was given to understanding how Tokyo has been repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt over time. This culminated in a final term project where students investigated sites of memory and erasure connected to key locations from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and created short visual and textual records of these sites using a number of different methods. These pieces, collected in the beautiful wooden box (pictured) and displayed in cityLAB, encompass the first part of the 2016-2017 year’s collective project, a Tokyo Ghost Guide, that will document erasures related to the upcoming 2020 Olympics.

Where are property rights worth more?

  In his paper, “Where are property right worth more? Assessing variation in the value of deeds across cities in Mexico,” Paavo Monkkonen, Assistant Professor in Urban and Regional Planning, examines the variation in the value of property rights to housing in Mexico, focusing specifically on the variation across urban housing markets. Roughly 30% of owner-occupied houses in Mexico do not have a proper deed, and houses without a deed are estimated to be 5% less valuable than similar houses with a full deed. These deeds are valued more in cities with more highly educated residents, more political competition, and more voting. Based on his findings, Monkkonen suggests subsidize titling for areas where titles are more valuable and for policymakers to reconsider property titling subsidies as poverty alleviation programs.   Click here to read the full article.  

Creative Placemaking in Rural Areas

  Margo Handwerker, Lecturer in Architecture and Urban Design, writes about creative placemaking at the intersection between her work as a theorist, researching art as a tool and artists as service providers, and as a practioner, using social practice to celebrate and survey the character of 21st century rural lives and landscapes. Her observations speak to the benefits and challenges for a social practice funded by creative placemaking initiatives, particularly within rural areas.   Click here to read the full article.  

The Decoder Ring: Raphael Montañez Ortiz, 1933-1952

  Chon Noriega, Director of the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center and Professor of Cinema and Media Studies, seeks to decode the life and work of artist, Raphael Montañez Ortiz. This essay looks at the artist when he was not an artist, but rather a Puerto Rican child growing up on the Lower East Side in 1930s and 40s. Exploring the confluence of urban blight, poverty, immigrant housing, and local arts venues, this essay shifts emphasis from the individual to an urban context within which simultaneous histories unfolded.   Click here to read the complete essay.  

DIEZ: 10 Artists, 10 Stories

  Charlene Villaseñor Black, Professor of Art History and Chicana/o Studies, in collaboration with LA-based director Roberto S. Oregel, present DIEZ: 10 Artists, 10 Stories–a feature-length film documenting the work, legacy, and mortality of 10 Chicana/o artists as they mentor the next generation of Chicana/o and Latina/o artists in Los Angeles. The work of these veterano artists of the Chicano activist movement of the 1960s and 70s work remains unknown by mainstream arts institutions. DIEZ illuminates these important but understudied artists, now in their 50s, 60s, and 70s, as they face the physical and emotional realities of aging.   Click here to access the complete project.  

La Caja Mágica

Seeking Literary Justice



In collaborating with Libros Schmibros, an independent lending library, students  explored how small-scale, staged literary interventions could have a productive impact on a given community, what came to be called  literary justice.

  La Caja Mágica is the symbolic and material center of the project–a chrome-coated plywood box that unfolds to reveal an interior of grass serving as a stool. The box stores grass mats, creating audience seating. The strange mirrored rolling box shifts to a storytelling space, containing all the necessary tools. It is a box, but also a storyteller’s seat; an object, but also a location.   Click here to download the complete project.     Libros_NO-SOUND 037 e     Libros_NO-SOUND 042e     Libros_NO-SOUND 085e     Libros_NO-SOUND 142e     Libros_NO-SOUND 170e  

The Twenty-Minute City

The Arrival
Film, 07:25:00, 2015

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In this short film, we explored the various modes of transportation by which Angelenos reached the Plaza the day we visited. What we realized about this site was that it was a place where the various modes in the “transportation palimpsest” of Los Angeles converge. Unlike critic Reyner Banham, we do not see this palimpsest as one where new developments cover and render invisible old formations. All these modes remain in use in the present, at least in this particular place. Using “filmic sensing” style, we gave viewers a chance to have an aestheticized experience of driving, taking a Metro bus or train, or bicycling to the Plaza. By hearing the same calm music throughout the film, viewers perceived a common dignity attainable to travelers on all these modes. The film finished with interviews where bus riders, drivers, and cyclists proudly proclaimed their identities as such. According to intersectionality theory, persons are more than just their race or gender. They find themselves within matrices of identity combination. To this mix, we add the typical modes of getting around town urban residents use. Instead of thinking about identity as purely spatial or cultural, we wanted to explore a way notions of temporality contribute to identity formation. Eliminating any sense of hierarchy amongst transportation modes, we countered attitudes denigrating the use of buses or cars because we fear such thinking leads to the devaluation of the lives of folks using such vehicles.

The Twenty-Minute City
Thick map, 2015

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With this image, we found a way to “thick” map Los Angeles by juxtaposing information about contemporary transportation times (from the website Walkscore) with media from the past and present. The amoebic shape at the center of the map is the space accessible to a person in twenty minutes via driving (without or with traffic), using the Metro, bicycling, or walking. The amount of space accessible to these drivers, bus riders, cyclists, or walkers varied by mode. What we realized was that more space was accessible to users with faster means of getting around town. That said, we provided information that illuminated the historical reasons why these modes were available, how users experienced the different modes, and when civic transformations opened opportunities for some modes to guarantee access to greater amounts of the city. With a smaller map depicting LA’s redlining, we showed that the freeways that make space more accessible in some directions were routed right through neighborhoods the federal government rated as unacceptable credit risks back in the 1930s. With insets conveying Twitter and newspaper quotations, we captured some of the attitudes Angelenos have publicly shared about their transportation experiences. Finally with layered cutouts from historic maps depicting the one mile eastwest from the Plaza, we showed what changes the “walking city” surrounding the city’s historic core has witnessed since the Eighteenth Century. What we learned with this map is that even with driving and freeways, a single city of Los Angeles does not exist. Today there is a driving city overlapping a persistent walking city. There is no reason one pattern must supplant any other. Following critic Raymond Williams, we believe the traffic itself constitutes a more meaningful form of settlement than “city,” for movement dictates what portions of the cityscape are accessible and therefore of interest to city dwellers located at any particular site.

The Twenty-Minute City (App)
Spatial justice proposal, 2015

Within this mobile application, users are able to evaluate their daily commute through a series of real time data sets that composite into your own personal URBAN LIFE INDEX. Condensed into four categories, your ULI allows you to visually track your environmental, economic, social, and health relationship to a particular mode of transportation including your daily carbon footprint, your daily expenses per transportation type, your daily commute time, and your daily calorie burning. By quantifying your daily commute, 20MC begins to allow users to understand how different forms of transportation affect their accessibility and relationship to their city and helps them to make more conscientious choices. Beyond a travel aid, 20MC allows users to actively engage with their city by alerting local agencies of infrastructure issues and their fellow citizens of hidden histories and experiences within the city. In the context of Los Angeles, the percentage of current roads and sidewalks in need of minor or major repair (i.e. potholes, broken/dispositioned sidewalks, etc.) is one of the nation’s highest. By allowing the public to photo tag problem areas, the application becomes a digital archive that agencies can access and utilize more effectively via realtime user input. It encourages exploration of the city through alternative means and routes with tours created by user input on locations throughout the Los Angeles region.


Checkpoint Checkmate

What’s in the Bag?
Film, 05:29:00, 2015

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While visiting La Placita, we came across an exhibit at the Museum of Social Justice that showed photographs by Julián Cardona. Part of the exhibit was a sample of a backpack and objects an immigrant might carry across the border. This inspired us to go around and ask people: “show us your backpack”. Among those that showed us their bags were tourists, workers, and even a homeless man that lives around La Placita. Our goal was to contrast what different people carry to visit La Placita, to cross that imaginary border into the man-made cultural plaza. We also wanted to contrast the bags to the one the undocumented immigrant might carry.
An Immigrant’s Guide to Los Angeles Checkpoints
Thick map, 2015

DUI Checkpoint Map_UHI Summer InstituteDUI Checkpoints

  After exploring the inside of and undocumented immigrant’s bag while crossing across the U.S. border, we starting thinking of the immigrant community already in the states. More than a backpack, a car is necessary in order to move around Los Ángeles. Just like an immigration check point at the border, LAPD sets up DUI and License checkpoints where unlicensed drivers risk having their cars towed even if they are not drinking. Across social media, several immigrant community groups share information weekly on DUI checkpoints, reported by LAPD and by the community members. We mapped both the LAPD official reported DUI checkpoints and those reported in social media, as well as where these checkpoints take place demographically: predominately Hispanic areas with a large number of foreign-born residents.    
Checkpoint Checkmate
Spatial justice proposal, 2015
  Thinking of our maps and the DUI checkpoints reported by the immigrant community via social media, our spatial justice project aimed to help them by making the reporting of the checkpoints easier. “Checkpoint Checkmate” is a website that allows you to check and report any DUI checkpoints going on around your area. It also allows the user to map an alternative route in order to avoid the checkpoints. Additionally, it has links to community resources such as legal help and immigrant non-profit organizations. It also proposes a “free ride” service, where a volunteer will pick you up in case you are encountered by a checkpoint.

La Plataforma Mosaico

La Placita de los Mosaicos
Film, 07:07:00, 2015

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Our filmic approach towards La Placita creates a mosaic of different voices, perspectives and pictures reproducing and/-or responding to the Plaza. One of the voices belongs to a member of the Mexican Culture, who – beneath the colorful commercial layer – is able to establish a truthful connection to the place and thus proves that it can offer authenticity. Our second voice is the one of an engaged tourist, who is willing to explore more than just the facade of the place, and is thus able not only to gain informational insights, but also to connect with the people who feel strongly for La Placita. In addition to showing how colorful and real La Placita can be, we also demonstrated the average ‘touristy’ approach to the place, representing the masses of people, who just see it as a ‘Latino DisneyLand’. Overall, we want to explore and demonstrate the colourfulness and complexity of this magic space in sounds, pictures and stories.

Boyle Heights: The Future Mosaic
Thick map, 2015

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Our map includes a three-layer historical, present and speculative component of the Boyle Heights neighborhood in Los Angeles. Going back to 1850’s we wanted to compare the relationship between the population rate increase and the makeup of the different ethnic groups overtime. Even though it started as an affluent white suburban neighborhood, Boyle Heights is now the home of many Mexican low-income families averaging $41K/year. This neighborhood is an ongoing, contested site for major present and future changes, located right next to the Arts District, an increasingly popular area with young professionals in creative industries with an average family income of $112K/year and a new bridge connecting these two neighborhoods expected to be completed in 2019. What will the future of Boyle Heights look like? The present conditions and near future events happening in Boyle Heights pose a series of valid speculations. Would La Placita move to Mariachi Plaza becoming the new “Hispanic Disneyland” as a form of capital gains? Would a New NFL Stadium take over the neighborhood? Would the current family housing be transformed into giant multi-family housing developments that current residents can no longer afford? Or perhaps a new downtown with mixed-use development skyscrapers? Looking at the history of other unfortunate events such as Chavez Ravine being wiped out to give place to the Dodger Stadium, our speculations are not far fetched. Would the community of Boyle Heights, a culturally rich place, have the power to prevent history from repeating itself?

La Plataforma Mosaico
Spatial justice proposal, 2015
  The Mosaic Platform is an interactive interface designed to facilitate and mediate information exchange between decision-makers, non-profit organizations and community members. The platform works in collaboration with physical and virtual infrastructures to address barriers to civic participation and achieve an equity-oriented planning process. For the neighborhood of Boyle Heights, a multi-nodal strategy of working with community organizations, such as Libros Schmibros, Puente Learning Center, and East Los Angeles Community Corporation (ELACC), and the paletero (ice-cream) vendors will create a network inclusive of hard-to-reach community members. Considering Boyle Heights’ residents, many of which are children and parents, the deployment of the familiar paletero workers become mobile hubs of engagement, reciprocally receiving information from community members as well as providing it. Community members will have direct access to historic information, planning resources and updates on community plans. In addition, they may pose concerns, questions, or thoughts to the city planning staff and policymakers who can use the exchange to better understand their constituency. Community organizations and centers in key everyday locations are also selected to expand the social and physical network, exchanging this data and interaction with the immediate neighborhood and paletero workers. This project realizes the paleteros’ social capital, such as knowledge of routes and family gathering locations, as part of a ground-up perspective. Although the situation of the paletero is legally contested, La Plataforma Mosaico poses the question of what the city be like if it were reconfigured following the paletero vendors’ circuits of information.


La Place(cita)
Film, 04:17:00, 2015

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La Place(cita) is largely motivated by the question: What is the relationship between place and identity. We began to explore this question in our short film, where we sought to understand the different uses of the space by asking people at the plaza two questions: what brought you here? and, where are you going next? Five short interviews revealed the complexities of the meaning of that space to different people, and the challenge in attempting to answer our initial question, as there exists layer upon layer upon layer of what the space is, means, or could be.
Free Speech and Paint in LA: A Radical Visitor Guide
Thick Map, 2015

Wk2_Think Mapping_print

  Free Speech and Paint in LA focuses on two perspectives of La Plaza–that of our very own Kendy Rivera and Angelica Becerra. To Kendy and Angelica, La Plaza as it is known today, is primarily a place of erasure. We therefore decided to create a map that attempted to make seen the unseen–to show the historic uses of La Plaza as a place of resistance and resilience in the struggle for Chicano/a identity in LA. The map serves not only as an alternative guide for the alternative visitor to the space, but also as a way of remembering and honoring the struggles of three historic figures and the artistic, socio-political movement they helped spur.
Spatial justice proposal, 2015
The final project is both a culmination and extension of our first two projects. At its core, it centralizes the notion that what makes a place is inextricably tied to who we are. From that, we can begin to understand how one space can become many different places based on who is being asked. We wanted to augment this notion of one space being many places by engaging the wider Angelino public–through the medium of critical cartography and (thick) map making–in the process of interpreting what Los Angeles means to them, and in turn discovering something new in themselves. The Result was M.Y.Place (Map Your Place), a website where Angelinos can interface with map making tools and interact with other map makers to create their own Los Angeles.


Film, 05:53:00, 2015
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Our group, Team Formal & Informal, focused on the question of erasure and displacement in each of our three projects. Our first project, a filmic ethnography, centered on the visible and erased history of La Placita and surrounding areas in downtown Los Angeles. We attempted to unerase the multicultural heritage of the space, as well as racially-driven acts of violence against minority racial and ethnic groups.  
Race and Erasure Around La Placita
Thick map, 2015

Thick Map

  This thick map further explores the theme of multiculturality and erasure in the area around La Placita. The map imagines a walkable path through the modern-day neighborhood, originating at Los Angeles Union Station, over the course of which the walker may learn the histories (erased to various degrees) at several locations along the path.  
Spatial Justice proposal, 2015
“” proposes an intervention to combat the spatial injustices of erasure and displacement. We envisioned the “” project with three subcomponents –, and – focusing on education, empowerment, and collective action, respectively. While each subcomponent is tied to a website at the corresponding URL, each also included real-world components, like QR stickers slapped on buildings, mobile clinics, and community action meetings.

Olympics Don’t Kill My Vibe

The Pleasure of La Placita
Film, 10:25:00, 2015
Shot at Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles, narrated by Vilma Cruz Baez of the Museum of Social Justice. The short film is a sensory ethnography of the square, with the idea of pleasure in all its forms creating a backdrop for the fieldwork that created it.   [youtube id=”JCzLEBQdUn4″ align=”center”]
Map, 2015
LA24-9_7 FINAL
Los Angeles is a contender in the bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics. The potential sites in question are spread across the city, in many diverse neighbourhoods. This “thick map” places some elements of contention in parallel with one another, namely; asthma, air quality, locations of the Rodney King Riots of ’92, food deserts, unemployment, and the locations of the Olympics. The graphic design uses the visual specifications of the 1984 LA Olympics.
Olympics Don’t Kill My Vibe
Spatial Justice Proposal, 2015
Following on from the theme of the LA24 thick map, this proposal looks more closely at how temporary spatial interventions could play out alongside the buildup to the Olympics in just under nine years time.

Epilogue to a Concession

Paris, Shanghai Video, 2015


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The film explores the imagination and re-imagination of lived spaces. Paris, Shanghai presents a coy critique on colonialism and its legacy. Scenes depict reproductions of quintessential Parisian elements and culture such as the Louvre, Mona Lisa, and small cafés serving macaroons scattered throughout the city. However, the narrator points out that the most iconic element of Paris, the Eiffel Tower has diminished in appearance behind the new emblems of progress and modernity, the skyscrapers.
Commoditized images of Parisian style key chains, postcards, and souvenirs asks the viewer to question who is this space for, the inhabitants or someone else? The film suggests that as people come and go, they shape the image of the city through bits and pieces of their own histories and experiences. For the inhabitants this space is home, for visitors it is a spectacle to be consumed.

Epilogue to a Concession: The Specter of the French Colonial in Contemporary Shanghai Thickmap, 2015


Thick Map draft copy


Short Essay

Shanghai’s French Concession existed from 1849 until its dissolution in 1943. During this period, the concession area, which grew to be large and important in Shanghai, was governed and policed under French authority, outside the control of the Chinese. This independent governance by the French Municipal Council resulted in a French-style infrastructure, including streetscapes and architecture that project the influence of 19th-century France. In spite of the official French identity of the concession, its actual population consisted of only a small minority of French residents. In 1920, for example, there were 530 French residents counted by the French Municipal Council; that same year, there were 166,667 Chinese residents. By 1930, the French were also outnumbered in their own jurisdiction by Russians, Americans and British residents.
The huge discrepancy between the actual population figures for the French – their quantitative presence in Shanghai – and the persistence of their cultural presence in the foreign popular consciousness raises an important question. Why is this area still known today as the French Concession? What about it has retained its “Frenchness,” in spite of the fact that most foreigners had fled the city by the time the People’s Liberation Army arrived in 1949, and the places subsequently stripped of their French names?
The French Concession began as a small area to the north of the old Chinese walled city, and as it expanded westward a major transit corridor developed on its east-west axis. Huaihai Road, as it is known today, was one of a few major transversal streets through the area. The road was originally known as RueSikang, and was surrounded by mostly rural residential land. Around 1900 the road became known as Avenue Paul Brunat, and during this era the street was lined with the mansion residences of wealthy businessmen.
In 1915 the road was renamed Avenue Joffre after General Joseph Joffre, a French military hero. In 1950 it was renamed again as Huaihai Road, but Avenue Joffre would be the name of the street through the so-called “golden age” of Shanghai, the era of neon lights and cosmopolitan modernity that peaked in the 1930s. The name Joffre is still sometimes used nostalgically today to connect contemporary Shanghai back to its pre-communist past. Avenue Joffre was sometimes compared to the Avenue des Champs-Elysées of Paris. Particularly during the period when it was known as Avenue Joffre, this Shanghai street shared distinctivecharacteristics with the typology of the Parisian avenues of the mid-to late-nineteenth century.
Though one would expect 1920s Chinese Nationalists to fervently oppose the presence of the concessions, in reality the autonomous governance of concession space created pockets of political freedom in the city, and many important political figures resided in the French Concession themselves. Though opposed to the entrenched power of foreigners in Shanghai, Nationalists like Sun Yat-Sen gravitated toward concession space not only for the relative freedoms it allowed them, but also because they were consumers of a new cosmopolitan lifestyle facilitated by China’s increasing interchange with the west. These privileged cosmopolitans “were people who had a degree of fluency in at least one foreign language. Some were converts to Christianity (as was Sun), while a few (such as Song) had been Christians from childhood. They were people who were likely to enjoy some or all of the following: Russian poetry, German classical music, American movies, Viennese-style cafés, French novels, and Japanese clothing styles.”
Post-reform Shanghai, open once again to the west and home to an increasing number of foreign companies and residents, has been subject to much comparison against the Shanghai of the 1930s, a wave of nostalgia promoted by both internal and external interests. However, the native Shanghainese long ago found their own meaning in the space of this street. While outsiders today often rely on the old colonial narratives of Shanghai, that version of history is irrelevant to those whose lived experience of the city carried the significance of this urban space from the nineteenth century through to the twenty-first.
Click here to download a complete PDF of the projects

The Urban Legend: Playful Contestation in Shanghai

The Cattle Slaughterer’s Daughter Video, 2015

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Shanghai is an urban space obsessed with modernization and global acknowledgement. However, constantly striving forward too quickly, without an eye for the past, can leave people, areas, and stories reformed or forgotten. Shanghai is not unique in this regard, but it is unique in its intersection of culture, business, space, politics, and the people that are shuffled among them. The Cattle Slaughterer’s Daughter shows more than the veneered image most conjure of Shanghai and takes one to the places and people not often seen.
This film makes artistic use of a fictional narrative over nonfictional footage of the city to take the viewer through these less-than-glamorous, yet intrinsic, parts of the city that are usually glossed over. Here, everyday people and changed/changing spaces interact. Humans rapidly shaped these new spaces, and in turn these new spaces reframe, and sometimes reshape, the human behaviors that occur therein.

The Urban Legend: Playful Contestation in Shanghai Thickmap, 2015

 Phoebe Claudia Luis-1Phoebe Claudia Luis-2

Short Essay

We — an architect, an urban planner, and an anthropologist — spent months learning about the 1933 Slaughterhouse before ever stepping foot in it. In our research we encountered two divergent narratives about the site. The first situates the slaughterhouse in a larger discourse about Shanghai’s emergence as a global city. Here it is understood to have been successfully transformed from an industrial relic into an architectural achievement set to inspire creative minds of the future. The second insists that the slaughterhouse remains haunted by its violent past and attributes its commercial failure to bad energy that pervades the space.
We wrestled with how to engage with these narratives, and began to wonder what was missing from them. Who built the abattoir? What happened there under socialism? Is it haunted? Answers evaded us; narratives refused to synthesize. We reached a crisis in our curiosity, and started to imagine how these contestations could possibly be a form of play: competing narratives need not be at odds with each other and actually have the potential to coalesce into a good story. By the time we finally arrived in Shanghai, the slaughterhouse had taken on a mythical dimension in our minds.
Once we walked through its doors, we found ourselves among high-walled ramps and concrete stairways leading us around the abattoir’s center atrium in disorienting loops. We collected images, impressions, and insights. And in the center, surprise encounters awaited us every time. Los Angeles was there in the form of a Nike marketing event for Kobe Bryant’s new shoe. An evangelical college student serenaded her mother with revolutionary songs. Glamorously attired young brides and grooms smiled brightly as flashing cameras captured their extravagant wedding ceremonies. These fragments became our mythology for the site, an epistemological journey transformed into a fantastical fable in our film. Rather than becoming experts in Shanghai or even our site, we became guided by feeling and emotion and committed ourselves to it.
Rather than generating knowledge, we provoked affect. Mapping our site became a subjective endeavor, where ultimately we encountered ourselves in the project, in the site, and in the city. We created a board game using a map of Shanghai’s Hongkou district as a base and our encounters with the slaughterhouse as multi-dimensional squares. This game is an experiment with memory, which we have tried to render literally and symbolically on the board before you. We invite you to play with us.
Click here to download a complete PDF of the projects

1寰9格3核3: The Shanghai Projector System

1寰9格3核3 Video, 2015


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1933: The Shanghai Projector is an investigation into the history and memory of Shanghai through the lens of one of its most iconic buildings, the former slaughterhouse that is now 1933老场坊. The film imagines the building acting as a kind of magical machine that is able to render different fragmented pieces of the city—images, memories, historical moments, dreams, fantasies, nightmares, and so on—into something new, just as a film projector takes singular images and sutures them together into movement. Additionally, it explores the building’s effect upon the subjectivity of the filmmakers, who appear within the film as figures being projected upon.
Throughout, the narrator continues ruminating on how the memory and history intertwine within 1933, using the different architectural features of the building to discuss deeper levels of meaning. At different points the projected-upon spectators reappear, emerging out of a multi-colored light wheel to observe. The final images gesture towards an uncertain future for the building and city, with distant figures moving along a foggy ocean shore and the narrator concluding, “The memory of the city will be projected into the city of the future.”

1寰9格3核3: The Shanghai Projection System Thickmap, 2015


Jonathan FangRu Cameron


Short Essay

Welcome to The 1933 Shanghai Projection System, a unique way to experience the global metropolis of Shanghai! As a distinctive product of Shanghai, the system utilizes one of the city’s most iconic buildings as the basis for engineering innovation. Making use of the particular spatial properties of this building such as the Umbellate Columns, the Covered Bridges, the Circular Walkways, the Spiral Stairways, the Lattice Windows, and the Open Atrium, and then passing them through the patented tri-part lens apparatus (寰Outside Lens-格Ramp Lens-核Core Lens) our dynamic system collects memory-fragments of the city and projects them in new and magical ways to any viewer.
Originally built by the Shanghai Municipal Council, 1933 Shanghai 老场坊 has had a long and layered past, changing its form and function along with the swirling winds of history. First, it was the foremost abattoir in the world providing fresh meat products to the Paris of the East, rendered with the top mechanized techniques of the day. Later, it served the health of our proletarian nation by producing a range of medicines as the Shanghai Great Wall Biomedical Factory. Now, as the visitors with face-to-face exposure to the arts and an enjoyable, trendy lifestyle.
Manufactured by The Shanghai Projection Group, formerly The Shanghai People’s Projection Factory of Hongkou District, The Shanghai Projector System utilizes every bit of the city’s history to full effect. It collects each memory-piece of the city, and folds them together to speculate on what might come, provoking new worlds from the most intimate of nostalgic memories to the most extravagant of utopian visions. Watch the Shanghai of 1933, 1949, 1957, 1966, 1972, 1985, 1994, 2010, 2015, or 2033 appear before you—every layer of the city that can and will exist can and will exist here in our projected Shanghai. You will truly experience the 魔都 (Magic Capital).
The projection starts with light pouring out from the glass floor of 1933’s Open Atrium. A shifting wheel of color, vibrant blues and reds, illuminates a hyper-reality. There is the click as the first image slides into place. Then, a fast moving parade of images spills out, opening portals into every corner of the city: a thousand shikumen, a thousand skylines, a thousand different faces of Shanghai’s people.
At the end, the vision from inside the projection clears but an imprint of the city remains. The experience of The Shanghai Projector will linger with the viewer for some time. Which Shanghai will they carry with them? Scenes replay, from the ramps of 1933, from the streets of Shanghai, from the viewer’s own life, in new collaged repetitions, sampled and brought together by the machine, projecting futures that are rendered from the city’s varied fragments. Shanghai will appear again and again from these projections, each time made anew, appearing out of the noisy sea of the past. Step inside The Shanghai Projector: Projecting the memories of the city into the city of the future!
Click here to download a complete PDF of the projects

Invisible Lujiazui (Unstoppable | Unseen)

Invisible Lujiazui Video, 2015

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The film documents the life of migrant workers in Shanghai’s newest financial center, Lujiazui. Migrant workers from smaller Chinese provinces, often unskilled, come to the district in search of better opportunities but end up finding jobs as street cleaners and office custodians. The life of a migrant worker is described as having little or no quality as most are poised to work 12 hour shifts every day and make very little income, approximately 2,000 RMB or $320 US dollars.
The film shows the cramped living quarters of migrant workers and the fragmentation of family, community, and life as a result of modernization in China. The film brings to light the hidden, gloomier side of rapid development. Demonstrating the city’s insatiable desire for resources and need for maintenance, the film asks the viewer to think about the true cost of modernization.

Invisible Lujiazui (Unstoppable | Unseen) Thickmap, 2015

A4 Spread Formerly Known as Invisible Lujiazui

Short Essay

Shanghai did not become a key node of global capital until the 1990s. According to the latest study from the Global and World Cities Research Network, Shanghai is currently ranked 8th in terms of integration, a measure of prominence in global trade and finance. Lujiazui, the central business district in Shanghai, has an iconic skyline that connotes financial power and global prominence. Foreign architects designed the tallest, most prominent ones –Shanghai Tower, Jin Mao Tower, Oriental Pearl Tower, and the Shanghai World Financial Center–which primarily host financial institutions. These buildings are meant to be held from afar and as sites from which to behold the surrounding city; they notably have observation decks on their top floors.

An immaculate glass-lined walkway standing several meters above ground connects the buildings. Tourists, both foreign and domestic, populate the walkway, gazing up at the towers. There are a large number of white-collar professionals on the walkway before business hours, during lunchtime, or in the evening. The ubiquitous presence of security guards outside the buildings imposes a particular air of control and importance to the area. Behind the visible street population, hundreds of uniformed workers clean and maintain every corner of Lujiazui day and night, making it inviting to people from around the world. This is a microcosm for the inequality within the city as well as the country.
Restrictions on internal migration were implemented during the Mao era through a registration system known as hukou. This system has exacerbated regional inequality and largely affected migrant workers from rural areas, known as the “floating population,” who move to cities in search of better work opportunities. Migrants without hukou are often forced to take jobs in the informal sector, which offer harsh working conditions and little pay. Migrant workers and their families are also excluded from most urban public services, and face additional challenges with social inclusion. Many of these workers internalize their marginality and feel invisible amid the iconic landscape in China. Ironically, their labor is essential for maintaining this image. This graphic image gives prominence to the workers in an attempt to flip the script of what this place symbolizes, and gives credit to those who physically maintain the area’s pristine image.
Click here to download a complete PDF of the projects

Shanghai Still Life

Shanghai Skyline, in Four Movements Video, 2015

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The film begins with a bite of an apple, a symbol of the big city. Taking advantage of an unconventional perspective, the film defocuses on Shanghai’s impressive skyline and refocuses the viewer on everyday movements, actions, and objects from the ground level. Through this camera technique, the film makers are able to accentuate the performative aspects of life that brings vitality into the stagnant image of a city.
Throughout the film, the viewer revisits the apple time and time again, each time another bite is taken from the apple. Food, eating, consuming is a reoccurring motif in the film. The focus on consumption till there is nothing left, is a critique of city life and its endless quest for resources as it reaches higher and higher into the sky.

Shanghai Still Life Thickmap, 2015

Noah Ellen Jenny

Short Essay

In our study of Lujiazui, Shanghai’s new financial district, we came to understand its skyscrapers as monuments of global capital and Chinese modernity. The Oriental Pearl Tower, the first building designed for this central business district in 1994, reaches 350 meters high. Currently, Lujiazui boasts one of the most skyscraper-condensed areas in the world. The Jinmao Tower, completed in 1999, extends 420.5 meters in height. In 2008, the Shanghai World Financial Center surpassed the Jinmao Tower at 492 meters. Now destined to be the second tallest building in the world, the Shanghai Tower is near completion at 632 meters. This race for height in just two decades mirrors Shanghai’s incredible gains in global visibility as a cosmopolitan city of the 21st century. Lujiazui was built to be seen by the world, but also at home from across the Huangpu River. This phenomenon of visual exhibition is also apparent in the spectacular shopping malls and even the Shanghai Biennale itself. The city’s speed of developing its built environment and its tendency towards display led Wasserstrom to propose Shanghai’s rise to modernity as a “special modernity.”
Journal Excerpt, March 20th, 2015: Lujiazui Day 1
I felt the gentle rocking of the high-speed train as I attempted to take a picture of the kilometers-per-hour sign. Transferring to the Metro, a wave of exhaustion came over me after the long flight from Los Angeles. I rubbed my dry eyes. The recorded voice announcing “Lujiazui,” prompted memories of the many miserably long bus-rides to the Pudong school where I taught English ten years earlier. The doors opened. I pushed my way past the crowds and filed in line onto the escalator. Once outside, I snapped a photo of the Oriental Pearl Tower with one hand as I rolled my small carry-on suitcase in the other. From the escalator up to the pedestrian walkway, continuing on to the railings, I overlooked the roundabout below. The sun was hot, hotter than I expected from the weather forecast. I became nervous I might never find my colleagues in the crowd. A bead of sweat ran down my back. Checking the time, I sent a we-chat, suggesting we meet at an obvious meeting spot – McDonald’s. While waiting, the overwhelming smell of fried food reminded my jet-lagged body that I had skipped dinner.
When I finally spotted my colleagues, I ran up to hug them. We strolled along the pedestrian walkway and ascended an escalator into the Super Brand Mall for lunch. After much deliberation and an increasing empty feeling in my stomach, we settled on a Thai restaurant with a spectacular view. We decided to head to the building that looks like a bottle opener after lunch to be true tourists and shoot some of our film at the observation deck. Initially shocked by the 180 RMB price, we were determined it was worth it. Boydid I regret this decision! Once I saw the glass panels underneath my feet at the 100th floor, my heart raced and my palms began to sweat. I retreated to the opaque floor near the elevator, sat down, and practiced deep breathing. After an ear-popping elevator descent, I pressed my hands to the sidewalk outside in gratitude. We walked to the convenient store for some snacks.
Revived and back on the pedestrian walkway, we set up our camera on the ground to capture images of feet. I set my camera on a tripod on a railing, zoomed way in, and…SMACK, it fell. What a defeat so early in the trip! On top of that, all of our phone batteries were drained. We went to Starbucks to charge our phones and we-chatted our friends about our plans for dinner and Chinese opera that night. After the show, we made plans for the next day over drinks. I arrived back to my hotel room— my legs aching from the amount of walking— and just barely managed to send an email off to my parents reporting on the day before my head hit the pillow.  
Click here to download a complete PDF of the projects

“The Past is Never Dead. It’s Not Even Past.”

Intersection Video, 2015

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The film guides the viewer on a visual journey through a small slice of Shanghai, an intersection presently known as Huaihai Zhong Lu and Maoming Nan Lu. The film creatively overlays historical and current footage of everyday life and landmarks to create a story that traverses time, space, and memory to capture the continuum of change in cities. Using two narrators, one French and one Chinese, the film adds another dimensionality to the reading of the space.
The narrative is entangled in subjective perspectives brought together by personal histories and a history of colonialism, capitalism, socialism, and globalism. Towards the end of the film, the French narrator asks “Where do you see Shanghai’s past in this intersection?” While the Chinese narrator asks “Where do you see Shanghai’s future in this intersection?” The film suggests that one’s projection and image of a space depends on the viewer’s own knowledge of history and context.

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”: Requiem for a Nun, by William Faulkner Thickmap, 2015

Humberto Andre Insky

Short Essay

An intersection requires that lines be on the same plane; it presupposes the existence of a plane in which two lines can cross. There are thousands such intersections in Shanghai. The one mapped in this study was conceived by the French imperial urban project in 1901. At the time, the main street was Rue Sikiang, but the central avenue of the French Concession would be remembered by its new 1915 name: Avenue Joffre. The intersection between Avenue Joffre and Rue Cardinal Mercier lies on a different plane than the one occupied by Huaihai Zhong Lu and Maoming Nan Lu, as the streets are known today. Many layers of history have accumulated in these hundred years giving the intersection relief, –a topography that varies with one’s relation to that history.
The physical form of the intersection, including the buildings at each of the corners, is fixed in space. It is a reality that is the same for all who pass through it. One corner is occupied by the grand Cathay Theater; diagonally opposite is the largest Uniqlo clothing store in the world; on the other diagonal are the Line 1 metro station and flagship store of the Gujin Underwear Company.
How each observer perceives (or chooses to perceive) the space is infinitely variable. One person may see a space shaped by global capitalism while another may be overwhelmed by nostalgia for a time when the Cathay Theater played only state sponsored movies. Yet another may remember having to flee their childhood home in 1937. These forces co-exist. They shaped, and continue to shape, the intersection.
As visitors to this intersection we develop a typology to make sense of it. The layers, like sedimentary deposits left by history, are too complex, too varied, too large and too charged to classify. We therefore rely on simplification and the familiar. We add one more reading, among the thousands created daily, to the palimpsest that is apparent to us. We focus on Nostalgia, Capitalism, Colonialism, and Globalism as forces that have left many interspersed layers, but also reveal other underlying laminations whose exact nature we can only surmise. We juxtapose the empirical and the imaginary, the past and present to suggest connections that span the intersection’s history.
Shanghai and this intersection resist simplifications. They cannot be reduced to binaries, or to single dominant forces. The physical intersection overlays conceptual intersections, and for each layer, there is another intersection. The capitalism that Uniqlo embodies is different from that found within the walls of the Cathay Theater or in the metro tunnel that runs underneath, or that projected by the Gujin electronic billboard. They operate in their own spheres, yet function on the same material plane where they inevitably intersect.  
Click here to download a complete PDF of the projects


Shanghai Becoming Video, 2015

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Focusing mainly on smart phone users, the film captures how the screen interfaces between the body and the built environment to shape spatial experiences and alter perceptions of reality. The intrapersonal to interpersonal relationship between the body, screen, and built environment is documented in three parts: Body, Cluster, and City. On an intrapersonal level, the screen is used as a tool for self-cultivation. Interpersonally, the screen is acts as a mode for communication, networking, and sharing via popular social networks such as Wechat.
The anonymous, semi-robotic narrator takes the viewer through very distinct locations in Shanghai where screens permeate the landscape: M50, the Bund, and Wujiaochang. Drawing from historical Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi and modern day philosopher Ana Greenspan, the narrator asks the viewer to think about how space is experienced, shared, and internalized in modern cities through bodily practices.

Body/Screen: Mapping Urban Intensity through Social Media Spectrums Thick Map, 2015

Di Addie Lucia

Short Essay

The body experiences the urban environment on a sensory spectrum. Yet as modes of perception expand into the digital sphere to include cell phone screens, where does the body end and environment begin? We propose the concept Body/Screen to capture the emerging interface between physical body and digital screen that often shapes spatial experience in Shanghai. The screen augments and alters the body – and its perception of the city. The Body/Screen generates an alternative cartography for the urban environment. While built screens render an expanse of luminous dashes and dots across Shanghai, the Body/Screen details the intensity of spatial experience that arises at the interface of the digitally embodied. We attend to the bodily scale of photo shares rather than big data to collage surprising and specific connections between Body/Screen and built environment.
The map employs social media spectrums to speculate upon the Body/Screen in the urban environment. Urban scholar Anna Greenspan points to the potential for cartography based on the electromagnetic spectrum of light and color, and we draw inspiration from her suggestion to consider social media in the spectrum of urban intensity. The map draws from the photo shares of four social media platforms active in China: Weibo, Flickr, Twitter and Instagram. These platforms represent a spectrum of social media representation, and they are central to the map because they have public content searchable by spatial hashtags. We map two spatial sites in Shanghai: #M50, a creative cluster; and #The Bund #Pudong #Lujiazui, beacons of modernity that bridge the river. We chose M50 as a creative community that spans the digital and physical. Artists and visitors post photos to share their digitally mediated experiences of a highly material space. We consider the Bund, Pudong and Lujiazui to be a singular site centered on the digital. Visitors traverse the luminous space with screen in hand; they click to capture and share online. Body/Screens panoramically capture built screens across the Bund to Pudong at night.
With photo shares in hand, we mapped the data in six spatial collages, three for each site, to generate relationships between Body/Screen and urban space. Collage form creates connections, and we collaged photos in degrees of transparency in order to uncover surprising patterns on social media. The top row represents #M50Shanghai, and the far left collage maps the body’s fusion with recurrent material and digital urbanscapes of street art and screens. The collage at top center brings out the body to choreograph its movement in the gallery spaces of M50. The top right collage maps the way in which bodies mirror spaces for social media sharing. The map of #TheBund #Pudong #Lujiazui traverses the bottom row, and the left collage maps the clusters of people and buildings on social media. The center examines the bodily perspective of social media sharing to juxtapose perspectives that look up at skyscrapers and those that look down at the body from the skyscrapers’ height. The last collage maps the contrast between static bodily poses and traffic movement.
The map literalizes the spectrum of urban intensity by projecting the collages’ recurrent colors and associative affective and physical concepts onto a spectrometer that spans the electromagnetic frequencies of cell phones. The spectrometer works on practical and poetic planes: it quantifies the range in which social media users share content on the electromagnetic spectrum; and it interpretatively qualifies the content users share. The spectrometer draws out dominant colors in photo shares and represents them by approximate rate of recurrence. The map conducts a poetic interpretation of the colors’ immaterial and material import between both spatial sites, signified in singular words on the spectrometer, to highlight the nuanced perception of urban experience the Body/Screen generates. The spectrometer draws upon the spectrum of social media photo shares to illustrate the range of Body/Screen experiences in built spaces.
Click here to download a complete PDF of the projects

M50 Unscripted

Shanghai Unscripted Video, 2015

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Who should art spaces serve? What kind of agency is involved when creating and allocating space to art and the people who want to experience it? Does culture control the answer to these questions? Shanghai Unscripted addresses these questions with a series of compelling visuals from the art space “M50” in Shanghai, and the “Arts District” of Downtown Los Angeles.
These two art spaces reflect contrasting demographics and, perhaps, contrasting ideals. The “Arts District” of Los Angeles is shown empty. The art is there on the walls but there are no people to enjoy it. Meanwhile the shots of “M50” depict a vibrant scene full of children experiencing and interacting with art.

M50 Unscripted  Thickmap, 2015


thickmap UHI

Short Essay

The story of how a cotton mill on 50 Moganshan Road transformed into a creative and trendy arts district dubbed M50 spans over 80 years. During its eight decades of development, M50 witnessed different political regimes and capitalistic incentives operating at national, local, and community levels. The repurposing of old industrial districts into arts districts is a global phenomenon. For M50, the socialist infrastructure set up by the Chinese government, the entrepreneurial marketing of Shanghai as a cosmopolitan city, and the ultimate development of grassroots activism motivated by cultural preservation, shaped its unique history and character. The maturation of this creative cluster to its current status would not have been possible without the collective actions taken by local artists, scholars, and politicians who argued for M50’s artistic and economic values.

* * *
The diverse history of M50 materializes in the textures of its architectural facades. The repetitive brick patterns interspersed with steel and concrete enable reflections into the building’s industrial past as well as visions into its future. In addition, M50’s spatial fabric creates private, public, and semi-public spaces that allow its users to fix, adapt, and collaborate in autonomous and imaginative ways. These spatial qualities also allow for agency, or the ability of actors in the space to make individual and collective choices motivated by their needs and desires rather than determined by structural or political constraints.
The indoor spaces of M50 house artworks of diverse media and serve as living and working areas for artists and their families, while its exterior spaces encourage and attract unscripted behaviors from people of all ages. These users— especially the children visitors—take advantage of its abandoned industrial relics and re-imagine the open spaces for adventure. Seemingly shabby conditions become fertile grounds for performing participatory, creative, and hands-on activities.  
Click here to download a complete PDF of the projects

Continuous Cities: Elysian

La Placita: Epicenter of Contested Identities

  Central Los Angeles was eviscerated as the city expanded and residents began commuting over longer distances. Redlining formalized the isolation of the city’s center, surrounding it with “hazardous” residential zones. This map exposes an alternative story of neighborhoods that are formative in the identity of LA, spaces of cultural contestation. The map aims to visualize the imprint of redlining and how it shaped communities in the long term. Although redlining is no longer formally applied, it continues to operate in more informal ways to maintain much of the area as excluded from the rest of the city.  

140829_UHI_Thick Map


Walking Home

Video (with found footage), 2014

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The video provides a narrative that connects La Placita, the “unmarked” center, to residential zones that redlining targeted. Following one street until reaching the first single-family house, the multiplicity of environment one traverses traveling from the center to two adjacent neighborhoods is shown.


Continuous Cities: Elysian

Physical Model, 2014


The planning and construction of Los Angeles highways are tied to the redlined zones as many dissect those areas. The model uses the highway as the embodiment of redlines as “divider” and represents the process of bridging over the divide through both collaboration and contestation. Each bridge represents a neighborhood’s aspiration of their ideal street and a radically new future.






Short Story 

  The Rift bisects Elysian. The wide freeway underneath the layers of bridges that stitch together the city above is a fragment of memory that invades the conscious, a persistent reminder of past transgressions, as one peaks down through small openings. For the traveler below, the city above is elusive, overshadowed by the underbelly of multiple bridges criss-crossing overhead. Looking up you may catch glimpses of ephemeral movements; guerilla squatters scaling down to reclaim abandoned bridges, assiduous historians recording the trail of entropy, construction workers dangling from the edge of an unfinished bridge, and the sound of a thousand Elysians cheerfully singing “Auld Lang Syne.”   In Elysian, the Anniversary bridges the past and the future. It is a nostalgic communal celebration of the original procession of citizens from the Plaza towards the dreaded Rift. First Bridge was constructed after a collective decision to do something about it. This made Elysian, which at the time was divided in two as “hazardous” and “desirable,” unified once again. Inhabitants were free to move to the new community, pursuing their dreams and ideals. Elysian became vibrant. Year after year, a new bridge is built and the opening of the new bridge closes off the previous one. The aspirations of one Elysian are replaced by the new bridge. Each bridge embodies a voice of the unheard, a dream previously squandered, a conflict left unresolved; bridges intersect, clash, extrude, demolish, and support new structures. Over the years, as inhabitants forge their ideals, the city is renewed by a process of continuous architectural and social reconfiguration through mixing, displacement, avoidance and welcoming.   Piercing the darkness of the Rift, a glowing cylinder protrudes from First Bridge: It reads, “The Rift has existed for centuries, carved by the founders of Elysian to sanitize the blighted parts of the city and isolate elements in society perceived as subversive. First Bridge was built to begin the process of city restoration through connectivity. Today, the historic connection is honored annually by the construction of a new bridge during the Anniversary.” After your eyes have adapted to the glare of sunlight, the rearview mirror is dominated by the massive scale of the layers of bridges; the two sides of the city almost vanishing in comparison.

Mirrored Cities: Memoria

La Placita: Mapping of the Third Space, Real-and-Imagined Spaces


The map attempts to map La Placita by capturing the perceived and conceived spaces as well as Soja’s “thirdspace” and lived space. It combines the former two and shows the dialectical connection between them. The map layers the cultural and social activities, visual richness, pedestrian mmovement and other attributes of La Placita with the experiential quality of streets and neighborhood. That thirdspace leaves possibilities for political, cultural, historical, and ethnographical interpretations.


La Plazita_Luis_2_final


Opening the Space of Difference: Histories and Memories of La Placita

Video, 2014

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The film investigates La Placita to understand what lies behind the façade of a tourist-oriented La Placita by exploring its lived space. There are five interviews, representing diverse perspectives and, at times, contested understandings about this historical site. These contested histories and emotional attachments form both thirdspaces and lived spaces.


Mirrored Cities: Memoria

Physical Model, 2014


The model abstracts memories and experiences that are embedded in physical space. The belief which forms the basis of the model is that the future can only be imagined through the reflections of the past. In Memoria, a web of past memories serves as a foundation that evokes the future of Los Angeles. When the past, present, and future are envisioned in the same space, lived space is realized in a fluid and amorphous way.





Short Story

  The city of webbed memories, Memoria is where reflections of the past evoke the imagined space of the future. Inhabitants of Memoria store their memories through strings and mirrors to permanently remind them of the past and to also serve as a foundation to the future. Some memories connect, while others do not, however its intricate connections remind inhabitants of their shared attachments to the city.   Dwellers built mirrors to reflect memories about the past when they see the past is fading out with the encroachment from the future. Some go to the mirrors to remember the past; some use the mirrors to learn about the lessons from the past to guide them in the future; others try to exchange or collage the different reflections. Because of their obsession with memories, sometimes it is hard for the residents of Memoria to distinguish between the past and the future. The future and the past blur when a person sees through the mirror. What the people in Memoria do always reflects a certain portion of the past. In Memoria, people project the future with the legacies from the past and the line between the past and the present is rather unclear.   A foundation of past memories are inescapable and those who travel deeper through the city become entangled in its web of mirrors. Those who travel through Memoria not only become lost in the strong connections of past memories, but begin to envision themselves in these memories through each reflection they encounter. Some are amazed at the richness of past reflections and the strong ties between what Memoria is now and what it was before. As one climbs higher into the webs, the past is always present, but the future becomes more clear when it is anchored in the past.

Cities & Time: Mneumonica

 Perceptions and Representations of Chineseness in Los Angeles Chinatown 1871-2014


This map juxtaposes perceptions of Chinese identity at the time of the Chinese Massacre in 1871 with the present day. It brings out a comparative subjective analysis over the two eras by putting the route of the massacre and route of parade which symbolize two kinds of movement – violent and willful. Using data from LA Times archives, historical maps, Yelp, the argument placed is that certain opinions have persisted through time and space. 


Team 4_Thick Map


 Welcome to Chinatown

 Video, 2014

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  The film is a fictionalized ethnography of LA Chinatown’s declining vitality. The emptiness of the area’s tourist destinations is striking and eerie, which contrasts with the diversity and energy of the surrounding areas. Shot in a “found footage” style, the film is a cinematic caricature of today’s Chinatown.  



Physical Model, 2014

Mneumonica is a fantasy inspired by the observations made on Chinatown’s past and present. The model explores the idea of cultural identity as an accumulative process rather than a fixed state of being. The imaginary city renders the accrued culture experience literally, stratifying time in space, encompassing the past, present and future.

Team 3_4

Team 3_3

Team 3_2

Team 3_1


Short Story

  The ancient city of Mneumonica was a place inhabited by wise men. They took great pride in their city because they labored to fill each brick and beam with their wisdom. Every road was righteous, every square was imbued with virtue. But after some time, signs of decay began to show: the pavement cracked, the paint peeled, and the buildings, once clean and bright, were stained with years of use. Because it was cobbled together with ideas as much as materials, the city’s morals decayed along with its structures. Those principles that once seemed such obvious paragons of goodness now betrayed evidence of corruption. Darkness seeped in.   A thousand years passed. A new group of men arrived in the city, either by road or by birth, and as they looked around them they saw only the rotten remains of the once-great city. They found it utterly uninhabitable. Decreeing that their predecessors’ mistakes must never be forgotten lest they be repeated, the men covered the ancient monuments with a transparent shroud before building a new city atop this lucent foundation. The new city’s floors were terraced upon the former rooftops; its topography was determined by the past.   Thus the residents of New Mneumonica were reminded of their ancestors’ sins whenever they looked down. But as they became increasingly familiar with their landscape of memory, the city below began to disappear in their eyes. Before long, they fell into the ways of their forefathers, and their city decayed as well.   This happened again and again. Mneumonica became a layered city. Finally, there came a generation of men who surveyed their city’s moral archaeology and understood that there would never be an end to the rebuilding of Mneumonicas. Knowing that their own rooftops would one day become foundations, they decided to top their buildings with giant mirrors. They hoped that this way, the city’s next residents would look down and see not only the past below their feet, but also the not-yet realized future.

Signs & Desire: Laformaterra

 Shifting Streetscapes and Cultural Continuity in Los Angeles’ Chinatown: The Geography of Golden Dragon Parades, 1885-2014


The map aims to capture the shifting streetscapes and cultural continuity in Los Angeles’ Chinatown, through the geography of the ongoing Chinese New Year parade. Despite the major change that the Chinatown got relocated, the continuity is maintained with parade. The La Placita and the event persist. The main emphasis is on the lived experience of the spaces. Historical maps and present day street views provide a sense of how spaces were used historically and in the present.



en-Counter Chinatown

 Video, 2014


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  The film is a dramatic representation of the frustration that emerges in the inquiry of the social and cultural significance of the TienHau Temple in Chinatown.  It explores the relationship between spatial and social anchoring of a religious institution within the community it is placed in. It also examines the practices and constituents of the social community around the temple. The film opens up a new space of interpretation by challenging the expectations.  

Laformaterra: Signs & Desire

 Physical Model, 2014


The model asks the question, what happens when “forms exhaust their variety and come apart” and the “end of cities begins”? (Calvino 139). The quadratic orientation illustrates how spatial forms serve as systems of signification that, when disassembled, exert the visitor to read the space differently and script their experience within it anew.

Team 4_4

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Team 4_1


Short Story

“Each city receives its form from the desert it opposes.” (Calvino 19)

“When the forms exhaust their variety and come apart, the end of cities begins.” (Calvino 139)

  Laformaterra can be encountered from four directions, and for each direction the city presents a different form. For visitors approaching from the South, Laformaterra appears as a symmetrical tower that constructs the future of the city in the vision of its orderly forebears, a weight upon the earth that holds the elements in place. In the lenses of visitors from the North, Laformaterra emerges as a fountain of renewal on a rudimentary plane.  The sloped hills reminds Northerners of the open land that preceded the city, and they imagine planting rows of orange trees to colonize the area.  The fountain waters the pictured orchards and creates a soothing space to harmonize new settlers. The city takes another transmutation for visitors arriving from the East, as it is the city of the future that rises above the levels of buried pasts. For them, it is a floating pavilion in which they see fantasies of the future removed from the past. From the West, the visitors see a cube on which to place the objects they bring with them from afar. The cube sits in an abyss, and their gaze congregates on it with the anxiety of objects weighing on eyelids. As visitors from each direction travel closer to the city, Laformaterra transforms once again. Forms cast upon the city come apart as visitors approach.  The white box dissolves into a maze of defamiliarization; the tower crumbles into a wonderland of play catching the earth.  The fountain disintegrates into open rings; the floating pavilion catches memories in the air so that the past informs the future without form. The disassemblage of structures casts into relief how the four facing cities construct a language of spatial forms that determine how visitors read Laformaterra.  The city deconstructs these languages and thus exerts visitors to script their experiences within it anew. The narrative of rescription overrides the narrative of inscription, circling around generative blankness. As forms disintegrate into the void, agency for interaction disperses in space.

Floating Cities: Mahindroo

Evolution of La Placita: Changing Narratives, Demographics, and Social Connections

  The map explores and contrasts the qualitative and quantitative aspects of data for La Placita from the perspectives of different time periods—1920s, 1940s, 1960s and 2000s. It also takes in account the role played by the various protagonists in the history of La Placita over the time period like institutions and political groups—Hollywood, City Hall, the Chicano activists, and LAUSD. Social Explorer (US Census) paints an incomplete picture of the racial demographics due to gaps in data and lack of details for period prior to 1940s. To put this information into a deeper context, layers of historical and more qualitative centered data is utilized. This data set encompasses historical documents (like “Lantern in the Western Sky”), photographs, other narrative or literary texts, or additional artifacts that draws attention to the stories that are silenced or erased.

Team 2 Thick map

 Team 2_Thick map


2014 Video (with found footage)

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The film centers around David Siqueiros’s mural, América Tropical. It is a multi-perspectival and quick-paced montage that comments on the “authoritative” pursuits of white-washing, preservation, and museumification.


Cabinet of Floating Cities

Physical Model, 2014


The theme of the physical model is subversion of the sequestered nature and inaccessibility of museums. An urban public museum is imagined where stories, art, future visions, and histories of Los Angeles converge through nonlinear and imaginative dioramic cubes.

Team 5_1

Team 5_4

Team 5_3

Team 5_2


Floating Cities: Mahindroo

  From the distance Mahindroo looks inaccessible. High walls rise out of the blazing white desert that surrounds the city, bleached and bone-like in the midday sun. To the traveler it doesn’t look like a city at all, but rather some absurd and sterile tomb, hardly worth approaching. They will be disappointed as rumors of Mahindroo’s splendors precede it. After all, why did they risk passage through oceans or mountains to reach the city? Standing at this distance, though, intimations of this expected city appear as mirages, like faded murals on white walls. Yet, when the traveler moves closer to the city—braving the inhospitable and sun drenched surroundings of sand and concrete—something happens. They realize that the wall is not a wall at all, but rather a series of cubes stacked on top of each other that present the illusion of a wall. It is not solid and closed, but rather buoyant and open, with gaps for entering between each border. Is this a trick? Weariness? Or were the incandescent rumors of the city now solidified?Between the opening cracks of the walls, what had seemed sepulchral now seems full of life. The traveler enters the city. At first the space is just a void, like an extended courtyard or an empty room, stretching out the length of a city. In the center sits a beautiful, elephantine sized cube. Colors flash, linking to the crystal cubes of the outer walls, and the open space of the city is filled with scenes from Mahindroo’s days and nights.A flood of cities comes forth, stretching from its birth, long in the past, to its death, far into dreams. For the cubes are not the walls at all, but the city itself. The inhabitants of Mahindroo store their experiences in the walls of their city, and the walls project infinite combinations of what the city was, is, and will be.

Thick Cities: Una

Stalling Autopia, Driving a City

Los Angeles is a landscape dominated by autopia. When it is stalled, a florescence of activity emerges. This map documents the August 30th, 2014 Los Angeles City Birthday Celebration as a case study of La Placita, where scripted and spontaneous public movements converge. The extreme static caused by parking releases ecstatic movement and public journey. The restriction of car access to the plaza, in fact, emphasizes bodily movement as a potential means for signaling identity and creating an interactive space. The chronology of maps illustrates the progressive development of autopia surrounding La Placita. Through the years, La Placita has increasingly become its own isolated landscape surrounded by a sea of parking lots, streets, and highways; nevertheless, the site remains an active and vibrant destination.  

Thick Map_Team 1



Video, 7:09, 2014

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The visual narrative attempts to understand the movement produced by/with/for La Placita. It film collapses several movement experiences at La Placita during a holiday and an ordinary day into a single geography. It critiques the guided tour’s pretense of comprehensiveness through the Baeda-walk–a navigation tool, which directs the pedestrian protagonist and mediates her understanding of the contested heritage site.

Thick cities: Una

Physical Model, 2014

The model shows Una as a threshold city–a wedge into LA’s autopia that produces ecstatic movement of pedestrians, dancers, and bicyclists. The multipiclity of flexible itineraries encourages various pathways, speeds, and encounters. A canopy of shade manifests over spaces of collective publicness. Una’s people and shade co-construct one another.

team 6_4

team 6_2

team 6_1


Short Story

Let me tell you about Una: the threshold city of cities, gateway to the Five Wonders beyond. The roaring din screeches to a halt, and you shed your exoskeleton. You emerge up through ruptures in the ground; she awakens you with dazzling light.  The smell of decay dissipates.  Your skin warms under the glaring sun and your eyes focus on a bench here, a waterfall there, a picturesque lookout point.  A cascade of clouds suspend and protect you from the scorching sunshine. Motionless exoskeletons discarded below remain as fragments of decadence…fragments of a land where travelers encounter one another with fixed gazes and fixed itineraries. Above, without an armour, you become a part of the society ordered not by distinctions of wealth or authority, but rather governed by an ideal of collective motion.  In Una, lifestyles from all trades collide; merchants, pilgrims and laborers’ paths intersect. You cannot say that one aspect of the city is truer than the other, but you hear of Una above as something unmistakable, rare, and perhaps ecstatic. Una is inclined to behave with vibrancy.  I will describe to you her fluorescence and tell you how she whispers in your ear of freedom. Inhabitants delight in her momentum, moving you ever downward to the Five Wonders. You have always an option of pathways.  Standing from the top of her sloping mountain, you are reminded of water flowing as if carrying sailors, swimmers, and swans, and pausing to let them off to share merriment, dancing, and gossip.  The hovering cloud cover beckons you to stroll with others, liberated from anonymity.  Even at a glance, you imagine the pleasure of sliding down, the sensation on your skin as you are propelled across the expanse of space.  At the bottom of her reaches: samba dancers, accountants, trombonists, and senators gather as they approach the city walls looming ahead.  After you return from the Five Wonders, it is a slow climb back to the top of Una.


Red Velvet: Nostalgia in Shinjuku

The project examines the specific cultural memory and historical identity of Shinjuku through the examination of three specific technologies of memory and preservation: museums, shrines and temples, and nostalgic cafes and bars throughout the ward. We were looking for both the specific cultural history and memories of Shinjuku itself, as well as the city’s imbrication within and interaction with broader narratives of Tokyo, or of Japan. How does Shinjuku nostalgia or ideas of the city accommodate both Shinjuku as site of protest, and Shinjuku as the site of some of Tokyo’s greatest monuments to Japan’s postwar economic boom? Can both of these things be “celebrated” at once, and how? How, likewise, are these concrete factors of the sub-city’s history elided by, for example, consumer nostalgia, or preservations projects and museum items that focus more on a generalizable material culture. If an all-encompassing thirst for “things past” is what we see in the future, how is this future already being colonized or set up by Shinjuku’s present? How, moreover, do emerging social conditions like the ones we have seen in class readings (e.g. Precarious Japan) affect the conception and deployment of urban nostalgia? View the Project Document here or read the essay “Red Velvet: Nostalgia in Shinjuku” in the publication Shin-Shinjuku: New Tokyo, Again. 

Shinjuku Misguidance

Starting with the Museum of Modern Art’s 1975 exhibition Shinjuku—The Phenomenal City, the project looks towards ways in which expert knowledge, and the expert gaze, begin to construct types of urban knowledge. Specifically, the project looked to how differing experts have endeavored to communicate a sense of authenticity or historicity about the construction of sites like Shinjuku and the experience of its people, how these forms of investigation are then re-represented through exhibitions. From questioning how cities have been represented in museum institutions to categorizing the fundamental types of “expert methodologies” used and “re-performing” these methods in the streets of Tokyo, our intellectual processes is a way of coming to terms with the practice of geographically based research.   We understand that the site exists before we arrive at it, but might we also understand how sites become constructed upon our arrival? What if by challenging the expert-tourist’s gaze, we can perversely misread and misrepresent the site? Can purposeful misreading be a form of cartography that makes different sense of the world, and through its alterity provoke possible futures? Attempting to clarify how our research strategies and process could reflect the evolving nature of the Urban Humanities discipline, we continued to question the ways in which our project originated around a location which would then be traveled to and “studied.”   View the Project Document PDF here or browse the essay “Shinjuku Misguidance: How To Identify Specific Geographic Locations For Examination Within A 1.5 Km Radius Of The Shinjuku Station” in the publication Shin-Shinjuku: New Tokyo, Again. 

Golden Gai: A Manual for Intimate Publics

The Golden Gai district of Shinjuku is unmistakable for its narrow passageways and wooden structures that house a vast array of tiny bars and restaurants. The neighborhood is both a historic site and one of the area’s most popular tourist destinations. Such “yokocho” areas are common entertainment districts around main transit hubs throughout Japan, though they are often considered as old fashioned, unsafe, even destinations for dubious individuals. The Golden Gai has been threatened for redevelopment several times, with the city often citing its structural instability as the key concern. Our overarching question is: “What is the pattern or language of the Golden Gai?” Given the social, physical, and cultural complexity we’ll find in such a space, we set out to highlight the limitations of this project through a variety of methods, each yielding vastly different conclusions. This way the project makes explicit the dubious relationship between an object and its representation, between a place and its designed, planned reproduction. View the Project Document PDF here or browse the essay “Golden Gai: Manual for Intimate Publics” in the publication Shin-Shinjuku: New Tokyo, Again. 

Akichi Undercommons

Public spaces in megacities are never uniform in their management or representation, and Tokyo is no exception. Through our Urban Humanities project, we interrogate how despite being situated within close proximity to each other in a highly commercialized area of Tokyo, Citizen’s Plaza, Miyashita Park, and Yoyogi Park and their environs demonstrate different approaches to public space that pose divergent political possibilities. By directly examining the relationship between material and socio-political agents of public space, homeless people and their material belongings act in a way so as to problematize the top-down structures implied by citizenry and make available new forms of knowledge with which to re-define what it means to dwell in or occupy public space. Thus, this project seeks to interpret the gaps between national and non-national, citizen and noncitizen, national and non-national as sites for new forms of knowledge production, and to ascribe these open (Akichi), yet otherwise unactivated, or “undercommon” physical and ideological gaps in Tokyo with new urban identities. View theProject Document PDF here or browse the essay “Akichi Undercommons”, in the publication Shin-Shinjuku: New Tokyo, Again. 

Osaka World Expo

The 1970 World Exposition in Osaka was the first Expo to be held by an Asian country, and until recently, was the largest and most attended Expo in history. This project takes a closer examination at the dissonant voices (the state, the architects, the artists, and protesters) involved in the Expo as a way of interpreting the relationships between public events, public space, symbolic art, and engagement with anti-sentimentalities.
  • View the Project Document (PDF)  here


The project seeks to construct a visual re-mapping of Shuji Terayama’s plays as they shift between meanings of audience, actor, reality and fiction. Working from Terayama’s theoretical expansions of text as map and city as theater, the works selected and featured from his vast oeuvre show a distinct engagement with the ordinary space of life in Tokyo as he sought to question and pressure the boundaries between audience and actor, stage and street. Download the project document here or visit the digital version on ScrollKit

Okinawa wo Kaese

The song “Okinawa wo Kaese” represents a diffuse and ongoing form of vocal protest. The reproduction and modification of the song speaks to the flexibility and endurance of historical memory, politics, and protest within the genre of Uchinā pop in Okinawa. The project follows the iteration of the song from its original recording in Kyushu in the mid-1950s to later modifications; a Digital Thick Map provide a framework for examining the “Okinawa wo Kaese” song and the spatial geography of the 1995 protest in Okinawa. Download the project document (PDF format) here.


Comparing the places of political demonstrations with artistic performances, Body-Violence-City interrogates the dialectical relationship between the changing of social life and spatial transformation of Tokyo city during the late 1950s and the early 1960s. Download the project document (PDF format) here or visit the digital project.

Scripting Pershing

Mapping Pershing

Thick map, 2013

Pershing Square has been a prominent feature of downtown LA since the residential boom of the late 19th century. In its 163-year history, the Square has been the subject of continuing political and social debates. “Mapping Pershing” is composed of a series of thematic layers that illustrate a “Typical Day” in Pershing Square and considers the various physiological factors captured at a given moment, wherein, narratives of events, danger, and perceived restrictions implicitly inform navigation, and work to construct a new physical and social landscape. Sunlight Barriers Topographical translation of shaded areas by surrounding buildings into areas of desire, whereas, exposed, hot, and unobstructed areas produce soft-barriers for spatial flow Perceived Threats Topographical translation of physical drag, including moments of discomfort, authority, restricted access, danger, insecurity, unobstructed views, and confusion. Auditory/Vocal Obstruction Topographical translation of perceived moments of noise or sound measured in decibels, and represented in peaked landscapes. Auditory intensity is mapped as disruption of physical movement and trumps non-hierarchical circulation. Event Deterrence – Farmer’s Market and Concert The event personifies the restriction of space by temporality into a new, movement-based topography.


Pershing Problem

Video, 04:39:00,  2013

While the digital mapping project emphasized Pershing Square’s dozen- plus commissioned redesigns by “experts,” each of which betrays a scripted effort to define which public is the “correct” one to use the Square. With the visual narrative, it develops a conception of public space by exploring the tension between the “experts” and the public. To accomplish this, inspiration was drawn from psychogeography and performance art, incorporating de-skilled uses of marginal space: unconventional, irrational, and accidental uses of space. The narrative is based on a two-part agenda: first, it suggests that Pershing Square’s designs have inhibited the diverse uses of public space. Second, it extends a conclusion that Pershing Square’s redesigns are responses to a sense of accident embedded in the growth of space. The results demonstrate that such responses might well be futile: since neither physical nor invisible barriers can dictate how space is used, space will continue to grow organically, and the accident will continue to lie in wait.  


Excavation of the Great Cube



 “Let me tell you of the city of the Great Cube. When you visit the Cube, you sit looking outward from a skyscraper’s glass window, eye-level with the concrete monstrosity that faces you. Owing to the ingenuity of today’s archaeologists, we know that the building in which you are perched was once called “Biltmore Hotel,” and, while linguists cannot tell us how these symbols are pronounced, the archaeologists tell us that “Biltmore Hotel” once presented not its face but its back to the Cube, as if once it could not stand to behold it, but now is enamored of it. You’ll hear often about that very first discovery: the alloy totem shooting out from one of the Cube’s concrete corners, rising above it like some hard, gray, impeccably straight flower. While archaeologists are not sure what the totem represents, as its symbols are ultimately inscrutable, one symbol, NO, appears in succession before a variety of other symbols, each followed by another repeated symbol: !!. You are not alone in believing that this pattern—NO__ !, NO ___ !—is a script of some mysterious importance. This hypothesis is singularly intriguing, since the monolithic Cube is everywhere both physically and semantically impenetrable. There is one other exception to the Cube’s impenetrability: the small, hand-sized holes perforating the Cube’s exterior. Drawn to these curious quasi-openings, passersby such as yourself take turns peering into them with small handheld electric lights, waiting, as if their bright white beams might coax the Cube to speak. And if the light here should fail, there is hope that someday the Cube will adopt a measure of agency: that it will exhale, perhaps even gasp for air.”

Chasing Thresholds

Stratified Sunset

Thick Map, 2013

In 2013, the dominant narrative of Sunset Boulevard between La Brea and Sweetzer is one of passing through. The road is resistant to being occupied except in a car, yet in the neglected and ignored pull-over lanes, sidewalks, edges and intersections an earlier, bumpier iteration of the street pushes from beneath the newer asphalt. Taken as a whole, the street is hostile to lingering, to being known, and though the ragged and permeable edge-spaces bear traces of history and visual interest, their condition ranges from neglected to actively repellent. Our map is concerned with this principle of the simultaneous richness of accumulated information, and the resistance of the environment to accessing it.

A Woman of Sunset

Video, 4:34, 2013

Our film attempts to emphasize the depth and persistence of disparate pasts in a specific, richly layered site on Sunset Boulevard. Where a strip mall and Chase bank now stand at the corner of Sunset and Laurel, there was once a mansion turned into a villa hotel that was notorious for both the glamorous clientele it attracted, and for what those guests got up to within. Our protagonist is the Garden’s proprietor and resident, silent film actress Alla Nazimova; she appears throughout the film as a persistent, embedded entity on the site, experiencing the changes wrought on both the physical and cultural landscape across the twentieth century. Moreover, given that Sunset Boulevard has notoriously concerned itself with representations of women – from grainy video of stars leaving the Chateau Marmont to the voluptuous silhouettes that decorate that fortress-walls of strip clubs – our film also proposes through Alla’s character a focus on embodied, gendered experience of this urban space.


Excavation of Sunset Boulevard, 2013


              In the city of Los Angeles, time has stopped, but it is not quiet. Before, people referred to “collective memory” as if it were a complete storehouse of the past, filed and organized. When the dam burst, too late they recognized the places where the careful hands of editors had clipped out this, rubbed away at that, closing the eyes of the present to the richness of what had gone before. Now, everything forgotten has bled back through to the fore. Narrative reached saturation levels and imploded, causing that which had been erased, displaced, or embedded to the point of invisibility to blossom once more on the surface of reality. “Peak memory” – the old technologies are no longer good enough to calm the ghosts of history. The hypercontemporary city is its own doppelganger a thousand times over, and its citizens are lost in a maze of other times that look like other places. Bowed under the weight of memories, they follow the path of least resistance: a trail of oldest extant house to oldest living tree to unchanged geographical feature, small oases of existential relief where the pile-up of temporalities is a little thinner. To navigate, or even just to survive, they creep around the edges of buildings that shouldn’t have been there, but were, once before and now again. Along with ghost buildings come the ghost people, abruptly cropping up like science-fiction holograms, but in the middle of one’s dining room table, looking for the lockers to the swimming pool in the building that was here fifty years ago and – if you turn your eyes away from your fork and salad that flicker on the edge of presence – is here now. In the wake of digital saturation, no new information can be saved without deleting existing data. Memory management is both a daily individual task and a collective project: each person must regularly prioritize and purge their storage banks, while communities provide site-specific infrastructure for preserving and organizing shared memory. Repositories of information that also function as neighborhood monuments cluster in different densities in public spaces; the layers of data that collect on these structures are a physical manifestation of collective consciousness, once again embedded in the landscape. Different formats – text, image, sounds stored in purpose-designed devices – build up into dense, organic layers of collaborative collage. Over time, some layers may become partially covered over or completely invisible, yet the political act of stitching the layer and the memory it represents to the physical monument assures communities that the information is not lost, but rather mnemonically managed. Citizens experience this project with renewed sense of agency, and take pride in curating their individual and social imaginaries.

Grey Zone

The maps, photographs, diagrams, and historical objects included in this installation tell the story of how Los Angeles changed after the Great Oil Crisis of 2030. Examining a period five years after the crisis, these materials provide perspective into the ways in which Angelenos adapted their daily lives around small, hyperlocal city centers walking distance from their homes. Maps of the changed City of Los Angeles reflect the hundreds of new neighborhood boundaries created by localized existences. A rendering of a streetscape displays how cars made useless by the absence of fuel were repurposed as stores, classrooms, and gardens. The diagram represents how modes of transportation used in Old Los Angeles were adapted and recreated as smaller, mobile units. A replication of one such mobile restaurant cart is displayed.    

The Grey Zone Sidewalks: Looking Down on the Forgotten Spaces of Sunset Boulevard

Thick Map, 2013

Walking in Los Angeles, what would happen if you forgot completely about what was on the horizon and in the sky, and instead only looked down, at the sidewalk? This map is our attempt to advocate for a reclamation of the sidewalk, which can be viewed in Paul Virilio’s terms as the “accident” of the street and Los Angeles’ unique car culture and built environment. Projecting information that might usually go unnoticed from the automobile, but that is apparent from the view of the sidewalk, we seek to make connections between visible qualities of the sidewalk and socio-demographic information about its surrounding neighborhoods. Using the sidewalk as a new lens for understanding the buildings, people, traffic, and life on Sunset Boulevard, we illustrate a perspective of a space long disregarded that has potential to become a more integral part of the city.  

The Grey Zone sideWALKing: Serendipity on Sunset

Video, 5:08 min, 2013


View Video. 

Responding to the need to challenge conventional narratives of Sunset Boulevard sidewalk life as either vacant, lacking in color and detail, useless and unused, this story follows three characters experiencing Sunset Boulevard in their own unique ways. Through each distinct persona the viewer is exposed to a few of the ways in which a pedestrian can interact with and develop a deeper appreciation of the sidewalk. By blinding the viewer to the recognizable landmarks, we guide the viewer toward new perspectives of this iconic street. Often overlooked details such as street art, trash, and cracks in the sidewalk connect the actions and reactions of the characters to each other and to the city. Further, the possibility of a richer daily sidewalk life emerges through whimsical movements, happenstance, and chance encounters.  


Sunset Boulevard, c. 2035

  Now I shall tell you of the city of Los Angeles which is wonderful in this way: built upon a foundation of boulevards and monumental freeways, after all the world’s fuel was lost in the Great Oil Crisis of 2030, the cars and busses, stuck in the 20th day of the largest traffic jam in history, stopped running and were left in the streets. Roads ceased to be places that were rushed through and barely paused in, but became the places where people ate, walked, had their hair cut, taught classes, and grew food. In the years after The End of Fossil Fuel, inhabitants of Los Angeles continued to stare lovingly at their cars, at the wheels that once took them tens of miles for errands or a lunch date. But as they built micro-cities clustered around the main boulevards where what had once been large super stores were subdivided into smaller sections to make ten stores out of one, they began to forget the city of wheels, the city of speed, the city of miles crossed that they had once known. Restricted by the distance people could or wanted to walk, the new hyper-local communities specialized in mobility, transportation, and networking within their five block radii and between one micro-city and the next. Entrepreneurs constructed mobile facilities out of anything with wheels. Shopping carts, prized for their mobility, were reconstructed to carry household goods that had once been transported in large trucks and vans. In this specialized approach to miniaturizing necessary facilities, the ambulance cart, the police cart, and the shipping cart came to their customers. People found efficient ways to live in denser spaces, with cars in the streets transformed into engaging mobile classrooms, cooking schools, and even small petting zoos. What is certain in these new times is that if you ask an Angeleno to describe his or her vision of the future, it is always one where less is more. Sometimes, they experience nostalgia for Old Los Angeles, City of Distance, but it always passes, like the memory of enjoying the scent of gasoline in the air.  

Sunset Cafe Mobile Restaurant

Sunset Boulevard, c. 2035

Shopping cart, wood, hinges, soil, plants, dishes, silverware, tablecloth, jars, vegetables, grains, bulletin board, pins, paper

  Sunset Cafe is a shopping cart that has been converted into a mobile restaurant to serve the hyperlocal city of Northwest Sunset. Responding to the circumstances of limited mobility, residents of Los Angeles in 2030 adapted by creating dense, compact, and portable lifestyles. Traversing town squares and walking residential roads, reconstructed shopping carts became the vehicles that provided specialized services to individuals and the community at large. A restaurant owner would load all supplies for their mobile cafe into this converted cart including: a garden where he/she grew in-demand ingredients, dishes, tablecloth, candles, pots and pans, among other necessities. Patrons could seek the restaurateur out in the street, or wait until they came near their home. Standing at the fold-out table, customers socialized with the other guests as they enjoyed their meal. After meal service, the restaurant owner made stops at the washing and trash cart to clean dishes and compost waste for a small fee. This cycle of mobile food production, consumption, and waste reclamation functioned on a 8-hour cycle and connected business owners and customers through mutually beneficial relationships.

Sunset Mashup

The Accident of Nostalgia on Sunset

Thick map, 2013

To evoke Sunset Boulevard, is to conjure not so much a literal space as to enter an imaginary-scape. How does one map this vision of Sunset that defines representation, presses, in its excess, up against the limits of cartographic modes of knowing? To map imaginaries is to substitute a surface cartography for one that layers affective modes, temporal divides, and material states upon each other. A “thick map” foregrounds the practice of mapping as it creates a product; it is inherently performative. By heavily manipulating our map of Sunset Boulevard through montage and colleague, it performs the boulevards myriad narratives. Through the concept of the “thick map” and this term—imaginaries—we aim not so much to distinctly explicate the particular subjectivities that produce and have continued to produce certain narratives of Sunset, but rather to foreground the necessarily multi-valiant and perspectival nature of an imaginary.  

Sunset Glamour Falls

Video, 6:41, 2013

View Video

You come to know a city, by remembering it. You remember the route from here to there, the twinning path that you walk each day from home to work. A window in a tall tenement building is remembered for the glimpse you once had, as a child, of a woman’s silhouette emerging from the bath. Your parents were married there. In that house, a beautiful woman once lived, a star of the silent screen. In front of that theatre, the glittery, famous people of decades past would gather for the premiere of each new film. As you move through this city, you recall all these moments, all these pasts of the city. Now, I shall tell you of the city of Glamour Falls…  


Sunset Boulevard c. 2047

Installation of Memory Booth, 2013

There is a way of knowing—a city, a street, a neighborhood, one’s self, a collective past—that is based in images, in a flickering visual sensorium mediated by personal memories, photographs, and community histories. What might happen to a place, and the people who occupy it, if that vast store of memories was replaced with only one mode of visuality? This was the Los Angeles of 2047 drifting in a persistent ‘now’ delimited solely by mediated filmic images. Unrecorded in films, street corners, shops, bus stops remained unremembered, for all that they materially linger. These spaces are small scars that carved up the city, carved up Sunset Boulevard. In search of personal identity–those banal events that create a life, forge community in relationship to place–the people of this former Los Angeles craved memories, craved a past somehow deemed authentic… A whole industry emerged, dedicated to supplying citizens with memories available nowhere else. The city, though all its memories collapsed upon each other in a glossy Hollywood narrative, remained stratified. Those more fortunate could afford personalized memories, custom tailored in Memory Studios. Sunset Boulevard was the seedy underbelly of the memory economy. Termed Memory Booth Parlors, small businesses occupied storefronts. Inside these booths monitors played bootlegged films of memories, offering a means to remember memories one has never known of a Sunset Boulevard one has long forgotten. Visitors to these booths left, momentarily sated, lost in a hazy miasma of recollections. The memories faded, though. And so they returned again, day after day, craving the comfort of a past. Played again and again, these films degraded, hiccupping between clips; the degraded quality re-affirms for viewers that these images are real. What was real had long since lost any meaning.

Quilting Wilshire

Quilting Wilshire

Thick Map, 2013


This project produces a fragmented street view of a section of Wilshire Boulevard. We created our own tunnel vision, but this tunnel is not intended to enhance speed or mobility. Instead, it challenges the illusion of the continuity one might experience in Google Earth or in a car. The collage of images provides windows from which the traveler is able to interact with their environment. The images have intentionally been left with spaces between them to emphasize the possibility of a deeper understanding of each site. One can click on any image to gather more information about what might be beyond, such as videos, audio, or text.

Distinctive features of this map include an extensive interview with employees of the Asian Pacific American Dispute Resolution Center and a chronological tour of the boulevard. This latter feature challenges the linear experience of space. One can begin at the earliest site of construction and move around Wilshire Boulevard following a path of history. This path includes the dates of building construction and events that tie the boulevard to the broader history of Los Angeles. Los Angeles artists have long been interested in the role of the facade as a way of reading Los Angeles as in the work of Ed Ruscha and Robert Flick. We hope to challenge and expand upon this notion by emphasizing mo- ments of irregularity of the facade as a way to more thoroughly explore the city.  

May Day, 2013

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This film challenges how we experience a place. The narrative is simple: a man has some time to kill, so he grabs a newspaper and head to MacArthur Park. But, the story deepens to the many ways he experiences the park. It begins as a visual story as he explores the park with his eyes. Then it becomes an auditory experience as he visually follows sounds. Finally, the sound of a siren triggers a particular memory. This memory was not experienced first-hand, it was constructed out of media images and news reports.

Intentionally or unintentionally, the constant stream of media shapes our understandings and beliefs about people, politics, and places. Our film conveys the idea that the complete experience of a place is a combination of both real and mediated experiences. This multi-layered memory also serves to raise questions about the definition and nature of public space. Public spaces have been designed to pro- mote a variety of uses, from democracy to leisure. Given the wide possible uses for public space, MacArthur Park is equally likely to be the site of a carnival or a protest. We conclude our film with the ambiguous image of the protagonist peeling through multiple layers of media and history, represented by the newspaper, until he is finally confronted by the park all around him.  

Excavation of MacArthur Park, 2013


  Our team was drawn to excavate MacArthur Park while investigating spatial and social fragmentation in the early 21st-Century Megacity. In our initial exploration of the site, we uncovered numerous odd pairings: a police sta- tion in the park, a road through the lake, and a boatless boathouse. In our research we also learned about the longstanding tensions regarding the use of public space in MacArthur Park, particularly between police and park users. The most fascinating episode in this history was the 2014 installation of the Park Dispatch Industries system. This system was implemented by approval of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Community Policing Transparency Taskforce (LAPD CPTT). They were installed in the wake of the infamous “Thirsty Cop” incident, which revealed the need for a drastic change in the relationship between police and park users. The system live-streamed police dispatch radio throughout the park with speakers care- fully designed to match the existing park aesthetics. The goal was to make the police as unthreatening as possible in order to, at last, build trust between the police and the community. What we’ve presented here is a recreation of a small portion of the system paired with press responses and a community album of the park on the cusp of the event.

Imaging the City

The construction of cities through images persists across disciplines, even as we understand that cities are too complex and diverse a reality to be fully represented as a whole. From Kevin Lynch’s seminal publication ‘The Image of the City’ to contemporary experiences and experiments in chronicling and narrating the trajectory of cities, the pervasiveness of imagery in understanding, representing and formulating cities suggests we need an updated look at how images work and what they might do. The term ‘image’ addresses many types of visual representations: from mental representations to signage and communication to physical likeness to graphical systems. Who produces images and how they are distributed are as much part of the equation of what images do as the visual representations themselves.

This constellation addresses the work of thinkers and creative producers who have theorized on the relationship between image and city.  The intent is to examine the different ways we understand images to construct a city, and the types of agency we assign to images in this capacity. It attempts to ask how visual representation through sources such as art, film and writings contribute to the construction of the city, and gathers varying critical positions taken on by theorists, urbanists, social scientists, architects and artists on these issues. Some topics to be touched on: mental representations of the city, brandscapes and replication, objective and subjective mappings of the city, filmic representation and collective imagination. Underlying this investigation is the idea that each image> city theory carries specific ontological attitudes related to the visual, to information and to knowledge(s).

View the Constellation on Scalar. 

View the Constellation on Scalar.