USC School of Architecture Launches Publication Series with Frank Gehry Research Studio

Last Updated: March 28, 2012

University of Southern California - Park Campus, 699 Exposition Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90089, USA

USC School of Architecture Launches Publication Series with Frank Gehry Research Studio

Building on a tradition of research-intensive design studios that use cities along the Pacific Rim as a laboratory, the USC School of Architecture has released the first in an ongoing series of publications that will explore the multi-layered urban landscape of Los Angeles - and examine whether grand architectural visions and decades of urban plans have delivered on their promises.

Titled CEZI, after a Chinese term for small printed matter, the pamphlet series is intended to reflect the architectural studio tradition in which fragmented, small ideas are accumulated into a powerful collective, both in each individual publication and in the series as a whole.

The inaugural publication in the USC School of Architecture's CEZI series - Grand Illusion: A Story of Ambition, and its Limits, on LA's Bunker Hill - examines a stretch of downtown Los Angeles that includes the Museum of Contemporary Art on Grand Avenue; Walt Disney Concert Hall, designed by Frank Gehry, Judge Widney Professor of Architecture at USC; as well as a planned $100 million Broad Museum for contemporary art. It asks why, despite these cultural monuments, the street is often empty and forlorn, even as further east, downtown Los Angeles experiences a revival.

For a Spring 2011 graduate level course, Gehry, himself an alumnus of the USC School of Architecture, assigned his students the provocative task of coming up with redesigns for one of the anchors of the street, MOCA Grand, designed in 1986. But first the students had to conduct an "autopsy": extensive contextual research into decades of built, and unbuilt, visions for the former Bunker Hill.

Grand Illusions is the result of Gehry's studio, showing the evolution, current condition and future potential for a street that has been the subject of great - and flawed - ambition for more than half a century. The pamphlet was edited by USC School of Architecture visiting professor Frances Anderton, host of the KCRW program "DnA:Architecture and Design," who led the research component of the course.

Grand Illusion includes Gehry's own words on why he set the challenge, recollections of his experience building on Grand Avenue, as well as visions conceived by his firm for enlivening the streetscape. It also includes fascinating research by USC School of Architecture students, who uncovered a pattern of planning decisions shaped too often by expediency.

Other voices collected in Grand Illusion include developers, politicians, cultural leaders, design critics and members of the general public, the intended users of the street, gathered by Anderton over years of interviews for "DnA: Design and Architecture."

"Grand Illusion does not claim to be a manifesto," Anderton said, "rather it looks at one specific street and the hope, hubris and compromises that have underscored every step of its postwar development. It also looks at the contribution monolithic cultural buildings can - and cannot - make to a rich urban experience."

Crucially, Grand Illusion was completed before the dissolution of the California's community redevelopment agencies by Governor Jerry Brown last year. The research inadvertently serves as a testimony to a six-decade period in L.A. history when the city's mighty CRA, in tandem with powerful developers, shaped downtown Los Angeles.

"To the extent it does offer a prescription, Grand Illusion suggests that those who believe permanent structures are the remedy for urban ills might consider today's temporary, pop-up urbanity and culture that has helped invigorate the now popular parts of downtown Los Angeles to the east," Anderton said.

Grand Illusion was designed by Julie Cho, in collaboration with Anderton and Lee Olvera, assistant professor of practice at the USC School of Architecture and managing editor of the series.

The second USC School of Architecture CEZI publication is scheduled for Spring 2012 and will focus on Exposition Park, which includes the Natural History Museum, the California Science Center and the Coliseum.

For more information or to request a review copy of Grand Illusion, contact Frances Anderton at or (310) 429-8158.

Established in 1916, the USC School of Architecture has trained some of the finest architects in the world with a program combining exemplary instruction with the latest advances in design, research and technology, while contributing to the development and construction of the city of Los Angeles. Currently, the school offers a five-year professional undergraduate degree; master's degrees in architecture, building science, historic preservation and landscape architecture; and a new Ph.D in architecture. Under the leadership of Qingyun Ma, the USC School of Architecture is ready for the Age of the Pacific with cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary initiatives, including the USC American Academy in China.

Last updated: 11-Dec-2012 04:18 AM
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