LA: de bandstad van de continue produktie / LA: strip city of continuous production

On top of that, LA is the most polluted city as well as having the highest percentage of homeless3) and the smallest percentage of public space in the USA. The life expectancy of the city’s black population in the South Central neighbourhood is lower than that of the inhabitants of Bangladesh and other third world countries.4) The number of vehicles in Los Angeles has quadrupled since 1950, now reaching a total of 10.6 million cars and making the region one of the richest in the world.5)

The city of Los Angeles and the Orange Counties extend over an area of approximately 7000 km2 (an area comparable to that of the combined provinces of Utrecht, Noord-Holland and Zuid-Holland). It is bordered by the ocean on the western side, and on the north and south sides it spreads out over the Hollywood Mountains, the Palos Verdes Hills and around the San Bernardino Mountains, as well as slowly colonizing the desert. The city is steadily encroaching on the desert on the eastern side, too.6)
One of the most fundamental aspects of LA is its two-dimensionality – a city composed of an endless series of grid lines. It consists of a continuum of plots, each one with a single programme. There is no programmatic duplication in the ground plots of the grid, and this creates a sterile structure which excludes the possibility of the sort of programmatic confrontations that can create overlapping. The polar opposite of Manhattan, for example, with its conglomeration of events and functions. And it is precisely these programmatic conglomerations that create the frictions which generate the events and experiences that are so characteristic of the contemporary metropolis. But in LA, functional culmination and concentration in focal points is impossible because the functions are set side by side. In its place we see the introduction of a system of median and focal lines; the lack of superimposition has resulted in a simulation of programmatic focus. Various artificial substitute cities, such as Downtown, have been plugged into the metropolitan system.
Artificial extravagance has to simulate density and concentration. This simulation brings with it a new kind of sensory experience of urbanity. The extended carpet of dwellings is intersected by the grid of the highway network. And in turn the highway grid is transformed by programmatical and geographical deviations. By contrast, the desert offers no resistance to the endless expanding of the grid. Distance is the only element to fix the limits of the ever-expanding metropolis. Analogous to atomic structure whereby atoms disintegrate when the distance between protons and electrons becomes too great and the atomic power too slight, so the various different urban areas will be broken up if the travelling time from home to work and to the service areas exceeds a specific critical duration. The newest development areas in the desert to the north of the city are 150 km from Downtown. For commuters, this means a daily travelling time of more than four hours, thereby making the concept of `time’ the most vital criterion in urban planning. Thus urban development has, as it were, entered into the fourth dimension.
The urban answer to this `time’ factor is, on the one hand, to develop the so-called `edge cities’ – cities which can function autonomously on the fringe of the metropolis – and, on the other, to continue refining the infrastructure so as to minimize the friction produced by the traffic flow. This can be achieved, for instance, by introducing car pool zones and underground and railway lines.7) This search for the urban perpetual motion is left undiscussed here, yet it has been a hot issue ever since the city was created.

Collectives and communities

Los Angeles is the city of collectives organized according to lifestyle, profession, income, ethnic origin, leisure activity and age group. On an urban level these collectives are arbitrarily spread out over the neutral plots of the grid, larding the non-hierarchical grid of this city of cars with programmatic anomalies. The programme changes according to the lifestyle of the collective. One can take part in several collectives, moving from collective to collective.
The common ideology of a collective is expressed through the lifestyle to which it aspires. Fashion and the media translate this lifestyle into slogans which are then promoted by the collectives. Each one of the various collectives has defined a quality of life through a particular lifestyle.
But the collective is a vulnerable entity which needs to be protected against disintegration. Many factors can cause this disintegration: fear of old age, of mental and physical malformation, crime, addiction, boredom and poverty. Anyone affected by one of these factors will be rejected by the collective to protect it from disintegrating.
Collectives move about abruptly from activity to activity within the frame of the city, and it is their behaviour that determines the city’s spatial cohesion. Their movement patterns are influenced by fashion and the media, and despite these being temporary factors not manifested in architecture or urban planning they nevertheless dictate the movements of collectives through the metropolis, thus determining the urban cohesion.
The spaces between the areas where the collectives carry out their activities form the non-zones of the city. These are blind spots on the map – analogous to military zones – and since they don’t constitute an actual geographical place they can only be defined in terms of how long it takes to cross them. The collectives, however, only exist by virtue of these non-zones. The presence of an endless vacuum allows them to freely exist side by side with individual freedom of movement. The arbitrary pattern of the movements of the collectives – shifting like chess pieces across the ground plots of the city – can be formulated as an urban substance divisible into four categories (and which, paraphrasing Banham, we might call the four typologies): forts, billboards, cash and carry architecture and shopping trolleys.


The interiorizing of urban space is becoming an increasingly important phenomenon. This interiorization, however, goes hand-in-hand with a splitting up whereby urban space is subdivided into a range of hybrid forms of public and private domain: private space in public possession and public space in private possession… Here the interior is no longer private space for the individual, but space for the various combinations of collectives. And this space for the collective could be called `collective space’ – the latterday version of public space.
Withdrawal into the interior is the result of the boundaries that the collectives have erected around their territories. A defensive structure built into the architecture and urban design sees to it that undesirable individuals are excluded. These structures – either buildings or entire urban districts – constitute the forts of today. The development of Downtown serves as an example. Downtown is a large-scale upgrading project: within ten years, run-down Downtown will have been completely cleaned up. In the space of a couple of years, a relatively small area of a few blocks has sprouted a series of skyscrapers and has become the representative business centre of LA. The cluster of skyscrapers with their white-collar public has been grafted onto a number of completely run-down ghettos. Downtown wallows in a mire of utter squalor.
Downtown has been developed as a parallel structure. The buildings are connected by footbridges, internal passages, enclosed plazas, lobbies and atria. These domains, however, are only accessible to those who are granted authorized entry by the widely-present security services. The omission of certain crucial public functions, which generate a public nature of a more neutral kind, has turned the public system into a collective system. This was, in fact, the aim in developing Downtown. The shops are situated in malls, as are the cafés, restaurants, public toilets and so on. Those wishing to use the amenities must first be vetted by the security services, identity checks and information desks.8) In Irvine – an edge city of 100,000 inhabitants developed and managed by a development company – this fort-like quality has been made an intrinsic element: those purchasing a dwelling within these walled communities are also buying themselves into a well-heeled club. The enclosing walls, rather than serving simply as protection, are there to raise the status of the inhabitant. An entirely artificial world can be created within the fortress walls, and this simulation is expressed in the architecture, which becomes the icon of an idealized society: a French village, an Italian medieval city, a Greek temple complex. The nostalgia evinced by the architecture expresses the desire for an ordered community as well as fear of the sheer size of the contemporary city.
This phenomenon appears to have brought architecture in LA to a complete deadlock: the architects seem unable to articulate the anxious needs of the collectives, while the property developers, by contrast, with their catalogue architecture seem to have found an answer to the problem.


The lifestyle of the collectives is illustrated by billboards. These give visual expression to the city of spectacle: Las Vegas, Downtown and the extravagant villas of the Hollywood Hills. Furthermore, the billboards provide the engine that drives the simulated city – they are the generators of physical experience.
Las Vegas consists of the extensive Strip, discussed in the writings of Venturi, which has since been fleshed out with a number of mega-complexes and the old Downtown.9) When, after a journey of several hours through the desert, one finally comes to look down on Las Vegas from the desert plateau, the Strip rises up like a mirage in the sand. A flickering twinkling strip, with laser beams piercing the sky, the series of mega-complexes, each more overpowering than the last, all vying in a continuous battle for attention. The old complexes seem to contrast starkly with the latest ones, which, such as the Luxor pyramid and MGM with its 3000 rooms, beam out millions of watts into the sky. The fever of the fortune hunters working the gambling machines seems to radiate directly from the Strip in a beam of energy. The visitor must be kept captive in this delirium for as long as possible, for as soon as one leaves the city these sparkling stones are nothing but artifice: a strip of complexes like those in any arbitrary business park the world over. Apart from their exorbitant scale, lighting and decor according to theme, these complexes are all governed by the same rigid programme. Ground floor with gambling machines and gaming tables, first floor offering foodcourts and leisure amenities and the crown of hotel rooms. The all-embracing artificiality sweeps the visitor along in a state of euphoria which only dissolves on leaving the building. The inevitability of the programme and the grossness of this excess and artifice results in a sudden feeling of satiation and boredom.
John Lautner’s Goldstein residence is situated on the edge of the abyss. The villa consists of several floors driven into the mountainside and over-roofed by a pleated concrete sheet. The building is orientated towards the metropolis which lies there like a stage set spread out at one’s feet, itself becoming a billboard. The house has no exterior since the exterior form is impossible to experience. Each daily activity is caught in a setting: the occupant of the house seems to be on the set of a James Bond film. Every single detail has been modelled – to the point of absurdity – to fit into this total design: the view from the bed of the edge of the abyss, the water streaming down from the shower forming a film over the view of the city, the touch-button video that appear out of the floor at the touch of a button, the gossamer-thin, metres-high sheets of glass stretched seamlessly between floor and ceiling. The house is a physical experience, the perfect evocation of an old-fashioned futurism.
Portman’s Bonaventura Hotel is a standard ensemble of five round towers resting on a plinth of lobbies, foodcourts and shopping galleries. The banality of the building’s outward appearance, however, is redressed by the lifts, which are fully glazed and located on the outside of the towers. On entering the lift on the top storey, you abandon the safety of the building and step out into a void where, encapsulated in glass, you get a fantastic panorama over the city. Once the doors have closed, the lift plunges downwards in a free fall straight through the glazed roof of the shopping centre, finally reaching a halt just above the surface of an ornamental lake. The billboards are the grotesque manifestos of the physical experience they arouse. Las Vegas as the symbol of fortune hunters and the luck that is there for the taking, Disney World as the image of the embodiment of fairy-tales and amusement, the Goldstein residence as the icon of ultimate futurism: the glamour of Hollywood superimposed upon the city in all its artificiality.

Cash and carry architecture

The laws of consumption determine the expiry date of a product. Until recently these laws were not applicable to the built environment. Buildings existed for eternity and their programmes were stable. But the increasing demand for individual expression is bringing with it a new architectural brief. To accommodate the hypes, a continually-changing skin is being stretched across a neutral frame and decor applied to dictate the profile of the temporary programmes. Skin and decor are replaced as soon as these are no longer satisfactory or have become economically redundant; the economic cycle lasts approximately five years.
These frames house cafés, discos, shops, restaurants, as well as dwellings and offices. This is the cash and carry principle in built form: there must be a quick return on investment. Investment for the common good or the public domain has no place here. The programmes are like parasites which sink their teeth into a body as long as there is fresh blood to be had. They fasten themselves to existing structures and abandon them with equal ease in their continuous search for fresh blood.
This very flexibility allows the swift rise and fall of the status of a district to be absorbed. Investment in developing a building is minimal, and as soon as the tide turns the structure is dismantled and the occupants move on to a more attractive location. These temporary structures are only made possible by the mono-functionality of the urban zones. Were each zone to contain a conglomeration of programmes the flexibility would be instantly curtailed. Because of its temporary nature, the architecture becomes thematic wallpaper able to tune into the spirit of the age to maximum effect. This is well-illustrated by Eric Owen Moss’s Gary Group Building. The conversion of the former Paramount Studios into an office block displays no typological or architectural innovations – it is instead a dramatic face-lift. The skin of the building is clad in chains and steel ladders, the columns are equipped with steel shin pads and the interior of the building plays on associations with Sado Masochism and the underground culture, stressing the building’s impenetrable state.

(Shopping) trolleys

Urban planning in Los Angeles is conditioned by the time factor. The built city is constantly intersected by 10.6 million automobiles.10) Bearing in mind that these 10.6 million cars together occupy 40%11) of the urban territory in parking places and infrastructure, this means that in relation to the total built environment each inhabitant has at his disposal more square metres parking space than dwelling space. In this context, the automobile can no longer simply be seen as a necessary evil that has to be streamlined within the bands of infrastructure, but rather as a crucial spatial component and an urban programme that far exceeds domestic construction, office building or any other programme. Thus it has become more vital to preserve empty urban spaces in LA than to build on them.
The car has generated its own indispensability: distances have become greater and public transportation has opened up inaccessible areas. The upshot is a vicious circle, the increased distances having led to a spread-out low-density city. Alongside this nomadic condition of relative mobility, a other nomadic group is continuously crossing LA’s urban area: the city’s homeless population, who lack every form of mobility.
LA has the highest percentage of homeless in the USA. Los Angeles city alone, with a population of 3.5 million, counts 100,000 homeless, 30,000 of whom have children.12) And this probably only represents the tip of the iceberg since this figure does not take the illegal immigrants into account. This enormous group, who roam through the city with their shopping trolleys, are continually on the move, hounded by police patrols. The homeless are everywhere as a constant reminder that the socio-economic system has no truck with those who fall by the wayside.
Despite the city’s low population density and its green image, LA has less public space (4%) than any other city in the USA.13) Inevitably the homeless are driven towards these few reservoirs, banished to the public spaces. This has created a pattern for the areas of the city that are not in private hands: the infrastructure (roads, canals, public transportation) and the parks. LA’s parks have become the overcrowded quarters of the homeless with the result that the communities are now fiercely opposed to open green space. No new public areas are being created, and the percentage of public space will not increase. And so collective space, which in contrast to public space is only accessible to a select group, has risen exponentially. Entire districts have become collective space, taken over by the communities. The roads are no-stopping clearways and the hired security services vet intruders. And this brings us back to the typology of forts.

Third dimension

Recently the government has started setting up a large-scale public transportation system for the city with a three-line subway network which is intended to reduce the use of automobiles.14) This expansion of public transport has generated a contraction in the muscles of the urban fabric. The fragmented character of the car-fixated city is now overlaid with a second system – the point pressure system of a subway network, the Metro Rail System. The metro is the system of discontinuity and hierarchy. By its very definition, the metro must produce compaction if it is to be economically viable. And compaction, by definition, leads to a superimposition of functions. A metro station concentrates large groups of people in a small area, whereas the door-to-door function of the automobile resulted in a highway network without a hierarchy. And since LA is the city of private ownership and private initiative it was both obvious and attractive that the city should develop along low-density lines: a different function for each plot, no superimposition or compaction, no public space.
Notwithstanding the fact that the infrastructure has had free play and that the major public investments were linked to perfecting and refining the element of perpetual motion – by removing every form of obstruction that might impede transportation – the options in this two-dimensional system now seem limited. The present impetus to construct the metro network could well draw the city into the age of the third dimension. The grid will be reshaped into clusters. A second level will be laid over the existing city. And the superimposition of different functions will lead to the disappearance of focal lines and the emergence of intersections. In LA urbanism is a process of colonization, where the outward appearance is strictly dictated by the funding forms of the built environment and the land-use policy.
The development of LA has always been governed by funding forms, property boundaries and land division – these have determined the city’s current structure. At present, the urban planning departments are cautiously introducing a programmatic conglomeration, thereby solidifying the fluid substance from which this city is composed. What is at present a constantly mutating organism, a grey colourless fluid substance able to accommodate every form of manifestation and which is continually changing and largely indifferent, will become fixed and rigid. The beauty of Los Angeles lies in its artificiality and its large measure of indifference vis-à-vis the transit zones. It is easy for the car-fixated population to shut out these districts and leave them behind: they simply represent the time span of two numbers played out on the car radio.
LA stands in stark contrast to the bleakness of urban development in Europe where the city is regarded as a natural phenomenon – a growing organism with a specific moment of origin and an on-going process of growth. While the European city lies imprisoned in the body of this organism where changes have to incorporated, controlled and integrated, LA seems to possess a hyper-flexible system. The city that presents itself as a succession of interiors in a sea of transit zones – the exteriors – is able to assimilate an endless stream of new elements, like a hard disk. For each new input a new `file’ is opened which need have nothing to do with any previously opened `files’. Nothing needs to be incorporated or integrated, as the collectives are autonomous. This explains why LA is able to accommodate a 50% immigrant population, while the Netherlands with 5%15) is faced with a serious social problem. Within this context of autonomous `files’ it is possible to implant `substitute cities’ such as the skyscrapers of Downtown, the spectacle of Las Vegas, the edge cities, and the amusement world of Disney Land.
The seventh city in Superstudio’s `twelve ideal cities’ project seems not very far removed from the reality of LA. The seventh city – the strip city of continuous production – consists of a factory that produces the city. The factory moves slowly across the landscape digging up from the ground the materials needed to build the city, leaving a never-ending trail of `city’ in its wake. After a few years, the city it has produced begins to fall into decay. Advertisements and publicity ceaselessly urge the citizens to buy the very latest home with the most up-to-date appurtenances. In this way the city coerces its population to move house continuously, thereby carrying its 8 million inhabitants along with it. Only eccentrics and lunatics dare enter the disintegrating aftermath of the city.16)
In the sixties this design looked like urban science fiction. Nowadays, however, there seem to be definite similarities between LA and this Superstudio design. This is due in part to the fact that the city has been abandoned to the vagaries of the consumer. But also the apparent ease with which the rise and fall of urban areas occurs, as well as the continuous mutation of the city, are characteristics that Superstudio made into hallmarks of this type of urbanistic vision. The difference lies in the fact that in Superstudio’s design the mutation process has an external cause: the factory, while in LA, by contrast, this process is driven from deep inside the city.
LA’s four typologies reflect the characteristics of the metropolis. The forts are emblematic of the mass-hysteria induced by an indefinable evil and the retreat to the interior. The billboards symbolize the need for constant stimulation of the senses in increasingly ecstatic experiences. The cash and carry architecture constitutes the accumulation of temporary urban linkages, the mutating substance that, as in Terminator II, can assume any shape. Finally, the (shopping) trolleys represent the alchemistic search for perpetual motion.

6. In his book Los Angeles, the Four Ecologies, Harmondsworth/New York, Penguin Books, 1971, Reyner Banham unravels the city in an extremely illuminating and apposite fashion in terms of four ecological conditions: the beaches, the hills, the desert, and the implicitly defined condition of the car and the highways.

8. Mike Davis, City of Quartz. Excavating the Future in Los Angeles, Vintage Books, New York 1992. In this book Mike Davis makes a biting analysis of the means employed now and in the past by the established order, politicians and police to keep the city under control. These means have led to drastic segregation, which in the author’s view has brought on an urban apocalypse. Shortly after the book was published the Rodney King riots took place and Davis published a short pamphlet in reaction: Beyond Blade Runner. Urban control, the Ecology of Fear, Open Magazine Pamphlet series, New Jersey 1992. He ended it with: `If we continue to allow our central cities to degenerate into criminalized Third Worlds, all the ingenious security technology, present and future, will not safeguard the anxious middle class. The sound of that first car bomb on Rodeo drive or in front of City Hall will wake us from our mere bad dream and confront us with our real nightmare.’

14. See among others Marga Bijvoet, `Underground spectacle in Los Angeles’, Archis no. 3, 1994, pp. 72-80.

16. Superstudio, `Le dodici cittá ideali’, in Japan Interior Design, special issue on Superstudio and radicals, 1982.

Het vermogen om te oordelen: Interview met Manuel de Solà-Morales/ Interview with Manuel de Solà-Morales: The capacity for assessment