One sunny Palm Springs weekend in February, what looked like an epic pool party — two days of follies — was underway at the midcentury getaway the Amado.
A 12-foot-diameter wire-frame beach ball rolled down the hotel roof and splashed into the hotel pool as a crowd of onlookers cheered. A tower made of a hundred bricks of ice — a reinvention of Allan Kaprow’s 1967 “Fluids” happening with the Pasadena Art Museum — slowly thawed at pool’s edge as participants swam close and indie rock blared.
This was more than just poolside fun. The weekend of installations, coinciding with Palm Springs Modernism Week, was exploring the swimming pool as architectural space. The pop-up gathering was part of On the Road Project LA, a series of pop-up events showcasing cutting-edge ideas in architecture, art and design.
On May 17, the yearlong series’ final event, inspired by L.A.'s most prominent icon, the Hollywood sign, is being staged. Six projects will be installed on the Hollywood sign trail, where all of Los Angeles is laid out before hikers. Details are still being finalized, but the event could feature imaginary viewfinders designed by Elly Ward and mini-monuments erected by Elizabeth Timme, co-director of design office LA-Más.
On the Road kicked off last June in reaction to the Museum of Contemporary Art’s fraught “A New Sculpturalism” show about contemporary architecture in Southern California. The Los Angeles museum’s “statement said the show featured the next generation of architects in L.A., but there’s really a gap between when you leave grad school and when you become this ‘young generation,’” says Courtney Coffman, 31.
Coffman, an architecture critic, is one of On the Road’s organizers, along with James Michael Tate, Jonathan Louie and Danielle Rago, also in their 30s.
The “age of acceptability” in architecture arrives around 40, they say. “We have convictions and points of view, but we have to really scrape to find ways to communicate and disseminate our ideas,” says Louie, who in the last year has become an assistant professor of architecture at Syracuse University.
In the spirit of the temporary, experimental galleries that blossomed in L.A.'s past — including Thom Mayne’s Venice Beach house exhibitions in 1979 — the quartet stages guerrilla-style events to exhibit the work of people their age.
More than 60 artists, designers and architects have participated in events since On the Road began. Collaborators have included David Freeland, whose architectural design firm, Freeland Buck, has put its stamp on eateries along Highland Park’s York Boulevard; Bryony Roberts, who recently created a site-specific installation for Richard Neutra’s VDL House in Silver Lake; and Heather Flood, recipient of the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs’ individual artist fellowship in 2012.
In the last year, On the Road has produced four shows outside the usual white cube gallery. The group has exhibited in U-Hauls parked in front of MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary, on concrete islands in the middle of a busy Glendale Boulevard, in the frontyards of architecturally significant homes on the Westside and at the Palm Springs hotel pool.
“It’s seriously lighthearted,” Tate says. “It’s very rigorous, but it’s not overly burdened.”
As On the Road draws to a close, the four organizers hope they’ve helped a new generation find its voice while working in unlikely places in Los Angeles. Louie says, “The legacy we do leave behind is perhaps another way of thinking about how architecture experimentation can be done within the city.”
Trek to the Hollywood sign
What: Installations along a trail near the Hollywood sign
Where: Hollywood sign trail. Park in the Greek Theatre Parking Lot G in Griffith Park or at Griffith Observatory and take the shuttle to the Hollywood sign viewing area.
When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 17
Price: Self-guided tour is free. Shuttle to the site, $7; free for 2 and younger.