31 October 2008


a nature scene for parking lots in Los AngelesLia Maston
The 20th Century left an enormous asphalt footprint on the earth’s surface. Cities sprawled horizontally. Impermeable, bituminous seas surrounded malls, commercial centres and industrial parks. Rising from the asphalt sea, a cloud of smog produced beautiful pink and gold sunsets. Too soon the hot, mineral city began to asphyxiate itself.
Could the architecture of the 21st Century actively reverse the effects of 100 years of asphalt? What would it take?

Inspired by the mythology of building with nature, Paradise is a hybrid architecture: part living, verdant air filter; part concrete and steel. An undulating, floating network of greenery rests on tall stalks which are implanted in parking lots in Los Angeles (one parking space per stalk), evoking the hanging gardens of Babylon. The plant life support system consists of suspended hydroponic hypertextiles that are breathable and flexible; a construction inspired by the traditional wire mesh garden topiary. Living suites and gardens are nested in the shaded folds of these hydroponic drapes. People and mechanical services travel via the concrete stalks from the parking level to the garden level. The gardens, terraces and social spaces of the dwelling (kitchen, living room and dining room) are located on this level – open to the sky. The intimate spaces of the residences are suspended below, completely immersed in the verdant sheets. As a result, the views from bedroom windows are always across screens of leaves.
Far from the tame nature that holds up Laugier’s hut, the plant life in Paradise is assumed to be an independent force with its own needs, capable of growing, dying and being reborn. It recalls the idea of living in a state of negotiation with nature, as the giant vaults of a gothic cathedral built in the image of the medieval forest, or the beanstalk in the fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk, which embodies a fantastic will beyond the control of Jack or the villagers. In Paradise, to reinforce this wild quality of nature, giant topiary rabbits jump freely through the scene.
A playful and figurative representation of nature, Paradise is destined for a popular landscape. The most ordinary, ubiquitous urban situations hide incredible potential. Not only could lost real estate above surface parking lots be recycled, the parking lot itself could benefit from the microclimate introduced by a fantastic new parasol. The ecological movement’s living air filters, green roofs and walls (as much symbolically evocative as effective), could be liberated from their building envelopes. They could take on greater proportions, becoming breathing parks, floating above other surfaces generally intended to prohibit plant growth.

I thought of this project after looking at Ed Ruscha’s paintings and photographs of freeways, advertisements, strip malls and parking lots in Los Angeles. Ruscha captures a streetscape of rapid production and consumption, built to be experienced from a vehicle traveling at a high speed. Absurd, instantly appealing, and charged with a Hollywood romanticism, Los Angeles is urban sprawl at its most enhanced.

Consider such sprawl in all of its mania and fun, and rethink the composition of our cities where asphalt is often the largest land user.

Maston, Lia. 'Paradise: a nature scene for parking lots in Los Angeles' On Site review, no. 19 Spring/Summer 2008
©Lia Maston and On Site review

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