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Size and Scale Matter in L.A.

An exhibition at the Architecture and Design Museum riffs off of S, M, L, XL by Bruce Mau and Rem Koolhaas and explores the ways in which Los Angeles has nurtured design at all scales, from tiny to enormous.

By Honora Shea
July 22, 2014
Photo © Jonathan Louie
Cut Bend Fold Score, by Jonathan Louie, uses postcard sized models to reconfigure the forms found in S, M, L, XL.


Come In! S,M,L,XLA is the Los Angeles Architecture and Design Museum's new exhibition of work by young, local design practitioners. Devoted to “spatial interventions reflecting on the inquiry of scale," the group show (through August 31) takes inspiration from the dense Rem Koolhaas and Bruce Mau tome S, M, L, XL by presenting 21 projects in an equally dense, multi-faceted assemblage.

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Many projects use modularity to explore flexibility at varying scales. Non Box by Miao Miao and Scott Franklin, is an inhabitable pavilion, featuring interchangeable walls, ceilings, and floors, as well as a moveable system of acrylic bars strung with LED lights and colored cords. The instinct to play with one’s surroundings is mirrored with F.A.N. by Filipa Valente—a cubic frame is fitted with tensioned pieces of fabric, at a size that could easily be manipulated to achieve various aesthetic and sculptural effects.

Laurel Consuelo Broughton of design firm Welcome Projects offered a whimsical take on modeling scale and the city with Retrospective City, a collection of household and decorative objects arranged on a checkerboard. She asks viewers to imagine that objects such as a lobster-shaped telephone, an electric mixer, and a wine bottle in a violin case "have been transformed into functional building types as suggested by their forms," according to a description.

The most interesting work in the show reminds visitors that scale is as much a social element as a physical one. Fieldwork’s Open Door maps an underground network of gay-friendly meeting places in downtown Los Angeles, and the associated gay experience, between the 1920s and 1960s. The project sheds light on a marginalized community, revealing it as both hidden phenomenon and integral to the city’s history. That its grand, if hidden, scale is little known challenges the ways in which we perceive the city.

Only two projects addressed Koolhaas’s and Mau’s content directly. In Cut Bend Fold Score, Jonathan Louie and his team (Bhumi Patel, Sara Martin, and Andrew Parnas) dissect and magnify some of Koolhaas's oeuvre featured in the book. The result is a series of oversized postcards, printed with instructions on how to cut and fold them into 3D models of these particular fragments. James Michael Tate’s Bookworm literally cut into the famous text by displaying a copy of the book with chunks of words cut out of the middle.

While the book may represent impenetrable scale, Come In! does not. The exhibition poses some abstract ideas about the future of modern life, but it also negates the usual view of a sprawling Los Angeles, instead showcasing the city's ever increasing diversity of size and form, and the designers working within it.

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