Why is Los Angeles a hotbed of great architects, yet so lacking in innovative urban infrastructure? Curated by Greg Goldin and Sam Lubell, Never Built: Los Angeles takes a retroactive utopian look on what could’ve, would’ve, should’ve been a great metropolis. An amalgamation of proposed works from Frank Lloyd Wright to Frank Gehry, Rudolph Schindler to Thom Mayne, come together at the A+D Architecture and Design Museum in Los Angeles, as an exhibition of alternatives to the present condition of LA. The collection puts into perspective how an ambitious development of infrastructure in the 1920s took a sharp detour after a stringent critique from the Los Angeles Times. The initial proposal emphasized a fixed-rail transit system from street level. Instead, a rapid succession of rapid-transit proposals in the 40s, 50s and 60s transformed the landscape with favouritism towards rubber-tire transportation. “The exhibit is a lesson plan based on a 100-year backlog of unbuilt proposals. By putting on view a catalogue of virtuoso drawings and renderings, that on a visceral level ignite the imagination, an unmistakable picture of a city that might have been—and still could be—emerges. Never Built treats this hidden past as something not complete but still unfolding.” This expansive historical study of LA’s urban and architectural development reveals that this hub for innovation and imagination lacks in built form what it boasts in its metropolitan ambitions. The rich, coherent and varied living conditions proposed by visionary architects of the time did not reach fruition, but in this contemporary context they are given new life, distorting normalcy and opening up the grid to a slew of possibilities. Goldin and Lubell seek to confront, provoke and inspire, not only planners and designers, but students and dwellers, opening up new ways to think about LA’s future.
In 1925, the city and county commissioned the firm of Kelker, De Leuw and Co. to propose a public transit system that could grow with the city; other plans followed in 1945, 1953, 1954, 1961, 1968, before LA turned exclusively to rubber-tire mass transit. Superpose this map with a contemporary equivalent and you’ll discover that they almost perfectly match, except that freeways have replaced subway lines.