Big City Forum: Peter Zellner, Analia Saban, Adriana Cuellar and Marcel Sanchez-Prieto

Analia Saban, "Erosion (Staircase)," 2012, Laser sculpted acrylic paint on canvas, 48 x 40 x 2 inches | Courtesy of Thomas Solomon Gallery and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery

In partnership with Big City Forum, an interdisciplinary project that facilitates the exchange of ideas through gatherings, symposiums, exhibitions, and special events that provide access to forward-thinking creative projects.

In conjunction with the exhibition Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie, Big City Forum is producing an interdisciplinary event that examines the ways in which we view, interact with, and respond to public space.

After a weekend of research on the Skirball campus, a team of local artists, designers, and architects will present their reflections and responses to Moshe Safdie's work and how it relates to current issues within urban, social, and political contexts. Participants include contemporary visual artist Analia Saban, Cro Studio's Marcel Sanchez-Prieto and Adriana Cuellar, and AECOM Principal and Studio Design Lead Peter Zellner. The event Global City will take place at the Skirball Center campus on Saturday, February 8, 2014. Visit their website for more information.

Big City Forum conducted a brief interview with project participants aiming to expand the conversation about their practices and modes for social engagement. We've asked them to reflect on what you've learned, how you currently live, and then identify what you'd like to pass along to others. The following is the interview with Peter Zellner, Analia Saban, Adriana Cuellar and Marcel Sanchez-Prieto.

Adriana Cuellar and Marcel Sanchez-Prieto
Adriana Cuellar and Marcel Sanchez-Prieto

What currently brings you joy and delight? What makes you hopeful?

Peter Zellner: My daughter brings me joy and delight. My students make me very hopeful.

Analia Saban: The most delightful part of my daily life is to make new work, forms that I have never seen before. I find hope in living in a generation that is trying to accept each other's uniqueness.

Adriana Cuellar/Marcel Sanchez-Prieto: Our context, living in two contrasting places only 15 minutes away, this keeps us awake, sometimes angry and inevitably hopeful.

What do you think people should experience? What would you like to pass on to others? 

PZ: I think people, particularly in LA, should experience great public spaces. We have too few for a world class city.

AS: I wish traveling was a possibility for everyone. Connecting and learning about different communities, religions, and languages seems key to provide more peace inside and outside ourselves.

AC/MSP: What we consider is the need to amplify and improve the experience of the everyday, bring it to the foreground. What if mundane projects were to challenge established commodity preconceptions and be able to reconfigure the way we engage the individual and the collective for better living environments?"¨

How is the current social landscape of where you live affect your work? What are the positives, what are the challenges?

PZ: I live near the beach which -- and I say this with no irony -- is one of L.A.'s great, free public spaces. The positives, particularly in Venice, is that the beach and the boardwalk are some of the only public spaces in L.A. that promote an egalitarian vision of our city. The beach and the boardwalk are relatively open to people from all walks of life. The challenge for such spaces is making them accessible, and not exclusive. That is part of a larger dialogue about public access and transit that we have to work on in our city.

AS: Currently I'm commuting between New York and LA so I've just got a new place. The address is Boeing 767, #25A. I get a fantastic view from my window. They have a new amenity that gives you the illusion that the landscape changes from the city, to the mountains, to the desert. On cloudy days there's a feature that makes you fall asleep feeling you're sleeping on clouds! I also enjoy the sense of community. There's a sense of purpose I share with my neighbors; I always have the feeling we are moving in the same direction. There are, however, a few challenges, the furniture could be better designed. The dining table never feels stable, to the point that a glass of water can fall over and my bed leaves much to be desired -- it keeps me tossing and turning all night. Also, there seems to be a problem with air circulation, and I can't figure out how to open the window. Overall, the features of the place definitely inform my work. The changing landscape makes me think about perception, time travel. The challenges make me think of the limitations of space: the human need for comfort and stability. These concepts are embedded in my work.

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AC/MSP: The inner cultural and physical thresholds of any city are always intriguing for us, perhaps because we come from this border region of Tijuana & San Diego where we currently live. We've learned to accept borders, and sometimes even embrace them as opportunities to engage or negotiate, such as the way building façades, perimeter walls, urban blocks or city edges absorb or reject their immediate surroundings.

What are some lessons or takeaways from the Safdie exhibit that you've reflected on at a personal or professional level? What has this project helped discover about your work?

PZ: Well, for one, I was struck by the broad range of aesthetic, structural and material expressions that Mr. Safdie has employed across his career. This sort of freedom seems very refreshing given how predictable so much recent work, especially by the avant-garde, has become.

National Art Museum of China, competition rendering. | Image courtesy of Safdie Architects.
National Art Museum of China, competition rendering. | Image courtesy of Safdie Architects.

AS: Learning about Moshe Safdie, a true "Global Citizen", and his contributions to society and world peace through the development of his projects around the world, has reminded me of the power of form. Through better design there could be a social transformation. The fact that even though he's a key architect in the development of today's Israel, he went on to propose a design for the Palm Jumeirah Gateway Mosque in Dubai, shows his conviction that design can make a major social contribution beyond international boundaries or personal belief. As an artist, it gives me faith in the language of Art as an international language of communication beyond words.

AC/MSP: One can admire Safdie's work in many levels; his incredible body of work is a reminder that utopian thinking can still be reconciled with practical outcomes, especially in his inexhaustible search for a three-dimensional community in the habitat projects. Even though systems were developed with great precision and control, we are especially interested in its levels of indeterminacy; how resulting negative spaces frame infinite interpretations on how space may be lived and shared. This resonates in our practice as we become more interested in the architecture that contributes to the making of city and civic spaces.


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More on Moshe Safdie:

Natural Habitat: Moshe Safdie's 'Global Citizen'
The Skirball's "Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie" exhibition delves deep into the work and nearly fifty-year-long career of the Israeli/Canadian architect.

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