live / 2014

Mobile Forum: Architecture and Urbanism To-Go

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by The Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design

Mobile Forum is a truck on a mission: to bring together communities, designers, developers, and policymakers to build the future of housing.


Please describe yourself.

Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

The LA Forum provides a framework for the public to explore, evaluate, and impact the development of architecture in Los Angeles.

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA
  • San Gabriel Valley
  • San Fernando Valley
  • South Bay
  • Westside

What is your idea/project in more detail?

Los Angeles is the world’s preeminent residential laboratory. As its multicultural population booms and neighborhoods densify, the LA Forum seeks to involve the city in the issues of access, affordability, and design quality.

“Mobile Forum” is a design think-tank on wheels. Part Case Study House Program, part food truck − it is an experiment in home and transportation combined. Its goal is to address a changing society through housing design and to test new building technologies in the field. It drives conversation and exhibition to and through audiences outside the more conventional architecture venues, engaging diverse publics in explorations into the ideals of living and the role of good design.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

“Mobile Forum” is a typical box truck turned migratory research hub and exhibition instigator. A demonstration of advanced ideas about home and housing, the vehicle gives a public presence to residential design discourse, one with the freedom to roam, solicit, and activate the region’s communal and creative capital. “Mobile Forum” instigates discussion by taking design questions and proposals on the road, encouraging people to talk to one another about the future conditions of living. It issues an open invitation to participate in the identification of neighborhood-by-neighborhood design cases and it provides the opportunity to bring the inventories to those with the means to influence change − and vice versa.

“Mobile Forum” is a combination gallery space, lecture hall, and activity center that packs up and ships out. It employs the ecological and physical footprint of the truck in cues to reconsider the desirability of the proximate, the small, and the shared. It provides the LA Forum with a flexible, opportunistic, and responsive platform for the staging of events. Loaded with an assortment of audio-visual, display, and workshop devices and equipment, the project caters to disparate deployments and facilitates interactions with groups and sites typically beyond the reach of fixed-location programming.

“Mobile Forum” sets out through the initiation of a series of community workshops. After locales are selected from an open call to neighborhood groups, the truck establishes temporary outposts for designers, locals, officials, and organizations to take stock of existing conditions and to speculate about the future of LA housing. Participants act as ad hoc interdisciplinary design teams, producing examples of how domestic spaces might shape the city of 2050.

The collected designs and visions created in these on-the-ground efforts form the content for the next iteration of “Mobile Forum” − a traveling gallery and advocacy vessel. The truck, retrofitted with displays of the accumulated new ideas for living, returns to the communities as a visual and spatial provocation to action.

All “Mobile Forum” work will be published − as it occurs through online and social media, and in its entirety as a building manual. The documents will be used to incite local developers, governments, and sponsors to break ground on the suggestions.

How will your idea/project help make LA the healthiest place to LIVE today? In 2050?

What’s the future of housing in LA? Livability, mobility, affordability. The LA Forum for Architecture and Urbanism believes that design is a tool that supports sustainable and healthy lives. Through design’s lens, learning, living, playing, and creating are actualized as physical environments. “Mobile Forum” extends the agency for the imagination of how all of these elements connect across the constituents, experts, and leaders for whom LA is home.

Typically, the question of what constitutes the spaces in which we live is the decision of developers responding to economics and government codes. If designers are involved, it likely is at the service of those pre-determined terms. And, residents simply chose from amongst the outcomes. “Mobile Forum” reverses and mixes up this practice, asking how we might understand needs in order to impact building regulations and developer decisions. It puts designers in a bridge position, enabling them to draw out how good living and good spaces come together. It does all of this by unifying all of these unique voices, by providing a platform for dialogue between communities, residents, builders, policymakers, artists, and creatives to take shape as actionable visions.

By focusing on housing, “Mobile Forum” taps into LA’s dominant source material − domestic space. Urban transformation begins with home and prepares the way for a thriving 2050. It literally gives shape to the conditions that will make LA the best place to live today and tomorrow. It shows how to maintain quality while fixing costs per square foot. It enables urban resilience by making sustainability inseparable from building practices − by revealing desirability and efficiency in reduced housing footprints, by demonstrating seamless integrations of living, working, playing, and moving, and by encouraging a valuation of these conditions. It models interdependent environments where the lines between open space, community space, and private space blur, where all of the amenities and relationships crucial to a healthy and fulfilled existence are proximate. It suggests that empowerment depends on literally building interaction into the expectations for the everyday surrounds. It holds the American dream up for review and encourages the development of an alternative ideal around which to construct the future.

Whom will your project benefit?

“Mobile Forum” targets residents living around new and proposed transit routes that are seeing or will see significant redevelopment growth and changing property valuation. These areas are subject to rapid reconstruction, displacing existing populations through eminent domain or rent inflation. The LA Forum project seeks to provide a sounding board for those involved in and impacted by the urban transformation. It aspires to produce concrete examples for building that innovates design inclusive of both established communities and of densification efforts.

The LA Forum will identify ten communities along new or pending light rail corridors. “Mobile Forum” will interact with these communities in a series of information gathering and idea generating engagements that pool human resources in the planning of how to adapt. It takes advantage of the infrastructures of streets and lots to set-up a vast array of unexpected public venues. Wherever the truck parks, an event unfolds, revealing glimpses of locational potential and catalyzing the forces to realize them. Lessons learned at each stop travel from point to point, distributing insights from one community to another. The city and its citizens are encouraged to observe and shape each other in hands-on exploration.

The interactive and cumulative nature of “Mobile Forum” benefits the direct participants − who learn the mechanisms for influencing the development taking place around them − and their communities − by mobilizing the agents required to alter the expectations for and outcomes of comprehensive neighborhood restructuring. It also has the potential to act as a global conversation starter, to model for the world best practices for light-touch living and to reinstate LA as the residential laboratory to envy and emulate.

Peripherally, “Mobile Forum” reminds LA about the profound role of the design and construction industry, a significant part of the creative capital for which the city is known. It reinvigorates the energy and economy around literal world shaping, helping to maintain the diversity of the region’s productions and of the people drawn to be a part of the excitement of creating and making.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

The LA Forum expects three types of collaborator-partners for “Mobile Forum” − community groups, governing bodies, and development organizations. If awarded the LA2050 support, “Mobile Forum” will consist of a team of designers and urbanists − from the LA Forum − between eight and ten community groups and/or governing bodies and two development organizations. This perfect storm of agents for the built environment will pool resources to cultivate the intellectual and material content of a proposal for a new approach to living.

As an example, the LA Forum has a confirmed collaboration with the City of Glendale and intended collaborations with the be.group and with Enterprise Community Partners (or similar). In this hypothetical relationship, “Mobile Forum” would work on-site in Glendale in its proactively anticipated light rail corridor. The City of Glendale would share the resources of its planning and policy offices and would provide guidance and structure to the event staging and to institutionalizing outcomes. The be.group, a local advocate of Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities and Aging in Place Initiatives, would host the workshops through the perspective and in consideration of the needs of their constituents. Enterprise Community Partners would provide the development and economic expertise and connection to fiscal enablers. And, the LA Forum would establish the framework and act as the intermediary and translator (from conversations to building proposals) for a cooperative research and design effort.

“Mobile Forum” would organize similar, but circumstantially unique arrangements across the city − amassing a variety of both tailored and universal approaches to responsive development by design. Other collaborator-partners to which the LA Forum has reached out and/or with which the LA Forum has the potential of working include the City of West Hollywood, Skid Row Housing Trust, El Proyecto del Barrio, and the Housing Rights Group, to name a few. The LA Forum’s board members, all well established design and urbanism professionals, have respected histories working with an extended network of organizations appropriate to fill the collaborator-partner positions and will activate that network in order to secure involvement in “Mobile Forum.”

The three factors critical to a successful “Mobile Forum” collaboration-partnership are: (1) a distributed and representative audience, (2) connection to decision-makers, and (3) promotion.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Live” metrics?

  • Access to healthy food
  • Exposure to air toxins
  • Number of households below the self-sufficiency standard
  • Walk/bike/transit score
  • Percentage of LA communities that are resilient (Dream Metric)
  • Percentage of tree canopy cover (Dream Metric)
  • Livability; Mobility; Affordability

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

“Mobile Forum” will impact a number of the Live metrics immediately:

Livability A rich urban housing ecology is Sustainable, Healthy, Dense, and Safe. By addressing these issue through the design of residential units in LA we can directly discuss the following issues that impact domestic and urban life: access to healthy food, walkable neighborhoods, mixed used services that offer healthcare and community support. Good housing design increases quality of life at all levels, providing maximum light, air, and green open space.

LA is a residential city. Decisions about housing − how we build it, how we organize it − inevitably impact how we use our city, how we connect to one another in Los Angeles. The outcome of the discussions and workshops of “Mobile Forum”, which we plan to publish and distribute to community groups, developers, and government officials, have the potential to influence and positively change housing and therefore the urban patterns of LA.

Mobility By focusing on transit corridors along the Metro Line, we can address the relationship between home and work. The creation of more affordable and desirable housing near transit, impacts the median travel time to work, number of public transit riders, and transit-accessible housing and employment.

The ability to bring the LA Forum’s activities to locations throughout LA in collaboration with community groups will increase attendance at cultural events. The pop-up nature of the events will similarly increase attendance at public/open street gatherings; locating these pop-ups near transit will likely increase the number of public transit riders. The promotion of the events and the connections made between participants will increase the total number of social media friends of all involved.

Affordability We are seeing housing experiments in other cities that are working to reduce inequity and support diversity. These include elements such as microunits, co-housing, and shared services and outdoor spaces. Housing that supports a multi-income community increases the quality of life for all residents by redefining affordability. By facilitating human relationships, by bringing resources to residents, and by integrating the functions of living, well-designed housing provides more for less.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

We will measure the success of “Mobile Forum” based on the expansion of our organization’s audience, the connections we can make between a diverse body of community groups and decision-makers, and the lasting impact of the project.

We will survey attendees at our “Mobile Forum” events to understand: their prior relationship to the LA Forum, if any; the frequency of their attendance at cultural events; the likelihood that they will continue to follow our “Mobile Forum” project.

The diversity of participants in our workshops will contribute significantly to the success of the project. We will measure the breadth of connections we make through geographic diversity; representation of age, gender, and race; and the balance of participation between designers, developers, government officials, and locals.

The lasting impact of the project will depend on the influence we can have on the planning, design, and construction of future housing. Changes in governmental policies or planning processes, investments in material or technological research, and continued activism by participants and community groups are all indicators of success for our project. The opportunity to design and build one of the proposals from our workshops is our own dream metric of success for “Mobile Forum.”

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

Housing is a recurring topic within the LA Forum’s programming − for events ranging from building tours, to competitions, to panel discussions. In the summer of 2013, we hosted two simultaneous exhibitions on the subject: How Small is Too Small? and By-Right/By-Design. An installation of a 300 square foot micro-housing unit, How Small is Too Small? invited visitors to experience the spatial ramifications of a comfortable and compact housing arrangement. By-Right/By-Design was a side-by-side fiscal and material comparison of real estate development models and innovative design-driven projects.

These shows and the feedback that they generated provide a couple of lessons that inform “Mobile Forum.” One, the immersive experience of physical space profoundly influences discussion quality, liberating diverse inhabitants to interact and engage in dialogue animated unlike in any other format. Two, the potentials for design to instigate changes in how we build and live − by challenging accepted models of development − are underappreciated and underutilized.

“Mobile Forum” transforms information and suggestions acquired within the relatively controlled gallery environment and applies it to the messy reality of public spaces. It offers a test of design discipline knowledge by exposing − and bolstering − it to and for an expanded audience.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

The timeline provided below illustrates the achievability of the “Mobile Forum” goals within the next twelve months.

“Mobile Forum” Timeline

September 2014:

  • secure collaborator-partners
  • plan community residencies / workshops
  • buy “Mobile Forum” truck and implement initial outfitting
  • launch communications campaign

October 2014-July 2015:

  • hold citywide community residencies / workshops
  • one community per month / one daylong event per month
  • develop designs and publications from community workshops concurrently

August 2015:

  • run citywide housing exhibition returning outcomes to original ten sites
  • release “Mobile Forum” publication

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

One challenge will be the synthesis of potentially wildly-divergent ideas about the future of housing into a cohesive set of proposals or tenets. We want to open up the discussion about housing to new and unexpected possibilities, but we also want to translate the richness of such conversations into a directable action. We’ll use design as the medium for focusing our efforts. This means designing workshop materials that encourage collaboration and participation; designing mechanisms for recording conversations in a visual manner that can be distributed back out to the public; and most importantly using design as the lens through which questions and proposals are posited and answered.

The logistics of staging a series of itinerant events across the LA basin over the course of a year is also a significant challenge. As a peripatetic organization, we’ve grown accustomed to planning and hosting events at sites around the city. For “Mobile Forum,” we’ll rely on our collaborators and partners to introduce us to their neighborhoods, help us find a spot for our events, and identify local leadership and experts to participate in our workshops. We’ll make use of our collaborators’ networks to promote the “Mobile Forum” events and ideally draw an engaged audience.

We’ll also need a good mechanic, someone reliable and not too expensive. :)

What resources does your project need?

  • Network/relationship support
  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Infrastructure (building/space/vehicles, etc.)
  • Community outreach