Invisible Architecture?
Office Trailers and Construction Sites Examined

3313 The CLUI office trailer, located at the transitional Parcel B lot in downtown Culver City, contained the exhibit On-Site Office Trailers: Invisible Architecture of the Urban Environment. CLUI photo

OFFICE TRAILERS ARE small manufactured mobile commercial buildings, made to be trucked to a location to support business activities, like construction projects. Their use is generally considered to be temporary, but collectively they are fixtures of the urban landscape–a functional, national architecture of perpetual transition.

Also known as mobile offices, construction trailers, and portable buildings, these structures are a ubiquitous and overlooked form of architecture, and a rare example of a successful application of factory built buildings, which take advantage of the efficiency and economy of modular and prefabricated construction techniques. Though modernist and revolutionary in a sense, they come not from the desks of idealistic designers, but from the utilitarian demands of commerce and the workplace.

Office trailers are in every neighborhood, in every city in the nation, a kind of international style of prefab functionality. Perhaps because they are seen as temporary, they are not usually considered as architecture, despite being ever-present, and often staying on site indefinitely. They are used as classrooms, hospital space, and minimum-security prisons (it is possible to spend much of one’s life in them, from birth through education, work, and incarceration).

These structures are most common, though, as on-site job trailers, used by contractors, engineers, and architects as field offices. They
are found in this form at every manner of construction project, from individual building construction, to major infrastructure projects that make the city function, like electrical distribution projects, water supply maintenance, sewer line construction, metro-rail line construction, airports, and highways. They house the interface between people and place, at the work sites of the dynamic urban landscapes we create and inhabit.

The CLUI produced a public exhibit and tour program about office trailers in May and June 2013, and installed the exhibit inside an office trailer in the middle of a transitional urban space near the Center’s Los Angeles office. The program was part of a series of exhibitions sponsored by the Getty Foundation as part of Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in Los Angeles.

On-Site Office Trailers: Invisible Architecture of the Urban Environment was composed of photos and text describing a variety of office trailer types and locations, found at the moment throughout the city, including the construction camps set up at the 405 freeway widening project in the Sepulveda Pass; supporting the multiple construction projects at LAX; at Dodger Stadium; the Echo Park Lake Rehabilitation Project; Expo Line construction; the Broad Museum; and the ongoing Playa Vista project.

The exhibit also described the places where these trailers come from, such as the massive Mobile Modular company yard in Mira Loma, the principal location for the region’s largest commercial trailer sales and leasing company, and their deep storage yard in Rubidoux. Together these two sites have over 1,500 trailers at any given time, most of which are 60 feet long. Also depicted and described were the facilities for Mod Space, Mobile Mini, and Williams Scotsman, the other major trailer leasing companies in the region, whose yards are also in the Inland Empire, along with the Silver Creek company, a manufacturer of modular office trailers in Perris.

The exhibit was installed inside an office trailer provided by the Mobile Modular company, and parked for two months in the middle of an empty lot in Culver City known as Parcel B, a site in development limbo, but destined to become the last part of the city’s downtown redevelopment project. One room in the trailer had renderings of the building proposed for Culver City’s Parcel B site, designed by Ehrlich Architects. 100,000 square feet of retail, ready to go, once the economic and political conditions to support it improve. ♦

On-Site Office Trailers: Invisible Architecture of the Urban Environment was part of Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A., celebrating Southern California’s lasting impact on modern architecture through exhibitions and programs organized by seventeen area cultural institutions from April through July 2013. Major support for On-Site Office Trailers was provided by the Getty Foundation.

3314 Interior of the exhibit trailer. CLUI photo