Job Site Trailer Tour
Visiting Invisible Architecture

TWO BUS TOURS conducted by the CLUI looked at construction sites significant to the expansion of the city, and their respective office trailers, as part of the exhibit On-Site Office Trailers: Invisible Architecture of the Urban Environment, in the summer of 2013.

Before departure, the group gathered at the CLUI Job Site Trailer containing the CLUI exhibit. The trailer was located in the middle of an empty lot known as Parcel B, which was selected by the CLUI as it is a transitional lot, the last part of a downtown redevelopment project planned for Culver City, and a block away from CLUI headquarters.

Though a fancy design has been prepared for Parcel B, with 100,000 square feet of retail and plazas with wide Spanish Steps kind of spaces, the project has been stalled for a number of years. It is now bogged down in the fall-out from the governor’s state-wide dissolution of Community Redevelopment Agencies (and the lot is technically owned by a nameless entity called “the successor agency of the community redevelopment agency,” poetically implying the depth of this bureaucratic limbo).

In the meantime the lot, whose pavement was unfortunately resurfaced and striped just before the CLUI trailer arrived, is the kind of place where Christmas trees are sold in the winter, and movie trucks park when they shoot on location downtown.

In Los Angeles, this city renowned for vehicles, we will look at current major construction sites related to transportation: the new Metro Rail line, the 405 freeway widening project, the airport’s upgrades and expansions. And we will sit in traffic, as if in a bath, while we talk about the surrounding efforts to do something about it. We will also look at some redevelopment projects, and the transformation of spaces, from historic aircraft factories and oil fields, to master-planned residential and commercial projects at Playa Vista.

This tour is about office trailers too, and we will be using them as gateways to talk about the larger project they are associated with. We will continuously point out these “invisible” buildings as we move around the city. This tour is a kind of urban architectural safari, through herds of office trailers, flocks of mid-century modernism, and gaggles of dingbats.

3315 Tour participants crane to see the first trailer spotted on the tour, a small grey 24-footer from ModSpace at the Expo Line light rail construction site. CLUI photo
Metro Rail’s Expo Line
Our first stop is just a few blocks away, on Venice Boulevard, at the current limit of the construction of the new Expo Line of Los Angeles’ light rail system. Phase One cost close to a billion dollars, and was completed last summer. It goes from somewhere near downtown, to here. Phase Two, under construction, is expected to cost $1.5 billion, and will go from here to the ocean at Santa Monica, 6.5 miles away, with seven new stations between here and there.

The new line is cutting a swath of construction through the Westside, where some home lots start at around a million dollars, with or without a house. Mostly the line follows Exposition Boulevard, which was a rail line as far back as 1875, when steam trains brought ore to ships in Santa Monica Harbor, before the railway closed in the early 1900s. Southern Pacific Railroad bought the line and converted it to electric in 1909. It became the Santa Monica Air Line, and it carried passengers until 1953. Portions of it carried local freight between industrial sites until the late 1980s, though most of the tracks were ripped out. Metro bought it in 1990, to keep the rest of the right of way from being developed, in anticipation of what we see here going in today, 23 years later.

At the construction site is the stub of the new elevated railway, rising high enough to cross over Venice Boulevard, on an as yet to be built bridge. Next to it is a big parking lot, and some remnants of construction, though for the moment most of the work on the line has moved elsewhere, until they come back to work on the bridge. A small office trailer remains at the site, a grey 24-footer from ModSpace, used as a staff room for security and maintenance personnel.

Heading west on Venice Boulevard, we pass the old Red Line power station, from the electric streetcar lines that used to meet here, before they too were torn up in the 1950s. The station is now a theater for the Actors’ Gang, a group led by the actor Tim Robbins, who can sometimes be spotted grabbing a snack at Trader Joe’s across the street.

We pass the In-N-Out Burger, then we drive by the headquarters of the CLUI, and the barbeque grill shop that back in 1913 was Harry Culver’s sales office for the new development that he named Culver City, at the end of his new block-long Main Street. On the other side of the road, an empty lot next to India Sweets and Spices is a ghostly reminder of the gasoline line explosion that occurred in the median of Venice Boulevard in 1976, causing a fire that killed nine people.

We turn right on Watseka, at the Hare Krishna temple, and are soon at the end of the road, at the diagonal swath of Exposition Boulevard, and the light rail construction again. Here the grade, which has gone back to ground level after crossing Venice, is rising up again, to go over National Boulevard. Crews are building a retaining wall for the line on the edge of Exposition, so we have to do a little detour–our first of the day.

While following the Metro line construction as much as we can on the roads, at times sawtoothing along the track’s diagonal path through the city, on our way to the next office trailer stop, we talk more about office trailers, the subject of the tour.

Trailer Talk
Job site trailers are generally leased by construction companies for a few months, then returned to their owner’s logistics yards to be cleaned and serviced before being rented out again. In Los Angeles, the three big trailer leasing companies are ModSpace, Mobile Modular, and William Scotsman, and you can tell whose is whose by their color–gray, brown, or white with green trim, respectively.

There are tens of thousands of commercial trailers in the L.A. region, more than 100,000 if you count individual units of multiple-wides and school classrooms. Single wides are the most common though, and are the typical on-site or job site trailers we see scattered all over the place, tucked in corners, in parking lots, or in compounds at big job sites.

They tend to be sized in multiples of four feet, as this is the standard size for plywood and composite sheets. The smallest ones are eight feet wide and 24 feet long. Construction starts with a welded steel base subfloor which sits on removable axles, suspended by leaf springs. A plywood floor is bolted to this frame, then walls are built on top of that. The walls are made of standard 2x4s, 16 inches apart, just like a house. The exterior is usually T1-11 plywood, or some other textured composite wood sheeting (though a few companies use sheet metal). Inside walls are done in a variety of 4x8 foot sheet material, such as smooth wood grain patterned paneling or vinyl coated pressed fiber materials. Ceilings are usually suspended panels, like in an office building, with recessed fluorescent lights. Floors are usually finished with one foot square composite tiles. The roof is rolled asphalt, or metal. Doors, windows, and interior spaces vary, a bit. They can have bathrooms, or not. Break areas with bar sinks and cabinets, or not.

Wiring for lights and plugs is done with junction boxes and romex, strung through drilled holes in the 2x4 wall studs, as it is in normal housing. Heating and cooling is usually by a heat pump unit mounted on the outside wall of one of the narrow ends, and ducted through the building in the space above the suspended ceiling. The walls, ceiling, and floor are insulated with fiberglass.

In Southern California, they all come from the Inland Empire, pretty much, where the leasing yards are located, some with as many as 1,000 units stored on site. The big yards have sheds and spaces outside to work on the trailers. They can strip one down to the frame and build it back up in just over a week, if they need to. Most trailers go through several renovations before they are retired from service. They could, if properly treated and maintained, last as long as a house. But they encounter lots of abuse in the field, and usually are trashed after 20-25 years or so. The main reason to demolish them is a combination of damaged and out of date interiors, rot from a leaky roof, and a rusting frame. Most things, though, can be fixed by replacing materials.  

Trailers are built by a variety of modular architecture companies, the biggest of which in Southern California at the moment is Silver Creek in Perris, which mostly makes more elaborate fixed modular buildings, not trailers. During slow times in the economy, nobody builds new ones, and the used ones pile up at leasing yards.

From Metro Rail to 405 Widening Project
At Pico and Sepulveda, the tour bus leaves the right of way of the Metro Rail construction as we point out an office trailer, located at the Catalina Pacific concrete batch plant that provides concrete for the rail project as well as other local projects needing wet concrete. We head north on Cotner, adjacent to the 405 freeway, and soon features of the next project we are looking at come into view.

3403 The chaos of widening the 405 freeway. CLUI photo
In Westwood, we enter into a chaos of concrete formwork, where flyover overpasses are being built to replace road transition ramps, outmoded with the newly widened 405 freeway, also under construction. A new system of cloverleaf-type ramps is being built in the middle of an already built-up place, at one of Los Angeles’ busiest intersections, Wilshire Boulevard and the 405. In the midst of this transitory concrete jungle, we point out the first of a few construction yards for the primary contractor for the 405 project, Kiewit Construction. The yard is full of office trailers–their tell-tale brown paint indicating that they came from Mobile Modular–and orange Kiewit pickup trucks, which can be seen up and down the Sepulveda Pass, working on this major urban freeway project.

Just past Wilshire, we turn left on Constitution, going under the 405 and into the Federal Veterans grounds to another Kiewit construction yard, the Bruin Yard, to pick up our first outside briefer. Joel Kriwinski will help us understand what’s going on as we get back on Sepulveda northbound for a ride up through the construction in the Sepulveda Pass.

The 405 freeway widening project through the pass has been going on for several years, and is not expected to be done until some time in 2014. It’s a $1 billion project, partially supported by federal dollars from the “shovel-ready make-work project” period of Obamadom. The intention is to widen ten miles of the existing freeway by at least one lane in each direction, in order to add a car-pool lane. To do so, three bridges are being torn down and rebuilt and 28 on and off-ramps are being re-engineered.

But that is not even the hardest part. Because much of it is in a pass through the hills (between the Westside and the San Fernando Valley), there is already a lot of critical infrastructure passing through here. More than a dozen utility lines have to be dug up and relocated, including high voltage power, water mains, communication, natural gas, and a 12 foot-wide storm drain. Some go back more than 60 years–unmapped utilities were located during the construction.

A total of 18 miles of retaining walls and sound walls are being constructed, including specialty glass barriers that enable some highway-adjacent home owners to keep their view. Some of the retaining walls built early on have already started to collapse, and are having to be rebuilt, further delaying the project. All this is occurring in the space bookended by the 101 and the I-10 intersections of the 405, both often rated as the most congested freeway interchanges in the nation, on a stretch of highway with 300,000 cars passing over it every day.

As we head up Sepulveda Pass, traffic slows, enabling the people on the bus, elevated above the surrounding traffic, ample time to examine the forms and textures of the various structural and retaining walls around us. Our briefer, Joel Kriwinski, of Drill Tech Drilling and Shoring, knows them well, as he built them. Some of the cuts into the hills to widen the road create shear walls 80 feet high. These have to be faced with powerfully reinforced concrete walls, made with a mesh of steel, covered in shotcrete, held in place by thousands of rods drilled horizontally into the earth behind them. Some of these rods are a few inches in diameter and extend 80 feet into the ground.

Joel explains how his crews trowel the wet surface concrete by hand, sculpting up to two inch-thick relief patterns of simulated tilted rock stratigraphy designed by his company, which creates the effect of massive road cuts through solid rock, while behind them is the loose and fractured ground of Southern California (here Jurassic slate and Cretaceous sandstone), pressing hard.  

3316 Stratigraphic detailing on the retaining walls of the 405 freeway. CLUI photo
At the top of the pass, we exit at Skirball Center Drive, and pass over the pass, with its river of traffic below and a good view of the adjacent Carmageddon Bridge, so named as rebuilding it required the full closure of the 405 for more than a 24-hour period (an event that was thought might create mass panic, but which instead led to people sneaking on to the closed freeway to set up dining tables and play frisbee).

Then south, on the west side of the pass, to our destination, the Kiewit construction yard known as the Segment 2 and 3 Office, where we disembark for a briefing about the site and the overall project by Kiewit representative Natasha Jones.

This compound is one of the busiest of the eight or so that Kiewit operates along the construction route. It sits in a kind of side canyon, halfway up the pass, at a place that used to be the access road to the Mission Dump, a landfill that filled-up part of the canyon until it was closed in the 1980s. The former truck scale for the dump remains at the entrance to the Kiewit trailer compound. Beyond it, a group of trailers in a complex configuration runs up the canyon road. All of them brown, leased from Mobile Modular.

The privately-held Kiewit Company was started by a Dutch brick layer in 1884, and is now one of the largest construction and engineering companies in the world. It is headquartered in Omaha, in Kiewit Plaza (which also houses the headquarters for Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway), and generates around $12 billion in revenue annually, building bridges, tunnels, offshore oil rigs, and other infrastructural projects. In addition to the Sepulveda Pass 405 widening project, it is currently working on the new San Francisco Bay Bridge, reconstructing the large geodesic dome at the Omaha Zoo, building gold mines in Nevada, gas plants in North Dakota, and many other things. Kiewit employees know the inside of construction trailers as much as anyone.

While this is not really what their PR representative Natasha Jones said to us, she did address all of the questions directed at her by the assembled group, who then took a walking tour through the trailers, peeking in on some meetings, reading the OSHA posters, and using the restroom.

3317 The group touring the office trailer compound at the Kiewit Yard in the Sepulveda Pass. CLUI photo
South on the west side of the pass again, we pass Kiewit’s Half Moon Yard, then the SCS Renewable Energy Mountaingate Plant, which cleans methane from the closed landfill in the pass and sends it via a five mile-long pipeline to UCLA to be turned into electricity. Further down the road we point out the Metropolitan Water District’s Sepulveda Canyon Water Control Facility, which reduces pressure and generates electricity from the MWD’s water main, cascading down the pass underground into the city from the big filtration plant in the San Fernando Valley. These are some of the utility lines that had to be moved to widen the highway.

Two more Kiewit construction and trailer yards, the Getty View Trailhead Yard and the Kohn Yard. Then we pass the entrance to the Getty Center, the massive cultural complex at the base of the pass. It opened in 1997, after years of construction delays, finally costing $1.3 billion, about the same as Phase Two of the Expo Line. And with delays and adjustments, the 405-widening car pool lane project may match that as well. It’s amazing what can be had for $1.3 billion these days.

We drop off Joel where we picked him up, at the Bruin Yard, grateful for his interpretive prowess. The yard is next to the pumping yard for the Sawtelle Oil Field, which we are on top of. Here, Brietburn Energy extracts 175,000 barrels of oil per year through 18 wells, drilled laterally from this point outwards in different directions under the city. It is one of a few dozen of such operations like this in the L.A. Basin, much of which is still an active oil field, despite its appearance to the contrary. We are reminded once again of the Getty Center, looming above us. It’s founder, oil-man John Paul Getty, once the richest man in the world, said “the meek shall inherit the earth, but not the mineral rights.” Sitting in this bus, paid for with the largess of his legacy, atop an oilfield still pumping away, it’s hard not to feel some kind of satisfaction with our inheritance.

From the Freeway to the Beach
Oil, Aerospace, Entertainment: these are the historic pillars of Los Angeles’ economy. How to manage housing, transportation, sprawl, and redevelopment, is its future. Our next stop combines all these elements in one place–Playa Vista, which means view of the beach.

Playa Vista is one of the largest redevelopment projects in the L.A. Basin. The site is the former aircraft plant and airport for Hughes Aircraft, owned by Howard Hughes. Hughes reigned as the world’s richest man longer than John Paul Getty, and his fortunes similarly came from oil. His father’s Hughes Tool Company, a pioneer in oil drilling technology,  provided the resources for Hughes to follow his passion for airplanes and movies. More than anyone else he embodied those three historic pillars of Los Angeles–oil, aerospace and entertainment.

Though his fortune mostly went to a medical research foundation and Las Vegas real estate, the legacy of the Hughes Tool Company is today’s BakerHughes, a multi billion-dollar company based in Houston that is the leader in oil and gas well stimulation technology, that controversial technology known as fracking.

The legacy of Howard Hughes in Los Angeles is Playa Vista, where he built the Spruce Goose, the world’s largest airplane (which after its first brief and only flight, sat for a long time in a hangar in Long Beach, and is now in a museum in Oregon). Playa Vista is also where he took off on a premature test flight of his XF-11, built for the military. He crashed it into a house in Beverly Hills, and became addicted to painkillers during his slow recovery. His plant at Playa Vista had as many as 5,000 workers and dozens of buildings. The largest ones are still there, used by the movies. The site was where Spielberg, Katzenberg and Geffen were going to build their DreamWorks studio, and where these plans were abandoned in 1999.

Today the largest remaining Hughes building and some of the grounds are leased by Raleigh Studios, an independent production operation, with studios and soundstages in Hollywood, Manhattan Beach, Baton Rouge, Budapest, China, and in the Spruce Goose Hangar.  Many of the biggest Hollywood productions have used the massive space, including Batman, Avatar, and Titanic.

Essentially an industrial use, large-scale film production has preserved the hangar in close to its original state. But the rest of the former Hughes property has changed dramatically, becoming a master-planned mixed-use live-work new-urbanist upscale high- tech mecca.

The current redevelopment of the site began in 2001, though it has changed hands a few times. It is now being developed by Brookfield Residential, the fifth largest land developer and home builder in North America.

We begin our interface with the project at the west end, where we enter the property on Concert Park Drive, across from Home Depot, and are immediately surrounded by a dense cluster of new apartment blocks, three and four stories high, each in a different architectural style, iterations of Spanish and industrial, and arranged uniformly into blocks surrounding a green lawn with palm trees. Clean, new, and dense, the sensation is like entering an architectural rendering.

We head to the far side of the property to meet our briefer. In doing so we get to see another common but distinct form of the on-site office trailer, the housing sales office. The office is in a modular structure composed of eight 12x60 foot prefabricated sections, connected together. These multi-wide temporary buildings are common, and built in the same way as single-wides, trucked to the site individually, but designed and built to fit together in their particular configuration at the site. Once inside, it looks like any other office space. They are generally used for longer-term projects and when space is available. The building has been painted a kind of high-tech grey/green and emblazoned with the Playa Vista logo, but it appears to be the type of trailer provided by ModSpace.
Our group, numbering around 50, flows past the reception kiosk and packs into a meeting room with a conference table in the middle, surrounded by panoramic elevation renderings of the future phases of the project. Once assembled, Derek Fraychineaud, Vice President of Residential Construction, welcomes the group, and tells us all about it. Though Brookfield took over the project just a few years ago, Derek has been involved in it since its inception, working for the previous developers. In fact he pulled the project’s first building permit in 1999. His knowledge spans the history of the site to the extensive terrestrial engineering that building here has required.

After an overview of the future of the site, the various home “products” that will be available, and other anticipated amenities like the “seven-eight chef-driven restaurants,” we head out in the bus with Derek for a drive-through tour. We are in Phase One, which is complete. It is composed of more than 1,400 units, most of which are occupied, a school, restaurants, Whole Foods, parks, and an interpretive center. A brand new town of 5,000 residents in the middle of the city. We pass by the Mondrian (an apartment complex stylized with the distinct colors and forms of the famous Dutch designer) and other architecturally-themed vertically stacked triplexes and loft-style townhomes. Each block a completely different style, yet all sort of similar.

Phase One ends abruptly at its eastern end with a chain link fence, beyond which is a big flat expanse of mounded earth, construction equipment, drill rigs, and office trailers: Phase Two. Phase Two is expected to have more than 2,500 units, filling in the rest of the property. Though buildings are expected to begin to appear later this year, the landscape is still being prepared.

Every volume of soil at the 1,088 acre Playa Vista site, it seems, has been moved at least once. Former wetlands (Ballona Creek runs along the base of the bluff along its southern side), and then a former runway; the ground is naturally soft and unsuitable for large scale structures. To make it buildable it has undergone a complex and unusual process of extended compaction known as surcharging, where soil was piled up into rectilinear mounds and sat for years, compressing the ground underneath it. In addition, piles are driven into the ground to support the foundations of future buildings. Drill rigs and pile drivers have been at work on the site for years, installing and load-testing building pad piles.

Derek guides the bus along the grid of new roads of the construction zone, describing the process as we pass through this landscape of terraformation. Underground utilities are also going in, and exotic blooms of bright flexible plastic conduits sprout from subterranean ductwork.

3318 Derek Fraychineaud, Vice President of Residential Construction at Playa Vista, guides the bus through the construction site. CLUI photo
At the east end, we re-enter a more familiar landscape, the already constructed commercial campus and the old Hughes plant. As we loop around it, Derek points out the new and old: there is the Spruce Goose Hangar with its redwood trusses holding one of the largest enclosed open spaces in the city; there, in Building 17, is YouTube’s new television production center; the upper corner of that renovated building was Howard Hughes’s office; over there are the offices of Riot Games; that building was the former cafeteria, capable of serving all 5,700 employees of the aircraft plant; tenants in that building include Electronic Arts and Facebook; Building 3, over there, was the Skunkworks R&D building for Hughes; over there at the east end is where the L.A. Clippers basketball franchise is based.

The business park at Playa Vista and its immediate surroundings are indeed one of the most impressive concentrations of hip high- tech companies as can be found anywhere. In one row of four new slanty glass office buildings is USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies, a famous Army-funded simulation and gaming tech and digital effects lab; the headquarters for Belkin, the computer accessories and cabling company; and the headquarters for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, ICANN, which controls the top-level domain name system for the internet worldwide. Across Jefferson Boulevard from Playa Vista are the main offices of some of the best known advertising firms, such as TBWA\Chiat\Day, OMD, and Deutsch, as well as those of innovative architecture firms, such as ARUP and Gehry Partners.

The bus parks next to the ICANN building so people can get out and enjoy their picnic lunch on the sculpted grounds of Central Park. Designed by L.A. architect Michael Maltzan, the park has a dramatic bandshell used for occasional performances and film screenings, and a network of curiously vegetated mounds and walkways. We are reminded that the park, like the rest of the development, is private property, when seguey-mounted security guards appear and begin questioning the tourists while they eat their lunch.

3405 Some of the CLUI group having lunch at Michael Maltzan's Central Park, at Playa Vista. CLUI photoOff to the Airport
The next stop on the tour is Los Angeles International Airport, which has more construction trailers than anywhere else in the city (other than the trailer company leasing yards in the Inland Empire), supporting several major construction projects there, including the construction of the new Bradley Terminal, together totaling more than $4 billion.

To get there we head west on Jefferson Boulevard towards the beach. On the way we pass by wetland restoration projects along Ballona Creek, and the pipelines and vents of Southern California Edison’s underground gas storage complex. We enter Playa del Rey, an isolated beach community with elements that remain from an earlier, more laid-back time in coastal real estate.

Left on Vista del Mar, we are right on the coast now, with Dockweiler Beach and the Pacific Ocean on our right, and the bluff between the beach and the runways of LAX on our left. These bluffs, enclosed behind fencing, are covered in an organized street pattern, with curbs and even a few lamp posts, but no buildings. This ghost community is visible to anyone taking off in a plane at LAX with a window seat.

In the 1920s, this was Surfridge Estates (and part of Palisades del Rey), a beach front development with some very fancy homes, owned by the likes of Cecil B. DeMille. As the airport grew, it got louder. Eventually, in the 1960s and 1970s, the area was condemned by the City of L.A. by eminent domain. People sold out to the city. Some refused to leave, but eventually they all did, and the houses, all 800 of them, were moved or torn down. Part of it is now a Blue Butterfly reserve, and there is talk of pulling out the paved streets and restoring the dune.

3404 Driving by the Surfridge Estates site, at the end of the runways at LAX. CLUI photoNearing our destination, we turn away from the beach on Imperial Highway at the Hyperion Wastewater Plant, the city’s largest sewage plant, and are stopped at the next intersection by a row of police cars. It seems the President of the United States is in town and is headed to LAX too, so we have to wait. The motorcade soon appears, coming towards us on the empty street, and turns north on Pershing and in the back door of the airport. After a few more minutes, traffic is allowed to flow, and we turn north on Pershing, then into a construction trailer park at the northwest corner of the airport property.

This is the main contractor yard for the largest project at LAX, the building of the new Tom Bradley International airline terminal. The engineering trailer yard has around a dozen double, triple, and quadruple-wide trailer structures, many of which are used by the prime contractor on the project, Walsh-Austin, a joint venture between the Walsh Construction Company, based in Chicago, and Austin Commercial, based in Texas. This team, along with dozens of subcontractors, have been working on the terminal for a few years already.

3321 The tour group in the blueprint trailer in the Walsh-Austin construction compound at LAX. CLUI photo
The terminal construction is opening in stages, as the old terminal, to which it is connected, has to continue to function. Phase One, opening in 2013, involves 18 new gates on the west side, including gates for a new generation of larger aircraft, and the new Great Hall, full of shopping and dining. Phase Two rebuilds the east side gates, and is expected to be finished in 2015. The original cost estimate was $1.5 billion (close to the other $1.3 billion projects we have seen already today), but it’s likely to exceed $2 billion.

Air Force One roars into the air as we arrive at the lot and meet our briefers outside the trailers. After a look at some of the interconnected trailer park, we go inside a conference room where Curtis Fentress, the terminal’s architect, gives us a slide presentation about it. He is the founder and principal of Fentress Architects, a large international firm which also designed Denver’s airport, with its unique tent-like roof.

3322 The group heads into the construction trailer compound at LAX for a briefing by Curtis Fentress, the architect of the new International Terminal. CLUI photo
Even though it is considered to be the largest public works project in the history of Los Angeles, the new terminal at LAX is hard to see from the usual entrance of the airport, as it is behind a façade at the end of the busy airport passenger pick-up and drop-off loop. A good view of it can be had from the back entrance of the airport, the business end of it, as it were, which is accessed via World Way West. The group gets back on the bus, accompanied by Kevin Handley of Fentress Architects, and heads into the airport’s back side.

On the way, we pass a former Nike missile launch complex at the corner of Westchester and Pershing, which is now an animal shipping company called Pet Jets. Then, entering the airport, we see the President’s limousine being loaded into a military transport plane, and pass the other large office trailer park at the airport, on the south side of World Way, where contractors dealing with construction equipment, bulk materials and aggregate are based.
Continuing east, we pass the ten-story administrative headquarters building for the airport, aircraft maintenance hangars, the airport’s fuel tank farm, and other logistics and service areas. There is also an airport control tower on this side of the airport, one of the original ones, which is now mostly automated. World Way West dead-ends with a loop that is immediately across from the new Tom Bradley Terminal with its row of soaring metallic arched roofs. From this perspective we can see how the building could cost $2 billion.

After heading back to the trailer park to drop off our Fentress representative, we pick up an LAX World Airports representative, Tim Ihle, who travels with us to the other side of the airport, where we will see another large construction project going on, and visit clusters of trailers that are tucked into the middle of the densest part of the airport, the Central Terminal Area.

At Westchester and Sepulveda, we pass the O’Neil construction trailer yard, the base for the airport’s elevator and escalator upgrade project. Nearly all mechanical people movers are being replaced throughout the airport over a six year period, at a cost of more than $270 million.

The bus pulls into the loop through the central terminal area with all the other busloads of airport travelers, only we are not going anywhere. At the far end of the loop we pull into a bus holding area between the parking garages, and disembark next to a dumpster. The group walks down Center Way, through the service core of the airport, west of the Theme building, to a trailer encampment. This is one of two contractor yards in this busy part of the airport supporting the Central Utility Plant Replacement project. We meet with Ben Haim, from the Arup engineering company, which is the main contractor on the project. We go up to the top of a parking garage for an overview.

3320 The group gets a briefing from a Clark/McCarthy engineer working on the Central Utility Plant upgrade in the heart of LAX. CLUI photo
The Central Utility Plant, in front of us, is a circular structure in the middle of the airport that provides heating and cooling, water and power for all the terminal buildings at the airport. The fifty year old plant is being replaced with one that is 60% more efficient, at a cost of nearly half a billion dollars. The trick is building a new one while the old one continues to function, then switching over the systems, with all of their connections, piece by piece. It is described as like doing a heart and lung transplant on a living patient.

Back to the bus, we begin the journey back to Parcel B, pointing out a few things along the way, such as trailer classrooms at the Lutheran school on Sepulveda, and the Howard Hughes Center, a large shopping mall and office park. On Jefferson, we pass the former back lots of MGM, sold to developers in the 1970s when Kirk Kirkorian owned the studio, helping to finance the MGM Grand resort in Las Vegas, the largest hotel in the world at the time. (Howard Hughes did not live to see the new boom in Las Vegas–he vacated his penthouse at the Desert Inn and shuffled off this mortal coil in the 1970s.)

We pass the Baldwin Hills, where more than 400 oil wells still extract bubbling crude, owned by Plains Exploration, based in Houston, which is eager to frack these wells if they are allowed to. We pass National Public Radio’s western studio, then the mega-institutional architecture firm HOK’s Los Angeles offices. Culver City’s waste transfer station, along the now concretized Ballona Creek, is where they used to film Tarzan movies, on part of the studio’s back lots. It was here, along Ballona Creek, where a hundred years ago Harry Culver ran into Thomas Ince, who was using the bushy creek bed as shooting location for a Western movie, and convinced him to open a studio here, which became MGM.

We pass another cluster of construction trailers at 6000 Jefferson, a four-wide, abandoned by the City of Los Angeles, following the completion of the North Central Outfall Sewer Air Treatment Facility next door, in 2010. The facility cleans the air that vents from a large buried sewer main, on its way to the Hyperion Plant, using charcoal filters. The gates of the facility are adorned with enigmatic atomic symbols made by the public artist Helen Lessick. It is next door to a Herman Miller chair warehouse. Somehow all these things are connected.

Turning onto Hayden Street in Culver City, we drive down a road that is the architect Eric Owen Moss’ Appian Way. Several of his signature buildings from the 1990s are here, made possible by his patrons, Fred and Laurie Samitaur Smith, who bought many of the former warehouses long ago and engaged Moss as part of their redevelopment efforts. This work gained him much acclaim, and helped position a L.A. school of clever post-postmodern, deconstructivistic re-use architecture. Moss later became the head of SciArc, Los Angeles’ progressive architecture school, and the subject of some of the other programs in the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time: Architecture in L.A.

An image of his Samitaur Tower is one of the emblems for the Getty program, printed on banners hanging from lamp posts all over town, and on the cover of the printed program schedule listing this very tour. This is mentioned to the audience on the bus, as we approach the end of Hayden Street, where we get out to take a look at the Semitaur Tower, in the Corten steel flesh.

3319 View of the Samitaur Tower from the bus. CLUI photo

The tower is, unfortunately, closed to the public, and unsafe to climb. It is a piece of architectural punctuation. Wrapped around it is a translucent screen, a projection surface for words and patterns. The tower is a kind of information age lighthouse, marking the shores of high-tech urbanism next to the new light rail line.

Around the bend at the corner of National and Washington, across from the Expo Line Stub, is a big tree, an eddy in the flow of the urban renewal. At the base of the tree is a brass monument to the Hal Roach Studio that used to be right here, producing Laurel and Hardy, Our Gang, and Harold Lloyd movies. This was also the part of town with old jazz joints and speakeasies. Then it became car dealerships. Now they are gone too, mostly, converted to more creative office space, digital effects studios, crafty beer bars, high-end kitchen supplies, reformed jazz bakeries, and whatever else we construct in this place. Not complaining of course, who doesn’t want a Trader Joe's a block away from home?

Then the bus pulls into Parcel B, our temporary home in the heart of the heart of screenland, our little paved paradise, where nothing has happened, yet, and maybe won’t for a while, so anything can happen, for the time being–even a base for a bus tour and exhibit about office trailers. ♦