Claus Benjamin Freyinger ’96
Established in 2004, The Los Angeles Design Group (The LADG) is led by principals Claus Benjamin Freyinger and Andrew Holder, with offices in Venice, CA and Cambridge, MA. The founders see their work as contributing to a longer history of ideas, and draw on this history to craft unexpected solutions to conventional problems in architecture and design. The firm works at all scales, with completed projects in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, and the United Kingdom. Recent work includes a free-standing indoor-outdoor restaurant in Southern California and the installation of a contemporary picturesque garden in Loeb Library at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. The firm has received numerous professional honors and recognitions, including 2017 and 2018 Progressive Architecture Awards, the 2014 League Prize from the Architectural League of New York, and multiple citations from the Los Angeles Chapter of the AIA.
Claus Benjamin Freyinger is co-Principal and co-founder of The LADG. Benjamin is a Guest Lecturer at the University of California Los Angeles, Department of Architecture and Urban Design. His design interests include the repurposing of architectural history for contemporary audiences, and building relationships between architecture and fine art practice. Prior to co-founding The LADG, Benjamin held positions at Mones and Partner, Architects in Munich, Germany, and Kohn Pedersen Fox Architects and Planners in New York. He holds a B.A. in Art History from Boston College with a Minor in Fine Arts from the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Germany. Benjamin received his M. Arch from UCLA in 2005. Prior to working in the field of architecture he gained fine art curatorial experience working for the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, Italy.
Andrew Holder is co-principal of The LADG, an architectural practice based in Los Angeles, and an Associate Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where he is also Program Director for the Master in Architecture degree. He is active both as a designer and a theorist of contemporary architecture. His built work and architectural proposals focus on how buildings can become actors in the built environment almost akin to human subjects. Recent projects include a series of five houses in Los Angeles, a retreat in rural Maine, and an architectural anthropology of the Mount Washington suburbs. Andrew's writing similarly connects architecture's form and physical presence to its participation in a larger history of ideas, most recently in the book Inscriptions: Architecture Before Speech, co-edited with K. Michael Hays. Additional publications include essays and projects in Young Architects 16, a+t, Log, Pidgin, Project, Harvard Design Magazine, and RM 1000. He is a frequent lecturer and guest critic at institutions across the United States and has held teaching appointments at the University of Michigan, the University of Queensland, UCLA, SCI-Arc, and Otis College of Art and Design.
Over the last six years, we have designed five houses in Los Angeles. How, we wondered, could these ideas translate from single families to larger groups of people? Could we go back to each project and double its density? Could decisions made for a single client become the basis for speculation about how to live life in as part of a multiple, near to others? Could we imagine new ways to coexist?
In 2015 the LADG designed a compound of small buildings for two artists in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Mount Washington. This would become the first in a set of five houses, all commissioned for similar purposes under similar development circumstances, by clients who, despite their uniqueness, shared certain traits. Each of the five houses was designed for just one family. These families were all relatively young or perhaps mid-career. They had various definitions of the word family, but all of them looked at the project of designing their home to render that definition in solid form. Coming of age in an era that glorified dense urban living and the myth of the creative class, these families nonetheless wanted something more like the suburban ideal of previous generations - a singular patch to call their own. Although not poor, each had a strict budget. They were therefore limited to building in specific parts of the City on particular kinds of land: older neighborhoods platted out in the subdivision boom of the early 1900's, distant from downtown, filled with irregular and substandard parcels on steep or strangely shaped lots. Usually these parcels already had small houses. They all required a radical re-working of an existing house or a tear-down, although the demolition was in each case constrains by the City's complex rules that encourage new houses to follow the rough contours of the building that existed before.
From the point of view of our five houses, then, the city of Los Angeles was like a sponge. Shot through with little holes and underutilized patches, this sponge was capable of absorbing far greater densities of people and building. The limit to this absorption was that the new architecture always had to be about coexistence from the very beginning. It had to reckon with old neighborhoods, on infill sites, and within building codes that strongly imprint new work with old patterns of development. Put another way, new houses must learn to share as a condition of arriving on the scene. As densities increase and our sponge of a City continues to absorb, this imperative will translate from the world of design to that of lifestyle. Neighbors will have to learn how to occupy mutually held territories and develop new habits for using it. This cooperation will not only be house-to-house, separated by yards and a fence in the usual way. In the very near future it will require more intricate forms of negotiation and contact as density shrinks yards and multiplies the number of families per parcel. In order to meet the new generation's continuing desire to live in something like the now old model of the single-family home, all of these demands will, paradoxically, mean getting more dense while retaining the loose, free-ranging character of Los Angeles neighborhoods as we know them now.
This imperative to share is not confined to the world of neighborly relations. At a larger scale, the urban fabric will have to share resources and disaster resilience strategies in order to successfully coexist with the nonhuman world. In Los Angeles these are not abstractions. Water is vanishingly scarce and must be collected in an ad hoc, house-by-house system of catchment basins to irrigate domestic landscapes. Neighborhoods must share small-scale infrastructure to withstand disaster. Fires, earthquakes, mudslides, and floods cannot be resisted at the scale of individual houses but can be managed if, house-to-house, neighbor-to-neighbor, we share small things that happen to leak and spread across multiple properties: drainage swales that double as yards; retaining systems that stabilizes hillsides, swathes of fire-resistant plants. Long term architectures will be those that already know how to share across all these different registers. It's not so much an issue of social responsibility as it is already a Darwinian whittling away of individualisms that don't work.
We set ourselves the task of revisiting each of the five houses in our series. Redesigning the five houses as speculative projects, we are committed to sharing and coexistence at three scales. First, the density of each project will double. A single fami ly's isolated compound will become two imbricated groups of people. Second, the new houses will extend ideas about coexistence to the immediate neighboring properties. We may not be able to redesign entire neighborhoods (nor do we think anyone should really), but we can position yards, driveways, windows, and paths so they're less about isolation and more about carefully orchestrated contact. And third, each of the new houses incorporates a small-scale infrastructural element designed to be part of a larger neighborhood system for living in Southern California's deceptively beautiful but ecologically harsh conditions.
Along the top row of this exhibition, you're looking at House 1 as it was originally designed and constructed. From left to right you can see the process of design from the earliest stages of site surveying to photographs of the finished building. Along the bottom row you can see the same design evolution for House 1' – the unbuilt double of House 1.