Parking Park


Ebell Theatre´s Parking lot. Space between the wheel stops and the perimeter wall.

Ebell Theatre's parking lot is half a block away from Wilshire Boulevard, where this avenue cuts across Central LA. It is close enough for easy access, yet far away enough to mitigate the avenue’s vigorous activity. As in many open parking lots, angled and perpendicular slots marked by white painted lines and wheel stops are organized around its perimeter and in two central aisles. As in many open parking lots, the cracked perimeter wall and the wheel stops define an area of particular stillness. Stagnant yet protected, this is the space where waste is pushed to, where brown pine needles accumulate, and where the life of weeds is spared. Before the wheel stops, car’s wheels, functioning as good housecleaners and gardeners, secure a rough but uninterrupted playing field. After the wheel stops, accumulated waste and negligence such as dead leaves and green weeds provide softness. Later, when the angle of the sun on the perimeter wall projects a shadow, sports spectators will start gathering in this in-between space.

At night, the Ebell Theatre’s attendants, for whom this parking is reserved, will fill their slots. But now it's daytime, so the lot is empty. A guard, also operating as park keeper, peeks from time to time to inquire about any unidentified vehicle; preventing free parking opportunists and, secretly, unwanted obstacles in the soccer field.

Is this guard/park keeper an advocate for improper usages of private property? Or do these activities occur so much on the margins of the existing protocol and remain so insignificant that this security-trained actor won’t perceive the threat? The roughness of the asphalt in contrast to the softness of the nearest park’s grass suddenly makes soccer harmless. There is no wear. No maintenance cost for which a theater ticket needs to be paid. There is no competition. The player’s choice, unlike the car driver’s, is as unpopular as unprofitable.

The space is so innocuous, so irrelevant, and so political. Park migrants are attracted by the non-conflictive quality of asphalt, by the calm bareness, by the absence of entitled park users. Park migrants will adapt their backs to the wall’s 90-degree ergonomics, they will decrease the black asphalt’s temperature by layering clothing, they will reinvent the wheel stops into awfully uncomfortable benches. One block away, Harold A. Henry Park defines citizens’ leisure, containing carefully chosen flora, eating areas, as well as a children’s playground. On this block, leisure escapes the green scrap of the city and the official characterization to which it was confined. Escapes that carefully delimited area city planners nominated park.


Left: a sign prohibiting soccer in Harold A Henry Park. Right: children playing soccer in Ebell Theater’s parking lot.

In the prohibition of soccer playing two claims clash. Green, soft grass must be maintained and taken care of for public enjoyment, but also, “who is that public?” Latino activists ask. “Where are the signs prohibiting baseball or basketball?” As local soccer players predominantly belong to this ethnic group, the measure has been deemed discriminatory. While there might not be an easy side to take, there is a clear gap between multiple patterns of leisure and a singular idea of a park.

City planning often neglects leisure, as the work of architect and educator Izaskun Chinchilla reveals. She asserts that cities and their regulations are conceived and constructed to facilitate productive activities. That efficiency tends to be accepted as an unquestioned value and cities designed for an archetypical productive citizen. Productive matters are public matters, discussed in governmental institutions. Reproductive matters, those that maintain the continuity of life yet are not considered productive, seldom are (unless they are considered to produce an economic stimulus. Why do stadiums get built?). The city as a caring space is secondary; superfluous. Chinchilla’s work asks about the citizens' right to live in a city that provides space for caring. Spaces of non-capitalizable leisure such as parks are neglected in our critical readings of the city and thus the gaps between soccer players and green fields emerge.

Together, park and parking expose how ridiculously uninventive city planning is in understanding and stimulating patterns of leisure. Together, park users and park migrants disclose the narrowness of our notion of public space, incapable of acknowledging its own displacing power.


Model of parking infrastructure displaced into the parking lot. Frames from AR navigation of the model on-site.

How do we make visible the conflictive nature of this parking lot? This displacement in the use of public space is materially defined. It’s precisely the quality of softness in the park that makes it a protected space and the roughness of the parking lot that makes it a neglected one. It is the park’s infrastructure of care, benches and water fountains, that proclaim “this is a park” and the inhospitality of the parking lot that marks it as a non-space. Architectural representation makes space visible in a mediated way. In the image above we see how an augmented reality (AR) model introduces texture and infrastructure into the parking lot. The exclusion is not erased, but the excluded attains new relevance.

Looking closely we might observe that these hairy objects resemble a bench, a water fountain, or a parking lot wall, but in an apparently random and inexact way. They are not the objects themselves but the space of interaction between those objects and someone who cleans.

To render visible this space of cleaning we have to, first, clean. During the process of cleaning a new unique spatial description is constructed. It is derived from the attention given to a different scale of approaching of detail, through bodily involvement and intimacy. The way in which textures, angles, and heights are related to one’s own body, imposes a different time span of attention and diverse degrees of definition. If we track our movement, this spatial description can be translated into a point cloud model.

The tool used to do so is a mixed reality software developed for precise simple construction of complex models: Fologram. Considered from the value of precision and efficiency it is often overlooked that this can also be a specific method for design. One that encourages modeling from a particular point of view; that entangles digital and physical space enhancing the weight of the latter in the design process; that raises the value of the haptic against the visual; and that encourages multiples actors to interact in the same design process (quite different from designing using a personal computer in 3D modelling space such as Rhino).

In this exaggeratedly non-neutral standpoint point cloud, the only sense of order is given by the points' relative position to each other. The relative positions of points are determined by the relation of the cleaner with that which is cleaned. Material resistance, the atmospheric temperature, tiredness, or boredom, and how all these translate into time, generate density variations: the spaces the cleaner spent more time on have more points and better definition.

What is the implication of cleaning as a modeling practice? Let's consider two remarks. Firstly, the act of cleaning is the act of deeming proper. As Mary Douglas points out in her book Purity and Danger: "If we can abstract pathogenicity and hygiene from our notion of dirt, we are left with the old definition of dirt as matter out of place. (...) Dirt is the by-product of a systematic ordering and classification of matter, in so far as ordering involves rejecting inappropriate elements."Mary Douglas (2001, F.E. 1966) "Purity and Danger: An analysis on the concepts of pollution and taboo", Routledge, 36. Just observe how cleaning practices for individuals and collectives vary according to what they consider valuable. Secondly, modeling is projecting. The way we structure our models, decide a degree of definition, or choose a scale or a material, already prioritizes one quality over another, it´s already a project decision. Therefore, turning cleaning into a modeling practice is making “deeming proper'' a projective practice. Is incorporating a neglected yet value-building practice into a projective process. The same way the parking lot is incorporated into the park by park migrants.