For Greek-born Stefanos Polyzoides, it started with a picture of parrots. "My uncle had been to the first Olympics in L.A., and he came back with a photograph of himself on the beach, covered with parrots. The place seemed like a dream, like the end of the world." After finishing school at Princeton, Polyzoides decided to dedicate his life "to figuring out this strange place."
For his wife and partner, native Angelena Elizabeth Moule, it began with the city where she grew up, "a place where there were still fields and agriculture, where there were many different places within a large metropolis, where you could still call yourself an Angeleno. I want that back." Now the two architects are, in Polyzoides' words, "committed to a 20-year plan to make (L.A.) a better place."
The couple think big and small at the same time. For the Downtown Strategic Plan, sponsored by the Community Redevelopment Agency and directed by a citizens committee, they are responsible for figuring out how to put another 20 million square feet of office space downtown, while making room for 100,000 people to live in and around there. As members of the team designing the giant Playa Vista development in Playa del Rey, they are helping create a community where tens of thousands can live, work and shop. At the same time, they are working on a house in Pacific Palisades and a dormitory in Tucson.
These designers believe that historical research, architecture and infrastructure planning are tied together. "You need to have a complete social, economic and physical understanding of this place," says Moule. From that understanding, they are trying to find the building blocks to make a place where, as Polyzoides describes it, "people come together, rather than disappearing into private paranoia. In our designs, we stress things that bring us together."
"We want to have people identify with the city, to actually use it rather than just zoom through it," Moule says, pointing to their proposal for a series of small parks and public plazas downtown. Adds Polyzoides: "The loss of public space reflects a loss of vision, of common values. We suffer from moral exhaustion."
They cite Pasadena, where they live, as having qualities that Los Angeles could emulate. "There are parks there, and a downtown and courtyard housing that is again being built. People feel passionate about their city and about their neighborhoods," he says.
The two are proposing courtyard housing as the "perfect combination" of private places and public spaces, says Polyzoides, who has written a book on L.A. courtyard housing.
The couple also talk of building a house in Antigua, Guatemala. "It's a perfect town, a colonial place of courtyards and volcanoes preserved for all these centuries," says Moule. It even has parrots.