I was asked by our Board Chair and Executive Director to serve as project manager for the first two pilot homes as part of the Virtual Redevelopment Project (VRD). I was excited about this new endeavor for a couple reasons: it was an opportunity to collaborate with new residents and talented artists, designers, and architects on design projects. Simon Rodia was not an artist when he completed the Towers in ’52 and I believe that creativity is part of the human condition. As project manager my responsibilities were to ensure that there was equity in the creative process, guide families in the collaboration, and build partnerships to leverage in-kind donations and volunteers to realize the design plans…perhaps even awaken the inner Simon Rodia.
What was the Virtual Redevelopment Project exactly? The VRD was a web-based interactive 3D technology that serves as a tool to imagine and develop new designs and improvements on virtual models of the homes in Watts. After the designs were uploaded to the models, the virtual was made real through the help of volunteers, partnerships and neighbors. For me, the VRD was as much about space as it was a tool. It served as a place where collaboration gave shape to smart design solutions; a space for channeling creativity into drivers for a stronger community; a space for planting kernels of possibility that would later become examples of action and agency. The environment provided by the VRD became a common/neutral space and it narrowed the creative distance between artists and residents. The technology of the VRD allowed residents to alter and contribute to the collaborative process in the same way that an artist or designer would do.
Focusing on the exterior
I believe ‘pride of place.’ It begins at home and extends from there. Improving the exterior for the home (front fence, outside walls, landscaping, and wrought iron work) also impacted the overall look of the community. The scope of the VRD work will also include outfitting the homes with photovoltaic or solar thermal panels. This will happen with the help our partners Imani Energy.
What will be the experience of the VRD be for the families?
The Sanchez and Villegas families must feel confident about contributing their design ideas into the process. I would like them to perceive the Virtual Redevelopment Project as an experiment where a multitude of possibilities and opportunities exist for them and where they hold the keys to unlocking those possibilities. I’ll consider my job a success if the experiences with the VRD enlighten, educate and empower the families through their working relationships with the artists, designers, and architects. As part of their participation, I scheduled the Sanchez and Villegas families to visit the studios, workshops, and exhibition spaces of the design teams. Both families have lived in the area for over 20 years. They have experienced the good and bad in Watts but they have not traveled far from where they live. To help guided me in the process, I’m using on my own experience as a compass. I grew up in a neighborhood not unlike Watts. As a child I accepted the conditions of my street as the norm. One major difference was that my neighborhood had no Watts Towers. Agency, the concept that will and action create change, was an unfamiliar concept to my neighborhood. It never occurred to me that, collectively, we could work to improve the condition of the block. Conformity was the enemy. In Watts, the Towers are beautiful examples of agency and unfettered creativity. It is my sincere hope that the VRD will provide the tools, inspiration, and example that will lay down the foundation for something bigger – bridging the gap between art and community building. In my opinion, there’s a connection between helping paint a neighbor’s fence or house and painting on a canvas or mural when both results can have the potential to alter the consciousness of the viewer or community. (Featured in Watts House Project)