LOS ANGELES — This past June, a brightly colored, undulating blob appeared next to the La Brea Tar Pits off Wilshire Boulevard. This was no archaeological specimen, but an architectural pop-up created by Madrid-based firm SelgasCano. Made of stretched sheets and ribbons of shimmering, translucent plastic, the 866-square-foot structure resembled the love child of a ’90s raver and a wind sock. This is not to say that the experience of being inside its tunnel-like arms is unpleasant. Sunlight passing through the facade creates a kaleidoscopic effect similar to stained glass. At night, it’s lit from within and glows like a psychedelic jellyfish. However, its synthetic presence feels at odds with the black tar bubbling up from the ground nearby, like an alien spacecraft crash landed in the Pleistocene. This is perhaps because it was not made with the tar pits in mind at all, but was originally created as the 2015 Serpentine Pavilion, the renowned UK architectural commission which allows architects to create temporary, experimental projects.
So how did it find its way to Los Angeles? The structure was brought here by the British co-working company Second Home. Dubbed the Second Home Pavilion, it’s intended as a celebratory precursor to Second Home’s first US location, which recently opened in East Hollywood. At a press event in June, the pavilion was touted as a community space which will host public programs “focusing on the intersection of art, design, science, and nature.” However, only a few such events have taken place: a conversation with Thomas Heatherwick, the architect behind New York Vessel; a discussion between David Lynch and uber-curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist; and a performance and reading series on the city’s “relationship to the natural world,” held in partnership with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and University of Southern California. An upcoming Community Marathon Weekend (originally dubbed a Community Takeover Competition) in mid-October is billed as “a weekend showcasing our favorite non-profit organizations using dance, poetry, art and education to transform people’s lives in LA.” An Instagram post last month aimed to solicit organizations to participate in the October event by requesting that they follow Second Home, the Tar Pits, and Time Out LA (a collaborative partner), “like” the post, and leave their pitch in the comments.
In the meantime, visitors to the Tar Pits are welcome to wander through the architectural folly’s colorful passageways during museum hours, with timed admissions. The pavilion’s website prominently features a quotation from the Guardian, hyping it as “an Instagrammer’s paradise.”
This vague notion of social responsibility and community uplift carries over to the East Hollywood Second Home itself, the company’s sixth site and first in the US. The sprawling campus of unconventional workspaces is located in a 1961 Paul Williams Building also redesigned by Selgascano. In an adjacent parking lot, the firm has placed 60 “pods” with yellow, acrylic roofs, and 6,500 plants and trees, making it LA’s “densest urban forest” according to their website. It also features a bookstore, recording studio, rooftop bar, and editing suite.
“We create workspace for diverse communities,” Second Home co-founder Rohan Silva told Hyperallergic in June during the Pavilion’s opening. A former senior policy advisor to UK prime minister David Cameron, Silva started Second Home with Sam Aldenton, a “serial entrepreneur,” as he is described in press materials. “We worked very hard to make sure every industry in LA, from charities to fashion to design to public agencies, are all next to each other,” Silva continued. “Out of that cross pollination, good things happen.”
Silva stressed that charities would get discounted rates, and that local community groups could use the meeting rooms free of charge. Two of the nonprofits he mentioned as being early members are large-scale organizations, however, not local groups: Good Inc. and the Sunrise Movement.
He touts Second Home as an alternative to exclusive clubs like SoHo House, or boring, drab co-working spaces like WeWork. Second Home locations have design-forward member-only office spaces as well as public spaces like bookstores, cafes, and restaurants.
“No one will stop you at the door and say, ‘where’s your ID?’” he said. “We really think it’s terrible for cities, all these private small spaces. It’s not civic, it’s not open.”
This is an admirable notion, but it remains to be seen how much openness and cross-pollination will come of Second Home’s first foray into Los Angeles. (A note included with a shiny plastic tote of press materials was full of overused cliches about the city: “It’s both a utopia and dystopia. Part Sunshine and part noir. A city of seduction and defect.”) The pavilion itself is only slated for a five-month run ending on November 24. Barring a more robust programming schedule, it seems like a flashy way to give Second Home a footing in Los Angeles, a faux-philanthropic gesture served with pre-fab rainbow sparkles. Time will tell if Second Home LA actually benefits the community in which it’s located, or if it’s simply a commercial enterprise sold with lip service to buzz words like community and diversity, but little understanding of the city’s true dynamic complexity.