Making LA: USC Architecture students design sustainable structures for LA2028 Olympic Games

The semester-long project encourages students to design sustainable structures for the city while retaining the spirit of Los Angeles.

Caption: Rob Ley’s studio in the middle of desk crits. Credit: Amy Wang/USC

The afternoon sun gleams across the corridor of Harris Hall, home to USC’s School of Architecture, where a drawing board presents images of the Hollywood sign, the iconic Randy’s Donut, numerous buildings in the Spanish revival style, freeways and more. Words like “connection,” “extravagant,” “diversity,” and “wood” have been jolted alongside in black ink. To 75 second-year architecture students who have been challenged to design sustainable and community-centric infrastructure for the LA 2028 Olympics and Paralympic games, these are the ideas that paint a vibrant picture of the City of Angels.

Titled “Making LA,” the semester-long project aims to have each student answer what the city means to them and design sustainable structures for the city, from concession stands and media centres to stadiums.

“With this project, we are asking students to look at the LA 2028 Olympics and specifically, the afterlife of it,” said Juan Salazar, one of the advisors for the project. “More often than not, when the games are over, all the investment that went into [the city] is lost. If we think about the Olympics games in Athens, Greece, all the stadiums are pretty much abandoned.”

The 2028 games mark the third time that LA hosts the Olympic games, having previously been the host in 1984 and 1932. The city has laid out multiple initiatives for LA2028 including rehabilitating existing stadiums, using UCLA as the Olympic Village, and expanding the public transportation network in the city.

“We need structures that can actually benefit the community that it takes place within,” said Mira Singh, one of the students involved in the project.

Many students are excited for the extension of the Purple Line that will connect Downtown Los Angeles to the Miracle Mile, Beverly Hills, and Westwood, which would reduce the travel time between DTLA and Westwood to just 25 minutes. The city’s aggressive push for sustainable building and development for the LA2028 games lay the foundation for the framework of the Making LA project.

Over the weeks, the students’ designs have matured into a wide range of forms which all exhibit their individual take on building for disassembly, reuse, and adaptability.

Tianyu Guo works with strictly slanted, parallel surfaces, but breaks this rule to create a highly sculptural space where people can walk up, sit around and enjoy some boba drinks. Her work aims to create a sense of “interaction,” where all the elements of the building are connected to how people intend to use it. “The Olympics aim to bring all the people together. The temporary architecture for the Olympics also needs to do so,” Guo said.

Guo’s model of concession stand design. Photo courtesy of Tianyu Guo.

Another student Brady Lin sees a sustainable approach within his work with hexagons and how they can be arranged to create all kinds of structures. He talked about how small hexagonal loops can be used to create bike racks and can later be taken apart to build structures like bus stops.

Lin’s model of concession stand design. Photo courtesy of Brady Lin.

Rob Berry, the project coordinator, encourages his students to investigate where the materials for construction come from and how they are processed. He gives examples of small structures from the LA84 games where many of the temporary towers, arches, and monumental art were made from recyclable or reusable materials such as cardboard and fabric, and shows how sustainable materials can truly transform the city.

“Generally, when we talk about sustainability as it relates to architecture, the conversation always centers around new technologies. But new materials come with expensive costs,” Salazar said. “If students are to take something out of the studio, they should understand that you can be sustainable with very simple means — you don’t have to be radical.”

While tacking on a green roof or constructing a new garden in a building seems like an easy solution towards sustainability, Salazar said that it can often be unrealistic because the construction costs exceed the budget of the client.

“In LA, more often than not, the commissioners and developers want to reuse existing projects to reduce costs,” Salazar said. In DTLA, many office and commercial spaces were abandoned due to a shift towards working from home since the pandemic. Instead of destroying these buildings to construct newer ones, many have now been converted to apartments.

The “Making LA” project aims to encourage ideas of adaptive reuse and historic reconstruction, aspects of sustainability that have been less discussed in architectural education.

“It is so easy to make a statement from scratch, or to be original. Instead, to me, it is way more challenging to rework existing structures into something that you can still call your own,” Salazar said.