5/23/13 – Ruminating on the virtual

The Virtual Redevelopment Project

In March 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’m excited about this new endeavor for a couple reasons: it’s an opportunity to collaborate with new residents (and possibly awaken in them their inner Simon Rodia, who was not known as an artist when he completed the Towers in ’52), and talented artists, designers, and architects on design projects. As project manager my responsibilities will be to ensure that there’s equity in the creative process, guide families in the collaboration, and build partnerships to realize the design plans.

What is the Virtual Redevelopment Project exactly? The VRD is 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 are uploaded to the models, the virtual is made real through the help of volunteers, partnerships and neighbors. For me, the VRD is as much about space as it is a tool. A space where collaboration and vision give shape to smart design solutions. A space for channeling creativity and exchange into drivers for a stronger community. A space for planting kernels of possibility that later become examples of action and agency. Where the VRD creates common space for participation, it also narrows space between artists and non artists. The technology of the VRD allows residents to alter the uploaded designs and contribute directly to the final plans.

Focusing on the exterior
I believe ‘pride of place’ begins with home and extends from there. By focusing on the exterior with design improvements for front fences, outside walls, landscaping, and wrought iron work, the VRD impacts the overall look of the community as well as the home. 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.

Trinidad Ruiz
Programs Director