Installing a stoplight in a shantytown

Written by By Jill Cowan, CNN

This urban construction project, in collaboration with L.A.-based studio Doi Moi, hides a stoplight in scaffolding so people will not see the 4×4 flashing lights above. (But they should notice the sign — “Feliz Cinco Toscas!” )

This is the latest installation from Doi Moi, the LA-based architecture and design firm recently awarded the prestigious practice prize. The firm has long been a leader in promoting designer solutions to urban challenges.

“L.A. is an urban miracle. The city functions as a social organism, employing all its parts as one thing. And all of that organically ties together. I think that is what lends itself to monumental cultural spaces and, conversely, making them more relevant,” Doi Moi’s Daniel Lubetzky told CNN in 2016

The housing development in East L.A., pictured above, installed a 5×6 foot signal frame. It serves as a reminder to pedestrians that they should be crossing at a safe speed, lest they become the target of thieves — or obstruct the traffic path. Credit: Jhonatan Vargas

The latest project was created as a partnership between Doi Moi and Elena Rossini, the head of Bridge Bridges Urbanism , a non-profit which designs city transit systems for densely populated urban areas. The idea was to create a pleasant pedestrian experience in an area of East L.A. which is plagued by crime and poverty, offering a respectful reminder to residents and visitors.

Bridge Bridges was tasked with creating a signal frame for a new housing project in the neighborhood. The junction in front of the project’s gates is easy to cross because it is divided by a wall of the developer’s driveway. But the intersection is located along a notoriously dangerous street called Market Street , notorious for robberies, car thefts and hit-and-runs, making pedestrians a target. Rossini says half of her population has been forced to move due to violence.

This means the traffic on the road is packed, while pedestrians must use these streets to cross to and from bus shelters and other nearby buildings, and to get to nearby stores. “People pass out of focus and get caught in traffic with these lights flashing. They don’t notice them at all,” Rossini says.

When Doi Moi was asked to participate in the project, it ran out of design resources, so could only produce a prototype of the framework, according to Lubetzky. The team modified a concrete culvert, and strung a fence from the top to the bottom, so people can see the traffic signals on the ground, but not be distracted.

“We tried to solve this particular problem, in doing so we realized there are many ways to do it. We’re mostly interested in smaller ways, to make the public space a place we feel comfortable in,” Lubetzky said.

This is an illustration of the 5×6 foot rail that was created for the project. Credit: Jhonatan Vargas

Surprisingly, finding the funding for an elaborate protective plan was the first hurdle Rossini faced. “The only reason I knew I could make it work was because of the reputations and teams involved, it’s rare to find two or three great teams that know how to address the same challenge in a really creative way. We were already on the verge of failure,” she says.

The finished project featured emergency shut-off panels — which caught fire last year — and raised signs reading “

“[Speed] may be your friend, but my brother isn’t going to come help me,” and ” Traffic is at its worst when you look for it.”

The team followed the previously used ideas for this project. While the bridge frames reflect double-V capitals and wave patterns, there were also images of surveillance cameras and the number of cars on the road. But because these red lights attract drivers, the team also decided to set up a charger for the stolen iPhones that have so frequently invaded the neighborhood.

In collaboration with Liebi Coppola Architects, Doi Moi designed these installations, which are on display at the newly opened Hide, Alfa Vista and Palma.

“The essential solutions were found through interviewing neighbors and the perception of a bad intersection. We should always listen to what the community tells us. Our clients had to trust us. It all came together,” Lubetzky says.

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