A.UD Lecture Series 2017-18: BRETT STEELE


‘Cars: The Secret Life of Parking Lots’

As a current Lyft billboard along the 405 tells us, ‘The better the event, the worse the parking.’ ‘Cars: The Secret Life of Parking Lots’ is Dean Brett Steele’s inaugural lecture in the Department of Architecture and Urban Design at the UCLA School of the Arts & Architecture. If Lyft and LA habits are right, he’s necessarily ambivalent about how good he hopes parking will be for the evening.

Brett’s recent move to Los Angeles has heightened his appreciation for his new home-city’s role in profoundly shaping the twentieth century’s most prolific form of built space: the parking lot. One of the most genuinely architectural qualities of the modern automobile is the fact that it is mostly an inanimate object: cars are parked 95% of their lives. The consequences of this reality are more interesting to an architectural generation today (when freeways themselves increasingly resemble their former destinations, parking lots) than the modern objects (like cars) or other infrastructures (like freeways) that previous generations, from Le Corbusier, to Barthes, Didion or Banham were so obsessed with experiencing, explaining, or simply owning. (Frank Lloyd Wright was said, at the time of his death, to have amassed a personal collection of more than 80 cars and motorcycles; a decade after Wright’s passing, Joan Didion was famously photographed repeatedly alongside her bright yellow Chevrolet Corvette; and Norman Foster recently completed a years-long project forensically re-creating Buckminster Fuller’s lost Dymaxian Car No. 4.) 

This talk will not be about cars, or freeways. These are architectural obsessions from a time past: a century from which we have an increasing obligation to construct ever greater historical distance. As Walter Benjamin once quipped in the notebooks comprising his ‘Arcades’ project (documenting the pedestrian, pre-vehicular urbanism of an even earlier century than his own), centuries are best understood as the secret dreams of those living before new centuries arrive.

Drive-by includes: Melnikov’s 1920s parking garages, General Motors’ Detroit Showrooms, and OMA’s 1990s declaration of a parking lot in Yokohama as the ideal cultural center of our time. Road stops include: Ed Ruscha’s photography, Chris Burden’s crucifixion, 80s Van Nuys Boulevard cruising, Watergate’s ‘Deep Throat,’ Michael Caine’s Get Carter rooftop brutalism, Victor Gruen’s rooftop choreograph, and Charles Eames’ chair salesmanship staged shamelessly in his own studio’s backyard parking lot. 

Along the way we will witness an 80-year old Mies, too old and frail in 1968 to leave his white Mercedes sedan while watching the single-day assembly of his Berlin masterpiece the Neue Nationalgalerie from an open car window, as well as current UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture students’ regular late-night performances held underground and in secret within one of UCLA’s 36 parking structures (which in 2018 happen to make up the single-largest category of built space on campus). 

The conversion of Westwood’s orange groves to parking lots and eventual building sites (such as the site of this lecture, at Perloff Hall) during UCLA’s first century provides another way to grasp the surface, and not only superficial, genius of the most overlooked and influential of all building types – the parking lot.


Brett Steele is the Dean of UCLA’s School of the Arts and Architecture, one of twelve professional schools at the University of California, Los Angeles. The school includes four renown departments (Design Media Arts; Architecture and Urban Design; Art; and World Arts Culture | Dance), three prominent public venues (The Hammer and Fowler Museums, and the Center for the Art of Performance), and eight faculty-led research centers. The school includes nearly 1000 undergraduate and graduate students, dozens of outreach programs operating across the greater Los Angeles region, 59 faculty and more than 300 lecturers and staff, and comprises nearly 500,000 square feet organized across eleven buildings on and off the UCLA campus. UCLA Arts is the second-largest entity at UCLA, after the university’s health system. Both are smaller in floor area than the 36 parking lots and structures that serve as a vital campus infrastructure, as well as an imposing physical record of UCLA’s modern 20th century origins.

This, Not That invites thought-provoking speakers to present arguments for their respective positions, or ideological stances, toward the design of the built environment. Their arguments will be supported by presentations of their creative efforts in research, pedagogy or professional practice.  This series stages an ongoing debate around the shifting perspectives that frame creative practice.

Perloff Hall is located on the UCLA Campus.
Perloff Hall, M-F, 9am – 5pm
Info: 310.267.4704
Lectures take place at 6:30pm in Perloff Hall Decafé (unless otherwise indicated)
Parking is available in Lot 3 for $12, purchase parking at the Westholme Ave and Hilgard Ave kiosk.
Check the website for confirmation of all programs at www.aud.ucla.edu

The campus map is available at www.aud.ucla.edu/map
Click here for a link to the nearest Uber drop-off spot at Dickson Court South and Portola Plaza.