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Coachella music festival embraces an architectural experiment

February 13, 2009 | 11:00 am


Back in 1983, a not-yet-mellowed Elvis Costello told Musician magazine that "writing about music is like dancing about architecture -- it's a really stupid thing to want to do."

Now, thanks to a class at L.A.'s Southern California Institute of Architecture (Sci-Arc), we're going to see what it's like to attempt architecture about dancing -- and music.

"Rock and Roll Fantasy: Sci-Arc at Coachella" is the name of the course. The object: design and build what the syllabus calls a "temporary spatial installation" for this spring's edition of Southern California's biggest annual pop music do, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio.

The course, which began meeting Jan. 19, calls for students to do background research by studying rock festivals such as Woodstock, Britain's Glastonbury Festival and past runnings of Coachella; they'll also familiarize themselves with event-specific temporary structures built for Burning Man and the Venice Biennale, among others.

Sciarc Separated into teams, they'll come up with an assortment of proposals, and Goldenvoice Presents, the concert company that produces Coachella, will pick one or two to be built for the festival. Sci-Arc's contribution(s) will remain standing through its April 17-19 run (one hopes), and then be dismantled -- unless Goldenvoice becomes so smitten with what the architecture students have wrought that it remains through the following weekend's Stagecoach Festival of country music.

The design and construction budget: $15,000 minimum, maybe more "if Goldenvoice decides the project warrants more resources."

Given that this year's Coachella headliner is Sir Paul McCartney, we were thinking of suggesting a gigantic, transparent  viewing stand in the shape of a rocking chair. But, on second thought, maybe not.

-- Mike Boehm

Photo (top): Rock band Wilco performs at the Coachella Festival in 2005. 

Credit: Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times

Photo (bottom): Southern California Institute of Architecture (Sci-Arc) in downtown Los Angeles.

Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times