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A curious photo op: Gavin Newsom at Marmol Radziner

April 23, 2009 |  4:23 pm

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Architecture has been pummeled as hard as any industry by the current recession. As a result, firms are grateful for any scrap of good news these days, even if it's just a brief blast of media attention like the one that hit the offices of local architects Leo Marmol and Ron Radziner on Wednesday. In the early afternoon, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who announced Tuesday (via Twitter) that he was running for governor, showed up at Marmol Radziner's studio on Nebraska Avenue in Los Angeles for a tour and to make some brief remarks about green architecture and jobs. The visit, his first official Southern California campaign stop, came a day after Newsom stopped in at the Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto.

Why did Newsom choose Marmol Radziner? The firm's work on prefab housing was one reason. Newsom has made sustainable development and green-tech investment a focus of his nascent campaign. (Prefab architecture qualifies as green because, among other benefits, it produces significantly less construction waste than traditional residential building methods.) During his visit to Marmol Radziner, he wore a green tie to mark Earth Day and toured one of the firm's sleek, minimalist prefab houses. 

More after the jump ...

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In an e-mail sent last night, Ron Radziner, one of the firm's founders, wrote: "Gavin Newsom told us that he came across the firm in various publications and chose to make it one of the first stops on his gubernatorial campaign because we design and build locally.... The building industry has long been held up as one of the few industries wholly resistant to the out-sourcing pressures of globalization, while it's been a totally different story with manufacturing. I think that combining the two offers a hope for how we might move forward under the banner of a new, green economy."

Newsom's visit was in certain ways a trip behind enemy lines, because Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa may join him in the race for governor. Newsom has already seemed to stoke a rivalry with Villaraigosa and apparently sees our mayor as vulnerable on issues relating to sustainable architecture and urban planning.

Whether the visit will produce any local support for Newsom -- or new work for Marmol Radziner -- remains to be seen, of course. But the carefully orchestrated start to Newsom's campaign does say something about the symbolism of green architecture and prefab design, as well as the demographics of those voters assumed by politicians and the press to be interested in those topics.

There is a symbolic thread, in other words, connecting Twitter, Facebook and prefab. It has to do with youth, certainly. And innovation. Long gone are the days when nearly every kind of eco-friendly architecture was synonymous with the counterculture, far-left politics and back-to-the-land communes.

-- Christopher Hawthorne

Top photo: Gavin Newsom with architect Leo Marmol, left, and Ron Radziner, right; bottom: Newsom stands in front of a Marmol Radziner prefab. Credit: Marmol Radziner Architects

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