Flammable City

Hancheng Chen (website)
The Cooper Union
Core Studio
Brief: Koreatown Riots in Los Angeles
Faculty: Diana Agrest (website)


“…Indeed, had alien voyeurs really been watching the earth from a secret observatory on the moon or suburbs on Mars, they would have been mesmerized by Los Angeles’s extraordinary combustibility. No other urban area on the planet so frequently produces large thermal anomalies…”
– Mike Davis, Ecology of Fear, 1999

This project focuses on the flammable level of the Los Angeles. Koreatown, the scene of 1992 riots, had the most complicated social, racial, economic issue, and had the highest density of alcohol among the Los Angeles City at the time. The streets functioned as fuses; liquor stores, grocery stores, bars, gas stations, and any building that housed a large amount of alcohol was equivalent to fire kindling. The Riots played the role of fire which was soon out of control spreading out over the whole city along the streets, igniting every flammable building and displaying frenzied citizens.


↑ expansion of the riot in terms of time and geography (time scale: day)

↑ expansion of the riot in terms of time and geography (time scale: hour)

↑ the streets and boulevards functioned as fuses (map of fuses)

↑ the streets and boulevards functioned as fuses (progression day 1)

↑ the streets and boulevards functioned as fuses (progression day 2)

↑ mapping of koreatown (the density of alcohol: flammable levels)

↑ mapping of koreatown (commercial buildings: yellow, residential buildings: blue)

↑ mapping of koreatown (smoke as wall)

↑ mapping of koreatown (accessibility after the burning)

↑ series of changes in accessibility (plan and section)

↑ series of changes in accessibility (zoomed in)

3 Comments on “Flammable City

Daniel Lee
05/23/2015 at 12:47 am

proper set of analytic drawings; but, what does the analysis conclude?

Sungwoo Choi
05/29/2015 at 7:35 pm

@joonl0127:disqus I’ve updated the post so that it has proper legends for each map. Now the reading of the project should be clearer.

For me, the most striking map is the last one where the consequence of the fire is shown in the style of a nolli map. While acknowledging the tragic incidence of the fire, I think the urban form that resulted from it is much more interesting as a spatial condition. As a new existing condition for buildings to be designed upon, it provides a rich formal context for architects as well. What’s your take?

Daniel Lee
06/02/2015 at 1:11 am

with the additional explanations it is so much more clearer that the drawings suggest new context for urban redevelopment. The representation techniques and language used in the drawings are also very sound; I appreciate the second to the last drawing that shows newly formed pathways and urban circulations after the riot.

I think the project conveys an urban evolution very properly so that architecture actually can develop as the face of the city. I am excited to imagine new forms of buildings to be built according to this consequence rather than merely recreating what were there before.

Thanks for your clarifications! I learned a lot from this project after all.

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