Slap some sunscreen on your nose and grab a tiny, eraserless pencil. There’s a pop-up mini-golf course in an empty lot near Echo Park Lake.
TURF is a nine-hole, temporary mini-golf course designed by architects from across the United States and Europe. Among other unusual elements, it features Astroturf that floats in the air via weather balloon, an automated palm tree turbine and the opportunity to walk (and putt) on water. As far as mini-golf courses go, there are plenty that are more user-friendly but hardly any more interesting.
TURF is the result of an open call sent out to architects around the world last summer by the Los Angeles experimental architecture nonprofit Materials & Applications (M&A). The call asked architects to consider topography and territory relevant to Los Angeles in their designs.
M&A wants to engage the public with architectural projects that aren’t practical. “When people say ‘Los Angeles is really creative,’ they’re often talking about the contemporary art scene or the music and movie industry,” explains M&A executive director Jia Gu. “But we have five or six amazing architectural schools in Los Angeles, and there are hundreds of architects here who are doing really interesting projects. Unfortunately, their projects are often only seen through a pragmatic lens. We want people to understand that there’s a whole culture in architecture that is outside of building an actual structure.”
Gu and her team were pleasantly surprised by the quality and quantity of responses to their call. “[The architectural teams] were so excited to have this opportunity to engage with the public,” Gu says. “They don’t typically have the same kind of institutional support [for experimentation] as the arts do in Los Angeles.”
The nine winning designs are an eclectic and creative mix. There’s Kyle May’s SiNK, a rubber platform filled with water, which was inspired by Los Angeles’ underground aquifers. His course features two holes and no obstacles, but trying to putt a ball while balancing on what is basically a giant water bed is easier said than done.
Club L.A., a course by architects Andrea Kamilaris, Brian Koehler and Drew Stanley, also is uniquely interactive. A sort of putt-putt choose-your-own-adventure, players have the option of turning the end of the course into a game of pool (the flag that marks the hole doubles as a pool cue).
There are other, more esoteric designs. Terrains, by TAG-LA, draws on textbook architectural theory to depict Los Angeles’ beaches, mountains and deserts. Practice Mat (Besler & Sons), Putt-to-Fit (Knowhow Shop) and Artificial Turf (G!lLL!S) examine experimental uses of materials such as remarkably realistic Astroturf and beautifully bent and molded plywood that's manipulated like fabric. Clark Thenhaus’ Gilded Sphere on Sticks is as much sculptural art as architecture, depicting material excess through Astroturf “fat rolls” (good luck getting your ball out of those), hot pink feathers and a bulbous golden ball that would look at home in a Trump casino.
You’ll find when you play this course that some of the designs are more practical than others, and that’s exactly the point. TURF is the result of architects unleashed from the confines of practicality. The designs are fascinating, so you’ll enjoy the playful creativity of the course even when you can’t quite get your ball in the hole.
The TURF course is open to the public during operational hours Thursday through Sunday. For a putter and score card, there’s a suggested donation of $5, but M&A won’t turn you away if you are short on cash.
Those with deeper pockets should consider supporting M&A by joining the Sunday, June 26, fundraiser/mini-golf tournament (there’s a $500 fee to play). Entry to the course itself is free during the tournament, so anyone can come and watch putters battle it out in support of experimental architecture while enjoying the cash bar.
TURF is located on the northeast corner of Echo Park lake at 1601 Park Ave. It is open from 4 to 8 p.m on Thursdays and Fridays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays through July 31.
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