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Site Unseen
Allen Compton, Student ASLA

California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
Advisors: Joan Woodward, ASLA, Jeff Juarez

Narrative Summary:

intended purpose;

  • Site Unseen is a video essay intended to stimulate dialogue about the meaning and ways of thinking about overlooked, marginalized, or “in-between” spaces in the urban environment.
  • Because open space is such a precious commodity in the city, it is vital that communities look closely at all parts of the urban fabric for solutions.
  • Site Unseen explores ways of uncovering the potential meaning of small spaces in the city that are typically ignored.


  • Individuals who are interested in a more livable and meaningful urban environment, including:
    • City planners
    • Community activists
    • Students and educators of landscape architecture, architecture, and urban planning


  • The city is full of places that do not “make sense” – places that do not seem planned or do not readily reveal their purpose, but we should not be so quick to write-off these places.
  • These traffic islands, abandoned lots, and remnant spaces play a vital role in defining the city and in recognizing their value and meaning we begin to unlock their potential.

method of development (hand rendering, computer graphics, etc.):

  • Shot in digital video, edited using Final Cut Pro, Adobe AfterEffects, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, Apple Live Type.

impact and effectiveness;

  • I screened Site Unseen at the open studio for Ah’bé Landscape Architects in May 2005 for 40 landscape architects and architects, many of who sought me out to talk about the issues raised by the film.
  • I intend to propose a show of photographs and the video to the Center for Land Use Interpretation in Los Angeles as well as various upcoming symposia on urban design.
  • Site Unseen demonstrates that video is a great tool for site exploration, allowing a designer to investigate spaces through time, and to stimulate discussion about space, place, and perception.

other issues as appropriate.

  • Site Unseen explores the meaning of these “in between” places through seven chapters; each one posing a unique set of questions intended to open up the viewer’s eyes and ability to “see” theses sites.
  • The film asks questions such as:
    • How does one write about a space, which seems to have no purpose?
    • Can a place be a meta-sign? Can one place be useful in defining other places?
    • Do site inventories really help unlock the meaning of a place?
    • Can you remember all of the places you drive by near your home?
    • If we need nonsense to stand in opposition to sense making in language, do we also need “nonsense” places in the city in order to understand the skyline, plazas, stripmalls, and freeways?
  • I have taken Los Angeles as the city to explore in part because this is where I live, but also because this is a city that is, as a whole, very difficult to grasp. As the city continues to redevelop various areas these places are consumed and then reappear in new places.
  • Site Unseen extends the usage of film and video as an effective medium for exploring a site, following in the footsteps of William Whyte, whose films changed our thinking about the use of public space. Site Unseen also breaks from the traditional documentary by looking beyond what is immediately visible to a range of ideas or “ways of seeing” that directly impact discourse on how to best use the urban space.


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