Why the Hollywood Sign Disappeared for a Day

Courtesy of On the Road; Hollywood Image TM & Design © 2014 Hollywood Chamber of Commerce
"Falling Icon" was installed for a single day on May 17, 2014.

An avant-garde British architect talks about the conceptual stunt she pulled

One day last spring the iconic Hollywood sign quietly vanished. David Copperfield wasn’t involved. As it turns out, a pair of avant-garde British architects were responsible for the covert conceptual stunt that played up one of Los Angeles' most historic landmarks.

“Falling Icon,” a single-day artwork — sanctioned by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office, they say — materialized for only a few hours on May 17. It consisted of slightly larger than human-sized glossy 3D white letters (made of lightweight poly board sheeting) lying prone along the trail leading up to the sign, as well as accompanying “trick” viewfinders that faced the landmark. When used together, they presented views of the sign that omitted the missing letter, suggesting it had plummeted from its perch. As hikers climbed higher, passing more letters, the sign would disappear.

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“It was meant to be a kind of fleeting surprise for passersby, to see something really unexpected in the landscape,” says London-based Elly Ward. She conceived of the project with her Ordinary Architecture partner Charles Holland as part of On the Road, a since-completed local series of site-specific design “interventions” that a circle of forward-thinking young artists and architects staged in public areas.

Ward, who has exhibited at the Royal College of Art and the Royal Institute of British Architects, says the duo was interested in “playing with the iconic status” of the sign, as well as critiquing its inaccessibility. “The overriding pleasure was making it something that you could actually touch. One of the most frustrating things is that you do that quite grueling trek up to the top and then you find that you’re actually behind it – you can’t reach out and touch it. A lot of people don’t realize this until you get close to it. So this way you can touch and get up close to the sign. It was about making it a bit more human-scale and tangible: something you could touch. Granting everyone’s wishes, in that respect — at least for one day.”

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