Elpidio Rocha- Environmental Designer/ Urban Planner

Elpidio Rocha, an architectural theorist designer, educator and a pioneer in the development of of interdisciplinary art/design process. That's a mouthful, that's what they say on ADOBE L.A. regarding his teaching and design background. I can say this, Elpidio is passionate about the influence of Chicano art, design and architecture. I spoke with him last year and he had fond memories of his work here in Kansas City. In the late 1960's and early 1970's, he worked for various departments in Kansas City and Jackson County government, designing parks and recreational facilities, he would say "social" facilities.
The above and below photo are from the AIA Guidebook for Kansas City Architecture. They show a boathouse shelter at Lake Jacomo...with a stone foundation elevating a viewing platform, and a cool shade canopy...the support struts are reminiscient of Bruce Goff and Albert Yanda. I've been wanting to, but haven't been to photograph this and see if it is still there.

The current photos below show Rocha's design for a park sheltor that was asthetically pleasing, functional and could be built for a consistant/uniform cost. I think this is a great design for a sheltor...clean "view" line, thin roof line, stone structural support with cooking area integrated and large (at least 20X20). Designed and built at a time when "thin-shell" construction was in the vogue. (see Manuel Morris) It was apparantly successful as a sheltor design, you can see these structures in many KC and Jackson County parks...these photos were taken at the Water Tower Park located at 75th and Holmes in KCMO.

For a look at Elpidio Rocha's and Dale Eldred's award winning 1962 "Imaginery"park design for 27th and Madison, KCMO go to http://www.westsidecan.org/

Elpidio Rocha-Environmental Designer/Urban Planner- The Center City Urban Renewal Project in Kansas City, Kansas

This was the 1960s' urban renewal project that altered the way urban planners/designers and cities looked at change in their urban core. This wintertime birds-eye view of reflective columns set in a water feature shows the concept in downtown Kansas City, Ks on Minnesota Ave. The columns were the work of Dale Eldred, noted artist and educator, who enjoyed working with light and monumental objects...the layout is all Elpidio Rocha. This was a controversial project...the store owners were extremely concerned with losing parking in front of the shops and stores. The concept was almost like trying to change and beautify a main street in a western town where it's always been done like that...tie your horses up on the rail outside the store.
Can you imagine selling this idea to the decision makers... It was an extensive project that bottlenecked and slowed automobile traffic and welcomed pedestrians with water courses, seating areas and places of repose in a main street environment.

In 2003, our friend Dr. Jacob A. Wagner, Professor in the UMKC-Architecture and Urban Planning Department (who worked with Rocha and who provided these photos) wrote, "The Politics of Urban Design: In contrast to other urban renewal projects that erased the presence of minority and workingclass residents, the design of the Center City Plaza in downtown Kansas City, Kansas was an attempt to provide a democratic space for a diverse citizenry. Initiated by local officials, the project was intended to alter the "image" of the downtown. Environmental planner Elpidio Rocha was hired to design a pedestrian mall that included abstract sculptural forms. In the context of deindustrialization and suburbanization, however, urban renewal did not halt downtown decline and local political interests dismantled the pedestrian mall, setting the stage for a new round of redevelopment."

Elpidio Rocha, Architect - "What's the Story on that House?"

If you are driving south on I-35 out of downtown Kansas City, MO and look down to the right, you'll see an older neighborhood. Standing out in the area of older "shotgun" houses is a distinctive house design that from the highway looks like a Bruce Goff "Houseboat".

I spoke with John B., the owner, who asked his childhood acquaintance, Elpidio Rocha to design him a home he could build, which he did in 1967. This house is a direct result of the lectures Bruce Goff did in 1965 at the Kansas City Art Institute. Rocha said," I pulled the best I could for the budget, out of my Bruce Goff "Catalog of houses". Of course there is no catalog, but Rocha, listened to Goff, and the result is a tight little house with character and a "spirit" of fun. The family enjoys the distiction of owning a unique home and today the house remains in good shape.
This is a difficult house to photograph. These are photos of the front deck and "shadow makers".

This is a view from the alley behind the house. The entry is on the left of the house, now enclosed. The Kitchen is on the rear of the house, seen here and steps out to the terrace.

Closeup of "diamond" bay and lower level windows with triangular ends. Note the angled siding. Bedrooms were on the lower level, with ample light.
This is from the living area looking down toward the entry, note the "lozenge" shaped door...definitely "Goffian"...
This shows the wood tongue and groove ceiling and central beam. The door on the left gives access to the front deck.

Elpidio Rocha, Professor of Architecture at the Kansas City Art Institute, after hearing Goff's last lecture, quit architecture. When we spoke he said he was so impacted by what Goff said, he stated, " I don't have the right education or influences to be the kind of architect I want to be...Goff was light years ahead of Wright".

He went on to work for the KC Parks Dept., designing parks and shelters that we still see today. He was one of the "Fathers" of urban renewal, designing "pocket parks" in urban areas. Interestingly, He and Dale Eldred, noted sculptor and artist, collaberated on a park across the street from this house. It was removed during a highway expansion. His most noteworthy, and ultimately controversial design was for an urban park in downtown KC,KS. Today, he lives in California. (Click on images to enlarge) Elpidio Rocha, to be continued...

Is this an undocumented Bruce Goff design?

While driving across town snacking on greasy burgers from Town Topic and shooting vintage roadside attractions and signage for the upcoming Charles Phoenix retro slideshow, we spotted a really odd house off of I-35, near the Southwest Trafficway exit. After some back alley encounters with neighbors and a few really funny looks form the locals, we snapped a few pics. So the question is, who is the Architect of this house? Bruce Goff? A student of Bruce Goff? Or just "In the Style of Bruce Goff?" Let us know if anyone knows the story behind this house.

(Edited on 2.9.09)
For the answer on these questions please go here.