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LA Metro Planner Creates Works of Art in the City and On the Canvas Urban Planning alumnus Diego Cardoso draws inspiration from his love for urban spaces in his paintings and planning work.

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By Alejandra Reyes-Velarde
UCLA Luskin student writer 

Diego Cardoso (MAUP ’87) recalls being perplexed by his father’s photographs, which captured every day objects in his home in Ecuador. He would wonder why his father didn’t choose to photograph more beautiful images of things like the sunsets in Ecuador instead.

Since then, Cardoso’s work in the arts and in urban planning has led him to understand the beauty in every day sights, which he now illustrates in his own photography and paintings.

The UCLA alumnus has traveled the world, studying and drawing inspiration from his surroundings for his work as a painter, photographer and LA Metro planner.

As a Metro planner, Cardoso plans and allocates funding for projects in active transportation such as bicycle pedestrian programs for the Los Angeles County. Currently, he is planning for the gold line that will run through East Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley.

Though he is originally from Cuenca Ecuador, Cardoso has lived in Los Angeles most of his life and attended UCLA to study political science and Latin American studies as an undergraduate student. Upon graduating, Cardoso took a few years to travel to Europe and South America. While he was abroad he studied at the University of Stockholm and the Institute of Political Studies of Paris and taught subjects like architecture and research methods.

“I have always been interested in getting to know new cultures and new experiences,” Cardoso said. “Looking and experiencing the urban environments in Stockholm and Paris is how I really got interested in the way the urban environment influences people’s interests, culture and habits.”

After he returned to the U.S. from traveling abroad, Cardoso attended UCLA’s graduate school of architecture and planning (the planning department later moved to be housed in the Luskin School of Public Affairs). Through his graduate education and independent studies, Cardoso was able to rekindle his interest in photography. He began to photograph Los Angeles and try to explain the city through an artistic lens.

Cardoso’s experience as a student in Los Angeles and in Europe led him to focus on how transportation in Los Angeles conditions its citizens to their environment. He became curious about the specific relationships that exist in terms of how urban environments change the way people experience and create culture and the way they see themselves.

“Los Angeles itself is accommodated to the automobile. The infrastructure is highly reflective of having prioritized the automobile. What you do with buildings, the way we build, the building itself, design of roads, the time you spent driving, that’s how you experience the city. It has a huge influence in the culture and economics in Los Angeles,” he said.

Cardoso incorporates his experiences working with the LA Metro and studying issues of mobility with his work in photography and the arts. His artistic style is also inspired by a combination of artists’ styles, including Edward Hopper, David Hockney and George O’Keeffe with the color pallets in Van Gogh’s paintings.

His artwork generally depicts images of familiar streets, sidewalks and buildings in Los Angeles. Through his paintings, Cardoso hopes to capture the light of Los Angeles and make people feel as though they are present in the scene.

“In art, the ordinary can become extraordinary. You can see how images presented in certain ways can speak to you,” Cardoso said. “People assume you can open your eyes and you can see it, but in order for you to see, you need to expand that. You need to digest it in your mind and in your consciousness.”

Cardoso said his experience at UCLA’s graduate school of architecture and planning allowed him to refine his interests in the social science, which eventually expanded his use of photography and led him to become an artist.

He has enjoyed being able to contribute to building a more livable city and integrating the different aspects of his life. “Through my artwork and my career, I can narrow the gap between my existence as an intellectual as someone that works for a living and someone who wants to enjoy life,” he said.

Cardoso advises current urban planning students to take advantage of the time they have to learn everything they can. “Graduate school is a time to find yourself in the world, refine your thinking, and explore the world. Enjoy the moment in your life when you can think about thinking and how you can apply that to life,” he said.