Wednesday, December 1, 2021

On The Schedule: December, 2021

Despite unceasing Covid confusion, events continue apace at Helms Bakery District, with the opening Saturday of the exciting Not Now, But Right Now, an exhibition of buildings by Black architects in L.A., produced by SoCalNOMA. Saturday is also the final chance to see tomorrow's buildings by top students today in AIA/LA's 2x8 Assemblies Exhibition. Then comes a workshop about a dirty but vital topic -- SOIL! -- hosted by NAHR (Nature, Art and Habitat Residency)

Later this month, my article for Sierra magazine, To Build or Not To Build, goes live online. It is about alleviating construction's carbon footprint through adaptive reuse and was inspired by this year's Pritzker winners, Lacaton & Vassal. Also, my friends at AWA (Association for Women in Architecture) are holding their annual auction, and you will want to bid... Read on for specifics.

Closing day: Saturday, December 4, 11am -- 3pm

2×8:Assemblies Exhibition

19 exemplary student projects from 19 architecture and design programs throughout California are on show at Helms Design Center in an installation that is a testament to the maxim "necessity is the mother of invention." Pink and orange plastic containers, stacked, curved, and facing alternate directions, make a bold, and highly affordable backdrop for the project boards.

2×8 is an annual non-profit program that functions as a student exhibition, scholarship fund, and design competition. It was formed with the intention of introducing student work to the Architecture, Engineering and Construction industry. 

Last day for free public viewing: Saturday, December 4. Click here for information. 


December 4

AWA+D Holiday Mixer and Fundraising Auction

The architecture profession was largely off limits to women and people of color (see SoCalNOMA below) for many years. Back in 1922, when the four female architectural students at Washington University in St. Louis (Mae Steinmesch, Helen Milius, Angela Burdeau and Jane Pelton) were denied entry into the men’s architectural fraternity, they banded together and founded their own society, La Confrerie Alongine. It has continued today, under the slightly less melodious name of Association for Women in Architecture Foundation. They have created an online auction -- items include the Bauer Pottery Dome Pot, above, jewelry by LA architect Ena Dubnoff and other great gets -- to raise funds for their activities supporting women architects today. Their sister organization, AWA+D will host the Event Mixer this Saturday evening.

Click here to bid on the auction and here for information about the mixer.

December 2 -- 17

Not Now, But Right Now!: Exhibition and public discussion

It is generally understood that the built environment improves with creative input from many stakeholders and talent of diverse backgrounds, but the architecture profession still has very low representation from people of color. That is gradually changing, with a big assist from the National Organization of Minority Architecture. 

Now the SoCal branch of NOMA is launching an exhibition and conversation about the contributions of minority architects to the Southland cityscape. It is called “Not Now, But Right Now” and works presented encompass designs of all scales from single family residential, to commercial, and urban planning. The exhibition will include projects from 30+ SoCalNOMA members, projects from student members from local architecture schools,  and “future architects” that have participated in the SoCalNOMA project pipeline summer camp.

The exhibition will be on display from December 2nd through the 17th with the gallery open to the public on Wednesday to Sundays each week. In addition, there are two key events:

Saturday, December 4th, 6pm to 10pm

Opening Reception for the “Not Now, But Right Now” exhibition in conjunction with the Chapter 2021 Year End Celebration. Admission to the Reception/Celebration is free for SoCalNOMA members and is $20 for guests and the general public. All proceeds go towards supporting SoCalNOMA Chapter initiatives including the Project Pipeline Summer Camp, the Leadership Development Program, and the DEI Challenge. 

Click here to RSVP.

Saturday, December 11th, from 2-5pm

The SoCalNOMA Senior Practitioners Committee will  host a conversation with Betty Williams (wife of NOMA founding member Harold Williams) and past NOMA National President, Drake Dillard on the NOMA legacy and the contributions of minority architects to the Southern California community. A panel with participants from the show discussing their works and their experiences in the profession in Southern California will follow. The panel will be moderated by SoCalNOMA President, Lance Collins. The event is free and open to the public.  

Click here for information.


Thursday, December 9, from 6:30 to 9:00 pm

Soil: The Critical Zone 

It's a dirty topic, but a vital one for the survival of all the species: soil, and its role as a foundational ecosystem!

NAHR, aka the Nature, Art and Habitat Residency, was founded by architect Ilaria Mazzoleni and is located in Taleggio Valley, Bergamo, Italy; Santa Ynez, California; and has members in Los Angeles who gather for conversations about the relationship between humans, flora, fauna and how that is interpreted through art and science.
More than 75% of the earth’s living soil is substantially depleted, while the remaining 25% is of inestimable value. Deborah Weintraub, AIA, LEED AP will helm a discussion and imagine future scenarios about this critical zone, together with interlocutors Jose Herrasti, AIA, and Richard Molina, Designer. I will moderate a Q and A with the audience about soil and what is means to attendees.

Click here for the program schedule.

December 16

Online publication of To Build or Not to Build

I spent part of this year researching an article, To Build or Not to Build, for Sierra, the magazine of the Sierra Club. It goes online on December 16, and it is about the construction industry's carbon imprint, which is massive, and whether to alleviate it through building new "green" buildings or simply reusing buildings that are already there. The inspiration came from the Pritzker win by the French duo Lacaton & Vassal, for whom "demolition is violence." 

They show that reuse can be extremely creative and that preservation is not just for beloved old buildings but also for the duds, like grim concrete public housing blocks in France that the pair have elegantly transformed with steel and glass exoskeletons into lighter, brighter, larger apartments.

Among findings you will find in the article: 

-- The construction sector produces almost a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions and gobbles up more than 30% of the world’s resources in the form of operational and embodied carbon. 

-- Worldwide, there are 223 trillion-square feet of buildings, with billions more to come.

-- Until now, the preservation, environmental and architecture communities have not marched in lockstep on tying adaptive reuse to carbon savings. Preservationists have tended to fight for iconic buildings, not the generic; and designers and environmentalists have touted new construction, albeit with green bells and whistles. Now the groups are starting to find common ground on holding onto old building stock in the name of fighting climate change.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

On The Schedule: November, 2021

This month I'll be talking at Helms Design Center with two very lively thinkers about the built environment, Liam Young and Li Wen. Please join me.

Thursday, November 4 @ 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm    

Planet City - a Radical Solution to Climate Destruction, with Liam Young

Forget carbon taxes and global commitments to use renewables. Climate change demands bigger solutions, like moving all ten billion people on earth to one giant city, leaving the rest of the world to return to the wild, free from human predation. 

That’s the vision laid out by Liam Young, architect-filmmaker-futurist, in his new film and book, Planet City, showcasing a future world in which flora, fauna and humankind coexist in the Anthropocene, divided between an uber-megalopolis and a “new national park of the world.” 

I'll talk with Young, who teaches world building at SCI-Arc, about his visionary thought experiment, and the questions it poses about the environment and our place in it. Our chat coincides with COP26, the United Nations Climate Change Conference taking place in Glasgow, at which policymakers will discuss real world solutions to the havoc we are creating. 

Young will be joined on the stage by Benjamin Bratton, founder of the design research program The Terraforming, a "comprehensive project to fundamentally transform Earth's cities, technologies, and ecosystems to ensure that the planet will be capable of supporting Earth-like life." He is Professor of Visual Arts at UC San Diego, and a contributor to the Planet City book.

He will also discuss the otherworldly production design for the film. Its radical costuming was developed in collaboration with Ane Crabtree, the costume designer for The Handmaid’s Tale and a collection of artists including Aneesa Shami, member of Textile Arts LA.

A meet and greet with Young and Bratton will follow the talk. Click here for details. 

Planet City was commissioned by the National Gallery of Victoria for the NGV Triennial. Catch his TEDMonterey Talk about the film, here


Thursday, November 18 @ 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm    

Learning from Li Wen after a Career in City-building

When I arrived in Los Angeles in mid-1991 one of the first people I met was Li Wen, architect, demon tennis player and fantastically lively conversationalist with endlessly interesting insights about the built world and life and culture in general. We became fast friends. 

At the time he was on the brink of opening his own boutique design firm with Andrew Liang. He later made the decision to join the corporate firm Gensler, where he became design director and Principal.

Time has moved on and now Wen has taken retirement, which I am sure does not mean he will sit still. But his years at Gensler coincide with a time of great change in Los Angeles, especially in downtown where the design firm's L.A. office is located. Undoubtedly, Li has played a significant role in that. So what can he impart to fellow designers and those interested in city-making, as he moves to his next phase in life?

On Thursday, November 18, I will sit down with Li to reflect on his architectural journey -- and his personal journey, from the hills of Santa Barbara to the Hollywood Hills, via China, Yale, New York, London, and Paris. 

Topics we will address include the urban environment as Los Angeles goes through big changes, his role as mentor and nurturer of a new generation of architectural talent, and what might be in his future.

Li will also share details of a design project he is still involved with: the master plan for the future of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The event is co-hosted by Helms Design Center and AIA/LA will open with a reception. While there, check out 2x8, AIA/LA's exhibition of student work currently on display at the Helms Design Center.

Click here for information. 



Thursday, October 21, 2021

On the Schedule: October, 2021

This month has been busy, mostly with the research and writing of Common Ground, my forthcoming book on multifamily housing in L.A. (an infinite topic!), and collaborating with Helms Design Center, which has had a full-house of shows in October. They included Tricksters and Transformations, fine artworks made of thread and fabric created by the members of Textile Arts Los Angeles, and Biophilia, a stunning display of 100 posters on the theme of the human connection to nature (eight shown above), curated by Olga Severina and still open for viewing.

The cultural dialogue continues later this month with Lorne M. Buchman, president of ArtCenter College of Design, talking about his new book about the creative process. The following week I'll sit down with Liam Young, fearless futurist with a madly provocative alternative solution to climate change. 

October 28 @ 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm     

Lorne M. Buchman talks about "Make to Know: from spaces of uncertainty to creative discovery"

Facing a blank sheet of paper, waiting for inspiration? You are not alone. Michelangelo is said to have seen “the angel in the stone” before he started chipping away at a mute block of marble but most artists are not blessed with such creative clarity. Rather, they "discover" their work – art, design, writing, music – as they make it, and there can be a lot of grist, gloom, boredom and odd dreams along the way.

Buchman is the president of ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena and has just published Make to Know, a meditation on creativity drawn from interviews he has conducted with artists, entrepreneurs, innovators and designers - including Chris Kraus, Frank Gehry, Zack Snyder, Aimee Bender, Yves Behar and Diana Thater. He learns that creativity is almost always a process, not a lightbulb moment, that creative geniuses are truly few, and that everyone from students to professionals can “make to know” their own ability to create. 

I will talk to him about his findings, as well as how this relates to a time of collaborative design, how design education is meeting a moment of radical social change, and what is next for Buchman and for ArtCenter College of Design, following his retirement in 2022.

A book signing will follow the talk. Click here for details.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

On The Schedule: September, 2021

A Visit to the Academy Museum; Conversations with new Cultural Leaders and "Powerful" Women in Architecture


Wednesday, September 29

The Academy Museum has Landed, on KCRW's Greater LA

The new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures opens Thursday, September 30, after an epic journey worthy of -- well -- a movie. It involves a faded star -- the Art Deco May Company department store on Wilshire Boulevard -- and an alien being -- a vast concrete and glass sphere that seems to have descended from outer space. The unlikely pair have been brought together in what architect Renzo Piano describes as a “flirt between the old lady, the beautiful, nice, lovely old lady, the May company and a soap bubble.” This is how KCRW host Steve Chiotakis and I open our story of a visit we made to the new museum. You can hear the story on Greater LA or read on for more about the building, which is a puzzling project in some ways, but inspirational in terms of showing how you can hold onto an old building while reinventing it for the future.

The May Company was built in 1939 -- by architects AC Martin and Samuel Marx -- in the Streamline Moderne style and is of course instantly recognizable for its cylindrical corner clad in thousands of 24-karat gold leaf mosaic tiles. Needless to say, that is the perfect emblem for Oscar. 

The building faced demolition and the Los Angeles Conservancy fought to save it. In 1992, the building was declared a Historic-Cultural Monument and two years later, in 1994, LACMA bought it for a song — $18.3 million. But they did very little with it -- except have a few half-hearted events -- and it sat barely used for years until the Academy stepped in and leased the building from LACMA in 2012.

The Academy considered it a gem in their collection and charged Piano -- who had been the masterplanner for LACMA until he was replaced by Peter Zumthor -- with retrofitting the former department store, now renamed the Saban building. That involved adding a new structure at the back, to house the concrete orb, containing the David Geffen theater and a deck with a view of Los Angeles. 

Piano has deployed a strategy you find in several of his buildings, starting with the Pompidou Center: circulation as urban experience. Escalators ascend the West side of the building offering riders a view of Hollywood through a newly built wall of windows, albeit those views are somewhat obscured by the vast sphere. External bridges, freight elevators add to the experience of movement through space.

The sphere -- quickly nicknamed, to Piano’s irritation, the Death Star; he refers to the megaton structure somewhat implausibly as a levitating soap bubble -- is marvelous on the inside, with curving walls decked out in sumptuous red velvet (shown in picture, below, by Iwan Baan). Personally, I thought Piano might have taken some cues from the Aries 1B Trans-Lunar Space Shuttle from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, of which a rare model is on show at the museum (see image, below.)

The public spaces -- a vast, high-ceilinged lobby and the stairwell -- in the former May Company building are unadorned, somewhat spartan in feel, with raw board-formed concrete columns, concrete floor plate and exposed pipework above. This brings to mind a contemporary art space in an old industrial building which is not very Hollywood nor does it reflect the old May Company which was glam outside and in. But this is the way Piano wanted it to be. When I asked his team why they didn’t cover this all up -- with stage make-up if you will -- they said they wanted to show the inner workings of the building just as the museum shows the inner workings of film.

With the exception of the mechanical Jaws shark which hangs over people’s heads in the elevator well, the exhibitions themselves are out of sight, in self-contained rooms. They were designed by Kulapat Yantrasast and his team at wHY Architecture, and they are very colorful and rich and sensual, in contrast to all the bare concrete. There are multiple displays, from vivid displays honoring directors Spike Lee and Pedro Aldomovar and Yayao Miyazaki to rooms filled with the icons of moviemaking: a the melting face mask for The Terminator; a glorious costume from Black Panther.

What stands out though is the retrofit of the May Company building. It involved editing -- removing a portion of the north side that had been added on in the 40s -- and painstaking restoration of the limestone, granite and mosaic tiled south facade.

Take the gold tiles on the cyclinder. There were over 350,000 of them, but over the years many had been replaced with uniform, machine-made tiles rather than the original handcrafted tiles. The restoration architect John Fidler went back to the original makers, the ancient Orsoni glass-making company in Venice, Italy, and wound up replacing 200,000 tiles. 

There were other challenges, like connecting the two unalike structures in a way that they could each withstand an earthquake. The new sphere is sitting on base isolators that allow the building to move horizontally two and a half feet. The May Company, however, is static so they designed the bridges connecting them to be able to slide should an earthquake hit.

This was quite a complex engineering challenge. Luigi Priano from Renzo Piano’s office, explained that they designed the connections so those sliders are visible, reinforcing the “metaphor of a building that flies and the other one that stays still.”

All this specialized work produces a thoroughly modern example of preservation, not simply restoring a building to the way it was, but adapting it highly inventively for a new use. This is a model to follow, for reasons of sustaining cultural memory as well as saving on costs and environmental footprint. 

It is becoming increasingly evident that the construction and operation of buildings is a big contributor to our carbon footprint. Building materials contain what’s called embodied carbon, that is the carbon expended in the manufacture of concrete and steel and so on. And demolition of buildings creates waste, plus it trashes mountains of materials that contain this embodied carbon. So holding onto the existing structure saves waste and carbon. By preserving the building and making sure to use passive cooling and other strategies, this museum building has earned a Gold LEED rating.

It also opens not long after the destruction of the three original LACMA buildings, including the Bing Theater, and the postmodern Art of the Americas building, torn down to make way for a new structure by the architect Peter Zumthor. This is a scorched earth approach while Piano’s design at the Academy Museum shows that you can add, you can modify, and keep some parts of an old building -- and you wind up with something that holds onto the past while beaming forth into the future. 


Wednesday, September 29 

Will A New Generation Of Leaders Shake Up L.A.’s Culture?

Cultural institutions large and small in Los Angeles are ringing the changes, following a year shaken up by the pandemic and reckonings around race and inclusion. New directors have been appointed at MOCA (where a sudden shake-up means Johanna Burton takes the reins as Klaus Biesenbach bows out), at the MAK Center for Art and Architecture, at Inner City Arts and at the California African American Museum. Some cultural venues have closed -- Annenberg Space for Photography -- and others have morphed into mobile collectives without a physical home, like the Feminist Center for Creative Work and A+D Museum.

What does this new generation of cultural leadership mean for the arts in Los Angeles? Despite an eagerness to make changes, new directors must still answer to many of the same funders and face the same pressures as their predecessors—to raise money or sell tickets, to scale up, to stay relevant—all while navigating the convulsions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and the murder of George Floyd. How will these new faces surmount the challenges while putting a new stamp on their institutions? Will all of the city’s culture centers survive? Should they?  

At an event hosted by Zócalo/Helms Bakery District, I'll talk with Cameron Shaw, Executive Director of the California African American Museum; Shelby Williams-González, president and CEO of Inner City Arts; and Jia Yi Gu, director of the MAK Center for Art and Architecture. They will share the change they plan to be and want to see in one of the world’s most vibrant cultural capitals.

The event takes place Wednesday, September 29, 6:30 -- 8:30 pm; it is free and open to the public, with Covid restrictions in place. Click here to reserve a spot. If you can't make it, the talk will stream online on YouTube.


Friday, September 24 and Friday, October 1 

Powerful 8 -- Women’s Work: On Our Own Terms

Take a look at the Zocalo/Helms event described above and you may notice an emerging theme. Women are taking the reins. So this may be a good moment to reflect on gender and power within the profession of architecture. 

Consider that in 1958, 1 percent of registered architects were women (such as the pioneering Beverly Willis, above, in picture taken in 1982; she started her firm in the 1950s). Today they make up almost half of the students in architectural programs in the US, but only 17 percent of registered architects. Why the drop-off following school and how to rectify it have been abiding themes underlying Powerful, an annual conference hosted by AIA/LA's Women in Architecture Committee since 2015. Now comes Powerful 8, taking place on Zoom over two Friday mornings, on September 24 and October 1, at 9:00 am to 12:30 pm.

One of the challenges for women architects is doing it all -- moving up the career ladder in a job that demands very long hours while managing a personal life and responsibilities towards partners, family, pets and friends. Oh, and then there's the self, and carving out a bit of time to de-stress and decompress.

Figuring out how to succeed at these many demands while not losing ones sanity is the theme of a breakout session on Health and Wellness that I'll participate in on the second day of the conference, Friday, October 1. It starts at 11am. I'll join my good friend Emmanuelle Bourlier, founder and owner of Panelite, and others to offer up lessons we've learned along the way. Emmanuelle and I both studied architecture and wound up in related fields, so I guess we are part of the drop-off and can speak to the choices we made.

Also taking the stage at Powerful 8 will be some forceful women architects, among them: Christiana Kyrillou, Los Angeles Studio Executive Director, Woods Bagot; Sara Lopergolo, Partner, Selldorf Architects; Toshiko Mori, Founding Principal, Toshiko Mori Architects; Nina Cooke John, Founder, Studio Cooke John; Athenna Ann Lim, Designer, Co-Owner, Studio BarnHaus; Melissa Shin, Principal, Co-Founder, Shin Shin.

It's going to be powerful conference, so I hope to see you there, at least online. Click here for tickets and more information.


Monday, August 23, 2021

On The Schedule: August, 2021

This month I kept things fairly chill so I could focus on two pieces of writing: one, an article about reuse of buildings to be published in the fall; the other the book, Common Ground, about multifamily housing in LA, past and present. On the subject of reuse, however, I'm excited to participate this Thursday, August 26, in an event that celebrates repurposing cardboard! Read on for the details.

Cardboard City After Dark -- Fundraiser

Thursday, August 26, 2021; 6:30 -- 8:30 pm

Every child who ever built themselves a house in the box that delivered the TV or the fridge or the computer knows that cardboard is a wonder. Strong, protective, light -- what other material could so reliably protect eggs! It can be sculpture, it can be structure (think, cathedral by Shigeru Ban), it can be a backdrop to draw and paint on.

When I first visited LA in 1987 and went to Frank Gehry's then-office in Venice, I encountered his clever cardboard chairs. When I moved to LA in 1991 I bought a coffee table designed and made by Joel Stearns, the guy who used to make Gehry's cardboard furniture prototypes. 30 years later, it is a little battered but is still the heart of our living room.

Yet we throw out immense amounts of this marvelous material, even more since the pandemic when we ordered yet more stuff in (as we discussed in my KCRW series Wasted). 

Well, one group is on a mission to wake people up to the merits and creative potential of cardboard. This summer, the reDiscover Center, a non-profit makerspace for kids, created Cardboard City, a two month, pop-up, art gallery and art activity center at a storefront at 1231 3rd St Promenade in Santa Monica. It hosts workshops Thursdays -- Sundays and and is open to the public for free. Sadly, it closes its run on August 29.

Now the organizers are looking to expand the program, into other neighborhoods. With that future in mind, they will hold a fundraiser this Thursday. And it should be fun, even though it's online. I'll get to interview the founders of Cardboard City, Jonathan Bijur, Executive Director, and Aaron Kramer, Board President. 

Then they will talk with four of the artists who work with the young makers, plus brilliant Santa Monica-based artist Mimi Haddon will put on a performance piece. Mimi is so versatile and unpredictable -- she paints, photographs, works with any and every material that enchants her -- it's hard to know exactly what she will show, but it will delight. 

Frank Gehry is the honorary chair for the event. I covered his latest LA project, a home for Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA) in Inglewood, on this Greater LA story aired in early August. Here he is when I first met him, lounging on his cardboard Bubbles Chaise Longue. The photo was taken by Tim Street-Porter for The Architectural Review, December 1987. All the other pictures above are my snaps of children's work at Cardboard City on 3rd Street Promenade.

Hope to see you at the Cardboard City After Dark fundraiser Thursday. Click here for details.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

On The Schedule: July, 2021

Thursday, July 8, 6pm

WhiteSpace: April Greiman Photography

Two years ago the pioneering digital designer April Greiman invited 25 women friends to write something -- “a haiku, a story, info with bullet points” -- related to the words, 'white space.'

Out of that has come a new book “WhiteSpace: April Greiman Photography,” interweaving her images of landscapes with meditations on lightness, emptiness, beauty, fear and “the space inbetween.”

WhiteSpace: April Greiman Photography, brings together 34 digital photographs and short writings by 25 women in design, art, architecture and poetry, on the abstract subject of whitespace. “WhiteSpace is like a trip to the desert with April and her wonderful colleagues. A master class in shadow and light,” writes Laurie Haycock Makela in the foreword.  

The contributors are: Lita Albuquerque, Frances Anderton, Jan Angevine, Marian Bantjes, Lyn Bradford, Judith Cahen Crouwel, Donatella Cusmá, Andrea Dietz, Tibbie Dunbar, Kristin Feireiss, Karin Fong, Carolien Glazenburg, Nikki Gonnissen, Jia Yi Gu, Karin Hibma, Gere Kavanaugh, Suzanne Lacy, Anette Lenz, Laurie Haycock Makela, Ilaria Mazzoleni, Jennifer Morla, Kali Nikitas, Louise Paradis, Paulette Singley, Elisabeth Workman

On Thursday, July 8, I’ll talk with April, her collaborator Laurie Haycock Makela and contributors about April’s choice to self-publish, the support of creative women colleagues and her lifelong preoccupation with color and light; April’s use of bold color and negative space, breaking boundaries in art, design, and architecture throughout her career.

Click here for details.

Thursday, July 15, 6 pm

Design Defines us All: Creating Community

In an age where online and parasocial relationships increasingly upstage human-to-human connection, the design of social spaces perhaps takes on greater urgency and complexity. How do you design a hotel lobby where people feel comfortable talking to strangers? Why are restaurant tables further apart in LA than in New York or London? What materials make for the perfect sound environment? 

Architect Mathew Chaney (Partner at EYRC; Design Architect, The Britely) and interior designer Tom Parker (Partner, Fettle) and I will discuss these and other questions about how design can affect human interaction -- when society’s concept of community is changing. It is hosted by The Britely social club at the Pendry, the newly opened hotel and condos on the Sunset Strip. The salon takes place Thursday at 6pm in the Piazza Garden.

Click here for details.

Wednesday, July 28, 8:00 - 9:30 pm

Connection Before Construction: How Destination Crenshaw Will Change Community Engagement

Destination Crenshaw is a 1.3-mile-long open-air museum and park currently under construction on Crenshaw Boulevard between Vernon and Slauson Avenues in Los Angeles's Crenshaw District. It is dedicated to preserving the history and culture of African Americans. 

The project is the lemons-to-lemonade response to the controversial decision by LA Metropolitan Transportation Authority to run part of the $2 billion-dollar Crenshaw/LAX light rail line at grade on Crenshaw Boulevard, bifurcating the most important commercial corridor in South LA, and removing more than 300 street parking spaces and 400 mature trees.

LA City Council Member Marqueece Harris-Dawson, members of the Crenshaw community, and a team of architects at Perkins & Will (including Zena Howard, above) led an intense community engagement process that has resulted in a culturally-stamped design that incorporates new sidewalks, street furniture (including seating, shade structures, bicycle racks), ten pocket parks, 800+ trees, and 100+ public art works and exhibits (including monuments, statues, murals, and digital stories).

At a Zoom gathering on Wednesday, July 28, two of the projects' leaders -- COO Jason Foster and architect Drake Dillard -- and the City of LA's Chief Design Officer, Christopher Hawthorne will talk about community engagement, how to do it effectively and how the experience with Destination Crenshaw may shape future development projects in the Southland.

Via Zoom. Click here for details.


Through July 30

Low Rise, Mid Rise, High Rise: Housing in LA Today

Low Rise, Mid Rise, High Rise: Housing in LA Today, a display of housing in the pipeline in Los Angeles, was intended to pop up for a short post-pandemic burst of 10 days in a showroom at Helms Design Center.

But the students at Cal Poly LA Metro, who designed the installation, and the architects who used time during the lockdown to make lovely, tangible models, put on such a great show that we kept it up through the end of July. 

The premise of the show is that housing in LA is spread in a patchwork of scales that has been shaped by zoning over the years: one storey structures in the vast areas of R1 or low-rise neighborhoods; midrise on arterial streets and near mass transit; high-rise in business districts. Each of those scales brings their own challenges, but also possibilities for experimention that builds on a century of innovation in residential design. 

Much of the housing in LA, especially at the mid-and high scale, is developer-driven, limited by codes and can be formulaic. But this show demonstrates that it does not have to be standard.

LRMRHR demonstrates some of the propositions for living well -- and sometimes affordably -- at every scale. It displays surprising housing concepts and visualizations, from gorgeous 3-D printed bas-reliefs, above, of the Reese Davidson Community by Eric Moss Owen, to custom ADUs from Byben and Design, Bitches. Then there is City Design Office's proposed tower of "stacked case study homes" at Grand Panorama above the Regional Connector, and The Alvidrez, a highrise supportive housing project to be built by Skid Row Housing Trust, designed by Michael Maltzan and named for Mike Alvidrez, the former head of SRHT. He is shown, with the model, below.

Visits are by appointment; I will be at the show Friday afternoons through July 30, and would love to see you then.

Click here for details.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

On The Schedule: June, 2021

June 19 -- July 31

Low Rise, Mid Rise, High Rise: Housing in LA Today, at Helms Bakery District

How will we live tomorrow in LA?

Find out at Low Rise, Mid Rise, High Rise: Housing in LA Today, an in-person, pop-up, eye-popping exhibition of housing projects in the pipeline that advance the idea of home in Los Angeles. It takes place at Helms Design Center at Helms Bakery District.

30+ teams show renderings and models of multi-unit housing, at multiple scales, that are pending or under construction in the Southland. They represent a range of approaches as eclectic as Los Angeles itself, including: above, the Grand Panorama, a proposed high-rise variant on inside-outside living above the Regional Connector in DTLA by "critical regionalist" Farooq Ameen, Pariya Mohammaditabar and the team at City Design Studio; below, the Reese Davidson Community, affordable housing in Venice designed by the Hayden Tract renegade Eric Owen Moss; the "Lean-To ADU" by Ben Warwas, of Byben, opening up to sky in both directions ; and The Alvidrez supportive housing designed by Michael Maltzan for the Skid Row Housing Trust, and named for longtime SRHT head Mike Alvidrez, shown standing by the model.

The pop-up opens Saturday, June 19, with a public conversation about the work. It will be on view after that through July 31. Read more about it here.

Why this Pop-Up now?

Many of us have been out of circulation for more than a year, and the state opens June 15. This is a chance to reconnect and see what people have been working on, and get a taste of what might be coming to your neighborhood before too long.

What is the thinking behind it?

Currently there is a lot of public debate about the politics of housing and the crisis of homelessness. While this conversation takes place, housing construction continues apace, much of it ever higher and denser. And people will live in these buildings. This pop-up explores how designers are envisioning that lived experience.

After all, LA is famous for its innovation in the design of home. But today designers must navigate a web of constraints (including costs, zoning, parking, competing development and neighborhood pressures) and the buildings that result are sometimes sadly mundane. However, design teams and developers with imagination are creating buildings that are livable, sociable, have character, are sometimes affordable -- and add to the canon of residential design in LA.

How they do that is the through line to the show and the talks. 

Visitors will see transit-oriented, mid rise, multi-unit housing with apartments filled with natural light, flowing space and a taste of the outside. Projects will demonstrate planning for sociability, as well as new material and structural solutions to housing affordability. They will also show how buildings from the ADU to the very high rise can express the distinct and eclectic Los Angeles character. Finally, visitors will see how the pandemic may have altered planning priorities in the homes of tomorrow. 

Does this show have anything to do with the City of LA's Low Rise Housing Challenge?

No, and Yes. This pop-up was originally intended to take place in summer 2020 but was postponed due to the pandemic. It was already named Low Rise, Mid Rise, High Rise, and was based on work around housing design by Stephen Phillips and his CalPoly LA Metro students; and on longtime reporting on housing I had been doing for KCRW. That research is now the basis for a book I'm working on, "Common Ground: Multifamily Housing in Los Angeles," to be published in 2022 by Angel City Press. 

In the intervening months, LA Mayor's Office design chief Christopher Hawthorne launched his very interesting Low Rise Housing Challenge, calling on designers to create contemporary variants on the beloved low-rise typologies of yesteryear in LA (including bungalow courts and du-tri-four and six plexes.) I was honored to be a juror and witnessed the subtle thinking by Hawthorne and his team and the many design teams who submitted. 

However, the Low Rise Housing Challenge was speculative. It was predicated on the notion that LA's vast areas of residential land zoned for single family houses will have to upzone to allow the region to grow sustainably and that a gentle form of relatively low housing is the best way forward, in view of the deep resistance to upzoning by homeowners in many neighborhoods. The Low Rise Housing designs were intended to be alluring examples that could bring people around to the idea of slightly denser and higher housing, some of it based on new ownership or rental models.

Conversely, the Helms pop-up takes the view that while we might yearn for exactly this kind of distributed, non-invasive density, the reality is that developers are shoehorning housing into the relatively small areas it is designated and on those sites they are building has much as they are permitted to. Mid and high rise are the directions LA housing is going and we wanted to explore that.

Saturday, June 19 

Join the Conversation

At the public opening and conversation on Saturday, June 19, participating architects including Barbara Bestor, Ben Warwas, Angela Brooks, Elizabeth Timme, Eric Owen Moss, Farooq Ameen, Lance Simon, Li Wen, Lorcan O'Herlihy and Pariya Mohammaditabar will talk about their approaches to Low, Mid and High Rise housing. Stephen Sharp, editor of Urbanize LA, will offer his thoughts too. Michael Anderson will discuss his newly published book "Urban Magic: Vibrant Black and Brown Communities Are Possible." The talks will take place between 2 and 4pm, and we will ponder practical and aesthetic questions, such as:

What does our patchwork of low, mid and high rise housing tell us about Socal living today? 

The changes of scale result from zoning that mandates single family residential only in disproportionate swaths of land. What does this mean for affordability?

Much of the new housing today -- both marketrate and affordable is dense, with sometimes hundreds of units. This can be bland or unpleasant, especially when the solution is a double-loaded corridor giving onto dwellings with windows on only one wall. What can designers do to alleviate that experience?

Is it possible to sustain Southern California's desirable inside-outside living many floors off the ground?

Low Rise, Mid Rise, High Rise: Housing in LA Today is presented by Helms Bakery District in partnership with CalPoly, San Luis Obispo LA Metro Program, helmed by Stephen Phillips. Speculative housing designs by the CalPoly LA Metro students will also be on show.  


Tuesday, June 29

Apple Tower Theatre on Greater LA

It is rare that the ceiling is a bigger attraction than the iPhones in an Apple store. But that's the case at Apple Tower Theatre, a new outlet for the tech giant elegantly installed within the 1927 Tower Theatre, designed by S. Charles Lee, master of the fantasy movie theater in Hollywood's golden years. 

The team -- Norman Foster, Gruen Associates and a task force of preservation groups -- worked to repurpose the highly ornate theater, modeled after Charles Garnier's Paris Opera and slathered in decorative plasterwork, into a place that would function for shoppers (the raked seating had to go) while preserving and in some cases recreating original gems, such as the clock tower and the ceiling mural of puffy clouds. It was a labor of love and detective work, involving forensic analysis to understand the plan and the materials of a building that had been much altered, not to mention dark since its last screening in 1988.

The finished result is a fascinating collision of maximal and minimal, and new and old tech; Tower Theatre was the first movie theater to have air conditioning and the first to show Talkies. 

Apple says this will be more than simply a store, and promises a host of incentives and workshops for young, local creatives. It may be that some of them are drawn as much to the building crafts of yore as to the digital arts of today.

I visited the new store with KCRW's Greater LA host Steve Chiotakis and you can catch our chat about it on Tuesday, June 29.


Thursday, June 24

Treehouse and the Building of Community in Los Angeles

On the evening of June 24, developer Prophet Walker (above, right) and brand consultant Jason E.C. Wright (above, left) will come to Helms for an in-person conversation about Treehouse (Treehouse Hollywood, below) and creating community in new housing. 

Treehouse is the coliving building co-developed by Walker; Wright, founder of the Burntsienna Research Society, is a resident there. It was designed by The California Office with creative direction by Sean Knibb. The next Treehouse, under construction in Koreatown, will be on display at Low Rise, Mid Rise, High Rise: Housing in LA Today.

Seeding The City: Nature in LA in the 21st Century

Coming next month... After the Pop-Up closes, Helms’ programming will turn to the theme of landscape in LA and how to keep alive a connection to nature in a region that increasingly builds over it. Top landscape designers, artists and thinkers will take on “Seeding The City: Nature in LA in the 21st Century,” a day of tours, talks and installations, taking place Saturday, July 24. 

Expect Sean Knibb, creative director at Treehouse and designer of its landscaping, to be there, among other talents.  Watch this space for more details.

Helms X Frances Anderton

The events listed above are the first of many talks and installations involving LA designers, artists and architects that I am co-organizing with Angela Anthony for the Design Center at Helms Bakery District.

During the years I hosted KCRW's DnA: Design and Architecture, Helms and Angela were very supportive of the show. Angela and I share a commitment to the Los Angeles design community and to facilitating public dialogue around art, design, architecture and the urban realm.

Now we are working together on programming in-person events that will unfold over the coming year. The Low Rise, Mid Rise, High Rise pop-up is just the start. It represents a slice of the housing in design and development. We will turn the spotlight on work by many other designers in the coming months.

The collaboration is called Helms X Frances Anderton. Stay tuned!

On The Schedule: December, 2021

Despite unceasing Covid confusion, events continue apace at Helms Bakery District , with the opening Saturday of the exciting Not Now, But R...