Wednesday, March 3, 2021

On The Schedule: March 2021

This month I'm busy with... a conference led by historian Alison Rose Jefferson about the displaced African-American Belmar Triangle in Santa Monica; continuing the waste conversation at VerdeXchange, and wrapping Wasted with a story about a Buy Nothing group; at the other end of the consumption spectrum, Rodeo Drive: The Podcast drops; I'll talk with "change agent" Michael Maltzan at the Society of Architectural Historians; and with Lorcan O'Herlihy, Richard Loring and Vondom's Justin Riegler about multifamily housing for the future; I'm also on the jury for the Low-Rise: Housing Ideas for Los Angeles challenge.


Michael Maltzan, Change Agent

March 4    

Almost 30 years ago, Los Angeles was ripped apart by the civil unrest of April 1992. 

One of the outcomes of the equity concerns raised then was increased philanthropic support for a permanent home for the nonprofit Inner City Arts. ICA provides art classes for thousands of children in LA public schools bereft of a decent art education. 

Maltzan and the team he helmed created a mini-village of white stuccoed, ceramic studios, performance spaces and art rooms. It was, and continues to be, an oasis in its location in LA's Skid Row. 

Michael Maltzan has continued to make architectural and social waves, with distinctive houses at the very high-end as well as housing for the most economically deprived. His market rate One Santa Fe apartments foretold the advent of the mixed use urban block in downtown Los Angeles. Now his rising 6th Street Viaduct dominates the river in downtown Los Angeles. 

Outside Los Angeles, his Rice University Moody Center for the Arts, above, is one of several cultural buildings that express a quiet firmness that I see in Michael himself.

On Thursday, March 4, the Society of Architectural Historians will give Michael their 2021 Change Agent Award. I’ll talk to him about his work. The event starts at 5.30 pm. Hope to see you there; "there" meaning online at this address.

Promised Land, Hallowed Ground: Commemorative Justice and Making Change in Community Heritage Preservation in Southern California, Part 1

March 20 

One of the outcomes of our most recent social uprising – following the George Floyd murder last year – is a reckoning with the systemic discrimination underpinning land-use in Los Angeles.

The historian Alison Rose Jefferson has helped us understand just how this played out in the City of Santa Monica with her study of the Belmar Triangle, a community of African-Americans that was largely disrupted and dispersed by the construction of the 10 Freeway in the 1960s. 

On Saturday, March 20, I will talk with Alison and a stellar lineup of people in arts and culture about the Belmar neighborhood and about the recently unveiled history project that educates people walking on 4th Street between Samohi and the Civic Center about that neighborhood and its legacy. The event is hosted by the Institute for the Study of Los Angeles (ISLA) at Occidental College where Alison is a scholar-in-residence

More details to come. You can read Alison's book Living the California Dream: African American Leisure Sites during the Jim Crow Era.


Rodeo Drive: The Podcast

March 2 and 23

Two episodes of a podcast about the world of fashion and business on Rodeo Drive drop this month. Two Rodeo Drive: The Street of Dreams relives the late-80s creation of the Euro-themed, luxe mall that gave Rodeo Drive a connection to Wilshire Boulevard. It was an unabashed mash-up of pastiche styles, all niftily arranged over a luxury parking garage.

Bronwyn Cosgrave and guests regale the story of Doug Stitzel, a young developer with a dream for the site that was once home to a car dealership. They discuss the tragedy that followed completion of Stitzel's vision, reaction from retailers and architecture critics; and they consider what's happened to specialty mall in an age of online shopping and a pandemic.

Next comes a report on home wear, and whether anyone will still want to dress down, once the majority of people are vaccinated and people can go out to play and work once more. Tune in for that episode on March 23.

I have to admit that until I was brought in to write the script for this project I was never an expert on Rodeo Drive, but the stories and the showmen and women behind the luxury thoroughfare are quite fascinating.

Silver Linings in 2021: Westweek

March 23-25

Westweek, the annual design shindig at the PDC, moves online for what will hopefully be the last time. The theme however is a hopeful one: silver linings, to be found in a year of the plague.

Filmed talks will be available, and I'll be hosting one entitled The Dream Home of Tomorrow: Visionary Multifamily Housing in LA

We all know Los Angeles is home to some of the most iconic residential architecture in the world, from Spanish Revival homes to the Case Study Program and the freeform works of John Lautner or Frank Gehry. 

This conversation will make the case for dream housing. I'll talk to architect Lorcan O'Herlihy, developer/builder Richard Loring and Justin Riegler of Vondom about learning from iconic residences past, such as the Stahl house, and creating the California dream in connected homes.

(The fab artwork shown is from an earlier PDC show, Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano LA.)

Goodbye to Wasted, but not Waste

March 30

Wasted: Neat Solutions to the Dirty Problem of Waste wrapped in March after nine weeks on KCRW's Greater LA. 

But one thing for sure is that the journey into waste is not over. In fact we barely scratched the surface. There will be more stories to come, through an upcoming public event online at KCRW and some events and installations taking place later this year at Helms Bakery District. Watch this space for info to come. Meanwhile, on March 30th, I'll moderate a Webinar on e-waste and producer responsibility at VerdeXChange. You'll hear from two "Wasted" guests: reporter Adam Minter and Homeboy Electronics Recycling administrator Ana Pacheco.

Here's a quick recap of the the last episodes of Wasted: After exploring plastics, electronic, construction and even human waste, the radio series concludes with the concept of buying nothing. We meet the founders of a group that says the best way to combat waste is simply to exchange goods. The concept took off in West LA and has gone global, prompting reflections along the way on capitalism and an economic system based on perpetual growth. 

This follows on from this week's episode, on packaging, which has grown exponentially during the pandemic as we order pretty much everything online and have it shipped to our houses in layers upon layers of bubble wrap and air cushions and boxes within boxes. 

But designers are working to rethink packaging. We met with faculty and students at Otis College of Art and Design*. Interestingly, attitudes have changed a lot since I visited students in the Otis packaging design department over a decade ago. Then the goal for manufacturers seemed to be to attract the eyeballs with very large and showy packages –"packaging bloat" as it is known within the industry. 

This generation of students is being taught to think beyond just the product and the packages and rather to focus on the journey of the product, as in the complete lifecycle of the product and the materials it is made of. It's not always easy though. If anything their task becomes much harder than simply designing a pretty product to be sold in a showy package. 

"Sustainability is so so confusing," says Amber Cooper. "It's hard when you're trying to be sustainable, and then it kind of backfires in your face. And there's that one thing you didn't think about, that you're not accounting for."

But what you learn on listening to them is how designers have taken on the mantle of responsibility for the products they create.

The goal of this series was to take a serious, even downer topic -- waste! -- and make it accessible and easy on the ear. I am indebted to engineer Chuck P for his clever sound effects and audio mixing, story editor Sonya Geis for her sharp, incisive editing, and co-host Caleigh Wells, who exudes youthful energy, a talent for making data sound exciting; and passion for the environment.

*I recently moderated a conversation about the Otis College Report on the Creative Economy. Check it out, here.

And speaking of housing... 


Results of Low-Rise: Housing Ideas for Los Angeles challenge soon to be released

In the coming weeks Christopher Hawthorne and the Mayor's Office at the City of Los Angeles will release the results of the Low-Rise Housing Challenge. This is a thoughtful design competition to elicit ideas for housing complexes of between four and 10 units that could be situated in low-rise or single-family neighborhoods, enabling densification in a modest way that respects the existing character and community, and ideally would not trigger gentrification.

The underlying supposition is that single family and low-rise neighborhoods in parts of Los Angeles will likely follow the example set in cities such as Minneapolis and Berkeley, which have loosened some of the rigid zoning that has preserved their R1 neighborhoods, and that this transition is best achieved with backing from the affected communities. 

The creators of this challenge also seek schemes that would not overwhelm the neighborhood with Architecture for Architecture's sake, but rather they echo the delightful while modest low-rise housing built across across Los Angeles since the cities inception.

There were several categories in this competition and I am on the jury for one of them: the (Re)Distribution category, which asks designers to imagine turning a famous LA house into a fourplex. The famed homes include the Chemosphere and Shindler houses. In the event you are concerned that these will be torn down to make way for apartments, they won’t. This is a purely fanciful exercise but it’s an interesting provocation in terms of getting people to reevaluate the primacy of the single family home in Los Angeles.

This is all catnip for yours truly, since right now I am immersed in the research and writing of Common Ground: Multifamily Housing in Los Angeles (Angel City Press). My goal is to dislodge the single family as the ultimate in LA living and make the case for great multifamily housing, past, present and future.

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