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Close to the Edge Exhibition at SpringBox in St. Paul, MN. Photo Erik Bardin

Dear DNA friends,

I hope you are doing well, despite skies so overcast that even some British vacationers I know left for home early, saying it was sunnier in the UK!

But you can still celebrate the summer at the LA Design Festival, at talks about glam Surfside living and California Dreaming, and at CicLAvia in South LA. That and more are coming up, in Design Things to Do

Close to the Edge

Before that, Close to the Edge: The Birth of Hip-Hop Architecture comes to Los Angeles.

From its birth in the 1970s, hip-hop encompassed deejaying, emceeing, b-boying and graffiti writing. It has shaped numerous creative outlets, including poetry, fashion, sport, film, and gaming. But the Jamaican-born architect and urban design professor Sekou Cooke, along with some other architects and scholars, was interested in its architectural manifestation.

After all, hip-hop owes its existence to architecture, urbanism, and city planning, wrote Cooke in a provocative 2014 essay. By this he meant resistance to architecture, urbanism, and city planning, specifically the merciless urban renewal program helmed by the New York planner Robert Moses that “relegated the poor to crowded subways and public housing towers—a perfect incubator for a fledgling counterculture. One need not know all the lyrics to Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” or Melle Mel’s “White Lines” to appreciate the incendiary structures built by Moses and his policies. As the Bronx began to burn, hip-hop began to rise,” wrote Cooke.

What if all that energy and resistance were expressed in buildings themselves?

So Cooke created an exhibition, Close to the Edge: The Birth of Hip-Hop Architecture, and then a book, Hip-Hop Architecture, featuring projects from students, academics, and practitioners from several countries, in a variety of media and forms of expression: experimental visualizations and installations, façade studies, building designs, and urban development proposals. “Unlike typical architectural styles that produce consistent formal language,” wrote Cooke in his book, “the products of Hip-Hop Architecture are only consistent in their flows, layers and ruptures… How Hip-Hop Architecture is produced is more easily described than what it looks like.” Exhibits include the Colored Houses Project by Amanda Williams, who painted buildings about to be demolished in vivid hues, and Lauren Halsey’s Crenshaw District Hieroglyph Project (2018), in which portraits, symbols, and designs inspired by the South LA neighborhood are carved into a plywood and gypsum freestanding room.

Close to the Edge opened in New York in 2018, then traveled to St. Paul, Minnesota, Charlotte, NC, and Atlanta, GA. Now it comes to Los Angeles for its final outing, and will be on show at Helms Bakery District, with a June 24th opening party, during the Los Angeles Design Festival (see below).  

Cooke designed and reconceived the exhibition for each location in a way that reflects the spirit of hip-hop –– raw, iterative, layered, with photos of work hung on chopped up sections of a shipping container, and a freshly graffitied wall, created for LA’s show by the artist Prime. Close to the Edge is also a platform for Black architects, who have long been vastly underrepresented in the profession (find out why in this KCRW/DnA interview with Lance Collins, past president of SoCal NOMA/National Organization of Minority Architects). Hence they were deprived of agency in the face of that urban renewal that destroyed their communities. So bringing Close to the Edge to Los Angeles has been a burning goal for SoCal NOMA, which partnered up with the Architecture + Design Museum and Helms Bakery District to make it happen. “The opportunity to bring this exhibition to Los Angeles is special to me in order to continue to push for the celebration of diverse architects, designers, and artists who may not have previously gotten the mainstream spotlight,” says Collins, adding that it “shows an expansion of thoughts and creativity by African-American architects and designers, broadening the conversation about what architecture 'can be' and introduce new forms of inspiration that all of us can learn from!”

Get more details here, come to the public opening party and meet Sekou Cooke on Saturday, June 24.

For more on hip-hop in all its creative expression, check out the newly published book The Culture: Hip Hop & Contemporary Art in the 21st Century, for which Cooke is also a contributor. 

HHA Signifyin project by Nate Williams, 1993HHA Signifyin project by Nate Williams, 1993

Design Things To Do

CicLAvia – South LA Celebrates Juneteenth
Sunday, June 18, 9 AM – 4 PM
Speaking of South Los Angeles…

CicLAvia is back and this time the location is 6.2 miles along Vermont Avenue between Exposition and Century Blvds, timed to honor Juneteenth, which marks the release from slavery of 250,000 people in Texas on June 19, 1865, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation took effect in 1863.

Cyclists and walkers at CicLAvia – South LA, presented by Metro, can enjoy the car-free streets as well as attend Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell's 3rd Annual Juneteenth Celebration & Resource Fair. That is a free community event intended to raise awareness of the historical impact of Juneteenth and offer resources including on-site record expungement, mental health services, support with tenant protections and more. “The ability to safely pedal, skate, or walk your way to a free event packed with entertainment, resources, and access to critical on-site county services…is how we can uplift the significance of Juneteenth while redefining what freedom means today,” said Mitchell.

Click here for information about CicLAvia - South LA.

To access on-site services at the Resource Fair, register here.

CicLAvia Watts, 52938786714_546ff7768c_kCicLAmini-Watts 2023, image courtesy CicLAvia Los Angeles

Making Waves

FORT Trails by the Sea: A Conversation about Oceanside Architecture
Tuesday, June 20, 6.00 - 8.00 PM
Think of ideal SoCal living and what comes to mind? Likely a house in the hills with a swimming pool. But the region has some astounding residences at the beach, with views onto the biggest infinity pool of them all: the ocean.

Three architectural experts, Emily Bills, Catherine Jurca and Ron Yeo, have created self-guided “trails” of the best houses at the beach for Friends of Residential Treasures: Los Angeles (FORT:LA), and you can hear about them when Bills, Jurca and Yeo sit down with me next Tuesday, June 20, for A Conversation about Oceanside Architecture

Bills has unearthed five Surfside 70s houses, products of an eclectic decade encompassing “large poured-concrete forms…sleek curtain wall technology…wooden shed forms influenced by the Sea Ranch in Northern California…expressions in humble materials that articulate L.A.’s ordinary and everyday streetscape.”

Jurca explores the “distinctive spatial structures” designed by Laguna Beach-based architect J. Lamont Langworthy, from the 1960s to the ’80s, in Mad Man: The Mid-Century Architecture Of J. Lamont Langworthy In Laguna Beach

Ron Yeo explores some coastal classics in Newport Beach, topped by Rudolf Schindler’s marvelous 1926 Lovell Beach House (below), in Iconic Masters Hit Newport Beach.

The conversation will take place in a venue that resonates with beach living: the new Los Angeles showroom of Sossego Modern Brazilian Design, which promises refreshments in a “lush, zen garden… and a respite from the hustle and bustle of urban life while experiencing the modern, comfortable lifestyle of Brazil.” It is at Fairfax and West Adams close to Culver City Arts District. Hope to see you there on Tuesday.

Click here for details.

  Lovell Beach House, photo by Michael Locke
Lovell Beach House, designed by RM Schindler, photo by Michael Locke

Design For the People!

LA Design Festival
June 22-25
Make space in your schedule for the Los Angeles Design Festival (LADF) –– four days of talks, studio tours, exhibitions and parties taking place at locations including ROW DTLA, Helms Bakery District, Studio One Eleven in Downtown Long Beach Design District as well as spaces including Ace Hotel and Soho House. 

The challenge at LADF will be choosing what to do!

Close to the Edge, mentioned above, is one of the attractions. But there is so much else, across design disciplines, media and locations. Clone yourself to take it all in.

You can find talks about AI, Sister Corita Kent, a “people’s history” of graphic design, the emotional effects of color, Latinx/e design and the Criticality Of Queer Craft; a live podcast recording with the People’s Pottery Project; displays of Rad Furniture, the Neurofeedback Project, and a tour of the Psychic Temple of the Holy Kiss in Long Beach; design ICON Awards and much more.

The goal is to provide a broad mix, with “conversations about design that are fluffy and interesting, as well as challenging and perspective shifting,” says Creative Director Erika Abrams. She also emphasizes the theme for the festival, which began in 2011, design for the people. "We are looking to expand upon what was done before, and more deeply and strategically engage with communities that haven't been traditionally invited or included in the design community,” says Abrams. 

That strategic outreach has resulted in the co-presentation of Close to the Edge, as well as On the Consideration of a Black Grid, a visual essay by graphic designer Silas Munro, “on how grids can shape Black liberatory forms,” and The Reckoning and The Aura. The Reckoning, a dance film by choreographer Francesca Harper, and The Aura, an audio drama experience by multimedia artist Julian Stephen are presented by ARRAY Alliance Law Enforcement Accountability Project (LEAP), a self-described “propulsive fund," developed by writer, director, and producer Ava DuVernay, that is "dedicated to empowering activists as they pursue narrative change around the police abuse of Black people.” 

LADF graphic designed by Keith Knueven and Lillian Hu for keith.coLADF graphic designed by Keith Knueven and Lillian Hu for

For people interested in the outer limits of architecture, Helms Bakery District will host California Dreaming, a conversation on Sunday, June 25 with designers and architects in the technological vanguard, who were featured in Architectural Design (AD) magazine’s recent California Dreaming issue. They include Alvin Huang, Benjamin Ball, Angela Brooks, Craig Hodgetts, Jasmine Benyamin, Elena Manferdini, and Patrick Tighe.

I’ll moderate the California Dreaming discussion. Plus, I'll also sit down with Rose Apodaca, design writer-curator-retailer, at A+R, her lovely furniture store at ROW DTLA, and talk about Common Ground. That's also part of LADF and takes place early evening Friday, June 23.

“Los Angeles is a place that people come to live their dreams and make believe professionally. Design provides the how,” says Abrams. “It's also a city that can feel disconnected and airy. The Festival is welcoming and tangible. People make friends and meet new colleagues. Plus there’s a block party.”

Actually, there is more than one block party, and a garden party or two. 

Click here for all the details. 

Click here for a listing of the exhibitions.

California Dreaming, cover image by Elena ManferdiniCalifornia Dreaming, AD front cover image by Atelier Manferdini

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What I'm Digging

Eating: Holey Grail donuts
Holey Grail, in my neighborhood of Ocean Park (and recently touted in this article about LA’s rich and varied donut culture), elevates donuts to sanctified status. Customers are invited to make a pilgrimage to buy the freshly made-to-order, taro-dough rings, with inventive ingredients and names like Hail Mary (cardamom, rose) and Original Sin (Hawaiian vanilla bean, salted maple). A Breaking Bread collaboration with Chef Rick Martinez produced the strawberry rhubarb “Horchata,” shown. Grandiose perhaps, but delicious. 

Reading: Doughnut Economics
While on the topic of donuts, or doughnuts, I was intrigued to read that these mass-consumed rings of fats and sugar also serve as a metaphor for less rapacious capitalism! This Guardian article considers the viability of a concept for shared prosperity without incessant growth, laid out by “renegade economist” Kate Raworth in her bestselling book, Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist. Per the Guardian, “To Raworth, the ideal economy of the future can be captured in a single image: a ring doughnut. Its outer crust represents an ecological limit, while its inner ring represents a social foundation. To step beyond the ecological limit will damage the environment beyond repair.” Take a bite on that!

Listening: "One Margherita"
And speaking of sanctimony… the creation story for Angel Laketa Moore's freestyle summer hit "One Margherita" is as naughty and fun as the song itself. Enough said.

That’s it for this week’s newsletter. I hope to see you at Close to the edge and many other events at LADF as well as the chat about Oceanside Architecture. And keep on sending me your thoughts and pitches.



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Donut, IMG_1962       Holey Grail's Horchata donut, photo by Frances Anderton
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