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Union 76 Gas Station designed by Gin Wong  Pereira and Associates, 1965  Photo by Frances Anderton

Dear DnA friends:

It's been a while! 

Two years back I left my staff position at KCRW, and I wrote at the time that KCRW is like Hotel California; you can check out but you never leave.

Now I'm back to writing a twice-monthly newsletter about LA design and architecture — and am thrilled to be reconnected with you. 

I’ll keep you posted on design and architecture happenings in SoCal, which are numerous this month since both Frieze Los Angeles art fair and Palm Springs Modernism Week and adjacent events are bursting into life post-pandemic like the blooms following the recent rains. Meanwhile, the City of LA gets closer to selecting the design team for a memorial to murdered Chinese Americans in DTLA, and Black History Month brings a rich array of design and art things to see and do.

Before I get to all of that, here is a quick update about what I’ve been working on in the last two years. In brief, I’ve been producing public talks and happenings, mostly at Helms Bakery District’s design center. I co-produced and narrated a short film about the inspiring nonprofit housing developer Community Corporation of Santa Monica. And I wrote a book.

FA with book by Daniel dOca, IMG-2078

Common Ground: Multifamily Housing in Los Angeles, published in 2022 by Angel City Press, is my valentine to an under-appreciated type of housing in Los Angeles: connected, mostly rental, centered on shared open space — from yesterday’s cozy and convivial bungalow courts to today’s midrise apartment buildings where neighbors can gather on the roof terrace to watch the sunset. It tells the stories of the inventive designers and builders past and present who made these places, and the people who live in them, like Sharon Chivers who raised two daughters at the vintage Bowen Court. She recalls how her girls could run safely in the alley between the cottages and grew up with “so many honorary aunts and uncles and grandparents.”

I wrote the book in part because Housing is Topic A right now — as fights around where to put new housing dominate our politics; as LA’s new mayor Karen Bass tackles homelessness; as policymakers attempt to adapt or repeal single-family zoning and ADUs sprout in back yards across the region; as apartments spring up on highly trafficked arterials, as boomers ponder how they are going to live in old age; as young adults seek less isolated alternatives to the ‘burbs — that they can afford…

But I also tackled the topic for personal reasons. I live in a six-unit apartment building with naturally lit, airy flats with private decks that are connected by a shared court and external stairway where neighbors gather to chat and children can hang out and play. Like Bowen Court for Sharon Chivers’ daughters, this was a lovely way for a child to grow up, but when our daughter entered her teens, she became deeply embarrassed by our home because all her friends lived in large houses owned by their parents. I wanted to understand the stigma attached to apartment living that our daughter had internalized — a stigma brought on by longtime cultural, racial, political, infrastructure, and economic biases favoring the single family house — and that makes it so challenging to integrate inviting, attainable and stable multifamily housing into our cityscape today.

Common Ground on the Road

Coming up this month, I will speak at two public conversations about Common Ground — and I hope you’ll join me. One is online this Thursday, February 9, from 7-8 PM. The free event is part of the Architecture & Beyond Virtual Lecture Series, hosted by the Los Feliz Branch Library and Skylight Books. To sign up, email the Los Feliz Library: with “A&B” in the subject line. 

On Saturday, February 18, I'll talk about Common Ground at Modernism Week in Palm Springs (read on for Stories Untold and other hot tickets at Modernism Week, below). 

10, Millenium Santa Monica, by Michael Folonis, roof w Lisa Silvera and friends, photo by Art Gray, _A_

Residents on the roof of Millennium Santa Monica, designed by Michael W. Folonis Architects, photo by Art Gray.

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Design Things To Do


Design a Street!
Speaking of new multifamily housing…if you have been driving around LA, wondering why some of the new development on our arterials is overwhelming in scale and underwhelming in design (not all of it is, as shown in Common Ground), then pick up a pencil, paint brush, or computer mouse and create some alternatives for the Livable Communities Initiative (LCI) and their design challenge to envision “complete streets” and attractive housing for designated stretches of the region’s thoroughfares.

LCI is a recently formed coalition of Hancock Park area residents, housing advocates, and urban planners who argue that it is possible, through changing rules, to incentivize “gentler” density on some of the Southland’s arterials: modest 3 to 5-story mid-rise housing above commercial businesses, a kind of development often precluded by building codes. They want the streets this housing is on to be “calmed” to be more walkable and bikeable. The ultimate goal is to create “naturally occurring affordable and workforce housing” on “complete streets” where people can live “without the need for a car.” 

This sounds lovely — and raises many practical and political questions. But LCI  has caught the attention of elected officials in LA who have incorporated their goals into the new housing element, reports Urbanize LA, which is a City plan to meet housing needs in a way that is equitable, affordable, and sustainable. Now the group seeks creative input from YOU in this competition. The challenge is open to anyone over 18 including professional designers, and design enthusiasts. The deadline is the end of March 15, and there are monetary prizes: Grand Prize: $2,000.00; and $1,000.00 each to the three Runner-Ups in each submission category. I’m on the jury and am excited to see the concepts.

Meet Memorial Designers
In late October 1871, some 18 Chinese people were shot or hanged by a vengeful mob following the shooting of a white rancher who, despite being warned off, intervened in a fight between rival groups in the Chinese community around the Old Plaza in downtown Los Angeles. 150 years later, the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) and El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument launched a competition to find a design for a memorial to those murdered, and this month six shortlisted teams, each paid a stipend to work up accessible concepts, will present their designs to the public. The project results from the 2021 Past Due report of the Mayor’s Office Civic Memory Working Group, which enlisted more than 70 cultural, civic, and business leaders “to produce a series of recommendations to help Los Angeles…engage more productively and honestly with its past.”  

Figure x J. Jih Architecture Collective, led by James Leng and Jennifer Ly in collaboration with J. Roc Jih, San Francisco, CA

Penjing Garden by Figure x J. Jih, one of the six finalists 

Annie Chu is a member of the evaluation committee for the memorial to the victims of the massacre. She says that in addition to informing the public about an event that many Angelenos knew nothing about, the memorial “needs to resonate not only with Chinese Americans or other Asian Americans, but also with a broader audience including national and international visitors — to ignite and promote dialog about violence and racism that is the heavy American burden since the founding of the nation.” You can see the proposals here. Join an in-person roundtable discussion at the Chinese American Museum next Tuesday, February 14, and hear from the designers at two online presentation sessions on February 18. Check for updates, here.

Goodbye Chief Design Officer
Note: One of the instigators of this competition was Christopher Hawthorne, then Chief Design Officer for the City of Los Angeles and previously architectural critic at the Los Angeles Times
. As Mayor Garcetti’s tenure came to a close, Hawthorne quietly departed Los Angeles, taking up a teaching post at Yale. Now Mayor Karen Bass is focusing on alleviating homelessness and it is unclear yet if she will appoint an individual to lay out a strong design vision for the city of Los Angeles. Stay tuned.


Modernism Week/Stories Untold
If you drive through Beverly Hills you may have spotted a gas station with a soaring cream and orange roof that looks like it is about to rip from its mooring and fly off. This is the Union 76 completed in 1965 by the architect Gin Wong/Pereira and Associates (see newsletter header photo above). The flight motif is apt; the building was originally intended for LAX! You can hear more about Wong and this amazing design at Stories Untold: Asian-American Architects and Midcentury Modernism: Influential Design and Social Exclusion, a symposium to take place on Presidents Day at Modernism Week in Palm Springs (and to be filmed for future viewing). 

As with the Memorial described above, Stories Untold honors a buried history of the Asian American experience in California. It is the second in the Stories Untold series, which was launched last year with a focus on little-known midcentury Black architects. That story continues on the afternoon of President’s Day when Gail Kennard speaks about the life and work of her father, Robert Kennard, architect of many buildings, including the Watts Happening Cultural Center (Mafundi Building), currently in the midst of a conservation effort. The scholar and historian Alison Rose Jefferson will also share her ongoing research into leisure sites during Jim Crow, as explored in her book Living the California Dream: African American Leisure Sites during the Jim Crow Era.

Samara Joy!  
Of course Modernism Week also offers plenty of its usual fizzy parties, displays of fabulous 50s automobiles and Airstreams, and visits to the former hangouts of the rat pack. In addition, the architect Thom Mayne will give a keynote (hopefully to address his firm’s newly built OCMA as well as this Saudi Arabian Line project) and, hot off of her Grammy success, the jazz singer Samara Joy will perform at the Annenberg Theater at Palm Springs Art Museum! I am currently on the board of Modernism Week and hope to see you in the desert.

Art Everywhere
While some head for the desert, Frieze Los Angeles, the art fair juggernaut, descends on the Southland for its fourth year, to take place further west than before, at Santa Monica airport, because, says Frieze, it needed more space to accommodate growing numbers of participating dealers. It will take up all of Barker Hanger and then some, in a huge pop-up, tented show space on the airport campus, designed by prolific museum and gallery designer Kulapat Yantrasast and his firm WHY studio. And on Frieze’s tailwind come multiple gallery openings and other art fairs (detailed here by the LA Times’s Deborah Vankin), plus the opening of another Hauser & Wirth space, this time in West Hollywood, in a retrofit by noted New York architect Annabelle Selldorf of the former Heritage Classics Motorcar Company. 

Frieze also puts on an array of public programming as well as some intriguing installations offsite. In Against The Edge, Jay Ezra Nayssan of Del Vaz Projects is putting art (by Kelly Akashi, Julie Becker, Tony Cokes, Nicola L.) in five storied locations on the West side — unearthing their forgotten histories. The sites are Beyond Baroque; Shirley Temple’s storybook childhood home; the Thomas Mann house in Pacific Palisades, built for the self-exiled writer by Julius Ralph Davidson; the nearby Villa Aurora, home of the German Jewish emigre Lion Feuchtwanger; and the carousel at Santa Monica pier!

I always knew the pier had been a magnet for very cool people such as Patti Smith, but only on speaking with Jay did I learn that Walter Hopps, founder of the legendary Ferus Gallery, put fabric around the merry-go-round, and held his first art show, ‘Action,’ in the carousel itself in 1955, complete with jazz and a rendition of some John Cage compositions! Del Vaz Projects will reprise that moment with ‘Action 3,’ on Thursday night, February 16, the start of Frieze.

African-American or Black?
Black History Month brings us a full plate of programming. And one little gallery show that caught my attention is a group show co-curated by Monique Birault and Liz Gordon in “The Loft at Liz’s,” a petite space above Liz’s Antique Hardware on La Brea Ave. The duo has taken on the question, per their exhibition title, of Identity Semantics Of The African Diaspora In The United States — meaning, whether to use “African-American” or “Black” as a self-identifier. They reached out to young and emerging artists Zeal Harris, Ray McCray, William Virgil, Enock Waiswa, Richard Turner, Cheyann Washington, and Michael Massenburg — and assembled a group show of works that says Birault, “manifests the topic as differently as their experience of identity semantics.” The show is open through March 28 and the artists will talk about the topic at an in-person and Zoom talk on February 25th. 

Hidden Treasure
One of the attractions of this show is the getting there. A treat of cultural life in LA is that — unlike in older more urban cities where galleries line streets or fill a large art fair in a centralized tent — art happenings often take place in invisible, or offbeat places: in garages of homes, in industrial spaces, or, like this one, in a small room above and at the back of Liz’s Antique Hardware. To get to Identity Semantics you have to make your way through a salvage junkie’s heaven of used hinges, vintage lampshades, and old wash basins! The secrecy and oddness of its location adds to the adventure of it all.

Corridor leading to Lizs Loft above Lizs Antique Hardware, IMG_9860

Corridor leading to Liz's Loft above Liz's Antique Hardware

Join us!

What I'm Digging


A few years back on DnA, I interviewed an indie film director named Kogonada about Columbus, a movie he set in the moody, rain-soaked, midcentury landmarks of Columbus, Indiana. He gained acclaim with his AI story After Yang. Then I learned that he was one of the producer/directors on the Apple TV series Pachinko, adapted from Min Jin Lee's book about four generations of a Korean family, centered on the indomitable child, and later, grandmother Sunja — that becomes part of the stateless Korean community in Japan. They move up from poverty, in part thanks to investment in a Pachinko parlor, meeting many challenges — and joys — along the way. Launched last year, I streamed it recently and it is riveting, full of scenes and settings as beautifully composed as Columbus, while being a revelatory “story untold.” 


Furry Love Story
ICYMI, this is a nice one for the month of love. Every now, and then, an article comes along that genuinely changes one’s view of the world. I had that reaction to this article in the New York Times last year about how cats — who we have all been acculturated to believe are very aloof and don’t have strong feelings towards us — in fact, may really really love us. They have minimal ways of showing it, but according to some French researchers, little movements like moving an ear in response to a human call, indicate “that social interaction with humans is key in the life of a cat.” Now I look at my favorite fluff ball Twinkle in a completely different way, even when she’s ignoring me. If you are a cat owner who always felt you were in a constant state of unrequited love, read this story.

My Cat, Twinkle

My cat Twinkle

Bedtime Reading
I love murder mysteries, and so it turns out, do the residents of Coopers Chase, a fancy retirement village in Kent, UK. In The Thursday Murder Club series, by author Richard Osman, four incorrigible seniors turn themselves into a pesky but useful detective squad, often outstripping the local police or intelligence services as they try to get to the bottom of yet another grisly murder in the English countryside. On one hand these are brilliantly plotted and laugh-out-loud funny whodunnits, but they are also deeply moving portraits of elderly people dealing with the onset of frailty and death, and the healing power of friendship. The series is reported to have been acquired by Stephen Spielberg, and is being adapted to a movie, which will hopefully capture the quality of the books. In the meantime, have fun reading them. 

Note: And if you want twee English countryside, without murder, then of course you must watch the utterly adorable and life-affirming All Creatures Great and Small.


Five Places Los Angeles
My friend Emmanuelle Bourlier and the team at LA Forum for Architecture and Urban Design had a simple but neat idea for a podcast. Ask an Angeleno for their five favorite places in Los Angeles, and then have that interviewee turn the mic on a person of their choice, and ask the same thing, thus weaving a group-knit tapestry of perspectives on LA. I was honored to be one of their subjects, but I like listening to the others, like the LA Times arts and urbanism writer Carolina Miranda talking about The Psychic Center of LA and Improvised drive-throughs at snack-shacks. Not only do I learn about new places, but I’m reminded that the City of Angels is so different to different people and that’s what makes it so endlessly interesting.

Thank you for reading! 

Please write to me with thoughts or pitches at And look for more Design and Architecture in your mailbox two weeks from now. Follow DnA on Insta, here, and keep up with Common Ground, on Insta, here.

Screenshot 2023-02-07 at 8.49.51 PM

RIP Eric J. Lawrence.

As I wrapped this newsletter I learned that a former KCRW colleague Eric J. Lawrence has just passed, from meningitis. Eric was the longtime music librarian in the famed KCRW “basement,” DJ and go-to expert on all things pop culture. He even contributed periodically to DnA on sartorial disputes, such as whether men should wear cargo shorts (yes, in his view)! He was a great character who will be dearly missed.

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