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David Bowie looking out of the Trans-Siberian Express, 1973, courtesy Geoff MacCormack.jpg

Dear DNA friends,

Hope you are doing well, especially now that spring has sprung. 

Read on for some must-do Design Things to Do. But before that, a few thoughts on mass transit, LA-style, and a “cyberpunk” building you can see from the train.

Eyes on the Train

As a fan of buses and trains, it was dispiriting to read the LA Times report on the drug problems and decline in ridership on Metro, the mass transit system that is intended to get us out of our cars, and into a future Los Angeles. I use the E (Expo) Line a fair amount, and also the Purple Line, so anecdotally I can attest to the fact that, yes, relative to subways in more concentrated cities, the trains do seem to have a disproportionately high number of riders whose behaviors make the trains and buses feel unsafe, but there are solutions that may emerge as the system builds out. 

As discussed on Press Play, Metro wants to expand the numbers of in-house transit officers (though faces pushback for racial justice reasons). They have an “ambassador” program but I don’t recall seeing many of them. 

But Metro needs to do everything in its power to increase what the famed urban critic Jane Jacobs called “eyes on the street,” or “eyes belonging to those we might call the natural proprietors of the street.” By this, she meant people in adjacent homes and businesses as well as passersby going about their daily lives who collectively maintain social order and a sense of safety.

This could mean businesses at train stations helmed by humans — coffee bars and flower vendors, for example. Last I spoke to Metro, it cannot allow that, for maintenance reasons. It could mean more “ambassadors” available to check tickets and assist people with directions, bags, prams, wheelchairs, and bikes. 

It also has to mean an increase in housing and commerce close to the train stations. This is gradually appearing in patches along the lines, exemplified in the new Ivy Station in downtown Culver City. These “transit-oriented communities” are being designed now by many developers, planners, and designers, and could contribute to improving another vital cog in the mass transit experience: the riders’ walks from the station to home or work, or “first and last mile,” which currently can be long, lonely, unlit, and especially unsafe for women (whose needs were surveyed by Metro a few years back).

The numbers of “eyes” increase with greater numbers of riders on the trains and buses. Unfortunately, the system is too slow to be a viable option for millions of Angelenos. A transportation planner I spoke with recently pointed out that the E Line would be much more attractive to people if it ran an Express train which could zip people from the Westside to work downtown and vice versa. With limited tracks and the roller coaster design that requires stopping at surface streets, it cannot do so, and thereby consigns the train to being a chugger-chugger for people with time on their hands, rather than a speedy commuter service.

Scene from the train: (W)rapper

Having said all that, let’s consider the pluses of LA’s public transit. Gone is the stress of sitting in traffic and struggling to find parking. In its place is time to sit and do emails on the phone or people-watch or — on the above-ground light rail and buses — take in the sights of Los Angeles such as, from the E Line, (W)rapper! 

You cannot miss this newly completed “creative office” tower looming over the rail line near Jefferson Station at La Cienega, designed by Eric Owen Moss. It consists of a glass tower with 17 floors of different heights held up, like a hand holding a box, by a lattice of concrete bands that, writes Guardian architecture critic Oliver Wainwright, “wrap around the glassy hulk, swooping past corner windows that jut in and out like broken teeth.” This structure means the interiors are completely free of columns.

Wainwright calls (W)rapper “a menacing cyberpunk creation.” He sees the lack of columns inside as a pointless conceit, necessitating chunky exterior bands that block the views and are environmental gluttons, utilizing three times as much steel as a typical steel-framed high-rise. The “monstrous erection” is “a monument to its designer’s ego.” Moreover, “creative office” space is itself obsolete since the pandemic caused a drastic drop in the need for it. 

In principle, he’s right about all of the above, but the critique misses the fact that for all its sins, (W)rapper (wrapper/rapper!) jumps out as one of the most brazen new towers to come into being in Los Angeles in recent years. After all, have you seen the rest? Right now, DTLA looks like DT Anywhere thanks to many deeply characterless, shiny stumps planted here by corporate investors. What Moss offers is the pure theatricality that’s a natural in the dream factory, a “cyberpunk” continuum of LA’s rich legacy of fantastical buildings created amidst the mundane by barnstorming entrepreneurs and designers with, yes, giant egos.  

As for its outmoded use, Eric Owen Moss has spent the last four decades working on highly creative, adaptive remodels of light industrial buildings in the nearby Hayden Tract in Culver City, for his longtime client, the late Frederick Samitaur Smith. In that sense, he’s already earned his environmental sustainability spurs. I’m sure he could figure out how to turn (W)rapper into a high-rise residential should the need arise.

IMAGE 2, Option 1, The (W)rapper, designed by Eric Owen Moss, photographed from the car by Frances AndertonThe (W)rapper, designed by Eric Owen Moss, photographed from my car 

Bowie in the USSR

Wende Museum: David Bowie in the Soviet Union/
Vietnam in Transition, 1976 - Present
Opening Saturday, April 1
Speaking of theatricality… in 1973, David Bowie and his longtime friend and collaborator Geoff MacCormack traveled through the Soviet Union on the Trans-Siberian Express. They were returning from Japan to the UK overland because Bowie hated flying. Along the way MacCormack took photographs and Bowie made a film, The Long Way Home, documenting their journey, the people they met, and their time in Moscow during a May Day Parade.

Now, the photos and the film go on display in David Bowie in the Soviet Union, a show at the Wende Museum, alongside another show that promises to be very interesting: Vietnam in Transition, 1976-Present.

This “museum of the Cold War” is one of my favorite cultural destinations in Los Angeles County, for its manageable scale, its appealing design — the museum is in a former armory in Culver City redesigned by the composer/collector/designer Michael Boyd — and for its unusual and yet highly relevant exhibitions and events, exploring “social, political and cultural change” (Wende, a German word, means “turning point” or change). Just consider Ukraine. Previous exhibitions and public events include, recently, a riveting show about Mao’s Red Guards, who purged and imprisoned the intellectuals of their parent’s generation in a terrifying, violent version of today’s cancel culture; and a conversation with Cuban architecture historian Eduardo Luis Rodriguez about the Modernist landmarks in Havana that now desperately need conservation.

Everyone is invited to the public opening of the two shows, on Saturday, April 1, from 11 AM - 5 PM.

Click here for details.

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(More) Design Things To Do

PDC Spring Market
Wednesday, March 22
Messy interiors may be in vogue right now — Marie Kondo has given up on minimalism and clutter is hot on Tik Tok — but that doesn’t mean the quest for the perfect interior has dimmed. To get hints and tips on the latest trends and products, designers will descend on the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood this Wednesday, March 22, for Spring Market, a day to explore “beautifully curated showrooms overflowing with new + noteworthy product” and talks with “icons and innovators invited to inspire your own creative potential.” 

The day kicks off with a talk about the fashion/interiors collaboration between Alice Temperley (MBE, Founder & Creative Director for Temperley London) and Emily Mould (Creative Director for ROMO), moderated by the always louche and witty Mayer Rus, West Coast Editor, Architectural Digest. My friend, Edie Cohen, longtime deputy editor of Interior Design magazine, will go “behind the scenes “with industry leaders: Annette English, William Hefner, Holly Freres and Brian Pinkett.

 At midday, I will sit down with Takashi Yanai, partner at the architecture firm EYRC, César Giraldo, interior designer, and Paul Vu, photographer and founder of Here And Now Agency (HANA), a creator of visual content. The photo, below, is of the Pendry West Hollywood, designed by EYRC, and photographed by HANA (featured, incidentally, in my book Common Ground). We will consider the Spring Market’s theme of “new perspective” and how to stand out in an age of visual overload. I hope you’ll join us.

Click here for all the info. 

IMAGE 3, Pendry West Hollywood, shot by Paul Vu for architects EYRC

Pendry West Hollywood, shot by Paul Vu for architects EYRC

Design by Diversity Day 2023: Norma Merrick Sklarek
Saturday, March 25 
Architecture has long been seen as a largely white, “gentleman’s profession.” That has been borne out in numbers that show 2% of architects nationwide are Black. In recent decades the industry has been trying to diversify design schools and the workplace — and one of the ways it does so is by highlighting past architects of color, and by reaching out to communities under-represented in the profession. To that end, the Design by Diversity (DxD) committee of architects (under the ACLA umbrella at AIA/LA) will hold a Block Party at SCI-Arc, in honor of the late Norma Merrick Sklarek, architect of key buildings in Los Angeles, including the Pacific Design Center which she designed with Cesar Pelli.

Expect multiple hands-on activities, information on educational programs, and community design initiatives. And vote for the best of some student graphic design work that’s on display.

Click here for details.

Hammer Museum reopens
Sunday, March 26
Michael Maltzan, whose most recently completed project in Los Angeles was the mighty Sixth Street Viaduct, has also spent twenty years working with the Hammer Museum on various changes to the building. This coming Sunday, March 26, everyone is invited to the opening party for the fully transformed museum, with new street-level exhibition spaces, the opening of the largest-ever presentation of the Hammer Contemporary Collection, and special installations by Sanford Biggers, Rita McBride, and Chiharu Shiota. 

Click here for details.

The Other Art Fair
Thursday, March 30–Sunday, April 2
A few weeks back the big kahuna of art trade shows, Frieze Los Angeles, descended on the Barker Hangar at Santa Monica Airport. Now it’s the turn of 140 up-and-coming artists, selected for participation in Saatchi Art’s The Other Art Fair, on show for four days starting on March 30–April 2. 

The eclectic show includes chess sets by Cyrice Griffith, friend, cultural program director, and assemblage artist who makes the courtly characters out of “personally scavenged, sourced, etched, and customized objects.” She invites all-comers to use her 20% discount code for tickets: 20CYRICE

Click here for details.

IMAGE 4, Cyrice Griffith, with chess set, photo by Frances Anderton

Cyrice Griffith, with chess set

Small Infrastructures
Opening, Thursday, March 30, 2023
Accessory Dwelling Units are booming in LA and are a venue for design creativity by firms including Shin Shin Architecture. Now designers from across the country are bringing their concepts for ADUs to the design center at Helms Bakery District in a four-day pop-up called Small Infrastructures, with ADU concepts by ten teachers at Harvard GSD and Berkeley CED. On Thursday night I will sit down with Rudabeh Pakravan from Sidell Pakravan Architects, Andrew Atwood from First Office, and Melissa Shin from Shin Shin Architecture — for a conversation about the “economics of building assembly” and the applicability of ADUs to solving the affordable housing shortage.

Click here for details.

Seeking Zohn
Opening Saturday, April 1 
The MAK Center at the Schindler House on Kings Road opens Seeking Zohn, a fascinating sounding exhibition about the parks, markets, collective housing, malls, and bureaucratic buildings designed by Mexican-Austrian architect and engineer Alejandro Zohn (1930-2000) built in Guadalajara from the 1950s to the 1990s. Curators Mimi Zeiger and Tony Macarena, a self-described “design queeratorial duo” (Lorena Canales and Alejandro Olávarri), based in Mexico City, say they are interested in “how the city’s social, cultural, and material histories are interwoven with his structures,” while considering connections between Zohn and Schindler House architect Rudolph Schindler, both Viennese Jewish emigres.

Click here for details.

You could be the lucky winner!

What I'm Digging

Grow: Digital Flowers 
Floral design runs in Sean Knibb’s DnA. The Jamaican-born designer’s grandmother was “an amazing florist and the go-to floral designer for Queen Elizabeth during her many visits to Jamaica.” He has applied that gift along with interior design in projects including Line Hotel, Treehouse Coliving space (featured on this KCRW story and in Common Ground), and many gorgeous, private gardens.

These gardens are so exclusive, however, that Knibb says he looked for ways to democratize his work and get lovely blooms into the hands of regular people in an age of digital design and retail. The answer, he thought, could be NFTs. “I can actually sell flowers in a new way to everybody in the world. And I can make it affordable and say, instead of trying to make money on this, let's just share sentiments and kindness and connection with this medium.” So he, business partner Stella Shirinda, and the team at their Flowerboy Project fine coffee and flower bodega on Lincoln Boulevard in Venice set about hand-painting a series of screen-based floral arrangements, for purchase at affordable prices (currently between $25 and $70). 

On seeing them, I thought how fantastic they would look blown up large, like the oil paintings of flowers of yesteryear, which in fact, the artworks resemble. So now that’s going to happen. The Flowerboy Project Digital Flowers will go on exhibit to the public as part of Seeding The City, a festival of pop-ups, installations, and workshops that evoke nature, taking place on Earth Day, Saturday, April 22, at Helms Bakery District. Watch this space for more details.

IMAGE 5, Annecy Blue digital flower bouquet, courtesy of Flowerboy ProjectAnnecy Blue digital flower bouquet, courtesy of Flowerboy Project

And finally…

Cliff Hanger
My friends over at Greater LA are very curious about a type of house that is no longer built in LA; namely, the vertigo-inducing stilt houses hanging off of very steep hillside sites constructed in the 50s and 60s. I’m going to do a story about them for Greater LA and would love to hear from any of you who lives in one or has worked on the construction or reconstruction of one. If so, reach out to me at Thank you!

Make a Pledge
While on the topic of KCRW, this week is Pledge Drive, so if you're happy to see DnA back in your inbox, do support the station. Head over to

That’s it for this newsletter. Thank you for getting to the end of it. And do share your reactions and pitches, at



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