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Tree canopy helps cool Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, photo by Frances Anderton

Dear DNA friends,

Hope you are doing well… and staying cool, ideally with the help of some easy breezes. Read on for that story or jump to 52 Things to Do!

Yes, it’s hot, hot, hot these days, prompting concern about those without air conditioning, especially as the numbers of scorching days are climbing. And yet the remedy is also a cause of the rising heat. As explained in WaPo, air conditioning, a clever invention, ranks as one of the biggest energy users in homes across much of the country, and consumes about 6 percent of the nation’s electricity, more than half of which comes from fossil fuels. AC’s Hydrofluorocarbon coolants (HFCs) contribute to global warming. Plus, it can be ill-healthful, and expensive, costing homeowners $29 billion yearly.

But it is possible, in the right circumstances, to stay cool without even turning on the AC, also known as passive cooling. This is how people dealt with the heat in the US –– and the world over –– until the late 1960s. You’d barely know about it, however, from articles about how to alleviate the pocketbook, climatic, and health costs of AC, which generally tout upgrades to the technology or recommendations to reset your thermometer.

So kudos to Helen Li for writing this LA Times think piece about age-old passive cooling techniques, having personally experienced them in a past rental in Alhambra. There, a combination of cross-ventilation via several openable windows and light-reflecting white, thick walls, kept her cool and comfortable in the summer, even in the toasty San Gabriel Valley. 

These same strategies underlay the design of early courtyard housing in Southern California (explored in my book Common Ground) that many of us find so charming. They also informed midcentury house design. Last week I visited two, once identical hillside houses a few yards from each other in Sherman Oaks. They were built in the early 1960s and were designed for maximum airflow, with windows on three sides. One house was filled with cool breezes and the soft sounds of rustling trees and birds tweeting outside. The other had been remodeled, its openable windows had been replaced with a sealed wall of glass, and the only sound was the AC humming as it pumped out icy air.

Li reminds readers that every culture in the world traditionally used neat design strategies and devices to keep cool, from siting buildings to keep out the hot sun and take advantage of prevailing winds for cross-ventilation, while incorporating shading structures or coverings over windows, air-coolers like skywalls (China), wind catchers (Iran), thick walls or dense insulation, light roofs and, outside, shade trees.

As the architect Julie Eizenberg told Li: “If you design a building, think of air conditioning as a bonus.” Yet, even though architects know how to design buildings for passive cooling, it appears that today they are not encouraged to do so.

The shops and office buildings many of us work in have sealed glass walls without operable windows, which is more efficient for the air conditioning but rarely meets the temperature needs of all staffers. Not to mention we just came out of a pandemic that reminded us all about the need for flowing, fresh air! New apartment buildings invariably consist of rows of units with windows on one side that are entered off of central, enclosed, corridors, known as "double-loaded corridors," as you find in many hotels. This arrangement is cost-effective but precludes cross-ventilation.

Furthermore, many buildings today tout LEED certifications. LEED is the most widely used rating system for sustainable design. It was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council and –– in exchange for a fee paid by property owners –– awards points to buildings based on various metrics including water and energy efficiency, material and resources, and indoor environmental quality.

Yet, LEED does not reward passive cooling per se; rather, it gives points to a cooling system that doesn't use refrigerants like HFCs or other harmful contaminants. As a result, casinos in Las Vegas (hermetically sealed energy hogs in the high desert) can earn LEED Gold ratings!

While LEED does encourage operable windows, it does not emphasize cooling that also produces sensory delight such as indoor breezes, the stark play of light and shadow through windows, or the dappled light and delicious drop in temperature provided by a tree canopy

These biases translate into policymaking that ignores passive cooling. Los Angeles City Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez wants a study into the feasibility of mandating an air conditioner or central air in all rentals. “The ability to cool one’s home cannot be considered a luxury and rather must be treated as a necessity,” she said in her motion. She’s right, but a more sustainable approach long-term might be to mandate the greenery and the courtyard and window configurations that bring down temperatures, create lovely living spaces, and obviate the need for costly electric assistance except in the most extreme heat.

Ben Stapleton, Executive Director of USGBC-LA, which operates independently from the national GBC, says he hopes for a shift in thinking about cooling, especially as we electrify more and more buildings, adding energy loads to the grid.

LEED is currently updating its ratings, due in the coming months. “We need to more clearly and directly link to passive cooling strategies in LEED and in building codes,” says Stapleton.

Villa dEste, Weho, cropped photo by Frances Anderton, IMG_2942-1Villa d'Este, West Hollywood, 1920s, was cooled with cross ventilation and greenery; photo by Frances Anderton

Tree Saver

Speaking of tree canopy, citizen campaigners in Beverly Hills have thwarted the cutting down of the remaining 36 of almost 90 vintage ficus trees slated for removal as part of a sidewalk restoration project.

The Robertson Boulevard Special Task Force to save shade trees was started by a business owner named Wendy Klenk. Her group said that since the city began removing this arboreal shade canopy, business owners on Robertson Boulevard experienced “increased electrical bills, product damages from sun and heat exposure, increased indoor temperatures, [and] environmental and noise pollution.”

The city contended that the ficus trees, with their roots pushing up the sidewalk, are a hazard to pedestrians and would be replaced by shade-giving crape myrtles.

But the new canopy will take its time to manifest and in the meantime, things are getting hotter. “We’re incredibly worried about the trees,” Klenk told the LA Times. “Especially now with the heat, cities everywhere are saying they need to preserve our mature trees not only for the shade canopy but the cooling effect on the ground… so we were thrilled.”

The article notes that the residents of Beverly Hills are among the lucky Angelenos who even have a tree canopy. People in less affluent parts of town suffer higher temperatures and poorer air quality due to the lack of trees.

Note: I should add that I recently met the BH task force’s lawyer Jamie Hall. He is helping with the appeal to preserve the Beverly Hot Springs, to be demolished to make way for a new development, and you can hear him on this episode of Greater LA.


Design Things To Do

52 Things to Do
If you have friends from out of town or simply want some new adventures in the City of Angels, check out the recently published guidebook 52 Things to Do in Los Angeles, by Teena Apeles.

Born in a hospital with a view of the Hollywood Sign, Apeles loves to explore and to share her city, taking writerly delight in its “gum-marked pavements and magnificent sunsets, street food fare and famous restaurants immortalized in song, concrete-lined river, and sparkling ocean waters.”

Her recommendations range widely, from the Van Nuys Cruise Night and tours of the art in LA’s cemeteries to swan boat rides, the Idle Hour Drag Brunch and the people’s visual history depicted in the Great Wall of Los Angeles. Indispensable.

On Getting to Those 52 Things to Do
You’ll find that Apeles recommends various modes of transport for getting to her Things to Do.

If you are pondering whether to get around by bus or train, check out This is 30, a series of personal commentaries about using Metro, from Angelenos including artist Eloy Torrez and writer D.J. Waldie, edited by India Mandelkern. I contributed this essay, On the Unbearable Lightness of LA Metro.

52 Things to Do cover

Printed Matter’s 2023 LA Art Book Fair
August 10–13, 2023
The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA
Thursday, August 10 to Sunday, Aug 13 (times listed here)
The art of bookmaking gets its moment in the sun this weekend when the Printed Matter’s LA Art Book Fair (LAABF) returns to Los Angeles –– the first time back since 2019 –– for a four-day run at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA in Little Tokyo.

Come check out explorations in type, layout, paper, and content from 300 exhibitors, including artists and collectives, small presses, institutions, galleries, antiquarian booksellers, and distributors, drawn from Los Angeles to Latin America and Asia-Pacific.

The fair also features a newly commissioned mural, book launches, discussions, performances, workshops, and special projects, many produced with cultural institutions throughout downtown LA.

Click here to register.

Printed Matter Book Fair, past show, photo by Ruben DiazPrinted Matter fair in a past year, photo by Ruben Diaz

Sacred Studio: Dominique Moody
Opening Saturday, August 12th, 5-8 PM; 6 PM, walkthrough and talk with the artist
Dominique Moody is a nomadic artist whose creative spaces have included a closet, sun porch, attic, basement, garage, warehouse, tent canopy, open hay barn, desert horse corral, and her Nomad dwelling on wheels (below), in which she has traveled from California to Louisiana, more than 1,800 miles.

Most recently she stayed still for a while in South Los Angeles, where she was the summer artist-in-residence in the “A Room of One's Own” residency at Blue Roof Studios. This Saturday, you can see the fruits of that program and meet Moody at her Sacred Studio Installation Opening.

Sacred Studio is a display of objects from the artist's personal journey, each with its own story to tell –– taking viewers on “a journey of memory and connection, revealing the narratives behind the components" that constitute Moody’s work and life.

NOTE: Moody’s work will be on show at the Hammer in the fall, in the museum’s annual Made In LA 2023.

Click here for information.

Dominique Moody in Nomad, photo by Eva SoltesDominique Moody in Nomad, photo by Eva Soltes 

Bossa Nova and Brazilian Design
Sossego, Wednesday, August 16/Thursday, August 17
Sossego is a new design showroom on West Adams offering by-appointment visits and events in an inviting interior that flows into a restful conservatory and outdoor patio. Among its stable of designers is Aristeu Pires, who moved from computer engineering into furniture design. He will be at Sossego in mid-August for two evenings of "Bossa Nova and Brazilian design," in conversation with Jonathan Durling, CEO of Sossego.

While there, check out Veredas (Portuguese for “pathways”), the intriguing functional artwork by Brazilian designer Domingos Tótora, sculpted out of a blend of mud and cardboard.

Click here for more information.

     Luisa Outdoor Chair by Aristeu Pires
Luisa Outdoor Chair by Aristeu Pires

Multifamily Glam: Walking Tour with Yours Truly
Saturday, August 19, 9:45 am
If you are interested in good apartment design, please join me for Multifamily Glam, a tour of exemplary multi-unit complexes in the Santa Monica area, led by me and hosted by the advocacy group Abundant Housing Los Angeles.

We will meet at Santa Monica downtown’s Expo Line station and walk to see the best of housing past and present, from early courtyard buildings to the latest market rate and affordable designs on Lincoln Boulevard by Koning Eizenberg, Lorcan O’Herlihy, Brooks Scarpa, and Patrick Tighe.

As an added bonus, we will stop for refreshments at Holey Grail donut store in Edgemar mall, designed by Frank Gehry in the mid-1980s.

Click here to sign up.

Rose Apartments, photo by Frances Anderton, IMG_8804 copyRose Apartments designed by Brooks Scarpa, photo by Frances Anderton

What I'm Digging

Read: Caucus with Renters
Dig deeper into housing and the more you do, you find that homeowners have disproportionate political and economic power relative to renters (despite renters outnumbering owner-occupiers in much of Los Angeles, even Beverly Hills). It’s been that way for so long that it’s hard to imagine a shift. So it’s exciting to read about this Renters Caucus in Sacramento… and then ponder new head-scratchers presented in the article, like what to think about the power differential between Representative Jimmy Gomez’s parents, “homeowners who never made more than $40,000 combined and lived in inland California” versus people who “own nothing but rent a $7,000-a-month penthouse.”

Watch: Homeowners Fighting
Speaking of housing, an entertaining Czech film will get a movie theater screening at Laemmle Royal starting Aug 25th. The Owners, written and directed by Jiří Havelka, deploys the trapped-together-in-a-room dramatic device of Twelve Angry Men, but this time with condo owners, who gather for a meeting about essential repairs, whereupon hell breaks loose between the personalities, from the petty bureaucrat to the homophobic old-timer. It’s based on a play by Havelka, and was a critical and audience hit in the Czech Republic following its release in 2019. An amusing and excruciating reminder that self-governance is hard!

Listen: Rapper's Delight
Yes, this Friday marks the 50th birthday of Hip Hop (whose influence on architecture is the topic of this exhibition at Helms Bakery District.) Go back to where it took off commercially with The Sugarhill Gang's infectious "Rapper's Delight" (1979), as recounted in this NPR story. Delightful.

Admire: Feline Figures
You may have noticed in previous newsletters that I have a soft spot for cats, especially my lovely Twinkle. So I couldn’t help enjoying this selection of Feline Figures at Saatchi Art, the online art dealer (and producer of The Other Art Fair). One of Saatchi’s curators created this compilation of cat-inspired paintings and photographs, pulled from the collections of some of their featured artists, like Tina Sturzenegger, below. 

That’s it for this newsletter. Thank you so much for reading it. Back at you soon.



PS. Get back issues of the newsletter, here.

Screenshot 2023-08-08 at 2.53.12 PM "I wanna live like common people." Photography, 15.7 W x 23.6 H x 0.4 D in
Tina Sturzenegger, Switzerland, Saatchi Art

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