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Karl-Marx-Hof, photo by C.Stadler Bwag, courtesy

Dear DNA friends,

I hope you are doing well.

Before we get onto Design Things to Do, including the upcoming Los Angeles Design Festival, and an SOS for KCRW, let's take a little journey into the birthplace of waltzes, psychoanalysis… and exemplary low-income homes.

Lessons from “Red Vienna”

Spend time with people concerned about quality of life in Los Angeles these days you might hear references to European models: Danish bicycle paths, for example; the Parisian 15-minute city, Lisbon’s property prices but, most of all, Viennese public housing.

During its radical Rotes Wien, or “Red Vienna,'' period, which lasted from 1919 to 1934, the City of Vienna built 64,000 new units in 400 housing blocks, rehousing around 200,000 people, one-tenth of the population, writes Francesca Mari in a lengthy article published last week in the New York Times. They came with community amenities from childcare to swimming pools, and some of the buildings were strikingly Moderne, like the Karl Marx-Hof, designed by city architect Karl Ehn. The program has been maintained and today, more than half of Viennese residents live in this “social housing,” or Gemeindebauten. The homes are available to middle as well as low-income applicants, who can live comfortably on a fixed rent for life.

The NYT article cements Vienna's current role as a poster child for effective housing policy. In recent months more than 100 California planners, elected officials, housing advocates and designers have gone on study tours to Vienna, among them State Senator Scott Wiener, Assemblymember Alex Lee, LA’s Deputy Mayor of Housing Jenna Hornstock, and Mercedes Márquez, Chief of Housing and Homelessness Solutions for Mayor Karen Bass.

The model has even popped up in the least expected of places: The Line –– the 100-mile, mirror-walled, 1600 feet high, linear city for nine million people designed as part of NEOM, a vast new development of cities and resorts in Northwestern Saudi Arabia. Spearheaded by crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, NEOM reportedly involves prominent architects including Morphosis, David Adjaye, Coop Himmelb(l)au and Bjarke Ingels. Even though The Line feels more like the fever dream of a SCI-Arc professor than the world’s most liveable city, the project's Executive Director of Urban Planning Tarek Qaddumi stated (at a recent pitch to potential investors at Neuehouse Hollywood) that they plan to incorporate social housing inspired by Vienna. “It's not just about equity. It's about social sustainability. This is how cities survive,” said Qaddumi. (More on The Line and its LA connections in a future newsletter.)

The Viennese model (echoed, to varying degrees, in most major European cities) is exemplary, but one wonders about its relevance to Los Angeles today. It was birthed in extraordinary circumstances, following the devastating First World War and the fall of the mighty Habsburg Empire, amidst widespread worker revolt against capitalist excess and terrible housing conditions. It was part of a total approach to city planning that combined efficient mass transit, and public parks, schools and healthcare, and was generally supported by Viennese citizens of all walks of life.

Meanwhile, America took its catalytic events –– the Depression and World War II –– and used them to promote home ownership and suburban living for middle class white people through mortgage insurance and tax deductions, and consigned public housing to the very poor and people of color, creating a racial and class divide through residential options that prevails to this day.

That said, on the heels of Red Vienna, the city of Los Angeles realized thousands of low-income, rental homes. They were built by the public housing authority (HACLA) and by private developers, both with Federal support as part of the New Deal (explored in my book, Common Ground). Designed by talents of the day such as Paul R. Williams, Lloyd Wright, Ralph A. Vaughn and Heth Wharton, Robert Alexander and Richard Neutra, they took the form of low-rise garden apartments on landscaped superblocks, including Channel Heights, Nickerson Gardens, Jordan Downs and Aliso Village built by HACLA; and Village Green, Park La Brea, Wyvernwood and Lincoln Place among several built by private developers. Residents enjoyed grassy common areas, shared laundries and airy interiors.

Due to various factors including the antipathy to “socialist” housing by homeowners and real estate developers (who themselves enjoyed plentiful government subsidies), the privately owned complexes have tended to fare better over time than the public ones, several of which have been torn down or remodeled. But they stand as testament to a time when LA had its own utopian housing movement. Neutra, incidentally, was a true believer, having moved to America in the early 1920s from, guess where, “Red Vienna.”

So what can Angelenos learn from Vienna’s Gemeindebauten? Perhaps some financial and construction cues for building at scale, on city owned land. Or maybe the lessons are largely inspirational. According to Gerhard Mayer, an Austrian-born architect who co-founded the Livable Communities Initiative (LCI) and helped launch the study trips to Vienna, the city demonstrates that high quality rental housing can be a lifelong choice for mixed economic levels and household sizes. “I think that there are models of urban living and multifamily living that can be appreciated and desired and looked for rather than feared and rejected,” says Mayer. Since these exact themes drove the writing of Common Ground, of course I agree with him, as long as apartment living can offer the stability and financial security of homeownership.

Lincoln Place, designed by Heth Warton and Ralph Vaughn, photo by Art Gray
Lincoln Place, designed by Heth Warton and Ralph Vaughn, photo by Art Gray

Going Big with Adaptive Reuse

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles many creative designers, developers, financiers, housing advocates and planners are working to crack the nut of delivering well-designed, low-income and missing middle housing via a patchwork of strategies. One of the tools under consideration is the adaptive reuse of existing buildings: defunct office towers, parking structures, mini malls.

In 1999 the City of Los Angeles passed the truly transformative Adaptive Reuse Ordinance, which enabled the creation of some 12,000 dwellings in DTLA through converting vacant commercial structures into housing, writes Urbanize LA. These in turn stimulated the construction of thousands of new buildings, making downtown today’s thriving residential neighborhood for people seeking a more urban lifestyle. The main sweetener for developers was eliminating the requirement to provide costly parking.

Currently, only buildings completed before mid-1974 in a few Central Los Angeles neighborhoods have been eligible for conversion. Now the city proposes to expand the ordinance citywide, to all buildings citywide which are at least 15 years old, and even any parking garage that is at least five years old.

ARO 2.0, as it is sometimes referred to, sounds like a no-brainer. Office buildings have historically high vacancy rates of around 26% percent. Housing is desperately needed. Moreover, there are environmental reasons for reusing existing buildings instead of wasting resources. “We have been talking about this ordinance as a means of addressing housing, office vacancy rates and the climate crisis. There is an argument for recycling and reusing existing buildings. The greenest building is the one that is already there,” says Ken Bernstein, Principal City Planner for the Los Angeles Department of City Planning.

But that’s not to say it will be a shoe-in for implementation. It turns out that adapting modern office buildings to homes can be challenging due to their large floor plans that don’t let in natural light to the center of the building, continuous glass walls with no windows, and a need for seismic upgrades. But smart designers can figure out solutions –– as discussed on this Greater LA with Steve Chiotakis, in conversation with me and architect Roberto Vasquez, whose firm Omgivning has been responsible for thousands of loft conversions in DTLA.

If you want to learn more about ARO 2.0, attend these webinars, taking place June 6 through June 8. Check out the draft ordinance here, and a fact sheet here. For updates, sign up here.

 At home in DTLA, photo by Frances Anderton, IMG_5381
At home in DTLA, photo by Frances Anderton, 2021

Message in a bottle

Coming up next, some Design and Architecture Things to Do this June. Before that, I am going to making a little ask: if you like this newsletter and KCRW's programming, please consider donating to help keep the station afloat. Media outlets are facing challenges these days — and KCRW is no different. So we are putting out an SOS — Save Our Summer. Go to –– and be sure to attend our Summer Nights concerts this holiday season.


Design Things To Do

Now onto the fun stuff…

Dialogue with Silver Lake
Veronika Kellndorfer at Neutra VDL House                                                                  June 3 – July 30
In the event you haven’t already heard enough about Richard Neutra…

This Saturday the always lovely Neutra VDL house in Silver Lake welcomes visitors to Dialogue with Silver Lake, Metabolism of Architecture, a site-specific exhibition by artist Veronika Kellndorfer.​

Kellndorfer, known for layered images of buildings often reproduced on glass, has produced a collection of new works that respond to the house's context, history, and design. It was destroyed by fire in March 1963 (then rebuilt).

According to the organizers, her “artistic intervention manifests as freestanding glass sculptures that reflect the building's mirrors and watery surfaces. The engraved silkscreened images capture the interplay of light and shadow on the building's surfaces, engendering a dynamic connection between the architecture and its environment.”

There will be a public opening this Saturday, June 3, from 4 – 7pm.

Click here for more information.

Neutra VDL House, as photographed by Veronika Kellndorfer, image courtesy Veronika Kellndorfer Neutra VDL House, image courtesy Veronika Kellndorfer

Last Remaining Seats
Broadway theatres, June 3 - 17
An oldie but goodie. The LA Conservancy brings back its popular summer series of classic movies shown in classic cinemas on Broadway, Last Remaining Seats.

Get some popcorn, sit back in the lavish interiors of The Orpheum, the Los Angeles, and the Million Dollar theatres, and enjoy offerings including Fritz Lang’s sci-fi classic Metropolis (1927), Enter the Dragon (1973) with Bruce Lee, Planet of the Apes (1968), and Alfred Hitchcock’s "daring, disturbing psychological thriller” Vertigo (1958).

As a plus, Christine Madrid French, preservationist and author of The Architecture of Suspense: The Built World in the Films of Alfred Hitchcock, and Traci Lew, chair of the Last Remaining Seats committee, will discuss the making of Vertigo and architecture’s role in it.

Click here for all the details.

NOTE: The Los Angeles Conservancy has valiantly led efforts to conserve some of the garden apartment complexes mentioned earlier in this newsletter; and it helped found the original Adaptive Reuse Ordinance, also mentioned above. It did so under the tireless leadership of Linda Dishman who recently announced that she will retire later this year


L.A.’s Housing Crisis
Hammer Forum, with KCRW’s Anna Scott                                                        Tuesdays, June 6/July 11/August 22, 7:30 pm
LA’s housing crisis is obviously most visible and most critical on the streets, where thousands of people make their home.

KCRW’s Anna Scott has reported on homelessness for many years, through on-air stories and her outstanding podcasts Samaritans and City of Tents. Now she is leading three public conversations about the issue, over the summer at the Hammer Museum. Scott and invited speakers will discuss: Deconflating L.A.’s Homeless and Mental Health Crises (June 6); Alleviating the Housing Crisis: Where’s the Money? (July 11); and Homelessness in Los Angeles: In Search of Solutions (August 22).

Click here for details.

NOTE: While at the Hammer, check out the redesign of the street level and exhibit spaces, finished after years of gradual changes designed by Michael Maltzan.


Pride Week
LA Pride, Friday June 9 and Saturday, June 10

Pride is soon to be everywhere, at multiple locations and dates. Thank you to Time Out for this breakdown of everything on offer in the Los Angeles region, from Santa Monica to Dodger Stadium and LA State Historic Park.

Needless to say, it will be an style and artistic bonanza, from street decoration on 3rd Street Promenade in SM to the Angelic Troublemakers exhibition of digital drawings and photographs on the theme of LGBTQIA+ Pride at the West Hollywood Library, an Evening Among the Roses at Huntington Library, and of course the massive Pride Parade, now centered on Hollywood.

SAMO PridePride on the Promenade, image courtesy Downtown Santa Monica, Inc.


Dapper Dans
Male Edition: The Art of Men’s Style, Fahey Klein Gallery, June 15 - July 29
How delightful to behold men who make a statement with style. Fahey Klein will soon open a show of images by 33 photographers in its stable, taken between circa 1900 and 2010. Works will include: jazz musician Dexter Gordon, who “effortlessly combined dapper fashion with musical prowess,” says the gallery, in a portrait by Herman Leonard; Janette Beckman’s image of Billy Idol, in leather jacket adorned with pins and spikes, showing punk as extreme fashion; and Mark Seliger’s 1998 depiction of Brad Pitt in the pink in Palm Springs. 

In case you are wondering, Male Edition focuses on cisgender men; the gallery says this is the first in a series displaying “the varying ways personal style has been utilized in the expression of self-identity,” with shows of many gendered splendor in the offing.

Exhibition Reception: Thursday, June 15th, 7pm.

Mark Seliger_Brad Pitt (Pink Dress), 1998, ©Mark Seliger, courtesy of Fahey-KleinMark Seliger_Brad Pitt (Pink Dress), 1998, ©Mark Seliger, courtesy of Fahey Klein 

Los Angeles Design Festival
Thursday, June 22-Sunday, June 25
Get ready for the Los Angeles Design Festival (LADF), taking place  at ROW DTLA, Helms Bakery District, and Studio One Eleven in Long Beach over four days in the last weekend of June.

Under new leadership of Executive Creative Director Erika Abrams, the theme this year is “design for the people.” "Design for the People’ is a call to creatives who have felt excluded, dismissed, or overlooked as design contributors to the LA community or industry,” says Abrams, adding, “Design surrounds us and is a powerful language that transcends barriers of race, ethnicity, gender, dialect, economic status or origin.” 

Highlights include:

  • Close to the Edge: The Birth of Hip Hop Architecture, curated and designed by Sekou Cooke, and jointly presented by SoCalNOMA, the A+D Museum, and Helms Bakery District, an exploration of the multidimensional influence of Hip Hop on our urban fabric (hear my KCRW interview with Cooke)
  • Graphic designer Silas Munro presents On the Consideration of a Black Grid,a brief visual essay that charts a series of experimental meditations on how grids can shape Black liberatory forms,” at ROW DTLA.
  • Flowerboy Project Creative Director Sean Knibb unveils a dried flower installation at The Mezzanine above LOAM restaurant at Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles.

You too can submit an event for inclusion in the Los Angeles Design Festival. Send your pitches to

I'll share much more info in the next newsletter. Follow LADF @ladesignfestival.
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What I'm Digging

View: Le Bureau des Légendes. I am Johnny Come Lately to this enthralling series, launched in 2015, about a group of spies working for the DGSE, France’s CIA. Similar to The Wire in capturing the quotidian details of the job, it is also immensely exciting, as top intelligence officer Guillaume Debailly (Mathieu Kassovitz), code-named "Malotru," embarks on a love affair that sets in motion dramas impacting civilians, governments and fellow agents, who are split between their own and their undercover identities, or légendes.

Read: Having devoured the eco-activists-meet-billionaire-baddie novel Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton, I went back to the book that earned her the Man Booker prize at the very young age of 28: The Luminaries. This too is riveting –– about intrigue among gold diggers, prostitutes and opium addicts in New Zealand in the mid-19th century, as the British crown plunders and bureaucratizes Maori lands. Its 848 pages fly by.

Admire: Cats. While working my way through an 848-page novel, it is always pleasant to share some of the adventures with Twinkle, who as you can see below is riveted.

Thank you once again for reading this newsletter. Do share your reactions and pitches, at



Twinkle being cute, photo by Frances Anderton
                                                           Twinkle riveted, photo by Frances Anderton
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