Four Evolutionary Design Steps That Contributed To LA’s Identity

Four Evolutionary Design Steps That Contributed To LA’s Identity

Neutra and Schindler outside their shared house on Kings Road.

The Princes Of Kings Road

I could make the case that it should be Frank Lloyd Wright in this space and that Chicago deserves (some of) the credit, but I believe that Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler influenced this city but were also influenced by Los Angeles, softening their Modernism which arguably spread along the whole of the Westcoast – softening further.

Modernism was interested in building a better society, newcomers to Los Angeles were looking (dreaming?) to build a better life.

Whether these two actually brought Modernism to Los Angeles, or if it was New York’s Madison Avenue agencies, who had persuaded their clients to minimise their copy into brief emotional, and essential statements, can be seen as well as read, they found a climate and location that allowed for a use of indoor and outdoor space, and it had a lot of it. there was also money and no formal look or style to the city.

A couple of Cranbrook graduates called Eames moved into a Neutra house when they first arrived in Los Angeles, one has to believe that influenced somewhat.

Modernism gave way to – ultimately post-modernism – via Lautner, Googie which begat Gehry. But its visual cues live on in the number of the typically Angeleno small furniture designers who continue to successfully produce furniture in – at the very least – the visual style of this era, such as Phase, Brendan Ravenhill, or Matt gagnon

Set And The City

This is a very recent Advertisement for Stella Artois. It is obviously based on the opening sequence of Sex And The City, the quintessential New York television show. It was, however, not shot in New York. I know this the same way I know that it is recent (filming took place on January 3rd) – because I can see my apartment building in the background.

Los Angeles often fills in for other cities, CSI Miami is known as CSI Long Beach, a piece of dry ice turns LA into New York with it’s leaking steampipes. This has been happening since the beginning of the movie industry. Rice terraces in China were constructed in the San Fernando Valley, W.D. Griffith’s Intolerance Babylon set on a lot on Sunset Boulevard. And these sets were there for a long time seeping into the public’s consciousness.

When the Samson Tire Company built their giant factory it was built in the style of a Sumerian/Babylonian fortress. It is now an outlet mall called the citadel. When the new China town was built, it featured buildings taken from sets depicting China. Even Olivera Street is a replica of the original.

Set designers out of work or on hiatus were employed as designers. And as Imagineers (a term coined by Walt Disney) they – almost naturally – designed different worlds, which is perhaps part of the reason we still have a fairly thriving Tiki-Bar scene.

Disneyland is the acme of this transportation to a different place for entertainment, but thi is now used for much more cynical (if that is possible) marketing reasons. The Grove is a large outdoor shopping mall that was completed in 2002. It looks like a cobblestoned highstreet with faux Art deco facades on the stores and a trolley car that moved up and down the short ‘street’ The developer of The Grove, Rick Caruso believes that if you take customers to a place to where they think they have been transported, you create a deeper emotional connection – retail therapy, indeed. Caruso has his offices on The Grove’s property and refers to it as his studio lot, He hires set designers as well as architects precisely because they are skilled at created fake wolds. Perhaps more troubling is that the Grove looks like public space, but it is in fact privately owned.

Los Angeles is so good at playing other locations that it perhaps never developed its own identity, The fake is authentic.

The filmmaker and critic, Thom Anderson bemoans Hollywood’s overshadowing of Los Angeles and the abbreviation to LA. In his 2003 film, Los Angeles Plays Itself he also notes that the aforementioned that the city’s rich examples of Modernist architecture are used to portray villains. The bad guy always lives in a cold harsh Modernist box. Something that must bother him more as he lives in a Schindler house. That might be changing, The hero of Amazon’s police drama, Bosch, lives in a Modernist house, while the men he chases like in stucco boxes, gated resort style communities, and McMansions. A sign perhaps that Mid-Century Modernism is very much back in vogue. (Actually, if it is showing up in TV shows it is probably over and we need to brace ourselves for the return of Memphis.)

But perhaps more importantly, the entertainment industry and Los Angeles attract dreamers. It is a meritocracy to an extent, it is progressive, it is laid back, and there is/was space. It attracts a certain kind of person. Be it filmmakers or Abbot Kinney decided to turn a swamp into the Coney Island of the West

Howard Hughes, known now for his later eccentric years and the failed ‘Spruce Goose’ initially came to Los Angeles as a maverick film tycoon.

The Hughes H-4 Hercules during taxing tests in Long Beach harbour.

Is It A Bird? Is It a Plane? – It’s definitely a Plane.

While the first Superman movie was being filmed on a backlot – or shot, it was the aerospace industry that was creating an economic boom in Los Angeles. Starting before the second world war, due to a combination of factors (lobbying, CalTech, climate, workforce, venture capital), and accelerating during and after the Second World War, by the 1980s the Southern California Aerospace industry employed one out of every ten aerospace workers in the whole of the United States. Los Angeles quadrupled its population from 1920-1960, leading to its infamous sprawl and the often quoted, 72 suburbs in search of a city. (The Hollywood sign was after all an advert for Real Estate.) All these people and all this money also dovetails with the Planned Obsolescence approach of the 50s, and where there is product to be sold there is advertising and there is design. Not unique to Southern California, but without consumerism and its visual language, we might not have had e.g. Warhol and Corita Kent’s outputs.

Kustom Car culture was influenced by both the aerospace visuals as well as servicemen leaving for or returning from World War Two, who mechanically trained and seeing airplane parts and wrecking yards next to car parts started customising their Kustom cars in this aesthetic. The impact of the aerospace industry can also be seen in the Detroit cars rolling off the production line such as the P-38 Lightning’s design directly inspiring the tail fins of the 1948 Cadillac.

According to historian Peter Neushul, “There are lots of other beach areas where surfing hasn’t taken off as much as it did in Southern California, aerospace is integral to all of that. Where you’re living. Your access to the beach. The technology you take to the beach. Everything.”  Interestingly, also technological developments in the building of the DeHavilland Mosquito which gave us fiberglass and resin for lighter boards. The aerospace promoted Surf culture, which certainly influenced skate and snowboarding cultures – lifestyles that remain strong influences on design and fashion to this day. Ultimately, this surf-culture will lead us to former professional surfer David Carson and Ray-Gun.

Interestingly, the educational institutions of Silicon Beach are housed in former Aerospace buildings, Loyola Marymount University in some of the old Hughes Helicopter building, and Otis College in Elliot Noyes’s IBM Aerospace Headquarters building, with its facade mimicking computer punchcards. Google is moving into Howard Hughes old hangars, the old building of the aerospace boom are now housing the most recent boom.

With the sprawl and the decline of public transportation in favour of the private automobile, Los Angeles became – according to Jonathan Gold – the anti-melting pot, which might be bad for public life, but good for food (i.e. culture). It also means that businesses have to speak to potential consumers moving much faster than walking speeds, which had an influence on its architecture, be it the Dingbat with its carports (also influenced by R. Schindler), the strip mall, the large big-box supermarkets , the vast amount of parking lots, or the single-story commercial buildings that – due to the decentralised nature of the city now used large protruding elements to catch the attention of passing motorists. An architecture of communication.

Which leads us to…

Original Googies Coffeeshop Matchbook.

Douglas Haskell & Julius Shulman Drive Around Los Angeles

When arriving in Los Angeles via LAX, one of the first iconic buildings you will see is the Theme Building – a name few Angelenos know, but a building all Angelenos recognise. Originally intended as the airport’s control tower, it ultimately became an observation deck and until recently housed the Encounter restaurant with all its 6os groovy decor. It is a great example of Googie architecture.

Googie may be the one true architectural style born in Los Angeles. Julius Shulman was driving Douglas Haskell around Los Angles when he coined the term outside of the John Lautner designed Googies Coffeeshop on Sunset Boulevard.

It has its roots in the Streamline Moderne style of the 1930s but is influenced by the technologies and spirit of the post-war period. The prosperous 1950s, however, celebrated their affluence with optimistic designs. The development of nuclear power and the reality of spaceflight captivated the public’s imagination of the future. (Hess 2004, p. 46–47). Googie represented this through tailfins on buildings, boomerang shapes cantilevered structures and sloping roofs. It soon fell out of fashion or was smoothed out, a too loud, too gauche style. And many of the structures were razed, however, it lives on in the Dingbats, named after the frequent use of ornamentation on the front, in Las Vegas, in spirit if nothing else, and perhaps more importantly, Frank Gehry has said that as a student, he ‘considered Lautner to be a god.’

The architect Frank Escher sees Lautner as ‘‘the missing link between the classic Modernism of the Case Study Houses and the work we now associate with Los Angeles – the more expressive, more sculptural forms.’ 

The Blue House, Ocean Front Walk, Venice, CA.

Botoxed Faces, Silicon Beach

I looked at this house multiple times a day for 12 years. My apartment was directly across from it. It was initially an event space then Snapchat moved in. I watched the parties, the comings and goings, the Snapchat employees having water fights on the roof, and I also watched as the rents starting rising. Snapchat, Google and the general development of Silicon Beach as well as Airbnb rentals all led to my move out of Venice. But gentrification is a topic for another time.

The term Silicon Valley was popularised in the early 1970s to describe the Santa Clara Valley in Northern California and was named for the large number of Silicon chip manufacturers in the area. It grew somewhat organically around Stanford University. Silicon Beach is named for the NorCal valley, but the Beach arguably stretches over 10 miles into downtown and all the way to Hawthorne in the South Bay.

Most of the companies are headquartered elsewhere and maintain offices on the Westside of Los Angeles. Hulu, Netflix, Snap, Inc, and Google all have a strong presence in the city and with them come the service industries, like cleaner fish feeding on a whale. They attract talent, money and foster spin-offs, innovation and incubators, as well as an entrepreneurial spirit among young designers and graduates.

Elon Musks Space-X is both part of Silicon Beach and the Aerospace sector, The Honest Company is (geographically) part of Silicon Beach but its founder, Jessica Alba came out of the entertainment industry.

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