ANOTHER TRAFFIC PROBLEM PENDING ON PCH

No question that the PCH is the bane of Malibu, as it is on select roadways serving commuters everywhere, and I do mean everywhere. At least where I had suffered, and that includes Tokyo, Jakarta and Moscow.

I remember Moscow in particular, for I feel it reflects a situation in the present and perhaps future Malibu, and so comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere.

Several decades ago when doing a TV report on the Soviet transition from a totalitarian to an authoritarian regime I noted that among many foibles surviving was some traffic dictates; specifically one backing up traffic every morning on the bridge over the Moskova River behind the Kremlin.

There, eight lanes of traffic each morning jammed the bridge into the central city, including an express central lane apparently reserved for “official” cars.

But for these cars to make a right turn into the back entry of the Kremlin they had to cross seven lanes of traffic, which of course had to be interdicted. And they were, making a great visual to tease a segment, with me intoning, “Some things never change in Moscow…”

Back to Malibu, where the left turn from the west lane of PCH to access the Nobu parking lot continues to stop and slow traffic most days . It certainly has delayed me. Very frustrating.

And we can expect the same from the traffic light at the crossing serving the Malibu Beach Inn. What developers want in Malibu, developers tend to get, no thank you City Hall

Another expected traffic problem I feel will be at Sunset Boulevard, if and when a proposed new reimagined, larger restaurant will replace the now iconic but aging Gladstones. It has been tentatively approved by an enthusiastic Board of Supervisors, with high praise to the development team fronted by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck and celebrity architect Frank Gehry.

Nice, if you are into celebrity veneration. Except at the beach, and if your drive the PCH. Then you’d know that the intersection at Sunset happens to be one of the more impacted, and the scene at present of countless traffic delays, due in part to the left turn needed to access the restaurant parking lot.

And turn they will, into no doubt will be a pricey, tourist attraction, iconic maybe, but the site must be questioned. We therefore look forward to the traffic report, in the anticipated environmental impact statement, as well as the Coastal Commission reaction to a mega structure plotzed on a public beach.

AWARD SHIFTS FROM STAR ARCHITECTS TO SOCIAL CONCERNS

Though having moved on to more inclusive cultural commentary, the itch of once being an architecture and design critic occasionally needs to be scratched, as I comment this week on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere..
 
So it was when a prestigious architectural award, the Pritzker Prize, recently elbowed its way into the news, no small feat in these Trumpian dominated days.
 
What compels me to lend a perspective at this time is I sense the award just may be an indication that the profession is shifting away from the recent obnoxious obsession with celebrity architecture to more socially responsible concerns.
 
Particularly so in L.A., where architects seemed to have been more interested in self promoting, stand alone projects, rather than serving users and the public.
 
Considered architecture’s highest honor, and with a stipend of $100,000 certainly the profession’s most rewarding the latest Pritzker went to India’s Balkrishna Doshi, who is known in the Asian sub continent for his sustainable, low cost projects, and being an architect for the poor.
 
According to a statement by the prize jury, Doshi’s solutions correctly address the social, environmental and economic dimensions, constantly demonstrating that “all good architecture and urban planning must not only unite purpose and structure but take into account climate, site, technique, and craft, along with a deep understanding and appreciation of context.” In sum, that they be sustainable and social responsible.
 
Indeed from my liberal perspective, for the last several years it seems the coveted Pritzker prize has gone to architects with decidedly humanitarian predispositions, practicing in what could be described as design back waters, far from the limelight of the world cities.
 
I note it been more than a dozen years, since 2005, that an American has won, or for that matter any over blown personality that could be described as a star architect.
 
How refreshing, for when I was struggling as the architecture critic for the LA Times championing relevant urban design I felt the profession was preoccupied with how projects looked to a few peers rather than worked; that they were increasingly irrelevant, relegating architecture to a cultural sideshow.
 
To be sure, it was at times diverting. But I found the drive for celebrity status ultimately was corrupting, and that includes self aggrandizing schools and their impressionable students and faculty, fawning foundations and undiscerning media camp followers.
 
That it appears for now the Pritzker has broken this design daisy chain deserves praise, and hopefully might just help edge architecture back to its noble calling of designing spaces and places for human endeavor.
 

REMEMBERING LEE HARRIS POMEROY

 

“I’m missing Lee the architect already:

Certainly at the funeral HE would have in his understated way checked out Riverside Memorial Chapel to see if it had:

1) proper means of access and, especially egress, for a place of public assembly.

2) how the lobby could be improved to accommodate public congregating, especially mindful of seasons and weather, to check and retrieve outer garments.

3) seating made more comfortable, sight lines enhanced, lighting more flexible

4) audio reviewed, with special consideration for the hearing impaired.

5) any special amenities for the seated family, cushions, raised for viewing

6) stepping to the pulpit, speaking at pulpit. descending, back to seat.

7) ease exiting, accommodate pauses in aisles, lobby, and on sidewalk. And if the venue could be vacated in the 6 minutes, in accordance to the NYC Fire Department performance standards.

The check and punch lists would (should!) go on, and on, into eternity. Yes, eternity.

I taught senior thesis with him as a team as adjunct professors at City College for several years, in the early 70s, nearly 50 years ago but really only like yesterday. He enjoyed talking about those years whenever we met.

Lee was very much the professional architect, and when he taught was indeed the advocate for the architect. He viewed the student designs as an experienced, insightful architect while I acted as the advocate for the user.

I felt with Lee I wasn’t teaching the class, but rather learning with the class. In a way, we were all students of Lee.

And I must add it was Lee in his declarative mode who dominated the grading, I never liked giving out grades, thinking the students when graduated will be graded soon enough.  He felt grades were appropriate.

Yes, Lee was judgmental, albeit in a soft voice that was sugar to his sometimes sharp reviews. This no doubt influenced me when I went into the next life to be a critic.

I especially liked it when class reviews were held in his office atop of the Plaza Hotel, in the former maids quarters, where he roosted for awhile, having been the architect for the hotel’s rehabilitation.  (Yes, he had opinions about working for Donnie back then, which we shared since my Dad was the Trump interior decorator. But I have no more to say on that.  We have enough sadness at present dealing with Lee’s death.)

I will say the Plaza was more pleasant than the ex Chevy facility on 133rd and Broadway.

Even after moving to LA. I enjoyed, staying in the illegal office bedroom, which gave me another reason to stay in touch with Lee, and to dine out on occasion with the wives.

For the record, the bill always was scrupulously split, with Lee, of course, doing the math, which I never questioned. I doubt anybody ever did.

And when the office was downtown, I loved it being above the culinary institute. I know he certainly did. Having lunch there with Lee, at his table, is a fond memory, even after we both went on diets.

For a Brooklyn born, Brooklyn Tech grad, subway commuter, street savvy New Yorker, he was exceptionally soft spoken and kind, to students as well as waiters, and also tolerant to colleagues, even the nasty ones who envied his success.

He even had a kind word for the bureaucrats here, and especially in India, who held up the design process, and worse, payments.

And he cared, not just for the clients. In particular, I remember him struggling with me of how should the 10,000 feral waifs living in the tunnels of the Calcutta train station be accommodated during the station’s reconstruction the office was planning.

It is a problem we never solved, like others Lee struggled with, in a life too short.

And I thought he was going to be immortal, like me, until, of course, we are not.”

 

GEHRY GETS ANOTHER GO FOR DOWNTOWN L.A.

Putting on my old battered hat as an architecture critic, which I was for a decade for the L.A. Times, my focus this week is downtown Los Angeles. If the ageless renown Frank Gehry can emerge as the designer of the latest addition to the hill, certainly I can, as an abiding commentator.

As I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere, Angelenos with a memory might recall the once grand residential topped hill was lobotomized a half century ago as an urban renewal project, with the hope of becoming a mixed-use district featuring the city’s cultural attractions.

Beginning with the sprawling Music Center, distinguished by the neo-classsic trio Chandler, Ahmanhson and Mark Taper theatres, built somewhat haphazardly over the years has been MOCA and Broad museums, the Colburn school and the Disney Concert Hall.

Despite providing photo ops for tourists, and designed by the preening Gehry, the glistening, curvaceous concert hall, frankly, has not as promised activated the area. Though promoted as L.A. ‘s Champs Elysees, the districts’ principal street, Grand Avenue, is not very grand.

But there is hope. At long last after much failed planning attempts, it appears a viable design has emerged for the critical central site across from the concert hall, known as parcels Q and w-2. and labeled Grand.

And grand, if ambitious, it will be, a $1 billion stacked conceit by Gehry featuring a 39 story residential tower, of condos and apartments. and a 20 story luxury hotel , with the base of the usual high end restaurants, retail and entertainment And yes, some of the apartments will designated as affordable.

Frankly, they appear boxy and functional in the renderings, though the project-friendly facades should lend it animation and interest, so says Gehry, who after decades has produced a design that makes both financial and urbane sense. That’s at least according to the developer, Related Companies ,in partnership with the China Communications Construction Group.

Most critically for the public is the frontage of the project, and the pedestrian plaza, facing a not distinctive or welcome entrance to the concert hall. To be sure, the hall works as an iconic work of sculpture, but not particularly well as architecture, providing a space and place for people to meet and mingle.

Gehry has explained that his original plan for the concert hall indicated a very public entrance, the building to serve as a “ living room for the city.”

I incidentally cited this is my original review recommending Gehry for the project. But it sadly was not in the final design, which Gehry subsequently claimed was compromised by the client.

It seems there has been a host of his other projects included in this blame game, which over the years have made one wary of Gehry’s presentations. Architects do have a way of saying one thing, what a client or the media want or likes to hear, and then designing another.

So while hoping the Grand as designed by Gehry will indeed revitalize Bunker Hill and that L.A. at last will get a grand boulevard, we at present have to be reserved and hold back judgment.

 

 

STAR ARCHITECTURE REVISITED

My goodness. Look what FB dug out of my past postings, and ran as a memory. Gehry is history, but it makes for a provocative and relevant read:

December 12, 2015 · Malibu ·
A slightly updated posting, in response to some comments received regarding my frank commentary on the Frank and Paul embrace: it’s really not about designing buildings, but rather about being a celebrity. Architecture is sadly secondary:

I don’t think it’s cynical to state that the noble pursuit of designing spaces and places for human endeavor is being corrupted by the cult of star architecture.

From my long tenure as an urban design critic, I see the scramble among a select gaggle of professionals to be anointed, as increasing insidious and insistent, and the effect on architecture students depressing.

This is no thanks in part to a celebrity obsessed media, and so I declare in my weekly commentary for 97.5 KBU, everywhere on radiomalibu.net and on cityobserved.com. and other websites.

And so we have tomes such as Paul Goldberger’s “Building Art: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry,” reading more like “The Art of the Deal” by Donald Trump, with architecture as a social art subsumed by the architect as a social animal.

If anything, the read reveals Goldberger’s transition from when he was a solid, if not stolid, critic in his early years for the New York Times, and then the more fastidious New Yorker, to his present vain-glorious gazing at Vanity Fair, the glare unfortunately compromising.

As for the ever-grasping Gehry, noted is his transition from an aspiring architect of modest talent, to a self-aggrandizing, celebrity-schmoozer who sadly believes his own press clippings, and the finger to whomever doesn’t.

But Gehry with the gift of a grifter does know how to massage the media, as evidenced by Goldberger’s undiscerning biography, and clients as well, as evidenced by his hyped designs. Little is heard from the users, their advocates or the affected communities.

Granted, it is hard to blame some of the architecture elite for manipulations, given the competition in the profession for deep pocketed clients and prominent projects promising yet more publicity.

It is very much a merry, merry-go-round, unless of course it is not, and one fails to grab the gold ring, and hang on, resulting in what might be labeled, professional envy.

Also, running an office is expensive, especially when the principals have to be out and about pontificating at endless forums and glad handing clients, while the actual designs are being produced by the talent in the back rooms.

I recall it was the august Philip Johnson, who was to the manor born, commenting that to be a successful architect, as he was in his time, you had to be a whore.

It is all very depressing, if you think of the effect it has on conscientious peers with a trace of talent and good intentions, desperate for attention, if not a little love, while trying to piece together a practice.

The bad books they have written about themselves and the mountains of monographs documenting their projects tend to be embarrassing, even if just circulated among family, friends and clients.

Still, hope springs eternal, and I appreciate and embrace design. When focused on those who will actually be affected by the crafting of spaces and places – the users– it can elevate the human experience.

LACMA DESIGN DISASTER STIRS AN “OUTRAGE”

“You will be outraged,” declared the one line email I recently received heading the attachment from Los Angeles County detailing a Draft Environmental Report for 5900 Wilshire Boulevard.http://ceo.lacounty.gov/envirodoc/index.html)

AS I comment on public radio KBU 99.1 and websites everywhere, the draft report details the demolition of the existing core buildings of the landmark L.A. County Museum of Art and replacing them with a smaller smattering of pavilions in the shape of a biomorphic blob sprawling over Wilshire Boulevard.

To be sure, a heat absorbing accretion is not particularly environmentally sensitive. Neither is demolishing nearly a half million square feet of existing construction composing LACMA that could more efficiently recycled, to say nothing of the toxics such as PCBs that might be released. And there are other environmental and health concerns.

The present LACMA might be fractured and flawed, a clutter of galleries and clashing styles, and does need better maintenance and graphics, as well as circulation. But it can and does work for viewing art, which, really, is what a museum is about.

And not mentioned in the draft report is that when all costs are calculated, it will probably cost a billion dollars and take at least five years to complete. That is a long time for the public to have to suffer makeshift exhibition spaces, and limited programs. Need we be reminded that this is a public institution, not a private social club for deep-pocketed patrons.

This protracted public problem also most likely will be after the glad-handing perpetuators of this colossal boondoggle are gone on to new hustles and fraudulent fame.

Just think how that monies could be better spent, such as eliminating all entrance fees, underwriting arts curriculum, and sponsoring artists housing.

A start would be putting a lid on the project’s consulting fees and excessive expenses being run up by the museum’s smarmy Michael Govan and Swiss architect Peter Zumthor.

So, today I observe with a sickening sense of dread what I know, if allowed to be built, is going to be a social, environmental and architectural disaster, a landmark to be mocked for the ages, a bad L.A. joke.

Yes, the trusted writer of the email I received, a journalist experienced in the willful ways of civil serpents and shadow governments, was right: I am outraged. And you should be, too, if it will make any difference in a world increasingly being manipulated by an egomaniacal, elitist autocracy.

In this instance it is our elitist locals orchestrated by Govan and sycophants, who have blatantly hustled the County Board of Supervisors, LACMA being a county project.

But supervisors Sheila Keuhl, Hilda Solis, Mark Ridley-Thomas, Janice Hahn and Kathryn Barger can stop the project, especially now in the environmental review phase. The public has until December 15 to comment, in writing, fax or email, or attending one of several public hearing. Details are available by clicking here. (http://ceo.lacounty.gov/envirodoc/files/NOA.pdf)

May democracy prevail.

 

 

EDIFICE COMPLEX MARS L.A. COUNTY MUSEUM

We do appreciate the generosity of L. A.’s David Geffen, who as a well positioned player in the entertainment industry and a Malibu denizen amassed zillions, and has in turn been very generous endowing a host of cultural endeavors.
 
This has included a major addition to the Museum of Contemporary Arts downtown, and a landmark theatre. in Westwood, named naturally the Geffen. No doubt his buying and selling real estate in Malibu added a few drops to his overflowing bucket
 
But I must take strong exception to his latest burst of benevolence, $150 million to the rebuilding of the L..A, County Museum of Art. as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and websites everywhere.
 
If consummated, it will be the largest gift on record toward the construction of an American museum. And I sadly add perhaps one of the most misdirected.
 
The proposed design and construction of LACMA is, I feel, in a word, a bomb. I fear if pursued the project will not only be a colossal waste of money, including substantial public funds, but would subvert the city’s cultural spirit.
 
No doubt with a price tag approaching a billion dollars, it undoubtedly will drain funds from a multitude of art projects across Southern California,
 
In addition, the Geffen gift alternatively could, among other things, easily endow the museum – the city’s largest and most important — to eliminate its entrance fees, and magically open its doors to all, as the Hammer and Broad museums already do.
 
Meanwhile, spurred now by the gullible Geffen gift, the fund raising for the immodest brick-and mortar project stumbles forward. So does the design, which features a blob of a building bridging Wilshire Boulevard to replace the present fractured but functioning LACMA.
 
Admittedly, the museum could use some serious interior redesign, rehabilitation, and relandscaping to improve access and circulation.
 
True, a subtle restoration would be a real challenge to a design team, though not as easy and potentially not as dramatic as working with a cleared site. And certainly not if you are an over-reaching museum director, as Michael Govan apparently is, suffering as he does from an edifice complex.
 
Then there is his servile Swiss architect, Peter Zumthor, of limited museum experience and, as most architects, unlimited ambition. LACMA obviously is the commission of a life time, which has to be very enticing for an architect who seldom has worked beyond his conservative and confining country.
 
If this project is unfortunately pursued as it now seem it will be, when finished, Govan probably will move on, probably to New York, where he is said to yearn to become the director of the august Met. As for Zumthor, he most likely will go back to his Swiss hamlet
 
And L.A. will be stuck with a bomb of a costly building.
 

LA MOUNTAINTOP HOME FOR BERGGRUEN INSTITUTE

It looks like Los Angeles, is going to get another architectural icon, in the hills west of the 405 freeway bordering Brentwood, as I comment this week on public radio 97.5 KBU and on select websites everywhere.

Proposed on an immodest 447 acres, adjoining the already prominent parade there of the Getty and Skirball museums and cultural centers, will be a relatively modest, but distinctively sited campus for the heretofore-indistinct Berggruen Institute.

It is being designed by the internationally renowned firm of Herzog & de Meuron, with an assist by the workaday Gensler Associates, and landscapers Michael Desvigne and Inessa Hansch, in what’s described as an archaic style of concrete and untreated wood. Most of the site will be left undeveloped,

Whatever, expect it to be pricey. Though relatively new-on-the scene, the Institute emerging out of the upper echelons of the multi national finance fraternity is well endowed, headed by a majority of suits from the board rooms of banks and out of the back doors of governments.

Details were sketchy, other that it will be a linear campus, consisting of administrative offices, meeting rooms and a lecture hall, complemented by a cluster of residences for visiting scholars. and a home for the Berggruen family

From the perspective of a user advocate, given its size and setting, I expect the campus, as a mountain top village of sorts will be a most pleasant and desirable environment.

But there are questions, including how public will the Institute be; how many visitors can it expect and how will they be accommodated? Also, how many people will be working there, and where they could afford to live? And what will be the impact on the adjoining Mountaingate and Brentwood neighbors, if any, and on the already crowded 405 Freeway?

And for me as an arts and entertainment critic, there are other thoughts. Yes, it will be art, if you consider as I do that architecture is a social art creating places and places for human endeavor. It also will be interesting how the institute complements the neighboring very public Getty and Skirball.

As for judging its entertainment value, that is more of a stretch, if you as I think of entertainment as a performance or production, generating enjoyment, interest and diversion.

I have my doubts about the Institute, dedicated, as it says it is, to the design and implementation of new ideas of good governance. That’s praiseworthy words.

But will it actually improve anyone’s life other that those associated with the Institute? Probably not, if it functions as so many non profit institutes do these days, as tax dodges, providing jobs for family and friends, gatherings of GQ grifters, networking for the not particularly needy, and select self anointed cerebral celebrities.

But certainly not all. A daughter happens to work as a staff attorney for institute dedicated to aiding the vulnerable, and marginalized, harmed by crime and violence; the institute’s resources going to real services and not for architecture or hosting indolent academics and pandering former politicians.

As for new ideas of good government, I’ll save that for another commentary.

“NEIGHBORHOOD CHARACTER” QUESTIONED

Against my own advice not to get involved in personal zoning issues, I find I’m compelled to comment on the current city conundrum involving a proposed house on Portshead Road.

The issue has gone too public to ignore, especially since the Planning Commission, after a protracted hearing, declined to vote on the proposal for the 8.800 square foot project and instead kicked it to City Council.

Beyond the emotions it has generated –should the applicant be allowed to build two and a half times the size of his neighbors’ houses– there is a major planning issue involved, concerning the definition of neighborhood character., as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites.

Indeed, in a similar case recently, citing size, the city ruled against a property owner where all other conditions also had met, as they have on Portshead. This set an important precedent.

Nevertheless, the Portshead applicant went before the planning commission, obviously confident that his plans for what he described as his dream house would be acceptable.

However, there were objections, and a petition reportedly was circulated objecting to the size of the project. This prompted a lament by the applicant, which stirred a well-spring of sympathy and an antithetical petition to approve the project.

That sentiment was echoed at the commission hearing, no doubt a factor in it backing off from a decision. With a polite nod to the heart felt sentiments, I feel zoning is not an issue to be decided by petitions, circulated on behalf of whomever.

That should be the purview of the planning commission, and city council. And as often stated at hearings, zoning cases should not be based on how attractive the project or appealing the applicant, but on their compliance with city codes and applicable precedents.

In addition to the echoing of the phrase “neighborhood character” so were the terms “mansionization: and “mcmansion.” This struck a chord with me, for I am cited by Wikipedia as one of several authors that coined the phrases, specifically when I was the LA Times architecture critic in the 1980s. Having also written several books on planning immodestly made me an authority.

I first used the phrase in describing the practice in Santa Monica of building the largest size house possible on a site, which in turn led to a domino effect that ultimately compromises the character of neighborhoods and accelerates hyper gentrification. .

In Malibu, I recall too well a case years ago in which an over designed plan for a prime site on Cliffside Drive had been objected to by neighbors, but nonetheless was approved by the city after an emotional appeal by the owner.

He and his tearful wife pleaded that though a “mcmansion,” the house nevertheless was the family’s dream, where they intended to live into the sunset.

Within a year after completion, they flipped the house for a huge profit, and flipped off Malibu. It therefore makes one wary, especially knowing that the larger the house in Malibu, the much larger the profit, say realtors who always seem ready to pump up properties to maximize their commissions.

.The size of the proposed Portshead project was defended by the applicant, who stated that it may be excessive, but he wanted to include such amenities as a gym and a screening room to make it a fun house for his family.

However ingenuous the remarks or not, the real issue persists whether the project is out of neighborhood character. It is a tough question, which calls for some common sense, and common courtesy, and frankly not crocodile tears.

Meanwhile, the applicant might want to consider a more modest house, which his respected architect said was possible, or build elsewhere where the project would be more in character. There are such streets in Malibu, though Portshead is not one of them.
 

WHITHER THE HOME AND ARCHITECTURE

My latest for L.A.’s intellectual oasis.
 
https://blog.lareviewofbooks.org/essays/stuff-of-dreams/
 
The Stuff of Dreams: Bernard Friedman’s The American Idea of Home: Conversations About Architecture and Design (University of Texas Press, 2017)
 
By Sam Hall Kaplan
 
Bernard Friedman’s The American Idea of Home: Conversations About Architecture and Design was recently presented to me by an enduring friend, in deference to a haunting academic interest of mine. The hope was for a review, but given the escalating world housing crisis, and with all due respects to the earnest author, it was like a piece of meat thrown into the cage of an angry tiger.
 
Whither architecture when homelessness mounts? It is frankly hard to get excited about the aesthetics of design, let alone accept an invitation to sit on an architectural jury or review a book, in this age of obscene disparity and social fragmentation.
 
Nevertheless, the book is compelling, if only to those curious about the current drift of the design profession. Featured are 30 interviews with architects, educators, and writers, all of whom, according Friedman, “aspire to improve the quality of our lives through thoughtful design.” No doubt they do, but, with a few exceptions, most expose the profession’s self-absorption and the sorry lack of its social responsibilities. One imagines the interviews to have been conducted in the upper floors of the latest needle-like luxury residential tower, out of sight and sound of the hoi polloi below.
 
There is a lot of huffing and puffing in the book — and in today’s world — about residential design. But it should be noted that less than 2 percent of housing in America is designed by architects. Yet unquestionably it is the profession’s true love; as Friedman explains, homes are closer to architects’ hearts than the more richly rewarding commercial and institutional commissions. That stands to reason. After all, the dream of a home of one’s own has to be one of humanity’s more primordial fantasies — a manifestation of our deepest desires and anxieties, exceeding political prejudices, social pretensions, and personal finances.
 
According to therapists, this is very much a calming dream — no heart palpitations or reactive tossing and turning, just a fluttering of eyes in the REM stage of sleep. The dream is of an idealized shelter, secured in perpetuity by ownership, an iron-bound lease, or stringent rent control. And it isn’t just any shelter, either; rather, it’s one with a distinctive style — historic, modern, or futuristic, traditional or faddist — in a congenial community of escalating values where the dreamers bought or built last year, before the real estate bubbles inflated.
 
Call it an edifice complex; the dream persists, though it appears increasingly quixotic in the reality of spiraling inequality to which one awakes.
 
The fact is that fewer and fewer persons these Trumpian days have the resources to retain individual architects to create the singular homes of their dreams or to fashion interiors. Most are happy to have a roof over their heads. But don’t tell that to the design and development community luminaries and their institutional acolytes, to the aspiring star architects and billionaire builders. These include the closeted ego-maniacal Howard Roark clones as well as the Donald Trump types, eager to catch a trend and milk it for as much publicity and income as they can.
 
Still, the profession likes to pretend it is thoughtfully considerate of the potential occupant, the so-called user, be that a buyer or renter, wealthy or not. Progressive, affordable housing advocates, along with the few architects among them, may be exalted and even presented a plaque by their professional peers. But their programs and pleas are at best given lip service and occasional publicity at yet another self-aggrandizing Urban Land Institute seminar, or an academic think tank workshop.
 
To be sure, Friedman does his part, interviewing, among others, Andrew Freear, Marianne Cusato, Hadley Arnold, and Cameron Sinclair, all of whom are nobly promoting a range of socially and environmentally conscious designs in the far corners of the country. Sinclair, a former director of Architects for Humanity and now head of a design and development company that focuses on post-conflict reconstruction, lends a chilling perspective. In answer to Friedman’s question about whether residential architecture can be socially transformative, he declares: “If you really want to effect change in the world, you have to understand that utopia is dead. And the reason for that is that there is no silver bullet for the housing crisis, and we are closing in on what will be a global housing crisis.”
 
But as the book reveals, ego-driven celebrities still dominate the profession, typically not answering Friedman’s diligent questions, but talking about themselves or going off subject. We have architect Charles Gwathmey immodestly declaring, “the house I did for my parents, which I now occupy, was a groundbreaking moment in modern residential architecture in America. In particular, I think it changed the whole idea of American vernacular to a more European-based reference.”
 
At least Gwathmey is declarative. Unfortunately — or maybe fortunately for the reader — other architects are more obtuse. These include two of L.A.’s own stars, Thom Mayne and Eric Owns Moss. In antithesis to an architectural maxim, they somehow take the simple and make it complicated. Some perspective or critical comments by Friedman could have helped, for it has been my experience that architects tend to say one thing to appear to be enlightened, or au courant, but design another. Illustrations of the projects discussed , instead of stock historic photographs, would also have been helpful; a little more show than tell, given the tendency of architects to obfuscate. And maybe there could have been a chapter entitled “Schadenfreude,” exposing the true nature of architecture’s competitive atmosphere.
 
But the central problem is this: With the price of renting modest apartments to buying humble housing in most major American cities and their sprawling suburbs going up and up, I feel it is simply intellectually indulgent to talk about the design and architecture of homes.
 
Think about the Millennials scrounging a life in increasingly popular Los Angeles, forever seductive San Francisco, and even an outlander outpost like Portland. (Of course, is some cases, deep-pocketed parents may buy houses for their struggling offspring — house which, of course, serve as a family investment and tax benefit. Welcome to the world of gentrification.) As for New York, “fugettaboutit.” If you hadn’t noticed, the highly polished Big Apple has become a senior assisted living facility for the one-percenters and their immodestly moneyed foreign relatives. I wasborn and ill-bred in Brooklyn, lived and worked in “the city” for several decades, and even co-wrote best-sellers about surviving there (The New York City Handbook) and in its suburbs (The Dream Deferred), but the sight of its current real estate excesses leaves me dazed.
 
As for my welcoming and pliant Los Angeles, its housing prices are more and more daunting. The homeless problem downtown is particularly disturbing — and shameful for any city government that pretends to be humane. Social and income inequality are the pressing concerns. In this environment, trying to find, much less to fashion, a home of one’s choice is like trying to catch a greased pig.
 
But Friedman tries to make the subject of his book relevant, and some interesting points are made. The august Richard Meier, the designer of the Getty and a contemporary of mine, declares in a burst of candor: “residential buildings are getting better because people realize they can make more money if they do a good building than if they do a mediocre building. “
 
And the respected architect and author Sarah Susanka states bluntly that if somebody wants a better house it will require an architect, and money: “That fact automatically puts it into what we might say is an elitist bucket, which is not what I think a lot of us who are architects would wish.”
 
The essay by columnist Meghan Daum might have been more appropriate as an epilogue rather than as an introduction. It is a somewhat indulgent ramble, describing well-designed houses as having an “almost aphrodisiacal quality,” enslaving us by putting us in debt and forever demanding our attention. But she concludes that they are also “the stuff of dreams.” Or, I might add, nightmares.