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2018 is a wrap, and a look ahead to 2019

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Diagram by LA Mas shows ADU pilot project in Highland Park in context. (Image courtesy LA Mas.)

From covering battles over e-scooters and housing, to welcoming the first (religious) LA building by Rem Koolhaas, to pondering what’s next for fire-torn Malibu, last year was a busy year…

From covering battles over e-scooters and housing, to welcoming the first (religious) LA building by Rem Koolhaas, to pondering what’s next for fire-torn Malibu, last year was a busy year for DnA.

In case you missed them, here were some of the dominant stories of 2018, along with pointers for the coming year.

Bridges and Walls

One of the centers of action right now in LA is infrastructure – think development at the LA River, the construction of mass transit lines across the Southland and high-speed rail through the state. But there’s also a lot of ambivalence about how connected Californians want to be.

So we opened the year with Bridges and Walls, a series of in-depth reports on the infrastructure, both real and virtual, that bind and divide us in the Southland and in the state of California.

Bridges and Walls was supported by the California Arts Council and NPR’s Storylab, but it was galvanized by President Trump‘s preoccupation with the border wall. Our first report explored the human impacts of the border as well as the inspired design-thinking for humanizing it. We went on to cover the LA River, California’s beleaguered high speed rail (and why voters who reject the bullet train are excited by the idea of the Hyperloop), a freeway crossing only for wildlife, and much more. Click here for a rundown of the entire series.

Mobility revolution

As the region concerned itself with infrastructure so it also concerned itself with transportation. This has been a year where growing frustration over traffic met an explosion of ideas for new ways of getting around. The big name in this was Elon Musk, with his plans for a private “Loop” tunnel system and a regional “Hyperloop.” But Musk was upstaged by Bird.

In November of 2017, small, GPS-connected, dockless, Bird electric scooters quietly took flight in Santa Monica. They exploded into the mobility sensation of 2018, causing a rift between enthusiastic early adopters and enraged road and sidewalk users; and between transportation planners, elected officials and private investors in smart, disruptive transit solutions.

The nimble, efficient, fun mode of transit for short journeys was also an interloper in the civic space. So it represented the potential as well as problems inherent in the current effort to create a multi-modal system that relies both on public and private sector investment and engagement. One unexpected consequence of the advent of Birds and their rival companies: car drivers and cyclists found common ground. They both hated e-scooters.

DnA was one of the first outlets to cover e-scooters and has stayed on the issue ever since. Listen here for our first story on the issue. We even co-organized a “design jam” at IndieCade this year on the topic of e-scooters and the future of urban mobility.

This is Home in LA

The other big story of 2018 has indisputably been about housing, whose astronomical costs are rendering booming West Coast cities like LA, San Francisco and Seattle out of bounds for many people. Over 50,000 people lived on the streets of LA in 2018, while at other end of the spectrum, developers were buildings homes of 100,000 square feet.

This has set in motion an existential struggle around what kind of city the still young Los Angeles wants to be. Denser, taller, more compact and mass transit based? Or low and widespread, car-based and dominated by single family homes?

So DnA developed a series called “This is Home in LA: From the Tent to the Gigamansion (and Everything in Between).” The premise was that 20th century Los Angeles was defined by its the domestic architecture and lifestyle (Craftsman and Spanish colonial bungalows, early Modernist and Case study housing, custom houses by John Lautner, Frank Gehry and Frank Lloyd Wright, etc.)

We asked the question: what defines home and lifestyle in LA in the 21st century, in this time of housing extremes and a web of constraints (from land prices to NIMBYism and overzealous preservation)?

We examined the design, human and economic stories behind ADUs, high-rise residential living, destination urbanism and colossal neo-Modernist houses, and talked with LA architects including Lorcan O’Herlihy, Michael Maltzan, Barbara Bestor, Dan Brunn, Gensler, Paul McClean, Scott Johnson and many others. Click here to read some of these stories.

Malibu burns

Questions around the nature of housing in LA took a dark turn in December when the Woolsey Fire ripped through Ventura County and Malibu, destroying hundreds of homes. DnA toured the devastation and asked residents how they plan to rebuild. Will Malibu be able to resist demands to reinstate Mediterranean style, deep-eaved houses and landscaping that have proven so vulnerable to fire? Or embrace concrete and metal and other alternative house types? Read more here.

Those were the big land-use stories. DnA also kept abreast of the latest architecture — from the fab LAFC stadium designed by Gensler with a big assist from football supporters clubs; to the groundbreaking of an extension to the Wilshire Boulevard Temple designed by Rem Koolhaas and his firm OMA; and The Grand retail destination, designed by Frank Gehry for Related Cos, and finally underway after 14 years.

We also took on identity — and how it effects, for example, the placement of bike lanes in LA, the career of a female engineer and the perception of the Japanese-themed Yamashiro restaurant. And we talked with some of the most interesting people behind the looks of the big culture-changing movies of the year: Eugenio Caballero, production designer for Roma; Nelson Coates, production designer for Crazy Rich Asians and On The Basis of Sex; Ruth Carter, costume designer for Black Panther. Watch as they vie for prizes this coming awards season.

A look ahead

Which takes us to… 2019.

This coming year LA will see further validation that it is a global cultural powerhouse, when Frieze Art Fair descends for the first time on LA. It will take place at Paramount Studio in February and is intended to dovetail with Hollywood’s awards season.

But we will ask if art fairs fortify or weaken LA’s art gallery scene — and if new public art venues like the forthcoming Destination Crenshaw offer vital regional counterpoints to the globalizing art fair industry?

We plan more conversations about smart technology and the AI that is insinuating itself into our lives. And we will ask some basic questions, such as: where is the juice coming from to power this ever-more electrified world? And do we need to hold up a black mirror to some of the new tech concepts we are taking for granted?

We’ll also do a deep dive into music — and design, exploring phenom like digital-music-art like Refik Anadol’s astonishing composition on the walls of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Willo Peron’s staging for musicians including Anderson .Paak and Kanye, and the fascinating connection between hip hop and architecture.

This year KCRW will complete its move into our fabulous Clive Wilkinson-designed home at the Santa Monica College campus on Stewart and reachable via the Expo Line. Expect many more public events there, including conversations around design and architecture.

So we look forward to 2019. But we’d also like to know what excites or concerns you. So write us with your thoughts at dna@kcrw.org. And we wish you a very happy new year, with thanks for your support of DnA.