Mimi Zeiger

Critic, editor, curator and instigator.

Construction is abundant across Los Angeles right now, and amid the backhoes and the cranes we are seeing signs of fresh takes on expressive architecture: glass domes, geometric facades, soaring arches. Charges of elitism swirl around big-time architecture, but many of the new designs opening this season promise to advance cultural and social life in L.A., whether with a riverside park that filters rainwater or a campus crafted to uplift the lives of LGBTQ homeless youth.

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If there was any lingering doubt that Brutalism — the architectural style derided for everything the name implies — was back in fashion, the “Atlas of Brutalist Architecture” quashes it with a monumental thump. At 560 pages representing some 878 works of architecture in over 100 countries, the outsize volume is part reference tool, part coffee table book, and certainly part of an ongoing design trend favoring big, big books.

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It would be cliché if it wasn’t true. On a day hazy with smoke from the Woolsey fire, Pritzker Prize-winning Dutch architect and theorist Rem Koolhaas is grumbling about L.A. traffic. Specifically, the two hours it took to get across town on a Friday.

Sitting in the cushy lobby of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica, Koolhaas is a cautionary futurist. He once called multimodal Los Angeles a prototype habitat for the future of all cities because of its flexibility, networks and mobility.

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Artist Janna Ireland is on a hunt across Southern California for Paul R. Williams. For nearly two years, she’s searched out buildings to photograph — mansions and housing projects, churches and banks designed by the Angeleno architect who died in 1980.

Ireland has her work cut out for her. Williams was prolific for decades. From 1923, when he became the first black member of the American Institute of Architects, until retiring in 1973, he produced a broad body of work that spanned different styles from Mission Revival to Midcentury Modern. He built homes for Hollywood elite such as Frank Sinatra, and the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in West Adam, where he was a member of the congregation.

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Robert Venturi, the Philadelphia-based architect whose buildings and writings championed “messy vitality” above the rational order of Modernism, died last week at age 93.

For generations of architects, “Learning From Las Vegas” by Venturi, his wife and longtime collaborator Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour is a seminal text, as important as Le Corbusier’s 1923 essay collection “Toward an Architecture.” Published in 1972, the bestselling book used research and analysis to dissect the most lowbrow of subjects, the Las Vegas Strip. It provided guidelines for how to understand American postwar cities and the growing suburbs that defied the traditional architectural logic of the East Coast or European cities. And importantly, especially for Angelenos, it gave architects the freedom to enjoy the symbolic, everyday roadside architecture — like Randy’s Donuts or Tail o’ the Pup — that they’d previously been taught to despise.

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Until recently most Angelenos likely regarded tiny houses — residences as small as 70 square feet — with bemusement, as fodder for cable TV series or design magazines. Last month, however, tiny houses became a social justice cause when the city seized three that had been donated to people who are homeless.

Boxy and brightly painted, with wheels, lights and a lockable door, these particular crowdfunded shelters were constructed by Los Angeles resident Elvis Summers and provided to homeless people in South Los Angeles as a step up from the tents and tarp settlements that now dot the city. His act of good samaritanship has sparked a debate among city officials, activists, homeless individuals, and neighborhood residents over whether tiny houses are blight or salvation. Read More …