Mimi Zeiger

Critic, editor, curator and instigator.

At the turn of the last century, the 10 acres on which Vista Hermosa Natural Park sits was a forest of oil derricks. Located on the outskirts of a nascent downtown Los Angeles, dozens of wellheads replaced the native sage and chaparral scrub. A photograph from 1901 shows a poisonous landscape glistening with pools of what might be water—or oil. 

Fast-forward a century and the land was still a toxic mess. Working-class homes (built decades after drilling) were bulldozed to make way for the Belmont Learning Complex. A project of the Los Angeles Unified School District, the $200 million middle school campus and housing complex was once deemed “the most expensive school in America” and was meant to bring high-tech learning to the city’s Temple-Beaudry neighborhood. But by 2000, construction had halted, and the planned complex was enmeshed in political scandal that bubbled up to mainstream news outlets. 

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It didn’t matter that I never had a class with Mike Davis when I was at SCI-Arc: His presence was felt. City of Quartz was on the summer reading list; I remember reading my copy on Santa Monica Beach, my brain recalibrating all my preconceptions. Los Angeles was not as superficial—as “sunshine,” as Davis put it—as I had been indoctrinated growing up in the Bay Area. It was layered and dark like a Raymond Chandler paperback. Forget it, Jake.

The forces that shaped L.A. post-1992 uprising were to be explored and critiqued with architecture as a complicit actor: defensive, militarized, surveilled. After reading Davis, it’s impossible not to look for the all-seeing security cameras in every public space. His books have caught flack for being hyperbolic and making sweeping generalizations, which is probably what made them such cinematic page turners. Looking back now, I see that his work seeped into my subconscious, swirled around with the words of other now-passed writers Dave Hickey, John Chase, Joan Didion, and Eve Babitz, and the resulting brew seeped into my criticism. For this, I’m grateful.

The Grand LA is the last lot on Los Angeles’ Grand Avenue to be developed. Located across the street from the iconic Walt Disney Hall Concert Hall on a slope pitched toward City Hall, its site was once a parking lot for jurors heading to the nearby courthouse. For decades, as it sat underutilized and as new office buildings and cultural institutions piled up in Downtown L.A.’s Bunker Hill neighborhood, the plot—a centerpiece of the so-called Grand Avenue Project master plan—represented pure potential. Could another piece of esteemed architecture finally pull together this mismatched Acropolis and make it the kind of civic destination so desperately envisioned by late philanthropist Eli Broad and city planners?

Spoiler alert: Nope.

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We explore why it’s so important to be critical about our urban environment, as we delve into the world of architecture-and-design criticism to see how it helps us to better understand and form the cities we live in.

— Andrew Tuck, The Urbanist

ADUs will not solve L.A.’s housing crisis. Last February, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority gathered staff and volunteers for the 2022 Greater Los Angeles Point-in-Time Homeless Count, its first since the start of the pandemic. When the count was last conducted in 2020, close to 67,000 people were reported unhoused in Los Angeles County, a place where the median single-family home price is just over $800,000. Both the number of people who live in tents, in cars, and on the street and the cost of buying a home continue to rise more than 10 percent annually. These figures should leave us aghast and angry, but in California these yearly escalations have a numbing effect, even as the underlying precarity remains real and insistent.

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Nearly every article about the demolition of the old Sixth Street Viaduct in 2016 mentions Terminator 2: Judgment Day. In Los Angeles, where every location is scenery, the iconic, double-arched span played backdrop to the Skynet apocalypse. Architect Michael Maltzan, designer along with engineering firm HNTB, of the new expressive, ribbon-like Sixth Street Viaduct, has a rosier vision—one of equity and accessibility. L.A. infrastructure, however, is linked to unjust acts of clearance and partition, localized catastrophes not always captured by Hollywood. Can a new bridge rewrite the narrative?

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Two pioneering works of radical television from the mind of the iconoclastic architecture critic Reyner Banham.

The writings and thinking of Reyner Banham, born 100 years ago this year, came to define and create architectural culture. His hugely innovative and engaging analyses of architecture, the city, culture and its artefacts continue to mark generations.

Banham’s trademark formal and intellectual wit, invention and creative critique found a perfect home on TV. In tonight’s first episode he drives the streets of his beloved LA, aided by an Alexa-like technological tour guide. In the second, he departs from there for Las Vegas, finding his own personal jackpot in the desert landscapes on route.

The ScreenTalk is chaired by Professor Richard J Williams, author of Reyner Banham Revisited, with guests writer and journalist Owen Hatherley, architectural historian Adrian Forty and LA-based critic, editor and curator Mimi Zeiger.

Peter Reyner Banham is one of the most relevant architectural and design critics of the 20th century. Join us to celebrate his 100th birthday on March 4 with a symposium, organised as a collaboration between the AA and The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, which will bring together multi-generational duets of scholars and practitioners engaging on themes key to the life and intellectual legacy of the English critic.

The symposium will precede two AA Visiting Schools held from June-July 2022 – “Farewell Reveries” (online) and “A Blighty Safari” (a road trip throughout the UK) – that will reflect on Banham’s passion for travel and field exploration.

Original image by Tim Street-Porter

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The League’s FF – Distance Edition, an online version of the long-running First Friday series, will continue on Thursday evenings. This season’s events feature design practices that are redefining the contemporary public landscape by responding to social and environmental concerns and exploring the intersections of architecture, technology, and ecology.

FF – Distance Edition brings participants on site, offering virtual access to practices’ workspaces and current projects. Following each presentation, join in an open conversation with the designers.

Founded in Boston by Chris Reed in 2001, Stoss Landscape Urbanism is a landscape architecture and urban design firm committed to “the power of open space to bind communities to one another and to the environment,” according to its website. At Stoss, landscape is a catalyst for positive change, enhancing both human wellbeing and ecological diversity. The firm’s work focuses on creating active and environmentally sustainable urban realms, socially vibrant public spaces, and diverse, vital neighborhoods in which people can live, work, and play.

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It was a summer of outrage and pain. The weeks after the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin and the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many other Black men and women, was a moment in the United States when veil that hung over the racism and white supremacy was ripped open and all the grief and anger tumbled out into the streets in mass protest. A history of oppression and a present heavy with generational burdens of inequity was laid bare. For Black and Indigenous, Latinx and Asian Americans, this is lived experience. For many white Americans, it was mirror held up to a country that is a democracy only to some.

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