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Category Archives: architecture

Los Angeles, the City in Cinema: the Bonaventure Hotel

What building most clearly signifies Los Angeles? In a built environment with few easily legible architectural icons, the Bonaventure Hotel has come to stand for the city as no other building does. Since opening in 1976, John C. Portman Jr.’s quintet of reflective cylindrical towers atop a stark concrete base has played in urban Los […]

Diary: The Gardens of Little Tokyo

I had lunch not long ago with Geoff Nicholson at Mr. Ramen, Little Tokyo’s finest perpetually reggae-soundtracked noodle shop. He reminded me of the existence of the James Irvine Japanese Garden, a fixture of (and fairly well-known wedding venue at) the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center. Built to the side of the JACCC’s not-particularly-loved gray […]

All my pieces for the Guardian’s History of Cities in 50 Buildings

The Guardian just finished putting up its series A History of Cities in 50 Buildings, seven of which I wrote about. I come out of the experience with few regrets indeed, though I do wish I’d written up something in Los Angeles; my friend Nate Berg honorably beat me to the out-of-the-box idea of approaching the city’s four-level […]

The History of Cities in 50 Buildings: The Sampoong Department Store

Observers tend to describe the rise of South Korea as a miracle, and the actual story makes the word seem only a minor exaggeration. Having emerged an utter wreck from the Korean War in the early 1950s, by the 21st century the country had become a rich, infrastructurally impressive, technologically forward-thinking global economic and cultural […]

The History of Cities in 50 Buildings: The Renaissance Center

No one has taken as much blame for Detroit’s woes as the major American car companies who, through the early 20th century, concentrated themselves there to such an extent that the city’s name became a byword for the industry. Despite the contradiction of an urban metropolis owing so much to an explosion in car ownership, […]

The History of Cities in 50 Buildings: The Original Starbucks

With more than 21,500 stores in 64 countries and territories, the Starbucks coffee chain has enjoyed the image of omnipresence for so long that jokes about walking across the street from one branch straight into another have themselves become clichéd. In certain cities, it’s simply the reality: Seattle, for instance, where the now universally recognised […]

The History of Cities in 50 Buildings: The Southdale Center

Behold the shopping mall – the built epitome, according to its critics, of the mindless, car-bound consumerism of white-bread suburban America. Yet Southdale Center, the first fully enclosed, climate-controlled collection of shops from which all the 1,100 or so similarly designed malls now standing across the United States descend, came from the mind of an anti-car, […]

The History of Cities in 50 Buildings: Levittown

Levittown isn’t a single building but a development of more than 17,000 detached houses. The project – started in 1947 as America’s prototypical postwar planned community – has outlived its heartiest supporters and harshest detractors to stand today as something more complicated than a monument to the glory of the American dream, or to the […]

The History of Cities in 50 Buildings: Pruitt-Igoe

If you propose a high-rise public housing project in America, your opponents will almost certainly use Pruitt-Igoe as a rhetorical weapon against you – and defeat you with it. The Captain WO Pruitt Homes and William L Igoe Apartments, a racially segregated, middle-class complex of 33 11-storey towers, opened to great fanfare on the north […]

The History of Cities in 50 Buildings: The Home Insurance Building

I’m writing several architectural essays for the Guardian‘s History of Cities in 50 Buildings. My first, and the series’ ninth, deals with the world’s first skyscraper, William Le Baron Jenney’s Home Insurance Building in Chicago: It won’t surprise anybody to learn that the very first skyscraper went up in the United States, but it will surprise some […]