Colin Marshall sits down in Santa Monica with Clive Piercy, founder and principal of design studio air-conditioned and author of the photo book Pretty Vacant, an appreciation of Los Angeles “dingbat” apartments. They discuss Reyner Banham’s enduring definition of the dingbat; his time growing up in England enamored with American culture, and his surprise to find Los Angeles existed in color; the glory of freeways and the guilt of driving them, and the sense of failed utopia they share with dingbat buildings; how dingbats crept into his Los Angeles photography jaunts, shaped by his love of Ed Ruscha’s paintings, and what happened when his fellow immigrants living in them came out to confront him; how his countryman Martin Parr perfectly captures the blandness of modern architectural wonders; his countrywoman Frances Anderton and their separate flights from the crushing burden of history; the cars parked under dingbats, and their saddening cheapness that resonates with the saddening cheapness of the home itself; inherent British negativity versus inherent American positivity; his participation in the aesthetics of eighties Los Angeles, the redesign of the Shangri-La hotel, and the newspaper coverage of the 1984 Olympics; how the mini-mall co-opted postmodernism, getting the proportions all wrong in the process; Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles, which brought Banham and Ruscha together; Clive James and Ian Nairn’s writing on cities, which honor the high and the low together; how neither graphic design nor Los Angeles needs you, and how that’s the appeal; the current availability of all aesthetics, and his students’ tendency not to discriminate between them and focus on brands instead; and whether he’s been able to get any of these internet-savvy kids, usually from Asia and indifferent to Los Angeles, excited about dingbats.
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