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Notebook on Cities and Culture S4E53: A Certain Inertia with James Steele

jamessteeleColin Marshall sits down at the University of Southern California with School of Architecture professor James Steele, author of many books on architecture and architects, including, just over twenty years ago, Los Angeles Architecture: The Contemporary Condition. They discuss the how the city’s conflict with “autopia” has gone since then; the obsolescence of not just the freeways, but the city itself; whether Los Angeles has gone from too architecturally crazy to not architecturally crazy enough; the evidence for downtown’s non-revival, and what a fatal inertia and incrementalism may have to do with it; the Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything (BANANA) mentality as expressed not just in Los Angeles but the whole of America; how creative individuals can somehow add up to an uncreative city; what the Case Study houses meant to Los Angeles architectural history, and why they failed; whether the “L.A. School” of architects like Frank Gehry, Thom Mayne, and Eric Owen Moss every really cohered into a movement; how current Los Angeles architecture doesn’t express the zeitgeist, possibly because the city no longer has one; what he would change in a new edition of Los Angeles Architecture (and how much more grim his assessment would become); the emergence of a dense, connected city within a less dense, less connected one; the most fascinating architectural ideas to come out of USC; what he sees in his students’ attitudes toward Los Angeles’ built environment; the “excitement combined with confusion” he feels on his increasingly frequent trips to Asia; popular fantasies of changing Los Angeles, like halving distances or vastly increasing its transit; and how we nonetheless feel curious about what lies ahead in the city’s future.

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

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