Jia Gu

Name

Jia Gu

How are you a part of the Chinatown community today? (resident, business owner, worker, property owner, organization member, visitor, etc.?) How long have you been a part of the community?

Chinatown is the new headquarters for our non profit exhibition space Materials & Applications, a non profit organization dedicated to advancing new ideas and creative experimentation about architecture into public space and public dialogue.

Where are the places that you like to go in Chinatown today? What makes those places special for you and the community? Can you share any interesting stories about those places?

There’s not one single place that captures Chinatown for me but it is certainly the mix of formal and informal (especially informal) qualities about the neighborhood that makes it such an important place in Los Angeles. I hope that these informal qualities are protected and given a place to exist alongside the more recent and shiny urban development, otherwise this neighborhood will become super generic.

What are some past memories you have of Chinatown that have stayed with you over time? What makes these memories important/why has it stuck with you over time?

The Empress Pavilion, which is now closed, was a landmark for my childhood. My family would visit once a weekend and partake in the weekend craziness that is dim sum dining in a palatial restaurant housed on the top floor of an outdoor mall. At the time, I wasn’t much impressed by the austerity of the businesses, but now looking back I can appreciate the vibrancy that is tucked away in the top floor. There are secret communities in all parts of LA that are invisible from the street side but incredible once you find it in the interior guts of the building.

What are the major changes you have seen in Chinatown? What are the changes that you’ve liked? What are the ones you are concerned about and why?

A lot of generic architecture that is disguised as housing and density but in actuality is under-serving the neighborhood in the types of amenities, services, and commercial spaces it is providing. As an architect, I am an advocate of urban development, but I want to see this happen at a more sophisticated scale of design. Building in Los Angeles is hard, if not next to impossible, and building experimental urban spaces that offer affordable housing is a unicorn. The question is why. Its a mix of factors, and it doesn’t end or begin with policy or profit or protest, but I would like to see the city (and the new city designer Christopher Hawthorne!) address the impact of rapid urbanization at the cost of quality architecture and urban design.

What are some of your hopes for the future of Chinatown? What would you like to see stay for the next generation? What are some changes you would like to see for the next generation?

Stay unscripted. Stay informal. Be welcoming of the more vulnerable, the smaller scale, the less profitable, the slower actors in our neighborhoods. Be of service to the neighborhood and think about how to build a community that protects as much as it changes.