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.
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.
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.
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.
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.