The LA Forum’s Winter 2016 newsletter takes an oppositional stance to Los Angeles’ built environment. Guest edited by Wendy Gilmartin with board member Mimi Zeiger, and features work by Rob Berry, Ian Besler, Steven Chodoriwsky, James Benning, and Barbara Stauffacher Solomon.
Gilmartin is an architect and writer living and building in Los Angeles and a partner in FAR frohn&rojas, a design firm with offices in L.A., Berlin, and Santiago, Chile. We spoke with her about things ugly and indefensible.
I started writing for the free press in 1998 and that was a platform fueled by controversial opinions and contrarian thinking. But when I wrote music reviews for the LA Weekly, my editor at the time, John Payne, said to me something that’s always stuck with me. He said, “We don’t write bad reviews” —meaning record reviews or concert reviews. John said, “There’s plenty of bad stuff out there—let’s feature the good stuff.” That’s why when I was asked by other editors to write the “fugly buildings” blog for the LA Weekly years later, it felt so wrong to pan something, to mock something for only the sake of mocking. But I saw opportunity there, too. It’s always easier to pan something. What’s harder is to praise something, and what’s harder than that is to find the nugget of good that’s in something bad and bring it to an audience’s attention.
I do love the buildings I write about. I think there is something special about each of them. Ugly buildings and fancy architecture are two very different things. They are developed by and emerge out of two very different worlds. I practice in the world of architecture, but I write about buildings, mostly. Having said that, both architecture and buildings are part of our cityscape, and interact to form relationships and connections across the city, and they mark places that draw our daily routines, and together form the city in which we live. I am, in many ways, just as fascinated by the building where I take the dog to the vet, as I am by a concert hall or art museum. I follow the design press, and I’ve written plenty of reviews about good-looking, celebrated, successful, expensive buildings in my career. I like writing about those, too. But very little architecture and design writing tries to make inroads with new groups of readers, or opens up new subject matter to new readers, and that’s what I was trying to do with the ugly buildings project.