DELIRIOUS LA interview with Dingbat 2.0 editors

1. MicroparcelizationMarch 21, 2016

Talking Dingbat 2.0 with Thurman Grant & Joshua G. Stein

A few years ago, the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design hosted the competition Dingbat 2.0, which asked designers to reinvent the “dingbat”—Los Angeles’ ubiquitous apartment building type—for the future. Results and reflections are published in the Forum’s newest book Dingbat 2.0: The Iconic Los Angeles Apartment as Projection of a Metropolis published by DoppelHouse Press. We spoke to editors Thurman Grant and Joshua G. Stein about what we can still learn from the lowly dingbat.

How did the Dingbat 2.0 competition come about?

The LA Forum has a history of identifying emerging issues that question the shape and inhabitation of the city. A competition is both a way to draw attention to overlooked urban and architectural issues and to consider speculative futures. [We] became interested in looking at dingbats as an aging housing type that originally constituted a surprisingly large portion of the housing stock of Los Angeles, but exists largely as an anonymous urban artifact today.

Why study dingbats?

We were curious about this ubiquitous building type that exists throughout Los Angeles but was largely ignored outside the city. We found that many of today’s pressing issues are embodied in the dingbat, either in its history or its current condition. Los Angeles (along with the metropolis in general) is faced with an increasing need to densify and provide housing for an influx of new urban dwellers. After World War II, the dingbat helped enable one of the city’s most significant periods of densification.

A thorough examination of the dingbat demands that architects reckon with factors that we often leave off the table: the role of zoning, financing, development, and ownership. It is hard to imagine innovative solutions to the housing crisis in Los Angeles without questioning some of the default assumptions we have concerning these forces.

What is the next step for the Dingbat typology?

With current zoning regulations that prohibit back-out parking from apartment buildings, the dingbat type could not exist as new construction today, and with the upcoming seismic retrofits required by the city, even existing dingbats are threatened.

One outcome of the Dingbat 2.0 competition and publication was the consideration of “dingbat logics,” as opposed to the continued propagation of the type. Dingbats allowed for the densification of the city, while maintaining a smaller scale urban neighborhood, and allowed for small-scale developers to impact the fabric of the city. Los Angeles’ current popular small-scale development model is based on the Small Lot Ordinance, which allows multi-family residential lots to be subdivided into smaller parcels for individual owners, and this was the strategy of the winning scheme in the Dingbat 2.0 competition. Small lots allow for a density similar to dingbats—between the scale of the single-family house and larger “stucco monster” apartment buildings.

Image: Dingbat 2.0 Competition 1st Prize-winning scheme: Microparcelizationby Carmen C. Cham, James Black, and Tyler Goss, 2010. Book Design by Jessica Fleischmann | still room.