The City Speaks


A bit breathless and windblown, design writer and radio host Frances Anderton flies through the flashy new Science Center School in Exposition Park, exclaiming, “It’s so great to see this place with the children in it!” She had been to the Morphosis-designed elementary school several times, including for an evening event in November to receive a Service to the Community Award from the Los Angeles branch of the American Institute of Architects. But she had never seen it on a school day, and she is using this visit to illustrate how the world of design is alive and inclusive.

She delights in watching kids engaged in a classroom game of chess, and then glances out a doorway. “Look at that,” she says, pointing to the school’s neighbor, a grand rose garden that leads to the historic Natural History Museum. “Isn’t that gorgeous?”

Anderton’s appetite for design knows few boundaries, and the juxtaposition of roses, a classical museum and an up-to-the-minute school sums up the diversity she embraces. At 41, this British maven of L.A. design has been writing for nearly two decades, including guidebooks to Los Angeles and Las Vegas. These days she’s best known as the host of KCRW’s radio program “DnA: Design and Architecture,” which airs every other Monday afternoon. In the two years since the 30-minute show began, her guests have discussed topics as varied as museum redesign, doggy fashion and a new urban plan for Grand Avenue in downtown L.A. Those guests have included many of the world’s top architects--Frank Gehry, Renzo Piano and Morphosis’ Thom Mayne, among others--as well as lesser-known advocates of feng shui, graphic design and animation art. Conversations tend to be newsy and intellectual, yet they frequently are lightened by Anderton’s lilting high-English tone of questioning.


Her mission, she says, is to bring the designer’s voice into public discussion, and although radio cannot avail itself of pictures--the paramount element of most design coverage--she loves her medium. “Knowing that the audience can’t see the work, I try to make the show about ideas,” she says. “So many of us know about designers, but we have no idea what they sound like. They’re always mediated for us by someone else.”

Because the show is aimed at an L.A. audience, subjects for discussion are local and topical. Her ideal listener, she says, is not an art or design expert but someone who is “curious and hip to what’s current, as well as sensitive to his surroundings and interested in the impact design and architecture can have on personal and community well-being.” Her show came about, she says, because of the emergence of superstar architects such as Gehry and Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, along with the popularity of mid-century Modernism and an awareness that L.A. has a heritage and environment to protect.

“I do not think that design is the realm of the professionals,” she says. “Creativity is something that can be enjoyed by everybody and, ideally, experienced by everybody. I hope that hearing designers talk about their own creativity makes other people feel they can go out and redesign their own garden or throw pots.”

Anderton trained as an architect at the Bartlett School at University College London and practiced briefly, but never got her license. She now is a producer of KCRW’s daily news shows “Which Way L.A.?” and “To the Point,” both hosted by Warren Olney, whom she calls a mentor. Her spare time is consumed by seeing new places and writing or talking about them.

Anderton especially loves how architects and designers often speak metaphorically, transforming nuts and bolts into poetry. For instance, she says, Philippe Starck’s baby products for Target a few years ago focused on the need to make the mother feel sexy. “He got into a whole thing about femininity and womanhood and the sexuality of the mother who’s just had a baby and doesn’t want to feel she’s ugly. So he designed a beautiful baby bottle.”

The design of baby products is of particular interest to Anderton since her daughter, Summer Grace, was born in June. And being a mom has only reinforced her interest in design: “Having a baby makes you think about the future and about the world you want your child to be a part of. So many designers want to create a better world, and having a child only reinforces my belief in that possibility.”


Ten for the Soul

What follows is a selective list of 10 places in L.A.--some famous, some lesser-known treats--that I believe nourish the soul.

Theme Building, Los Angeles International Airport, Pereira & Luckman, Welton Becket & Associates, Paul Williams, 1961. My first love. When I first touched down in L.A. in the late ‘80s and set eyes on this Space Age classic, I knew this city was my spiritual home.

Kappe House, Ray Kappe, 1968. One of the most breathtaking houses in the Modernist tradition in Los Angeles, with interlocking vertical and horizontal planes in concrete, glass and wood that seem to grow out of the hillside site in Pacific Palisades.

Edgemar, Frank Gehry, 1988. Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall and his own house are perhaps his most famous and influential buildings, but I like Edgemar on Main Street in Santa Monica. It’s a discreet plaza made of chain-link and off-kilter shapes, brought to life by Peet’s Coffee & Tea, a MOCA store and other unique shops that combine to breathe social life into this urbane design.

Dawnridge, Tony Duquette, 1949-1999. Everything the late, great jewelry, set and interior designer touched turned into magic, especially his exotic, eclectic house and fantastical garden of pagodas, bridges and pavilions in Beverly Hills.

Diamond Ranch High School, Morphosis with Thomas Blurock Architects, 2000. A school that teaches by example. There’s a passion and generosity of spirit in this unashamedly sculptural public high school, which was built on a budget and at a difficult, hilly site overlooking Pomona.

L.A. Design Center, South Los Angeles, John Friedman Alice Kimm Architects, 2003. Cisco Brothers’ stylish furniture showroom complex at 59th and Western reflects a commitment to contemporary design as a vehicle for stimulating revival of a rundown neighborhood.

Schindler House, R.M. Schindler, 1922. The Austrian emigre’s experimental house and garden in West Hollywood remains an idyllic social and artistic center for the art and architecture set.

Village Green (Baldwin Hills Village), Reginald Johnson and Clarence Stein, in association with Lewis Wilson, Edwin Merrill and Robert Alexander, 1941. A planned “garden city” of unpretentious dwellings set amid lush common greens. The community, once rental housing but now condos, is said to be one of the most racially integrated in the city.

The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, Orange County, 2002, and FIDM Design Studios Annex, Los Angeles, 2004, Clive Wilkinson Architects. Students would have to be asleep not to be jazzed by the fabulous, confident blasts of color--a hot pink floor, for example, in FIDM Orange County--bold fabrics and futuristic furniture in these two imaginative spaces.

Jay Griffith’s homes and gardens in Malibu and Venice. The Leonardo of Los Angeles landscape design uses a painterly sense of color and composition and a set decorator’s ingenuity to create perfect harmony between the house and garden.