How to convey my excitement for this book about apartment buildings?
There is a quintessentially Los Angeles-style apartment building, ugly as sin, produced en masse from about 1958 to 1964, and it is called a dingbat. If you live here, you know the type, and you’ve probably lived in one at some point. The most absurd & endearing characteristic of these buildings is that they are often named: Riviera Flats, Les Fontaines, Planet Plaza Apts – and so on, as if they were estates or luxury hotels or sailing vessels. It would be like giving special names to each of the cabinets in your kitchen, “Cups go in Brookhaven above the stove there, but all the tupperware goes over here in Queen Anne’s Revenge.” They are blocky, usually filling every square inch of their lots with up to 12 units, a few more-or-less decorative touches, and with carports at grade, tucked under their second floor units. This space-saving drive-up parking arrangement results in a dooming lack of street parking, as there is no room for curbs. In fact, the building code adjustments made to improve parking in dingbat-dominated neighborhoods played a significant role in their demise. (Yes, there is one huge surprise I learned from this book, namely that our city planners actually sometimes think about parking issues.)
These iconic structures were a quick response to the need for affordable housing in postwar LA. They were made possible by innovation and technology: plastics, aluminum, pneumatic staple guns. They could crank these things out in 6 months. The architects and builders had no illusion that these were works of art, but they absolutely had a mind towards style and modernity, and every (affordable) allowance was made to that end. Even the new idea of parking cars in carports, fully visible from the street – ie, not in garages – was new and semi-chic. The dingbats, then and now, made Los Angeles a place regular folks could afford to live. (Well, that’s barely still true.)
Dingbat 2.0: The Iconic Los Angeles Apartment as Projection of a Metropolis is the story of the mighty dingbat. Love’em or hate’em, they are the backbone of LA housing, way more important than the earlier and more famous bungalow and certainly more significant than the mansion. The book itself is a perfect blend of words and photos – enough of both to land in a good place between textbook and coffee table book. There are granular examinations of every part of a dingbat, the materials used, the stylistic elements, all the slight variations, interviews with current dingbat dwellers, and even an analysis of its use in the film The Slums of Beverly Hills. The last section of the book is where the “2.0” of the title comes from. The Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design held a competition to create the dingbat of the future, and the results of that project are discussed in great detail. For designers, LA-o-philes, architects & artists, futurists & historians, this is an indispensable tour of the bones and blueprints of our unique city.