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How to Draw a Glass Mountain: Los Angeles and the Architecture of Segregation

by Aisha Sloan
  

 

In the City of Angels, you can live in a hillside house where the courtyard juts into the sky and spills out over a precipice. There are walls made out of glass, creating the illusion that what lies outside—trees, a thousand city lights, or the yellow desert hills—is a part of your living room. Houses manage to encapsulate a sense of spareness and solitude in the midst of a city with almost ten million inhabitants.

 
  • Photo by Aisha Sloan
  • Photo by Aisha Sloan
 
  Click photos for larger views.
   

I grew up a few miles south of Los Angeles’s famous east/west artery, Sunset Boulevard, down the hill from the types of celebrity homes that best demonstrate a classic Los Angeles aesthetic. Brentwood, a wealthy enclave between UCLA and the Santa Monica beach, is home to some of the earliest examples of modern architecture. Our apartment is on the second floor of a brown, two-story building just on the borderline between Brentwood and West Los Angeles. It is not particularly chic, but there were jade plants, pollution-pink sunsets, and olive trees outside our windows. Before the cream-colored condominiums arrived, anyway.

When I return home I spend time at a coffee shop that stands on an odd block: outdoor seating spills onto a concrete triangle that sticks out between San Vicente Boulevard and Gorham like a peninsula. Some time before the café arrived, there was an Italian restaurant that faired poorly after one of its waiters was found murdered alongside Nicole Brown Simpson just a few blocks away. Today, espresso machines reflect light with the sophistication of a black-and-white photograph in the noisy coffee bar. The bright blue day makes a lovely backdrop for the coral trees that stand parallel to the café’s wall of north-facing windows. An elderly woman once told me that when she first moved west, this part of the city consisted of little more than a grove of orange trees.

Continue by selecting a hypertext section...

I. Architecture as Therapy
I. Architecture as Therapy
II. Painters and Housewives
II. Painters and Housewives
III. An Aerial Perspective
III. An Aerial Perspective
IV. Simulated Cityscapes
IV. Simulated Cityscapes
V. Frenk Gehry and the Post-Modern Approach to Social Strife
V. Frenk Gehry and the Post-Modern Approach to Social Strife
VI. Glass Mountains
VI. Glass Mountains
VIII. Glass Walls are Still Walls
VII. Glass Walls are Still Walls

Or start at the beginning: I. Architecture as Therapy.

  
 

As a writer and a teacher, Aisha Sloan is interested in the places where diametrically opposed ideas meet, or blur together. Whether studying literature, anthropology, photography, printmaking, oral history, radio, or film, her interest is most peaked when a genre or discipline confronts its limitations, and decides to become something new. She is currently working on a nonfiction book that charts the narratives of biracial individuals around the world.
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