Q&A: Frances Anderton

Los Angeles radio host Frances Anderton is the voice of architecture and design. In fact, through her radio show on KCRW, DnA: Design and Architecture, she has become the voice of design for the city.

Architecture is one of those disciplines that has no shortage of voices. There are the architects themselves with their theoretical tomes and public explanations of their buildings. There are the critics who ideally position the buildings in larger frameworks—or sometimes simply bash them to rubble in print. Then there is that other beast, the Internet, the living, talking membrane that has evolved into an audience talking to itself about all things architectural.

But amidst all the chatter, Frances stands out for her incisive weaving of social, political and cultural issues that pertain to architecture. Through her very convincing and authoritative British accent, she reminds us why architecture and design matter in our daily lives. Her show brings what often seems like the background of our lives squarely into the foreground.

Guy Horton: As far as I know, you are the only one out there doing a show on architecture and design. How did you develop the show?

Frances Anderton: In 2002 Rem Koolhaas proposed tearing down LACMA [Los Angeles County Museum of Art] and this got a lot of people fired up and quite upset, frankly. This hot-button issue became the first show and my first time on the air. The discourse on architecture was completely absent then. I was absolutely terrified and to this day I can’t recall what I said exactly. But somehow people must have thought I did a decent job of it and I was asked to do it on a regular basis.

GH: Why Los Angeles? Of course, you can easily say, Why not? But what was special for you about LA?

FA: When I was still in London, I was producing a special issue on Los Angeles for the magazine, The Architectural Review and that was enough to convince me that I should move here. I just had a fascination with it. It was visually fantastic and such a contrast to the uniformity of where I came from in England. LA seemed largely based on difference and contrast. This is still my experience of it today.

GH: What prompted the shift from print journalism to public radio?

FA: After moving here in 1991 I got a job editing for the now defunct magazine LA Architect. Shortly after, in 1992, the LA riots happened and there was a profound shift in the architecture profession. It also had a huge impact on me. Suddenly architecture was implicated in the extremes of social and economic divides. It was no longer just an innocent backdrop. It was the beginning of a more socially aware architecture. It was at this time that I got interested in Which Way, LA? I loved the show and started volunteering at the station. One thing led to another and I became a news producer.

GH: What sorts of stories catch your eye and how do you decide what’s relevant?

FA: I see the show as a bridge between communities. My hope is that it brings design alive, makes it tangible and something people can relate to. I’m not looking for elitist points of view. I’m interested in architecture that enriches lives. The themes are usually based on what’s being talked about in the city, or other big issues, sometimes political or economic. I like to bring different points of view together.

GH: What do you see as the most important planning and architectural issues facing LA?

FA: Densification is going to be extremely important for LA’s future, not just spatially, but psychologically as well. There has to be a way to change the mental perception of space in the city from an emphasis on single family homes to a way of incorporating more multi-family living. I might be biased because of my upbringing in England, where the goal of everyone having their own solitary house with a yard just wasn’t a reality. It’s been the reality in LA but now it’s simply untenable for most of the population. And there is one other thing…

GH: What’s that?

FA: Trees. Personally, I would like to see more trees. There just aren’t enough of them.

GH: I feel the same way. I’ve often thought it would be great to include trees in the whole re-development of Skid Row. There’s a lot of great architecture going in down there, but there aren’t many trees.

FA: Yes. And shade (laughs). I would like more shade! Maybe it’s a British thing (laughs).

GH: The Broad Foundation Museum is going to be built next to Frank Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall. Do you have a wish-list for Diller Scofidio + Renfro in terms of the museum being an addition to that part of the city?

FA: I’m really quite sick of the white box. Museums can be such dead spaces. I prefer museums that result from the visions of crazy individuals like The Museum of Jurassic Technology. But Diller Scofidio + Renfro are ideas architects so I suspect they will imbue it with personality.

GH: Let’s hope so–maybe something to enliven that dead zone of downtown.

FA: Now I’m going to switch this interview around (turning on a microphone and holding it to my face in a very threatening way).

GH: Uh…I get to practice, right? And you can edit whatever I say. Is this thing on?

For more on Frances Anderton, tune into her show on KCRW and follow her on her DnA blog and on Twitter @FrancesAnderton.

Guy Horton writes on architecture for The Huffington Post. He is a frequent contributor toArchitectural Record, The Architect’s Newspaper, and author of The Indicator, a weekly column on the culture, business and economics of architecture, featured on ArchDaily. He is based in Los Angeles. Follow Guy on Twitter.

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