What is the most important piece of Los Angeles architecture or urban design in the last ten years?  I thought about this after leaving the exhibit about architect Renzo Piano at LACMA

Most critics would probably say Frank Gehry’s Disney Hall.  But how much does this amazingly cool building really enhance the day to day life of the average Angeleno?  Not much.  It’s not something like the Empire State Building or Sears Tower, which citizens can see from miles away.  And downtown is just not that central for most of us.

As I left the museum, I saw what I think is the most important piece of LA "design" created in the last ten years — the banners that hang on light poles on the major streets all over the city.


Let’s face it, this is a driving city and Los Angeles is a hodgepodge of architectural styles.  I remember when I first came to town, I thought that this was one ugly-looking place.  Then suddenly, around ten years ago, these banners started showing up.  They were usually about classy cultural events, like exhibits or concerts.  More importantly, they gave the wide streets a visual unity.  While you were driving, you would see rows of banners all the way down for several blocks.  Suddenly Wilshire and Pico and Olympic and Santa Monica Boulevards weren’t as ugly anymore. 

Sure, it would be nice if the streets had rows of redwood trees, or shiny new skyscrapers, but at least now when I’m stuck in traffic on Pico, I can look up and be comforted by the fact that the Geffen Playhouse has a new production of a play with Jason Alexander, even if you couldn’t drag me to see it.