I’m heading to Los Angeles tonight (that’s also code for fewer posts in the near future), the perfect time to pick up a new book out from WW Norton, Pocket Guide to Los Angeles Architecture, by Judith Paine McBrien.

After a brief introduction, wherein Paine McBrien encapsulates her tours through what she calls LA’s “astonishing downtown, much of it nearly intact from its heyday in the 1920s and now enjoying a cultural, residential, and commercial renaissance,” she offers a look at 100 buildings via three downtown walking tour itineraries and two side trips meant to be indulged in by car.

Readers can follow these tours by the book, or flip through the pages and choose to visit buildings they like best (on my first flip I landed on the Chemosphere House, a private UFO style, octagonal residence designed by John Lautner for an aerospace engineer–definitely unexpected). Each is accompanied by an original John DeSalvo architectural line drawing, and a paragraph or so description touching on historical context and relevance, just enough technical details to help you understand what you’re looking at and why it matters (and an end glossary to decode the terms just in case), and a peep into how, why and when the building came to life.

There are the “of course” inclusions–for instance the first walking tour starts at Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall and ends at Angels Flight, the funicular railway between Hill and Olive–the unexpected (see Chemosphere above and the surprisingly maritime-esque Coca-Cola Building), the classic (Grauman’s Chinese Theatre), and everything in between (or so it seems).

I thought on this LA visit I was just going to focus on eating good Mexican and Iranian food, and doing some shopping on the cheap, but this concise volume is going to find its way into my carry-on and help me inject a little culture in my otherwise hedonistic journey.


Pocket Guide to Los Angeles Architecture
By Judith Paine McBrien
WW Norton; 143 pages; $22.95