Alissa Walker’s LA, a Q&A with the 2015 Presidential Honoree Design Advocate Recipient 

A walker in LA. 2015 Presidential Honoree Alissa Walker takes to Los Angeles’ streets. 

One day, shortly after Alissa Walker moved to Los Angeles, she pulled her roommates onto their porch to share a discovery: a fragment of architecture visible in the distance, Welton Becket’s Capitol Records building. “No one seemed as excited about this development as I was,” she recently told us.  Today, Walker is a prolific writer, frequently appearing in publications such as The New York Times,  and Fast Company, or digital outposts such as Gizmodo, where she currently serves as Urbanism Editor.  But no matter the platform, from Twitter to Instagram to T-Magazine, Walker’s work answers that early moment in Los Angeles on the porch by demonstrating just why design is so exciting, and relevant.

This brings us to our conversation with Walker: She was recently named the 2015 AIA|LA Presidential Honoree Design Advocate and is set to join us at the AIA Design Awards Ceremony + Party on October 29. So, we were conversing with her via email as part of our series of Q&As with the Presidential Honorees. The questionnaire is based on the theme of the festivities: retro/future.

Join Alissa at Architects Night Out - the 2015 Design Awards!

Here, then, Walker’s thoughts about LA and architecture—firsts, lasts, favorites, and other icebreakers for when you run into her at the buffet of the 2015 Design Awards’ party. 

AIA|LA: What was the first Los Angeles building (and relevant architect) to influence you?
Alissa Walker: When I first moved to LA I lived in a big white Craftsman with three guys on the eastern flats of Hollywood. I was always slightly disappointed in the fact that it didn’t have much of a view. You could stand in the middle of the street and get an okay glimpse of the Hollywood sign, but that was really the only way to know you were even in LA—if you took away the palm trees it looked like a typical Midwestern suburban block. 

I remember the moment I was sitting on the porch and realized I could see the Capitol Records building, its white cylindrical volume perfectly framed in a slit of sky between two pastel Craftsmans across the street. I squawked and ran inside, dragging each roommate onto the porch and positioning them in a red tulip chair knockoff at the exact right spot so they could see the tiny toy building for themselves. No one seemed to be as excited about this development as I was. 

When I moved out of that house I found a place about a mile west. Here I finally had my unobstructed view of Hollywood with Capitol Records as its centerpiece. No matter that I could only really see this view from my bathroom window. Every morning I put in my contacts and watched the needle catch the neighborhood’s first glints of light, and every night I brushed my teeth in time to the pulsing red light at its tip (which I now know taps out H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D in Morse code).

For the five years that I lived in Hollywood, seeing the comforting curves of the Capitol Records building meant I was home. The building became something like my mascot. I dug up as many articles as I could about the architecture, explaining to people that it was not, in fact, designed by Welton Becket to be a stack of records. At Christmas I made Capitol Records ornaments. The day I got to go inside was kind of the best day of my life.

Eventually I moved to Silver Lake with a twinge of sadness—I felt like the Capitol Records building was kind of like my LA center of gravity. 

Name a Los Angeles person, place, or thing that inspires you today and why.
Can it be a piece of infrastructure? When I first moved here I began discovering the public staircases that laced through Hollywood, which became a bit of an obsession for me. I would choreograph extensive routes to try to hit as many stairs as possible on my walks, which I thought was weird, until I started meeting other people doing the same things in different parts of the city. I soon was participating in group walks year-round and big annual events like the Big Parade. 

Suddenly stairwalking became a cool way to show your LA pride—a great way to get nerdy about history, and transit, and architecture. But it’s also political. Fueled by the symbolic importance of seeing LA on foot, groups have now emerged to make streets safer and more accessible for walkers. There are city-sponsored efforts to reclaim public space for pedestrians, which I feel like we never could have had without pedestrians taking back the stairs. The stairs changed me, but now I think the stairs are changing LA.

Favorite book or website/blog or Instagram feed?
A new arrival on our coffee table is the photography book Both Sides of Sunset and I can’t stop looking at it. It’s the follow-up to one of my favorite LA photo books, Looking at Los Angeles. I highly recommend both to all Angelenos, or anyone you’re trying to convince to move here.

What's the thing you'd most like to change about Los Angeles in the future?
I used to say ban cars but now I have to be more specific: ban human drivers and ban car ownership. Bring on the shared, autonomous vehicles so we can narrow our roads, eliminate traffic deaths, and give all the space wasted on parking back to the people.

What should never change in this city?
The weather! Oh wait, it already is. 

Where is your favorite place to go in LA?
The most exciting street in Los Angeles is the Piñata District, preferably visited on the eve of some major event so you can see how the vendors have customized their wares (and eat lots of the amazing street food). But over the last few months I’ve stuck closer to home while raising my newborn daughter. Being a parent has changed my perspective on what makes a great LA neighborhood. […] That said, I think my daughter is definitely ready to appreciate the Piñata District.

Last updated: 09-Sep-2015 04:40 PM
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