Contradictions in California’s Orientalist Landscape: Architecture, History and Spanish-Colonial Revival

Although Spanish-Colonial Revival architecture and place-names dominates Southern California’s landscape, one also finds simulated Middle Eastern bazaars, references to Ancient Egypt, and the frequent use of iconography from the non-European Old World. While the region’s landscape is a product of bricolage and postmodern sensibilities, this article looks at the history of ‘Orientalism’ in Southern California’s built environment. In particular, I am looking at the precedents for this seemingly contradictory use of the ‘Oriental’ in the region. The ‘Oriental’ as a sinfully seductive means of creating spectacle in the built environment, is both glorified and demonized at the same time in popular discourse. For example, the ‘Oriental’ is celebrated in shopping malls, but demonized culturally and politically. However, it is in this contradiction, we can see how history and ideology has shaped the vernacular landscape. As such, this article will look at early twentieth century examples of the ‘Oriental’ in Spanish-Colonial Revival as a foundation to understand contradictions in the built environment, culture, and racial hierarchies.

(2011) “Contradictions in California’s Orientalist Landscape: Architecture, History & Spanish-Colonial Revival.” Cities. Vol. 28. No. 4. pp. 240-346. DOI: 10.1016/j.cities.2010.09.003

Legitimizing Shelter-In-Place in Southern California: History, Landscape, and the Fear of Fire

This article looks at the way in which nature and wildfires have been used to legitimize not only urban development, but the way in which homes are bought and sold in Southern California. In particular, it looks at the seemingly incongruous ways in which Shelter-in-Place (SIP) practices have been sold, deployed and discussed in both the past and present. Thus, rather than focus on the success or failure of SIP, I look at the intersection of nature and ‘safety’ in urbanism to better understand how fear of natural disasters can be tied to the vernacular landscape

Fortification and Philip K. Dick: Southern California’s Boundaries

My paper involves film, literature, and architecture as expressions of the vernacular landscape across time. Philip K. Dick’s dystopian visions, although often set in distant futures, reveal a great deal about the role space plays in late capitalist society (particularly in Southern California). Although the main emphasis of my paper is on Total Recall(1991), my paper will also briefly mention some other Dick-inspired films such as Blade Runner (1982), Minority Report (2002), Paycheck (2003), and the soon to be released Scanner Darkly (2006). What is interesting to me is that these films draw on local source material, and the architectural styles used in filmmaking reflect local architectures and uses of space. The security of brutalist buildings found in the films have parallels with the anti-drug and immigration policies of the United States at the time Dick wrote the original stories. Even more important, these themes still resonate today.

Presentation for the International Visual Sociology Association @ Universita degli Studi di Urbino “Carlo Bo” (July 4, 2006)

Fortification and Visual Culture in Southern California

  • Presentation for Crossing the Boundaries XIV @ SUNY Binghamton (April 22, 2006)
My paper specifically focuses on the relationship between literature, film, and architecture since the 1970s as being constitutive of the experience of Southern California. Specifically, it is about the ways in which visual representation and the built environment have been centered around the notions of fortification and boundary. Southern California has long been thought of as a frontier, and arguably it did not close at the close of the 19th century. As a result the built environment and visual culture as continuously organized space similar to frontier outposts – from the U.S. Mexico Border to LAX.

Politics, Pictures, and Place in Southern California

  • Presentation for the Graduate Student Conference in Historical Social Science at SUNY Binghamton (April 29, 2005)
In 2003, the FOX network began airing a television program called The O.C., and it became a cultural phenomenon. Now in its second season and averaging more than 8 million viewers a week, it has become a powerful marketing tool for the real Orange County as well as other media ventures. In fact, it made such an impact, that for a while there was even consideration by some county officials to rename Santa Ana’s John Wayne Airport to The O.C. Airport. However, the popularity of this television program as well as its deliberate use of Southern California’s very real spatial class divide has also upset people. This paper seeks to examine the syngergistic relationship between politics, pictures and place in Southern California via The O.C.. In particular it looks at the unequal development in regards to access to culture and the built environment.