Dingbats and "Scarchitecture"

Tim Halbur's picture
A classic LA dingbat

The Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design is in the throes of Kickstarting a book they're calling Dingbat 2.0. For those who don't know, the dingbat is a housing type that proliferated in the Western U.S. in the 50s and 60s, driven primarily by increased parking requirements. As you can see at right, the dingbat basically paves over the front lawn, thrusting the house or apartments up on stilts and creating a parking garage at ground level. It is the worst of all worlds: no green space, big setback, and shoddy materials that were not built to last. They became known as dingbats because of the kitschy graphics that were often pasted onto the fa├žade (lipstick on a pig?).

Dingbat 2.0 is representative of what I see is a widespread problem in architecture and preservation circles; let's call it "scarchitecture," the celebration of ugly buildings just because they have managed to survive this long. Dingbats are about the most unpleasant building style I can think of - even calling it a "style" is giving it too much credit. Dingbats are hilariously tongue-in-cheek awful, but no one can possibly argue that they are stylistically laudable, well laid-out for living, or make neighborhoods feel safe and walkable.

Dingbats are worthy of study and commentary, for the pure fact that we should know how to avoid zoning and regulations that result in such crappy architecture. But LA Forum is instead calling dingbats "an essential part of the urban fabric of Los Angeles". The Los Angeles Conservancy is even working to preserve a row of dingbats on Hayworth Avenue. As builldings of the 1950s and 60s enter the 60-year envelope that American preservationists consider worth their attention, it is time to reconsider what preservation means. If a housing type is neither beautiful nor functional NOR beloved, is it worth saving?

Down with dingbats. Down with scarchitecture. We need to learn from our mistakes, not embrace them.

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