The Future Anatomy of the Dingbat

The Future Anatomy of the Dingbat – Los Angeles, California, USA

The Dingbat. Quickly designed and constructed investment properties for those in Los Angeles around the 1950’s and 60’s ready to capitalize on the mass migration to the City of Angels. Fifty years later, there are not a lot of positive things to be said of the Dingbat. One clue is the name. The only thing special about the Dingbats is the fact that we have a collection of this mediocre kitsch architecture. So what do we do? It’s simply not economical to raze them all and start over. That would not only be a huge expense, but also a complete detriment environmentally. So for the time being we must work with what we have. Over time, though, the dingbats will disappear and no one will know to miss them.

Los Angeles is about diversification and so should be the response to the Dingbats. We must do for the Dingbats and their neighborhoods not what they did for us, which is apply a mediocre solution across the board cookie cutter style, but address them individually in order to create a more livable and diverse environment. There should not be just one solution to the retrofitting of the Dingbats. What is needed is a kit of parts solution which assembles to create unique neighborhoods.

Through the use of this kit of parts the Dingbats will benefit in many ways. Namely, from the reduction of hardscape through increased and diverse green space inclusion, introduction of mixed use into these homogenous neighborhoods, provide for a more elegant solution in storing automobiles, and address the current lack of density for today’s standards. And all of these solutions will also provide the much needed texture and architectural relief from the current plethora of blank facades.

GREEN SPACE. All areas, public, semi-public and private spaces, are in need of improvement and inclusion of green space, but the public and semi-public design solutions will have a dramatic effect on the urban fabric. At the street, there are three options presented diagrammatically for creating a green path which will draw people out of their cars and onto bicycles and sidewalks.

i. Wide and continuous green path at street edge through elimination of unnecessary paving and reduction of entry width of driveways from the street.

ii. Center median green path. This solution will slow traffic down in the neighborhoods and provide a walkable and sittable area under a canopy of trees.

iii. Habitable alleyway. Heavily planted and inviting to the pedestrian with connections to the green alley from the street with through paths between buildings.

INFUSION OF MIXED USE. By bringing jobs into the Dingbat neighborhoods we will be creating a mixed use environment and also putting less pressure on our dependence on the automobile. Living near work and working near home. This will go a long way to taking cars off the roads and will also bring a new life and energy to these very static environments. Possible business opportunities include a café, daycare facility, small offices (especially arts oriented), gallery, a playground or other entrepreneurial spaces that provide for adaptable, changeable and fluid programs. Also, an outdoor small theater or movie screening space would entice neighbors out of their units and into a social setting. There are plenty of blank Dingbat facades that would be perfect for projecting a film just as if we were at the drive-in theaters.

PARKING. The fact is, not like other cities, everyone has a car in Los Angeles. Sometimes even two or three. But this culture will change and it is coming quicker than we think. In the meantime the parking and paving issue needs to be addressed. A quick improvement would be to reduce the dimension of the curb cuts at the street. Right now the majority are a two car width. The best solution is to bury the cars under the structure, out of site. Ideally the access point would be from the alley in the back in the building. Other solutions include building common car parks (parking garages) for each neighborhood or architectural car lifts at specific building units. A quick fix would be to visually screen the cars from view if they must remain parked in front of the buildings.


In reality, are major renovations worth it? The Dingbats are cheaply built and it may cost nearly the same for a major renovation and addition as it would to raze the site and start from scratch. This can not be done for all the Dingbats, obviously, but for some in serious decline or of irreconcilable design motives, it may be the best solution. As noted with the building massing diagrams, there are several options for increasing density on a Dingbat site by using a portion of the existing building. This can be done by cutting off the front, middle or back of a Dingbat and adding up and out from that point. These addition/renovations will then accommodate the inclusion of personal green/outdoor spaces and social spaces for individual buildings either up high or on the ground.

For the majority of the solutions listed above to work, this development plan will require updates to the zoning codes, more flexible parking regulations and assistance from state and local regulatory agencies. The benefits for all will be lasting.


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