Modernism, Architecture and Segregation

Essayist and photographer Aisha Sloan revisits the Los Angeles neighborhood of her childhood to examine Modernist architecture and its correlation to segregation.

Here's an excerpt from Sloan's essay:

"According to LA's Early Moderns, the architects who brought the spare glass-wall style of living to Los Angeles in the 1920s and 30s saw the promise of architecture as revolutionary. It held the key to physical and emotional health. California architect Irving Gill was not only concerned with bringing more of what nature had to offer into people's daily lives, he also felt that there was a morality inherent to his chosen field-architecture had the potential to do social good."

Meanwhile, "Racially exclusive housing covenants were pervasive in the 1940s and 50s, preventing people of color from living in certain areas. They were lifted by the Rumford Fair Housing Act in 1963, but not long after that, the city approved a proposition to reinstate them."

Sloan builds a convincing case the mid-century modern architecture did little to fix the segregation and racism of Los Angeles, and may have contributed in its own way.

Thanks to Simmons Buntin

Full Story: How to Draw a Glass Mountain: Los Angeles and the Architecture of Segregation



Factual Correction

Racially restrictive covenants were rendered unenforceable across the land by the U.S. Supreme Court in the late 1940s (the play "A Raisin in the Sun" arose from that lawsuit and decision). Such covenants could not be enforced even in California during the 1950s or 1960s no matter what law Los Angeles adopted, even by referendum.

What is so tragic is that the planning profession -- including APA -- continues to ignore fair housing and racial integration. The profession continues to foster segregative planning practices and policies throughout the nation, contributing to further resegregated housing just like our public schools have resegregated.

We finally have a President who understands and HUD officials who are actually enforcing the fair housing act and the 36 year old requirements of the Housing & Community Development Act that recipients of Community Development Block Grants actually "affirmatively further fair housing" -- a condition to which they agree as part of accepting CDBG (and other) funds. Over $1.7 billion in HUD funds are being withheld from the State of Texas (a hotbed of intense racial and Hispanic discrimination in housing and education) due to the state's lack of fair housing in its planning (an oversimplification, but you get the picture).

For a better understanding of what this is all about, read chapter 2 in the either the Naperville or Murfreesboro "Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice" available for free download at our website .

Daniel Lauber, AICP
AICP President 2003-2005, 1992-1994
APA President 1985-1986


Thanks for the correction, Daniel. You may wish to post your comment over on the essay's page at, as well:

We'd love to further engage readers on this important topic and I'm sure Aisha would be happy to participate in that conversation, as well.



Simmons Buntin
Editor/Publisher A Journal of the Built & Natural Environments

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