los angeles vernacular

“Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles.”

– Frank Lloyd Wright


Los Angeles is expressed in terms of a peculiar and immense vernacular. This unique language has evolved in response to the incredible diversity of natural, sociopolitical, and ethnographic forces that converge in Southern California.

Los Angeles Vernacular Series 1

This series of illustrations focuses on one of the most insidious and powerful forces in Southern California, wildfires. Especially during the dry summer months, the region is constantly besieged by these destructive forces of nature. Day-to-day conversations regularly include questions of their geographic footprint and news organizations provide a ticker tape of statistics that identify the extent of damage. Angelinos sometime quibble with each other or the authorities over how best to handle and prevent wildfires, and the subject can become unpleasantly politicized. But often, locals will band together in the face of adversity, especially when it is the result of natural phenomena and not the doing of a villainous group or individual.

Wildfires are laden with meaning and significance. Some Christian fundamentals contend that their growing frequency in our region foreshadows the violent demise of this 21st century city of Sodom. It’s not completely unreasonable to perceive these monstrous natural disasters as some sort of cosmic karma sent to punish the decadence and greed so commonly associated with Los Angeles and its entertainment complex. Either way, we are reminded of the fickle nature of life and property.


Silver Fire 2013

20,292 acres

48 structures destroyed

13 injuries

$9,999,00 estimated cost


Hathaway Fire 2013

3,825 acres

1 structure destroyed

12 minor injuries


Chariot Fire 2013

7,055 acres

149 structures destroyed

12 minor injuries


Power Fire 2013

1,070 acres

3 injuries


Mountain Fire 2013

27,531 acres

3 minor injuries


General Fire 2013

1,271 acres

6 injuries


Powerhouse Fire 2013

30,274 acres


Carstens Fire 2013

1,708 acres

1 injury


Panther Fire 2013

6,965 acres

6 injuries

Background Research (ongoing)

The mixture of forces that have contributed to this vernacular is complex. Component forces include, but are DEFINITELY not limited to the following:

  • Nature’s complexity: the mild and comfortable arid Mediterranean climate, the native Flora and Fauna, geological instability, the varied terrain, and the Pacific Ocean
  • Our contentious colonial history: pre-Columbian indigenous societies, Catholic Missionary efforts, Spanish colonization, Ranching, Manifest Destiny, the Mexican-American War, the Gold Rush, and Statehood
  • Immigration from all over the world, including: South America and other former parts of the Spanish Empire, the American Eastern Seaboard and the Midwest, former strongholds of slavery in the South, Asia and Oceania, and Europe
  • A complicated history of racial strife, stratification, coexistence, and collaboration
  • Organized and petty crime and the proliferation of gangs
  • The simultaneous and competing development of urban and rural settlements, which in-of-themselves responded to myriad trends and societal developments
  • The automobile and the explosion of American car culture in the 20th century, followed by the corresponding sprawl of suburbia
  • Hollywood and the massive local entertainment industry that has fundamentally affected global popular culture since the invention of audio recording, film, and television
  • The challenged emergence of cultural minorities into the American mainstream including the LGBT, HIV-positive, Atheist and Agnostic, multi-racial, and celebrity communities

This list merely introduces the barrage of forces that have shaped Los Angeles. These forces are not discrete and independent, they all interact and fluctuate in intensity and scope. And they are not limited to Southern California. Frank Lloyd Wright aptly explains Los Angeles as a product of the global human condition.

The resulting Los Angeles vernacular encompasses not only the many spoken and written language forms, idioms, and affectations that characterize the way we communicate directly; it also incorporates the common subjects of our communication, the set of phenomena and concrete signifiers that best describe our city.

This vernacular is distilled by popular culture into a collection of stereotypes. Saturday Night Live provides a delightful insight into the popular image of LA with a series of sketches entitled “The Californians:”

In “high art,” David Hockney‘s work has long explored Los Angeles’ distinct nature. Many of his paintings and drawings showcase both physical and abstract components of this vernacular.



About kswickblogs

producer consumer of contemporary architectural and artistic research _ head curator of the Institute for Profitable Art

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