Grow Your Own Fresh Air

If you follow me on Twitter, then you may know I recently started back up in UCLA’s interior design program. I’m easing into it with a light schedule this quarter, and one of the classes I’m taking is all about ecological and sustainable design. Fun!

Our professor mentioned this building in Milan, which is currently being built. Apparently Milan has terrible air quality, so the goal in building this high rise is for all of the air that comes into the building to pass through a series of plants first, naturally filtering the air. Because as they taught us in elementary school science class, plants turn carbon dioxide into oxygen! Brilliant! (I’m hoping for a trip to Italy sometime in the near future, and hoping even more that this will be built by then so I can go see it in real life!)

Many plants also have a natural ability to filter out toxins that travel through the air, such as those nasty fumes from VOC’s used in paints, glues, and even carpeting. SOM designed a living air filter that could cut down VOC’s in a typical office building by 80%. That’s a whole lot more fresh air at work!

So I got to thinking. What other ways are people using plants and vertical gardens to improve their quality of life and the quality of the air they breath? Well for one, there has been a significant movement in vertical gardening lately, and Patrick Blanc seems to be at the head of it.

Blanc had the record for the world’s largest living wall (located in Madrid), until Francesco Bollani one-up’ed him with this one in Milan.

Patrick Blanc is also responsible for this overpass in New Zealand. Wouldn’t it be magical if all of Los Angeles’ overpasses looked like this? Less concrete, more plants!

What about underused indoor spaces, you say? Well last time my husband and I traveled to the East coast we had a layover at Chicago O’Hare and discovered this incredible vertical garden (video). And it’s not just for show! It’s a fully functioning hydroponic vegetable garden, and the restaurants in the airport are welcome to use these fresh veggies and herbs in the meals they prepare for you while you wait for your next flight. (This was probably my favorite discovery in an airport, ever… so much more exciting than realizing an airport has not one but TWO Dunkin’ Donuts…)

If you want to bring more fresh air into your own home (and especially if simply opening a window is more like inviting smog in and letting oxygen out), Kamal Meattle suggests the Areca Palm, Mother-in-law’s Tongue, and the Money Plant in this video. I’ll admit this is not the most entertaining Ted Talk I’ve ever seen, but he talks about his involvement in a huge project in India where they have brought a veritable forest of these plants inside to vastly improve the air quality in some huge office buildings in Delhi. Adding a few of these plants to your house seems a simple way to boost your oxygen levels at home in the same way.

Do you have indoor plants in your house? Will you be adding any to your indoor environment now?


Historical Downtown Los Angeles

When people think of Los Angeles, they think of glitz and glamour, expensive cars, palatial McMansions, beaches and sunshine. But rarely do they think “historical.” In fact, there’s a surprising amount of history here in LA. The city was being built up quite rapidly in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the result is a city of hidden Beaux Arts, Modern, and Art Deco treasures.

This past weekend the hubby joined me on an LA Conservancy tour I have been meaning to take for quite some time, and I’m so glad we finally went. It was a walking tour, close to two and a half hours, that took us through some of LA’s greatest architectural achievements, ending in a finale of sorts at the Bradbury building, considered LA’s single most important work of architecture.

Here are my favorite highlights of the tour. If you are in the LA area, I highly recommend you take one of the conservancy’s tours on your own. They have a bunch to choose from. I personally plan to hit as many as I can over the coming year.

The Biltmore Hotel

The Biltmore Hotel (not actually associated with the national Biltmore you may have heard of, but using the same name nonetheless) is a pretty perfect example of Beaux Arts architecture. With it’s columns and ornamentation at the base floors of the building and ornamentation at the very top, the architects left the majority of the center of the structure relatively simple, as is typical for Beaux Arts design. To me, this looks just like buildings you might see in a city like New York or Chicago. The Biltmore is a gorgeous hotel, and they even offer a traditional afternoon tea for a truly Victorian experience.


exterior Biltmore Hotel


ornamentation at the top level of the building, typical of Beaux Arts architecture


original front entrance
(today, you would likely enter from the other side, an addition to the building from the 1980’s with a covered drive-up area and parking garage)

Pacmutual Center

This building was originally built when Pacmutual was still the Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Company. Also in the Beaux Arts style, the ornamentation pattern is similar to the Biltmore. The building still holds most of it’s original charm and decorative detailing, making you feel like you have stepped into another time altogether while you wander through the lobby.


front entrance to the Pacmutual Building


this was the original Pacific Life Mutual Insurance Company crest, which still sits atop the entrance


ceiling ornamentation in the main lobby area


the building still has it’s original marble staircases


this is also the original mailbox put into the lobby when it was built in 1908

Los Angeles Central Library

The library is one of those places I have always loved and appreciated. Sadly, we’re no longer technically City of Los Angeles residents, so no more checking out books from this magical place! But it’s still a public building, so anyone can visit. Although the architect refused to admit to building in any particular style, the library was built during the beginnings of the popularity of Art Deco, and it shows. He had also just returned from a trip to Turkey, and the tile work and murals throughout clearly reflect that influence.


the library sits amongst the skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles


tile detail on the library’s pyramid-shaped top


the US Bank Tower behind the library was once called “Library Tower” because it was built by purchasing air rights from the library; the library would have been torn down were it not for the money generated by this transaction
(Library Tower’s sunburst-shaped top mimics the sunburst on the library’s tile top)


on the other side of the building, philosophers welcome the library’s patrons as they enter


this mural has been cleaned, but never restored , so it remains in it’s original (albeit a little faded) form


the mural on the ceiling of the rotunda is a near perfect replica of Istanbul’s Blue Mosque


more details mimicking the Blue Mosque in Turkey


this globe hangs from the center of the rotunda

The Edison Building (now called One Bunker Hill)

This is another Art Deco treasure that makes you feel as though you have entered another era when you walk inside. The lobby boasts an incredible amount of beautiful marble work and lots of original details including carved wood elevator interiors and inset ornamentations on the ceiling. Plus, there is a mural painted by Hugo Ballin, the same artists who painted the amazing murals in the rotunda at the Griffith Observatory.


the Edison Building has had a few additions and updates, but mostly remains in it’s original form


gorgeous marble work and decorative details in the lobby


mural by artist Hugo Ballin


the original wood detail still remains in the elevator interiors

Angel’s Flight and Grand Central Market

Angel’s Flight was recently re-opened to the public, and is a treasured piece of Los Angeles history. It was originally intended as transportation for the residents of the exclusive Bunker Hill (now populated by skyscrapers and performance theaters, and no longer residential) so that they could easily go from the top of the hill to the bottom. At the base of Angel’s Flight is Grand Central Market, which was bustling with activity just like I imagine it has since it opened in 1917!


Angel’s Flight


Angel’s Flight in action


the hustle and bustle of Grand Central Market

Bradbury Building

This was the building we all had been anxiously awaiting our arrival to. You may recognize this one from movies such as Blade Runner and 500 Days of Summer, among many others. The Bradbury Building doesn’t look like much from the outside, but is an incredible feat of architecture on the inside! No one actually knows exactly who the architect was, but Lewis L Bradbury commissioned it at the end of his life so that he may leave a legacy to Los Angeles. He never saw it in it’s finished form, but it certainly is a legacy. The glass ceiling allows light to travel into nearly every corner of the building, and incredible iron work and wood panelling details cover the space unlike any other place I’ve ever seen.


exterior of the Bradbury Building


interior Bradbury Building


incredible detail in the iron work throughout the building


one angle of the open elevator shafts


the glass ceiling allows plenty of light to flood into the building


a front view of one of the elevator hafts


beautiful wood panelling details covers the walls and ceilings

I’m hoping to jump on LA Conservancy’s Art Deco tour next, but there are so many to choose from!

Do you have a favorite LA architecture gem? Or a favorite from your own city?