A business front on Lake Street, Pasadena. Photos by Tamar Cotler,

I’ve been living in Pasadena for almost a year now. Even now I can still remember the first time I walked across Green Street. I recognized it as a street very different from most every other street I had visited in Southern California. Besides the amazing ficus trees and all of the fancy restaurants, I noticed Green Street’s landscape design in front of almost every store and restaurant. The street showcases unique expressions of landscaping along its entire length. With property lines easy to distinguish and varying in width, even the thinnest band of property exhibits signs of thoughtful design.

Noticing these details, it sparked thoughts about city renovation and development – specifically the strict guidelines about signage, paving, planting, and other landscape components that I have to follow professionally.

I was curious to see whether Pasadena’s guidelines differ from other cities. When I searched for Pasadena’s design principles I found out the city’s unique style is actually part of an encoded policy. In other words, Pasadena doesn’t look the way it does by chance. An example:

“Measurements and proportions need to relate to and reflect the importance of people, often referred to as “human scale” design… The City will benefit most from creative designs that show individual expression, richness, and variety. It is imperative that the City continues to support this diversity of creative and cultural expression. Likewise, each designer and developer needs to recognize that they are making a lasting contribution to the community. At its best, their work will collectively add interest, variety and distinction to the community.” – an excerpt from Pasadena’s Design Guidelines.

Illustration from the Pasadena Citywide Design Principles guide book, adopted by the City Council, October 21, 2002

When I searched other city design guidelines, I discovered similar ideas in a few of the documents, with similar references to “human scale”, “creative design”, “cultural expression”. Los Angeles neighborhoods like Highland Park have their own civic guidelines. Similarly, further north, Santa Barbara has a city design guideline that shapes the city’s cohesive aesthetic; so does London. But none of them had such a specific description of how unique, varied, and interesting the city should look like as Pasadena.

Here are some example of how this policy works between the businesses and property lines  in Pasadena:

Interesting tiles and paving on Colorado Street.

Thin linear planting areas.

A few small and rich planting areas, as discovered on Green Street.



Chuan Ding is a landscape designer at AHBE Landscape Architects and has a playful way of sketching what she sees.

Chuan draws on anything she can find. All photos by Jenni Zell.

When did you start sketching?
I began sketching when I was really young. One of my earliest memories is of my dad; he was an oil painter and would leave his unfinished canvases on easels around the house. One time I took his brushes and painted on top of one of his paintings. He still has it.

Chuan works out design details for a project.

Were you always drawing on your notebooks in school?
I drew a lot in kindergarten and elementary school, but quit drawing in high school because I spent so much time studying that I did not have time to draw. When I went to college in China, I started drawing again because we were required to for school. I went to Nanjing Forestry University and we were trained to draw classic Chinese landscape scenes with lots of decorative patterns. The sketches were very formal and took many hours to make. We did not use computer programs for technical drafting or drawing through our third year. Our end of studio exams were about 4-6 hours long and all our plans, details, bird’s-eye-views, and perspectives were hand drawn.

I am sure the process was quite different when you went to USC for graduate school?
At USC I only sketched when I was thinking through an initial concept. Most of the time I used the computer for drawing.

Chuan’s June Post-it note calendar.

Do you sketch now during the design process?
I always like to start with a sketch and then put it into CAD. I have my own style – loose and fast – and it helps me to think through ideas and organize my thoughts. Sometimes I don’t have an idea and I start drawing. At the beginning, it may not have any meaning, but eventually a shape will emerge and I can develop that idea.

How do you find time to draw?
Drawing is a stress release for me and I began sketching in meetings. I started sketching more when I burned out my hard drive at work and the spinning wheel would come up on my computer after opening Illustrator or other drawing programs.  I made use of the time by sketching. I also sketch at home. If I am watching a movie and I see a nice composition, I will take a screen shot and then copy it by drawing the scene.

Chuan’s July Post-it not calendar.

I knew you were talented at computer drawing because we work on projects together, but I didn’t know you were also talented at hand drawing until I noticed your Post-it note calendar in your work space. Tell me about your calendar?
I try to find something special, or fun about every day and I spend 10 minutes making a sketch about what I discover. Drawing is a way to express myself and if I find something inspiring, or fun, I sketch it and put in my calendar.

Do you think you will keep producing your calendar every month?
That is the plan for now.

Interview conducted and condensed by Jenni Zell.


It’s amazing how much you can learn from mapping an area – even more so after mapping an entire state. The concept of a dry lake was a previously foreign concept before my mapping project began, so I set out to investigate this type of landscape common to the Southwest, where climate, weather, and development can reshape when and where bodies of water appear/disappear. Considering the framework of drought and global warming today, perhaps we should start considering the following dry bodies of water as proto-touristic locations that in time may become famous:

Bristol Lake

Image: Google Earth; Chuck Coker

The Mojave Desert and San Bernardino County host one of the most interesting dry water bodies in California. With a shore length of 43 miles, Bristol Lake has unique salt and mineral formations that give the impression there was a layer of snow in some parts of the lakebed. The formations were possibly formed out of magma chambers below the crust. The dry lake bed is best known for its salt-edged, crystal clear bright light blue water ponds and channels (present in the Salt Evaporation Plan).

Location: The site can be accessed through the National Trails Highway from Amboy Road. A trip out there from Los Angeles can take up to 4 hours (200 miles).

“National Chloride produces 20,000 tons of calcium chloride each year. They sell it to Hill Brothers Chemical Company which processes it into the finished product. It sells for about $270/ton. The Bristol Lake chloride works is one of the largest in the world.”Image by Chuck Coker; (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Soda Lake

Image: Google Earth & Wikimedia Commons

Located north, in San Luis Obispo County, this bright white micro-desert is actually an alkali lake formed from the remnants of a prehistoric sea. With its ephemeral condition Soda Lake supports a habitat for migratory birds, some shrimp species, and the saltbush. In order to protect this ecosystem, a boardwalk with an overlook has been built along the shore, providing raised panoramic views of the entire lake for visitors.

Location: The lake covers an area of 4.6 sq. miles and can be accessed via State Route 58 and Soda Lake Rd, about a 165 miles/3 hour drive from Los Angeles.

Searles Lake

Image: Google Earth & Wikimedia Commons

Famous for the Trona Pinnacles, the massive dry lake known as Searles Lake is located out in the Mojave Desert, with a shore length of 31 miles. Due its sediments, it has become a vital resource of regional industry, containing almost 30 different types of minerals. The site can be accessed via Trona Rd (State Route 178) and Pinnacle Rd.

San Bernardino County’s Trona Pinnacles, some as tall as 140 ft., are rocky spires that resemble sci-fi scenery from another planet. The Pinnacles belong to the California Desert National Conservation Area and are in an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). In the past, the site was known as Cathedral City, which is not to be confused with the actual city in Riverside County.

Location: About a 3-hour drive from Los Angeles (177 miles)

Rogers Dry Lake

Image: Google Earth & Wikimedia Commons

With a shore length of 38 miles and an area of 43 sq. miles, this dry lake was formerly known as the Muroc Dry Lake. Rogers Lake now houses the Edwards Air Force Base. The United States Airforce and the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center use both the Rogers and Rosamond lake beds as landing pads and runways for aircraft operations.

The Rogers Lake in Kern County also houses the world’s largest compass rose, is painted onto the lakebed. This iconic place became a National Historic Landmark in 1985.

Location: About 2.5 hour drive from Los Angeles (109 miles)

El Mirage Lake

Images: Google Earth and CleftClips

If you own a gyrocopter, light aircraft, cool car, quad, or just something you want to photograph, then you might find El Mirage an attractive destination. With a minimum entry fee, the Off-Highway Recreation Area offers OHV trails for visitors who are looking for a place to enjoy some off-roading. People who are into ultralight aircraft piloting are even permitted to land on the lakebed. This space is also a favorite location for photo shoots for cars, models, and even furniture due the artistic desert setting.

Location: Access to the place can be found through Palmdale’s Pearblossom Hwy (State Route 14 & 138) and Old El Mirage Rd, about a 2 hour drive from Los Angeles (85-95 miles). The shore length is about 16 miles long; it’s important to note the temperatures can increase drastically during summer.

Images: Google Earth and Cristhian Barajas

Owens Lake
Drained alive by the Los Angeles Aqueduct, Owens Lake is located in the Inyo County, to the east of Sierra Nevada. This once pristine land with an approximate area of 108 sq. miles began its decay in 1913, when the uncontainable urban sprawl of Los Angeles began channelized the lake’s water, pumping the lake’s content all the way across the Southern California landscape. By 1926 Owens Lake was no more.

Some of the flow has been restore. However, there are serious concerns regarding air pollution originated from the dry portions of the basin known as alkali dust. AHBE Landscape Architects and other landscape architecture firms had the opportunity to intervene at the site through poetic sculptural elements, interpretive educational trails to raise environmental awareness and to mitigate, and control the noxious alkali dust.

The Lake has been featured in many documentaries and short films rooted in water, drought, urbanization and global warming. Out of these efforts, Edward Burtynsky’s Watermark documentary provides a unique look of the situation from the environmental photography point of view. Many institutions and professionals, including myself, have been involved in envisioning plan work at the site.

Location: Access to the Owens Lake can be found via the 395 N Highway, about 200 miles or 3.5 hours from Los Angeles.

Westin Bonaventure, Downtown LA by Scutter (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Smooth Operator: Late-Modern Mirror Glass Architecture, 1970-1985
“A student of the vernacular and the weird, architectural historian Daniel Paul brings a head’s sensibility to research pursuits across the vast text that is the built environment of Southern California. In this illustrated Power Point lecture, he reveals the history and aesthetic underpinnings of one of it’s most identifiable tropes: curtain walls of mirrored glass – from countless corporate centers of Orange County to the iconic tBonaventure Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles.”
When: August 8th, 7pm
Where: Los Angeles Contemporary Archive, 709 N. Hill Street

Lost Landscapes of Los Angeles
An event to share with friends and colleagues up north: “Lost Landscapes of Los Angeles is the latest of Rick Prelinger’s “urban history film events,” featuring rediscovered and largely-unseen archival film footage arranged into feature-length programs. Unlike most screenings, the audience makes the soundtrack — viewers are encouraged to identify places, people and events; ask questions; and engage with fellow audience members. While the films show Los Angeles as it was, the event encourages viewers to think about (and share) their ideas for the city’s future. What kind of a city do we want to live in?”
When: August 7, 2017, 6:30 PM – 9:00 PM PDT
Where: Internet Archive Head Office, 300 Funston Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94118

Urban Soil Summit 2.0 – TERROIR!
Internationally renowned scientists, thinkers, and doers gather to discuss how stewarding living soil could reverse climate change and make our urban communities more resilient.
Inoculation Party – Evening of August 7, 2017
Day 1: Inspiring Small Group Sessions (Including Lunch) – Tuesday, August 8, 2017
Fermentation Celebration – Tuesday Evening, August 8, 2017
Day 2: Powerful Plenary Session (Including Lunch) – Wednesday, August 9, 2017
When: August 8th and 9th, 2017, 8:00 AM – 6:00 PM
Where: UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center, 425 Westwood Plaza, Los Angeles 90095

Design for Dignity Taskforce Meeting #1
This task force will identify a few very specific homelessness & housing policy ‘call to actions’ to prioritize and then will establish a road-map to accomplish moving forward on these call-to-actions. There is also a group of “Yes and…” pro-housing advocates being led by LAplus, The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and Abundant Housing LA – and ideally once the D4D task force has had a chance to identify its core objectives we can align in effort and synthesize our ideas and call-to-actions together. Multidisciplinary collaboration will be key to our success.
When: August 9, 6:00 PM-8:00 PM
Where: CallisonRTKL Inc. – 333 South Hope Street Suite C-200 Los Angeles, CA 90071

Katy Grannan: Stories We Tell Ourselves
Part of the Iris Nights Lecture Series at The Annenberg Space for Photography, Katy Grannan screens her intimate and powerful film The Nine, then takes part in a Q&A with the audience. The Nine, Grannan’s first feature film, is an intimate, at times disturbing, view into an America most would rather ignore. Raw, poetic, direct, and unnerving, the film is less a window into a foreign world than a distorted mirror reflecting our own shared existence.
When: August 10th, 2017, 6:30 PM – 9:00 PM PDT
Where: Annenberg Space for Photography’s Skylight Studios, 10050 Constellation Boulevard, Los Angeles, 90067

Intro to Storytelling in VR
“Let no one say otherwise, shooting & stitching 360 video is difficult and intense! It’s a medium that has completely unique challenges. And that is exciting for both the tech folks and storytellers. You’ll need to understand the many hurdles so that you can soar. Knowing the specific details, inherent limitations, and potential problems will only help to inform how to successfully create immersion. And that’s what making360 will teach you with this new series of workshops!”
When: August 10th, 9:00 AM – 1:00 PM PDT
Where: Making360, 2137 Glyndon Ave, Los Angeles

Heppest of the Hep: Cruising through Los Angeles in the 1950’s (1954-1957 to be more specific)! In this compilation you’ll see the “glamorous” streets of Hollywood, the hustle and bustle of Downtown Los Angeles, and the seedy streets of Skid Row!”

ATLAS OF PLACES: A non-profit educational journal of architecture, photography, cartography, print and academics. We share essays, criticism, photography, maps, design, narrative journalism, as well as academic projects and university publications that deserve a wide audience.

Check Out This Amazing Map That Features Every L.A. Neighborhood: “Eric Brightwell (a self-described adventurer) has…produced a map that outlines the borders of pretty much every neighborhood in L.A. County. While the L.A. Times has its own mapping project (which provides plenty of insightful information about the individual neighborhoods), Brightwell takes it to the next level when it comes to breaking down the territories. Downtown L.A., for instance, is parsed out as the Historic Core, Bunker Hill, Skid Row, and Gallery Row, among others.”

1,730 New Plant Species Were Described Last Year: “An estimated 2,000 new plant species are discovered on an annual basis. We aren’t even close to grasping the full extent of plant diversity on this planet. What plants desperately need, however, is more attention.”

Will Drones Lead to a Boom in Landscape Architecture?: “In Siegel’s near-distant future, 90 percent or more of the privately owned and organically operated cars currently on the roads will no longer be necessary, and society will reap a windfall of real estate that it has never before had the luxury to reconsider. Landscape architects—the design professionals responsible for planting grassed swales that convey stormwater runoff, siting benches that line pedestrian thoroughfares, and meeting the demand for shade with tree canopies—will be the front line in re-thinking the built environment.”