Megalopolis: Los Angeles

Diellëza Tahiri
5 min readSep 27, 2022
Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles (1950)

A typical city that explains megalopolitan age is for sure Los Angeles in California, USA. Its environmental, geographical, and social characteristics make it a city of many possibilities and namely of major transitions after the first two technological revolutions. Hence, Los Angeles represents one of the first and biggest Megalopolis cities in the world.

Originally, as a Spanish colony of agricultural culture this region consisted of Los Angeles, a simple town near the coast, that was connected to many small towns nearby, like San Bernandino, Orange, Ventura, Long Beach, Santa Monica, Northbridge, etc. Initial urban planning was slightly different to the one we are used to: it follows mainly the geographical features starting with the bourgeois who would settle on the hills and along the coast while the others on the flat land of previous agricultural activity.

The rapid development of technology brought trams and urged large railway networks, such as Red Cars of Pacific Electric Railway, that was vastly spread between the small towns around Los Angeles for economic and social purposes. Such a dense network will soon be transformed into a new transportation system of wide freeways and highways with a new element of focus, the automobile. Eventually Americans will grow an interesting obsession about cars which will be used massively throughout the country. Perhaps the economic and political strategies of USA, on gasoline and car prices in comparison to the rest of the world, somewhat encouraged this new obsession and thereof a mildly different mentality. Consequently, it will be the Americans who adapt cars in all sorts of daily activities, and thus in architecture: starting with the fact that everyone will come to own a car, downtowns will be occupied with large parking areas, all houses will own individual garages for one or two cars, and the newly fashionable concepts of drive-in markets, drive-in theater, drive-in restaurants, drive-in motels, drive-in church, car washes, and car dealerships, all originating from the 1930s that spotlighted a new youth culture.

Drive-in restaurant, San Bernardino (1948)
Drive-in theater, Los Angeles (1949)

On the contrary, the importance of architecture would relatively fade. As there are no real attachment to it, no constrains to follow, no common identity to it, no past and no future. Downtown of Los Angeles for instance, is a very humble and simple space, but it does not have a specific value as historic cities usually do. Instead, there are a lot of neighborhoods with marvelous and unique authenticity, such as Beverly Hills, Bel-Air, Hollywood, Malibu, etc.

An intriguing debate was introduced after the second world war on the gender discrimination. The routine of women working during the war while men were in the army, changed after they came back home. Going back to the patriarchy of 19century is rather disturbing for the new generations which will raise against such idiocy and prosper adequate equality of civic rights in the present day.

“Woman’s place is in the home”

A megalopolis like this, or as Reyner Banham calls it “polycentric urbanism”, owns tens of “centers” and yet paradoxically speaking, none. Urban sprawl of such extent resembles a chaotic environment forming a feeling of “no place”. The greatest impact on sprawl came through colonization of suburbia, notably from the development and expression of mass production for single-family homes, seen before the war, and expanded after the war in the large master planned communities of Panorama City in 1948 and Lakewood in 1950. The reason of this massive expansion was the government bank loans, given to people (after they returned home from war) to buy or order affordable houses in the suburbs. Efficient and cheap, these houses required minimum labor to be built and a modular plan for massive production of very few typologies: “Ranch House”, “Dingbat Apartments”, “The Pacific Ready-Cut Homes”, etc.

left image: Ranch House Model, Los Angeles (1930s) ; right image: Lakewood, Los Angeles (1949)

There is a lot of criticism about Los Angeles, particularly in the sense of urban sprawl, architectural controversy, suffocated sustainability, identity, and perhaps “beauty”? But what is bizarre is the fact that, Los Angeles in essence works and has been working for a long time, because despite endless facts on its urban structure, it is socially inspiring, creative, innovative and it is becoming more and more livable.

Hence is rather hard to seek a proper answer to what makes LA so uniquely paradoxical. On a simple observation, we might say that the secret of Los Angeles, is the people! They give meaning, identity and love to bits of the city, embracing a freedom with no constrains and being inspired to be educated, creative, humble and happy.

Banham, an architectural critic, is one of the few to be fond about Los Angeles. He thinks that freeways are:

“one of the greater works of man”

and freeway land is the peak of the futuristic no-place that citizens of LA are, according to him, perfectly happy with.

-“It is only visiting ‘snobs’ who see an apocalyptic dystopia.”

Interpretation of “Reyner Banham loves Los Angeles”(image: Lucie Gilormini et al.)

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