Detroit and L.A., two of the same…or one of a kind?

Jun 8, 2018 | Cultural, Education, Entertainment, Renovation and Remodeling

For those of you lucky enough to live in, have lived in or visited the Motor City, we’re going to go out on a limb and assume you catch our drift when we say not many places compare to the unique vibe one would experience while in Detroit. Something recently sparked our design minds to think about this on a much deeper level. Let’s go back a few months to catch you up on where the heck this is going….

The team recently took a reprieve from work for a relaxing picnic at our neighbors, a little gem called Belle Isle. Of course we discussed all things design, and the fact that pretty much nowhere else in the world allows you to enjoy a peaceful, secluded retreat, while staring at an industrial skyline filled with soul, grit and creativity like Belle Isle. For those of you that know us, you can attest to the fact that we stand pretty firm on the fact that not many places can compare to our beloved city’s infectious energy, architecture and design network. Ahem, well…recently, we were thrilled and taken by surprise to find some of the same great traits across the country.

This all started when one of our Principal Designers, Lauren, recently visited the wonderful land of Los Angeles, and when she got back, she couldn’t stop raving about how ‘at home’ she felt, particularly in the Echo Park and Silver Lake areas. And of course, we couldn’t help but share in her excitement. So, us being as curious as we are…we took it a step further, dug a little deeper and discovered there are several uncanny similarities between the the Motor City and the City of Angels.

James Scott Memorial Fountain, Detroit

Ok, so let’s head to our favorite city picnicking spot, Belle Isle. Belle Isle – created in 1845 – has old, deep roots and as most of may know, survived a pretty turbulent history. Belle Isle was city owned until 2011, when it officially merged with the state of Michigan. Several organizations like the Friends of Belle Isle (FOBI), the Belle Isle Botanical Society (BIBS), and the Belle Isle Women’s Committee (BIWC) – just to name a few – have contributed to the park’s upkeep and maintenance over the years. We just want to take a minute to thank you for helping keep every inch of our 982-acre park a beautiful place! Also, fun fact. Did you know Belle Isle is the country’s largest island park? It even comes in over New York City’s Central Park!

Now, let’s travel some two-thousand miles across the country – to what has quickly become one of Lauren’s favorite spots – A.K.A., Echo Park Lake in L.A.

Echo Park, Los Angeles

This Southern Coast gem opened about 15 years after Belle Isle, and started as a small creek filled by runoff water from a nearby stream, and was dammed in 1868 to make a reservoir to power a wool mill. Echo Park Lake officially opened 20 years later. In a 2014 article written in The Los Angeles Beat, the author says, “The recent renovation of Echo Park Lake has created quite a buzz around one of the very first parks to be built in the city of Los Angeles. After decades of decline, the park was designated as a cultural and historic landmark in 2006 with renewed interest and an upswing in the neighborhood.” Sounds like a familiar story, right? In the same article, the author says, “Today, Echo Park Lake is a dreamer’s paradise; a quaint respite from the bustling downtown skyline which can be seen in the distance.” Hmm, ironic, isn’t it?

While we’re on the topic of striking similarities, let’s talk about the strong link between the two cities and the automotive industry…who would’ve thought that the television capital and the city that put the world on wheels would have a tie there? Well, we didn’t either until it was brought to our attention by a fabulous contributor to this article – Ian Dickenson, the Director at Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects [LOHA.] As we find ourselves drooling over their work, (if you haven’t already, check them out…it’s a must) and they have locations in both Los Angeles and Detroit, we reached out to Ian to get his take on all things similar, (and different!) and one of the first things he mentioned was the automotive industry’s tie to both cities. Check out what he had to say, “I didn’t realize there was such a strong automotive industry influence in L.A. when I first moved here. There’s a Ford factory in Downtown LA that was manufacturing a pretty big majority of Model A’s at the time, so for similar reasons the communities built around those industries are similar in L.A. and Detroit. While outwardly they may appear to be very different, I think that the history there is actually very similar. It’s something both cities have inherent in their DNA, based upon the things they’ve been formed around. There’s also a similar appreciation for design, and for words that are almost loosely used now, like innovation and industrialization. But because it has that history – that is somewhat shared not only in the automotive industry, but really just broadly around creativity in general, and appreciation for design and the arts – it’s celebrated in a different way in L.A. and Detroit then the way it is other places. Design really was, and is such an important part of both histories.” Well said, Ian, well said. Before we move on, did you know Detroit and L.A. are among the top three of the nation’s two largest auto shows? We learn something new every day – and that includes learning more about what brings these two distant, yet uniquely similar sister cities closer and closer together.

Silver Lake, Los Angeles

Never being to L.A. myself, but living vicariously through Lauren and her beachy blonde waves, I had to ask – ‘what did you feel like really drove this feeling home?’ She responded with, “The overall vibe of the city – the feel of the architecture and vibrant graffiti flanked walls – the comfortability. It really reminded me of a larger scale stretch of Eastern Market’s Gratiot area, with it’s art deco flare and care of revitalizing original and beautiful architecture. I would notice pharmacies turned into restaurants, and just really thoughtful ways to reuse these amazing buildings, just like we do here in Detroit. There were very natural industrial elements implemented in the design, juxtaposed with bold colors in the graffiti – it was very similar to home. As for the interiors, they were alike to Detroit in the sense that nothing felt mainstream – no two places were indistinguishable. Each environment I stepped into, seemed to tell a story and hold a very strong brand identity – which is why you don’t mind that there’s four coffee shops on the same block, and it’s the very reason you want to try every single one of them.” As for Ian, he said it was, “The sheer appreciation for arts, design, music, and culture. It goes above and beyond in these places more so than anywhere else, and that’s where a respect of sorts binds these two places together. It’s not necessarily based upon one feature or similarity – but several pursuits.”

By this point, you’re probably itching to learn more about Ian, and LOHA. So, without further ado, let’s talk about both. During our interview, I asked, ‘talk to me about LOHA, and what sparked the desire of a second location?’ He said, “We were founded and are largely based in L.A., so L.A. is certainly our home base so to speak. But for being on the West Coast, and all of the opportunities it affords us, it kind of acts as a divider – because largely architecture is still based on the East Coast – so sometimes it can put you at an arm’s distance, and of course further from Europe – so you can easily find yourself out of the loop. A second office is something we’ve always been open to, and the go to spot would always be New York City – and for all of the amazing things that NY has to offer, it just didn’t ever quite feel like a perfect fit. Of course we still do work in NY, and have great friends and colleagues there – but we wanted to find a place that really truly resonated with us. So, fast forward to 4 or 5 years ago when we started doing work in Detroit – there was just an immediate connection. We felt really early on that it would be a really great place for us to establish kind of a second home so to speak.” We’re certainly glad LOHA felt so at home in the mitten! But, with our interest piqued, we had to know, ‘what was it about LOHA’s brand that resonated so deeply with Detroit?’ He said, “I don’t know that it’s brand so much, as it is interest. The things that intrigue us, the things that we think are important, that we prioritize, and that really resonate with us – Detroit had a lot of those things to offer us as a company. Detroit had such a broad spectrum to choose from so to speak, that for us it was like being a kid in a candy store. There’s such a rich history there [Detroit] but also, there’s so much phenomenal work taking place in the city.” We. Are. Speechless. Because this is so true and we find so much joy when other cities can feel it too!

Having a working hand in both of these amazing cities, we were dying to know – ‘just what is it like working in both LA and Detroit, and what are your favorite parts about each?’ He said, “It’s really a dream to be honest. (We can imagine!) They’re both cities that you have to be engaged and living in to really absorb everything they have to offer. I mean, you can pass through L.A. or spend a long weekend here and only really experience what people outwardly think, or only visit the places people think are important to visit but completely miss the mark, and I think it’s really similar to Detroit that way. I think that it attracts the right kind of people, for the right reasons, and certainly has held on to the right kind of people.” And as for Lauren, we know that she lives and breathes everything Detroit – just ask to see her latest tattoo! Something that became so evident after working so closely with she and Rachel, is that Detroit runs through their veins. They consider working in Detroit to be a privilege, just as they would L.A., “Detroit has a grit, and a beautiful rawness that we also see in parts of L.A. Through our design techniques and experience, we feel like we can really bring the true spirit of Detroit to L.A., and it would be an honor to do so,” said Lauren. From day one, RL Concetti has had big plans to educate and reach not only Detroit, but as many people and cities as possible on the power of good design. Lauren said, “We’re constantly looking to expand  our network of preferred partners, allowing us to facilitate holistic design and simultaneously create spaces that truly support the humans within those spaces, that exude meaning through elements like material language. Environments that react to the people within them. This is the value of design. And as we can feel the similarities between the creative networks in Detroit and L.A., we are pumped to create spaces in both of these amazing cities alongside some of the greatest talent of artists we are lucky enough to learn from.”

Sage Plant Based Bistro and Brewery, Echo Park, Los Angeles

Earlier we’d mentioned Echo Park and Silver Lake having crazy strong similarities to Detroit, so let’s talk a bit more about that. It’s pretty common knowledge that L.A. has a heavy reputation of ‘demolishing and developing’ while Detroit is more of a ‘rebuild and restore’ city, but in the era of changing times, is L.A. still dubbed just another concrete jungle? When we asked Lauren, she said “I think certain pockets of L.A. – especially Echo Park, are taking on the restore and rebuild approach more and more, and it’s something that delivers a whole new aesthetic and feel to the community.” As for Ian, he said, “Echo park and Silver Lake are places that largely have developed over time and somewhat organically. They’ve always been a trip off the beaten path. But historically, they haven’t been completely overrun by rebuild. Those are parts of the city that are filled with a lot of up and coming creatives, like Detroit. Those people are inspired by being immersed in that creative culture. I really started appreciating were the

Gratiot Avenue, Detroit

correlations between the history of development in L.A., and the history of growth in Detroit.”

So after all of this, the time for the million dollar question came for both Lauren and Ian. ‘Do you think these two cities’ identities will remain separate?’ Ian said, “I hope so! Outwardly, L.A. is a very ‘new’ city – it’s all about the current it’s all about the new. But things are interchangeable in L.A. – and I think that’s part of what makes it exciting, even the way we build out here, it’s so rapidly renewable that I’m constantly moving where I live out here – and the places that I’m seeking are always changing. Detroit has seemed to always follow a different development track – and there’s stark differences in that sense. I hope that Detroit is able to use other cities that have either gone through or are going through similar spurts of growth, and allow those to be case studies they can take the good and the bad from, because I think that a lot of cities have had similar goals – like reviving the downtown corridor, and the adaptive reuse of buildings. You can rebuild and make a place what you think it should be, but if you’re not able to combine the old and new and you’re not able to integrate and work in both ways – then you lose what makes that place rich and unique in the first place. By rushing to redevelop, you can easily lose sight of what makes that place amazing. I hope Detroit really finds a way to learn from its predecessors, rather than trying to follow suit.” Lauren followed up by saying, “I don’t think the two cities are trying to be similar at all – I think what’s more interestingly similar is the energy, and the vibes that each city emits – things that aren’t really tangible. Both locations house these amazing groups of creatives that are open to welcoming everyone, and who truly appreciate the unique art and the surrounding architecture. I feel like when you have a group of creative people that have passion mixed with an entrepreneurial spirit, the outcome is this insane energy. It’s something you can’t duplicate.”

For Lauren, I asked ‘what was most appealing design wise for you?’ She said, “The fact that you could see and feel that the designs in these spaces throughout the city were very thought out, intentional and strategic. And that the designer was truly trying to tell this brand’s story – and that is our bread and butter. That’s our passion, that’s what we live, and design by. That’s what resonated with me most. A space can be beautiful, but if there’s not strategy behind it, and you can’t connect with that brand, it’s significantly less meaningful.”
What we’ve come to realize is that Detroit and L.A. may in fact be separated by lakes, forests, beaches, mountains and thousands of miles, but things really aren’t all that different for the two of us. In closing, Ian said, “there are really strong ties in both creative communities, and I think it really just goes back to the fundamental appreciation for design in both cities. Definitely there’s dominant history in both places – and obviously a lot of that dominant history lies in the areas of automotive and design. There’s really a great opportunity in Detroit and I hope, and think, that people are seeing it in that regard. Detroit has big ambition. And we look forward to being able to contribute to that in a positive way, and support those contributing in a brilliant and fantastic way.” We’re definitely eager to see what LOHA will bring to Detroit, and hopefully even collaborating at some point together! The mitten could always use some of those So.Cal vibes 😉

Emily Krueger is the Public Relations Coordinator at RL Concetti Interior Design Firm in Detroit, Michigan. Emily earned her B.A. in Journalism at Wayne State University in Detroit, and joined the RL Concetti team in February, 2018.