Los Angeles has a zoning diversity issue. Unlike most other global cities where the mixing of commercial, residential, institutional, or even light industrial activities can happen within the same building, the zoning law in Los Angeles largely prevents such mixing to take place within most urban blocks. This lack of heterogeneity is not just a planning issue - it reduces the possibility for an intensified social and economic interaction between neighbors.

Between 2020-21, the pandemic COVID-19 demanded many people to work from home. Not only that, very tight-knit social bubbles were formed to prevent further spread of the infections. As people stayed home, the conceptual footprint of Los Angeles also radically reduced. Whereas people used to commute on a daily basis, the carbon footprint of daily drivers drastically diminished. It recalled a time when people were comfortable going from one end of Los Angeles to another, braving a distance from Downtown Los Angeles to Venice (16.7 miles) further than Rotterdam to The Hague (14.4 miles). As people worked from home, our social and economic bubbles contracted in size, but also condensed in its intensity. Not only that, this collective experience has taught us that zoning diversity is possible.

The architectural and urban implications of "work from home" is worth further examination, particularly the flipside of the same token: "live at work". For almost an entire year, many residential units have had to double as office-spaces. The kitchen is an office. The living room is an office. The bedroom is an office.
Mom and Pop's Corner Variety
2021, Los Angeles, CA
It begs the question: in doing so, have all of those who live at work or work from home inadvertently violated some type of zoning law? Because a commercial zone is now inside of a residential zone. If people have been continuously performing C1 or C2 actions within R1 spaces for almost twelve months, could it be time for the City of Los Angeles to reassess how we edit the ways in which these zoning laws are written? What if this new lifestyle is an opportunity towards the diversification of zones, allowing for the overlapping or mixing of multiple functions?

The lines between professionalism versus personal relationships are blurred the very moment we work from home and/or live at work. The Zoom calls now encroach the personal boundaries of professional colleagues because their personal lives are in the backdrop. In an otherwise entirely professional environment, the office space is the physical embodiment of the impersonal context. However, the very idea of "Mom and Pop Shops" defies this conventional notion of corporate professionalism. It is the opposite of an impersonal business, to a point we attach familial titles to the people we shop from. Mom and Pop shops thrive on these blurred lines, so that the special bonds formed between the people who exchange economically build up something more than just the transaction of monetary values - they build the character of a community. Our new reality has expanded the ways in which we can think about programmatic diversity at an urban scale.

Our project, Mom and Pop's Variety Pack, is a corner housing block with a variety store/diner and a social club around five adjoining outdoor nooks. These nooks are spaces where people can dine out, play, interact, work, and deepen their social and economic connections with each other. As a super social bubble, this tight-knit community is enhanced by the architecture, as people can perform office, retail, light industrial, or institutional functions within and between the exterior gaps. The variety of shapes and sizes of units also imply a variety of tenant-types with different backgrounds and income levels to form neighborly and personal bonds. The namesake variety store/diner can be operated as an extension of the adjacent residential units, where a kitchen becomes the connective tissue between the two spaces. The shop extends its commercial activities onto outdoor surfaces, shared by the residential units doubling as offices. This strategy encourages the inhabitants to interact like a medley of rainbow candies.

Our competition entry is also a letter to the mayor: please help us make Los Angeles a more diverse place by reviewing and editing the presently monolithic zoning laws. Los Angeles, a first-rate global city, has long outlived its former urban fabric and should no longer be zoned as such. There is a direct correlation to the diversity of human actions to the diversity of economic, social, and cultural groups. The more opportunities people are given to interact and exchange with one another, the more we can collectively advance our society.
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