The Provisional City

The Provisional City

Los Angeles Stories of Architecture and Urbanism

By Dana Cuff

How the modern city is formed through an endless cycle of upheavals, demolition, and debate.





How the modern city is formed through an endless cycle of upheavals, demolition, and debate.

The provisional city is one of constant erasure and eruption. Through what Dana Cuff calls a "convulsive urban act," developers both public and private demolish an urban site and disband its inhabitants, replacing it with some vision of a better life that leaves no trace of the former structure. Architects bring their own utopian dreams to the process. In this book, Cuff examines those convulsions through two underestimated dimensions of architectural and urban form: scale and the politics of property. Scale is intimately tied to degree of disruption: the larger a project's scale, the greater the upheaval. As both culture and geography, real estate plays an equally significant role in urban formation. Focusing on Los Angeles, Cuff looks at urban transformation through the architecture and land development of large-scale residential projects. She demonstrates the inherent instability of very large sites. Having created perverse renditions of the very problems they sought to solve, for example, public housing projects that underwent upheaval in the 1940s and 1950s are doing so again. Cuff explores five cases that span the period from the 1930s, when federal support for slum clearance and public housing caused convulsions near downtown, to a huge 1990s' mixed-use development on one of Los Angeles's last remaining wetlands. The story takes us from the refined modernist architecture of Richard Neutra to the self-conscious populism of the New Urbanism. The cases illuminate the relationship of housing architecture to issues of race, class, urban design, geography, and political ideology.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262032766 400 pp. | 7 in x 10 in


$34.95 T ISBN: 9780262532020 400 pp. | 7 in x 10 in


  • ...[A] work of meticulous scholarship and visionary thinking....

    Jonathan Kirsch

    Los Angeles Times

  • [A]work of meticulous scholarship and visionary thinking....

    Jonathan Kirsch

    Los Angeles Times


  • In bringing the history of Los Angeles' territorial development to the fever pitch of emergency politics, convulsive urbanism, and fugitive places, Dana Cuff has not only given us a critical rethinking of this landscape, but has also reminded us that history in Los Angeles has always been about movement and energy and the ever-present now. The Provisional City is a must-read for anyone concerned with autoscapes, housing, and city politics.

    Neil Denari

    Architect and Director, Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc)

  • Dana Cuff's The Provisional City will fascinate every architect, planner, and landscape architect intrigued by space in the urban scale. Focusing particularly on housing, Cuff reveals the contested terrain of Los Angeles over the last seventy years, a landscape where design intentions collide with the politics of property.

    Dolores Hayden

    Professor of Architecture, Urbanism, and American Studies, Yale University; author of The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History

  • Dana Cuff works to restructure the way we think about urban change within the dynamic context of Los Angeles. Arguably a metropolis, (16.5 million people and over 100 languages), it is infinitely complex, perhaps even unknowable. With a firm focus on a new model, her analysis provides a roadmap and a vision of how we might approach the daunting task of urban development in the larger metropolis of L.A. with a sense of optimism and control.

    Thom Mayne

    American Institute of Architects