Industry Spotlight: Frances Anderton

With The Rise: Building Downtown LA (AWA+D's annual symposium) just a few weeks away, we wanted to find out a bit more about the background and inspirations of Frances Anderton, the event's moderator. Frances is a seminal figure in the world of Los Angeles Architecture and Design, and along with panelists Hall Bastian (the "Mayor" of Downtown); Nicholas Maricich (accomplished City of LA Planner) and Tarrah Beebe (Architect and Downtown resident), The Rise is sure to be an event to remember! Read on to learn more about just one of the fascinating players involved in this event.

1.    Biographical InformationI grew up in Bath, England, the oldest of three daughters of Sam and Eileen Anderton. I went to an all-girls school called Bath High School for Girls (where we had such a strict uniform, even our underwear was regulated). I spent a “gap” year in Florence, Italy, renovating a “casa colonica” (farmhouse) for a crazy American lady then went to University College London (UCL). I planned on studying art history and French but transferred to the Bartlett School of Architecture, which was part of UCL.During my studies I concluded that while I loved architecture I did not have the personality or requisite skill set to be an architect – I was drawn to communications, and short deadlines – so I wound up as an editor at the Architectural Review magazine. My first assignment, in 1987, was to come to LA and produce a special issue on emerging architecture here. That was my first taste of LA and the rest is history as they say.

2.    How did you get involved in the design profession?My (late) father was an eccentric and wonderful man who made his living buying Georgian houses and then remodeling the interiors into as modern a style possible in protected neoclassical houses. We lived in the houses – which he bought and sold one at a time -- meaning we lived in permanent building sites. But this lifestyle gave me a love of design, and belief in the power of ones environment to shape quality of life.

3.    Who have been your greatest influencers? Why?My father was (is) hugely important to me. He was hilarious and brilliant and believed – to a fault at times – in following ones passion regardless of stability and financial security. He also spoke about architecture and buildings in a language one could understand. Lacking a formal architecture education, he did not speak the gibberish that one learns at architecture school. I am sure I owe my desire to “translate” architecture to the public – through DnA and other archi-writing – to this exposure to very different ways of talking about buildings.The other greatest influencers certainly include Ruth Seymour, Jennifer Ferro and Warren Olney. Ruth was the mad genius of a general manager of KCRW when I came to the station and had a huge impact on my career here as well as intellectual development. Jennifer, the present general manager, has an equally smart, though different, approach to running the station, and has also shaped my career here and my thinking about how best to talk about architecture and design. Warren has taught me more than any previous teacher – about how to think, write, navigate between smart minds, and, most importantly, get “to the point.”I also want to mention Julia Bloomfield and (the late) John Chase. It’s a long story for which there isn’t space here, but Julia (longtime architecture publications editor) caused the AR to send me to LA, then made it possible for me to move here, and since has been a longtime friend and mentor. John, known to many in LA, was a wonderful friend and source of wisdom on all things relating to LA and my career here.

4.    What do you feel are some of your most important achievements?Hopefully, giving voice to a lot of amazing creative minds, as well as diverse opinions, that might otherwise not be heard by the general public.Specifically, one of the most rewarding moments in my time at KCRW was many years ago when I put a lady representing an underfunded AIDs outreach organization in South LA on WWLA with a politician with clout who she had previously not been able to reach. Out of that show came funding for the organization.I was also happy with Sink Or Swim: Designing For a Sea Change, the exhibition I guest-curated for the Annenberg Space For Photography. I heard from a lot of people who felt very inspired by its message, so that was very gratifying.Lastly, but perhaps the most important personal achievement, is forming a family in midlife. My husband and daughter have changed me and my outlook in so many ways.

5.    What are some of the insights of being a woman in your occupation?There are a lot of women in media, and KCRW has been run by a woman as long as I’ve been here, so I’m not sure my experience compares to that of being a female architect (which I know from past experience working on a building site, while at architecture school, can be fraught with challenges). One thing I will say is that charismatic male architects looking for press will work charm offensives on women journalists. It can be a challenge to resist, especially when young and getting started.

6.    What excites you creatively, spiritually or emotionally?Gosh, this could be a long list. Color, light, lovely spaces, music, my daughter and husband, dinner with friends, some of the great TV that’s on right now, our cat, swimming, cycling, making things, the pepper tree hanging over our deck that makes our apartment feel like it’s in a treehouse.

7.    What do you think/hope your occupation will look like in 10 years?It’s hard to tell. Radio is evolving. It seemed to be on the wane because of the internet but then the internet saved it with podcasting. But I certainly know journalists cannot stay still; they have to develop multiple skills and handle multiple media: writing, radio, TV, curating, public events, etc. But I tend to live in the moment -- perhaps because daily life at KCRW is so endlessly interesting. I just hope I’m still employed in 10 years time.

8.    What role do/have you played in AWA+D and what is the importance of the organization in your life?I have not played a big role, though I have helped promote some of its events, and certainly include many AWA+D members among my friends. It is great that AWA+D exists to provide a place of connection for female architects in a dispersed region with career challenges that are best shared.

9.    What advice would you give the graduating class of 2015?Don’t live in an architecture community bubble, because the profession is changing fast, and architects have to evolve to keep up. Speak in a language that regular people understand.

10.    Any final thoughts or words of wisdom?I wouldn’t recommend children to everybody but I would say having a child or spending time with children is essential to architects. They help us see space and the environment in different and important ways.