Dana Cuff to deliver Faculty Research Lecture: Can ‘urban humanism’ reverse the housing crisis?

Published: March 5, 2024
Dana Cuff portraitDana Cuff (Photo: UCLA)
Madeline Adamo | March 5, 2024

Her March 7 talk will focus on architecture’s role in more equitable futures

When Elvis Presley first crooned the words to his 1962 hit “Home Is Where the Heart Is,” it marked the start of a decade in which the singer himself would call Los Angeles home. And while Los Angeles has captured the hearts of many who call it home, present-day residents also know their city is where the heart of a national housing crisis is.

Luckily, the Southland is also home to Dana Cuff, a professor of architecture and urban design and director of UCLA’s cityLAB, a multidisciplinary research center where Cuff and others have focused their expertise for nearly 20 years on reimagining design that creates more just urban futures with real impact for Angelenos.

What might that look like? The addition of 8 million potential housing units in California, thanks to the 2016 passing of legislation, co-authored by Cuff, eradicating single-family zoning. And the greenlight for development of affordable and mixed-income housing for teachers and support staff of California’s K–12 public schools, starting this year. The legislation, developed by Cuff and her team, could create up to 2.3 million additional housing units across the state.

On March 7, at UCLA’s 135th Faculty Research Lecture, Cuff will discuss some of architecture’s limits as well as potential in fulfilling promises of sustainability and equity. Cuff says she hopes her lecture will peel back the veil and reveal the democratization of good design, demonstrating that small acts of research-based architecture create powerful new forms of buildings and cities for all its citizens.

In advance of her talk, Cuff, who is also the founder and director of UCLA’s Urban Humanities Initiative, spoke to UCLA Newsroom about the local housing crisis, the center’s “radical pedagogies” and why Los Angeles is the perfect post-suburban model to demonstrate more equitable futures to the world.

The housing crisis seems to be on everyone’s mind, especially here in Los Angeles. Why do you think it’s important to share the core values and work of cityLAB with audiences outside the discipline right now? 

cityLAB seems like the perfect place to do this work because we are in the “mother of the suburbs” as a city. We have to be the inventors of the post-suburban model, because there is no place more clearly exposed to the housing crisis. We have the largest single unsheltered population of any city in the United States, and California has the greatest number of people who are housing-burdened, meaning their rent or mortgage is more than a reasonable amount of their income. We’re at the heart of a housing crisis that’s global — not just California. But if we can solve it here, we can begin to solve it much more broadly.

I think that’s something we’re really pushing the boundaries of here at cityLAB — trying to think about how design is a form of research and when you build the right partnerships and collaborations and design solutions together, it can lead toward these large-scale transformations at the policy level that then come back and change the design scene and culture.

Read the full interview here.

The Faculty Research Lecture takes place at Schoenberg Hall on March 7 at 3 p.m., followed by a Q&A with Cuff and a reception at Schoenberg Terrace. The lecture is free to attend, but registration is required. Visit the website to register in advance, or register in the Schoenberg Hall lobby starting at 2:30 p.m. on the day of the event.