The Once and Future Bento Box


There’s a lot of this housing going up all over Los Angeles. Boxy, modular, poured concrete or stucco with some kind of horizontal wood feature set against a tiled entranceway.

This looked sharp and fresh half a dozen years ago but is entirely predictable now.  I’m not saying it doesn’t look good. I’m wondering how it will look 30 years hence. Will we look upon this housing stock the way we look at 70’s kitsch today? As an eyesore?


Or will it fall into some oddball historical cul-de-sac like the once-modernist work of Richard Neutra, admired by preservationists, but neglected by owners?

Is Craftsman and Mission style architecture the only native California form which will stand the scrutiny of the ages? Which will be both loved and lived in?

6 thoughts on “The Once and Future Bento Box”

  1. It’s more productive to let go of ideas of architectural fashion or cultural snobbery. There’s no universal perfect style of anything. The better gauge with which to judge a building is how well it’s used and enjoyed by people. Take your beloved MaLeod’s. Architecturally it’s a complete piece of crap in a hideous semi-industrial compound. On paper the building and it’s urban context are total failures. And yet it’s full of happy people. Commerce and civilization thrive there.

    1. Ugly architecture equals bad neighborhood, eventually. On the other hand, even the most gang-ridden hood can always come back, if it has timeless structures. Brownstones. Three-deckers. Victorians. Bungalows. They come back, no?

      1. No.

        Culture, economics, and other factors change over time. The way people perceive buildings and neighborhoods shifts along with those changes.

        I’m old enough to remember all the crappy semi-abandoned industrial warehouses in the inner city when they were occupied by starving artists, impoverished immigrants, drug addicts, and tranny prostitutes. This was in the 1970’s. Today those exact same buildings are luxury multi-million dollar condos. The buildings didn’t change. What changed was the culture and the way people think of the buildings.

        Back in the 1940’s, 50’s, and ’60’s old Victorians and brownstones were overwhelmingly despised by critics and the general population alike. They were fussy and expensive to maintain. People associated them with overcrowding since they had been carved up into makeshift apartments or rooming houses during hard economic times and wartime shortages. The mechanical systems were unreliable so they were cold and drafty in winter and really hot in summer. What people desperately wanted was new, clean, modern, and functional buildings with private space. Enter the plywood and sheetrock tract home on a potato field outside the city.

        External forces will change over time and what people interpret as good architecture will change again.

        1. All true. But the buildings I speak of are not inclined to decay. The postwar chipboard and stucco box, apart from its aesthetic deficiencies, has a short structural lifespan. It can’t come back. Or be easily repurposed.
          What of the Bento Box? Will people want to buy it in 30 years?

  2. What about Ranches? I live in NE and we have Capes, Colonials and saltboxes but every once in a while I’ll stumble upon a decent post-war Ranch. Now split levels, they should just be leveled.

    1. All buildings are inclined to decay – unless you’re Pharaoh.

      Yes, most new buildings are made of compressed dust and are destined to become compost. We agree on that. But with proper maintenance and periodic upgrades even a crappy synthetic stucco box shot out of a hose by day laborers can still be reinvented periodically.

      That’s essentially what these Bento Boxes are – the second or third iteration of previous generations of cheap semi-disposable crap. Think of them as the architectural equivalent of an annual crop. They’re not redwood trees. They’re… spinach. Is this how I’d organize things if I were King of the World? Nope. Is this how I treat my own property? Nope. But it’s mostly what we’ve got to deal with.

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