Dana Cuff is an architect at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she directs cityLAB, a think tank focused on urban issues and design. Before joining a Zócalo/UCLA panel discussion on gentrification in Los Angeles, she talked in the Zócalo green room about olives, her interest in cognitive psychology, and scotch with Obama.
What’s your favorite L.A. freeway?
You mean you have to like one of them?
Architecturally, what’s an underrated building in L.A.?
The Casa Del Mar, on the beach near the Santa Monica pier. It’s a grand building from the 1930s. It’s all housing.
What advice do you give students considering careers in architecture?
Don’t think narrowly about what you’re doing. Architecture is an art, a political act, an environmental act, and a business. You have to be able to take on all of those dimensions.
What’s your comfort food?
Not chocolate. It was for a long time, but I’ve given it up. Now—this is going to sound strange—it’s a bowl of olives. Bright green ones, with pits in them.
What’s your favorite metropolis?
Truly, Los Angeles is my favorite city. But lately, besides L.A., it has been Shanghai. It’s like Los Angeles and then some. It’s a very vibrant city, with a cowboy mentality.
What channel is your television most likely to be tuned to?
What do you wake up to?
A really, really strong cup of coffee, and then a run down the beach.
How did you get into trouble as a kid?
I lived so far out in the country that what got me in trouble was hitchhiking into town to the doughnut shop and then staying out late until the policeman, who was a friend of the family, would round me up and take me home. This was in Orange County, when it was still all oranges and avocados.
Who’s one person, living or dead, you’d love to have a drink with?
I would love to have a drink with Obama. He’s the only president in my lifetime whom I think I would actually really enjoy having a scotch on the rocks with. I think he’d be a great conversationalist.
You have a degree in psychology. What school of psychology makes the most sense to you?
Cognitive psychology, for sure. To me, what’s really interesting is how people perceive and interpret the world around them. As an architect, understanding that, so that I can gracefully change people’s interpretations, is fundamental.
What’s your go-to karaoke song?
“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”