Renee Dake Wilson, AIA

Renee Dake Wilson, AIA – Commissioner, Los Angeles City Planning Commission & Principal, Dake Wilson Architects

As part of the AIA|LA Citizen Architect initiative, we are profiling architects that are currently engaged in civic affairs by serving on Boards, Commissions, Neighborhood Councils  or who work for public agencies.

IMAGE CREDITS:  Renee Dake Wilson & Dake Wilson Architects

1. What inspired you to become an architect and what were some of the formative memories that continue to shape your design philosophy?

I was interested in designing bridges, and took a summer architecture studio course that redirected me and gave me the tools to get into architecture school. I went to Cornell University College of Architecture, Art, and Planning where Corb was King and Form followed Function. I still largely follow those principles. At Cornell I learned how to think and solve problems, rather than how to design buildings for construction. It really broke me out of my pre-conceived box, which I needed badly.

The summer before my thesis year I left my small town, east coast roots and came to Los Angeles for the first time to look for a thesis site. I chose Hollywood Blvd. just east of Mann’s Chinese Theater, which in the early 90’s was little shacks selling knick knacks. I designed it into a subway stop, viewing places for the Hollywood sign, and movie theaters. I was blown away by the small, scattered, accessible works of Morphosis, Eric Own Moss, Frank Gehry, Jeff Daniels and Elyse Grinstein, and others. I read Los Angeles Boulevard by Doug Suisman, and City of Quartz by Mike Davis, and got hooked on LA. There is so much work to be done here and it remains a great place to experiment.

2. What motivates and fascinates you the most (or challenges you the most) about your current role?

I have loved learning so much about City Planning and the way government affects the built environment. We get to look at buildings, transportation and mobility, trees and landscaping, affordability, utility infrastructure, accessibility, lighting, materials, environmental justice, and so on. I learn something new all the time, and work with great people on diverse issues.

3. As you’ve become more civically engaged, what insight can you share on how architects can become both better listeners and stronger leaders?

The Los Angeles City Planning Commission is comprised of 9 volunteers of diverse backgrounds, knowledge, and experiences. We get the privilege of voting on policies and projects that developers are investing their money in, and the public has deep feelings and knowledge about. We need to remain fresh and open to these diverse ideas and perspectives. Hanging out with a lot of non-architects has given me a much more nuanced understanding of our City. City Planners have a special skill of holding public meetings and drawing out opinions, which I admire greatly.

4. In the year 2018, what do you recognize to be amongst our most pressing needs?

The growing distance between haves and have-nots is showing up in our built environment. We need to quickly move unsheltered Angelenos from encampments into housing. The lack of affordable housing has wrecked communities and our environment because people live far from their jobs and have to commute long distances, losing time with their communities and polluting all the way.

Now is the time to act on climate change, with more efficient buildings; better mobility options for all; a bigger urban forest; water savings, infiltration, and reuse; and so on.


5. And what do you anticipate will be our most pressing needs in 2028? In the year 2058?

In 2028 we’re going to have to figure out how we’ll fit all of our friends in our homes during the Olympics! Our new Metro lines will be incorporated into our daily commutes, and we’re going to be repurposing our parking spaces and roads into open spaces and more needed housing. We’ll continue to look for connection in the public realm, as the internet draws our attention to our screens for work, play, and education. The sky will be contested space, as delivery by drone normalizes.

By 2058 water scarcity and abundance will be a big issue, and we’ll have fully integrated water efficiency and stormwater cleanliness and infiltration into our building systems. Energy efficiency of building systems and production and delivery of materials will be normalized. Los Angeles will be more dense and multi-cultural, with connection and healthy living accessed on linear concentrated open spaces where our disused freeways once were. People will live in smaller spaces, with more shared amenities. We’ll have a thriving urban forest from all the trees we’re planting now!

6. What’s your favorite city/building/park/plaza/place and why?

I most enjoy the quotidian experiences our decentralized city, and the inspiration of quirky individual things that crop up out of creativity and necessity. I love the LA River, which we turned our back on for so many years. It will become the park and open space for all of the communities that live and work adjacent, it will provide a healthy environment for flora and fauna (including people.)

7. What your favorite way to spend the weekend? (What do you do for fun? Favorite book? Podcast? Museum?)

I run and bike and do other sports as a way to feel good, clear my mind, and check out wherever I am. I’m fascinated by infrastructure and how systems and spaces work together. I love site specific installations, like LA’s murals and Heidi Duckler Dance Theater that I’m seeing at the Bendix Building this weekend. I love to hang out with my family, putter and eat out of our garden, and make things.

Renee Dake Wilson, AIA – Commissioner, Los Angeles City Planning Commission & Principal, Dake Wilson Architects

Renee Dake Wilson is an architect and leader creating homes, institutional buildings and communities throughout Southern California neighborhoods, where she has practiced since 1998. Her organizing efforts focus on equality and the environment. An active member of numerous professional and civic organizations, Renee seeks the open collaboration and exchange of ideas that comes from working with diverse interest groups.

Renee Dake Wilson is a Principal and co-founder in 2002 of Dake Wilson Architects, a small architecture firm with an environmental focus on moderate-income single family residences, and small commercial, civic, institutional projects, including the Page Museum, CRA projects, Play Cafe, and Los Angeles Conservation Corps projects. Renee balances design talent with strong technical and construction administration experience. She is committed to the seamless incorporation of environmentally-responsible design and construction techniques in every project.

Renee lives in Los Feliz with her husband, three kids ages 10 to 16, and dog. She is always training for some sort of running or biking event because she loves seeing LA from new perspectives.