At the height of the Cold War, in both the US and the Soviet Union, top technical talent was ensconced in state-of-the-art laboratories set among new suburbs with cultural amenities. In Orange County, California, defense research labs were enticed by capitalist strategies; in the USSR, by government command. In both, the new white-collar suburbs made moves to the new centers attractive. The architecture of the housing as well as of the research labs reveals the faith in technology, shifting to a bunker mentality in the Vietnam era. In the USSR, research institutes were set far from city centers. Their architecture and artworks were boldly modern, their engineers and scientists housed in modern apartments among parklands. Reflecting declining military contracts by the 1990s, Orange County’s “think factories” were demolished or repurposed; upscale master-planned communities drew affluent commuters. Former Soviet research institutes morphed into universities and computer and electronics centers, surrounded by exclusive residential communities. There are striking parallels.
From the publicity with which it opened the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1913 to the completion of its new headquarters on Bunker Hill in 1965, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) has employed architecture as advertising for image enhancement and to increase its sale of electricity and water. This study of selected DWP structures, 1924–1965, finds that the message of architectural boosterism can become obsolete before the buildings do. DWP’s architecture presents a complicated legacy and a challenge for the future.