Icon 170: The California issue – Elon Musk, Yves Behar, Johnston Marklee and the densification of Los Angeles 27.06.17

Written by  James McLachlan

In our latest issue, we journey through the Golden State, looking at everything from the influence of Silicon Valley and the branding of Hyperloop to the design of burger joints and the burgeoning cannabis industry

In this issue, architectural historian Simon Sadler profiles Tesla founder Elon Musk, referencing the New York Times’ recent claim that the state of California is now the de-facto opposition party to Donald Trump’s erratic presidency. Certainly, the orange one has a challenging relationship with the Golden State, accusing it, among other things, of voter fraud on a biblical scale. His ire just might bear some relation to the populace turning out in droves for Hilary, but I suspect the antagonism runs deeper. With its interest in renewable energy and progressive attitudes towards gender, sexuality and race, California is the antithesis of Trump’s promise of a Mexican-free, coal-fired future.

But even Trump cannot deny how successful the state has been. In 2016, it was the sixth largest economy in the world, just behind Great Britain. Post-Brexit, it will surely overtake us. Silicon Valley lies at the heart of the economic boom. The result of a weird alignment of forces – the military-industrial complex, counterculture and utopianist entrepreneurialism – it has influenced everything from the way we communicate to how we travel. The Valley has changed the general perception of design, too. Apple’s talisman, Jonathan Ive, remains the nearest thing the industry has to a household name.

And yet, for a place that prides itself on providing answers, California is facing some pretty challenging questions. Los Angeles, an anthem to the motor car, is wrestling with the uncomfortable truth that expansion is a dead end. The city, defined by its sprawl, is considering a more vertiginous approach that works in tandem with transport infrastructure – an alien concept to established Angelenos. For those on the outside, it seems incredible that there is no high-speed train between Los Angeles and San Francisco. But California is still a place where people think big. Musk has a plan to join the two cities by firing passengers through a pressurised tube at 700 miles an hour. Should Hyperloop come off, it would achieve two things: first, it would cement California’s position as the world leader in design thinking; second, it would further underline the current president’s irrelevance. Here’s hoping Elon pulls it off.



James McLachlan


Cover image

George Byrne



quotes story

For a place that prides itself on providing answers, California is facing some pretty challenging questions




Scene A look back at this month’s movers and shakers

Clerkenwell Design Week Icon’s adventures at London’s compact design festival

Diary It’s a quiet month for galleries but we’ve dug up some gems

Crimes against design Enough of the baby talk – it’s time for brands to drop their patronising tone

Opinion A question for all service designers: who serves the servers?

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Yves Behar Silicon Valley’s golden boy on robots, Trump and the American Dream

Dope design As cannabis gets the green light, designers are on a high

The cult of Elon Musk The inventor’s own plans to Make America Great Again

Emerging studio California meets Scandi modernism in India Hillis’s refined yet purposeful designs

Icon of the month The legendary car customiser Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth turned vehicles into sculptures

Q&A: Fred Turner The author and academic tells Justin McGuirk how computers became cool

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LA LA land Is Los Angeles finally ready to ditch the car?

Candyland Photographer George Byrne’s Color Field series distills urban LA into its basics elements

Johnston Marklee We look at the unexpected architectural tropes of this year’s Chicago Architecture Biennial curators

Icon of the month Richard Meier’s Getty Center may be 30 years old, but it remains unique and timeless

Q&A: Michael Maltzan The architect and Los Angeles loyalist on the charms of his sprawling city


Review: California at London’s Design Museum How the Golden State designed, packaged, then inverted the idea of freedom

Review: Outskirts – Living Life on the Edge of the Green Belt John Grindrod’s memoir rehabilitates the suburbs

Rethink: Hyperloop Fancy a ride on the hoop?

Obsession: In-N-Out Burger Where fast-food meets ethics


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