Interview: Bruce Chan of Bruce’s Buddies

This week I caught up with Bruce Chan, an architect and community activist living in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles. In the latest installment of our interview series, he discusses his career path, his weekly newsletter called Bruce’s Buddies, and his love of biking in downtown Los Angeles.

Twenty Two: Let’s start with the basics. Tell us a bit about yourself.

Bruce: Bruce Chan. 27. Born and raised in Orange County, and went to the USC School of Architecture, so I’ve been in Southern California for most of my life.

Since graduating in 2007, I’ve been dabbling in different fields and jobs. I was in Sri Lanka doing a planning master’s course. Then I worked on an organic farm in Orange County for about a year and a half. Then I moved to LA where I worked at Silver Lake Farms, and also a non-profit called M&A. Not until this past summer did I start working in a formal architecture firm.

So I’ve had lots of wonderful under-employed periods of the past years to try my hand at different interests, whether in the work that I do or in the organizations around town that I’m now involved with. I now live in Silver Lake, have a “Pepsi spirit” blue bike, and enjoy maps.

Twenty Two: What sparked your interest in architecture?

Bruce: Every parent will tell you that architecture is a mix of math and art. That’s what mine told me and that’s how I thought going into architecture school. But once there, I realized that what I liked about architecture was the design of space, and how that plays about in our daily lives. More recently, I’ve been really interested in architecture more on a macro-scale, and how our city and urban landscape is formed.

Being on a bike in the city has really sparked my interest more in urban planning, which I believe is an understated part of architecture. Some people would kill me for saying that. But there are some awesome projects and proposals popping up right here in LA that are going to help define our city as a hub for hopefully new thoughts.

Twenty Two: How did you go from majoring in architecture to working on organic farms? That sounds like an interesting transition.

Bruce: Yeah, it sounds like it. I think another reason why I loved architecture was its eclectic and larger roles in society. So in my studies, I began to delve into issues of sustainability, food security, air quality, etc. When I was presented with an opportunity to work on this organic farm, I really was going into it more as a social issue, rather than a vocational job. I really wanted to work hands-on with our local food systems, and teach people who visited the farm about the importance about our food system. In the context of urban studies, it actually has a part in why it was easy for me to jump from architecture to organic farming.

I also started to volunteer with groups that deal with food security in South LA, and making organic veggies and fruits available to those who usually can’t afford or don’t have access to good food, which deals with urban planning, and how we design our cities.

Twenty Two: What are some of the community organizations you’re involved with?

Bruce: I’m involved with the Echo Park Time Bank, which is a bank, but instead of using cash as currency, we us time as currency. I’m also involved with Materials & Applications, an architecture and landscape architecture research center. I’m also involved with the Silver Lake Reservoirs Conservancy, which helps to secure the Silver Lake and Ivanhoe Reservoirs as open bodies of water for residents and neighbors.

Twenty Two: How do you balance your roles as an architect and a community activist?

Bruce: Hmm… I wouldn’t say that I balance it well. It’s sort of whatever I have time for, I will try to pursue it. As far as architecture as an occupation goes, I’m at work during the week. But in the evenings or particularly on weekends is when I will try to make myself available to any events or activities I can.

Twenty Two: Speaking of events and activities, what inspired you to start your weekly newsletter, Bruce’s Buddies?

Bruce: Bruce’s Buddies. Wow. So there were a couple of impetuses. One) I was usually the one in my group of friends that forwarded interesting events and activities going on in the city, but I would just send them as single forwards. So within a week, I was sending them 4-5 emails about what time to meet, address, etc. about all these events. Two) I was working at M&A at the time, which is a very local, down and dirty non-profit architecture research center. I met a lot of really interesting people through that job.

I began to realize that I had different friends in different groups, that didn’t know each other. So, I thought that Bruce’s Buddies was a great way to begin connecting all these really awesome people together, start cultivating this culture of fascinating people from eclectic and varied backgrounds and see what sort of opportunities would pop up.

So Bruce’s Buddies, in this sense, is manifested in different ways. One way, is through the weekly newsletters, which is just my method of consolidating my prior attempts at sending out events and activities out to my friends. The newsletters get people out into the city, making things accessible to them and hopefully connecting with some other Bruce’s Buddies.

Another manifestation of Bruce’s Buddies are events that I try to come up with that will bring my friends together, such as dinners, potlucks, and classes. I just had a dinner last week in Echo Park, hosted by my friend Isaac Watters, where a lot of random buddies of mine showed up. Some of them knew each other, but many of them didn’t. So it was great, as a sort of side-line spectator, watching how these strangers, knowing me as a common thread, would interact with each other.

Twenty Two: How do you find out about noteworthy events in Los Angeles?

Bruce: A lot of it is through emails that I get from the various organizations and blogs that I subscribe to. I don’t go out looking for events, usually. If I hear of something interesting from a blog, or from a friend, or from a billboard I see, then I chase after it. I also Facebook stalk a lot of my friends to see what they’re doing. Just sometimes.

Twenty Two: What are some of your favorite lesser-known things to do in LA?

Bruce: Hm. Good question. I’m not condoning this, but riding your bike / taking a stroll on the LA River by downtown is thrilling. Don’t do it after it rains though. I love eating elotes with mayonnaise, from Pedro, the guy with the cart in my neighborhood. I know, I know… corn with mayonnaise and cheese and butter. But it’s good.

Twenty Two: Besides along the LA River, where are your favorite spots to bike in LA?

Bruce: I love biking in downtown LA partly because of the urban feeling you have and the more synergistic way cars and cyclists and pedestrians do this little choreographed dance routine. But also I love biking in downtown LA because of the infrastructure they have. Nothing crazy, but those green bike lanes are sexy! It’s nice to see – and utilize – the cycling infrastructure that most people don’t know is coming to LA. It’s going to be pretty amazing in five years, when the city starts to have more bike lanes, and more access to public transportation options.

Twenty Two: Do you have any other projects in the works?

Bruce: Not as far as design ideas or architecture project, but for Bruce’s Buddies, as a social project, I’m really looking forward to interviewing some of my buddies, documenting a typical day of theirs, and sharing it with the other buddies. Just as another way of creating community. Maybe doing a clothed figure drawing class through Bruce’s Buddies. Working on my backyard crate garden. Small project, here and there.

A special thanks to Bruce for giving us the opportunity to learn more about Bruce’s Buddies. You can keep up with Bruce by checking out his Tumblr.

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