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Editorial> Can't We All Just Get Things Built?
Sam Lubell calls for a smarter, more transparent building process in Los Angeles.
John Lautner's unbuilt plan for a nature center in Griffith Park, 1975.
Courtesy Getty Research Institute

As many of you know I’ve been putting together an exhibition opening this July at the A+D Architecture and Design Museum called Never Built: Los Angeles. The show features an abundance of visionary ideas that never had the privilege of being realized, from staggeringly ambitious buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright to city-changing subway and park plans that never saw the light of day.

The original and visually stunning ideas are immediately compelling, and will introduce viewers to a new history of LA. But the heart of the story isn’t just the amazing, frustrated talent in this city and its amazing un-built work. It’s why they weren’t built. It’s a story that LA, like so many American cities, is still telling.

As I was just discussing with a friend, it’s a miracle that any building gets built these days. The constraints of red tape, political fragmentation, neighborhood resistance, risk-averse bankers, myopic developers, environmental regulation, zoning, etc. are never-ending. If we want to work our way back to a more innovative, visionary urban environment we’ll need to fix all of those hindrances.

We need to make the building process more transparent, so that the multitude of city departments—accountable to nobody—can’t hold up any project they choose. Environmental regulations can’t be used for political or economic purposes, only for legitimate environmental issues. We need the building system to rally around good ideas, not act as a blockade to them. Financing needs to catch up with the times, supporting innovation, not just pro forma spread sheets.

Of course, I’m not promoting building any way, anywhere, without regulations. I just want to make the process easier and smarter. I want to make sure LA and other major metropolises in this country and throughout the world live up to their true potential instead of falling far short of it.

In the coming months leading up to the exhibition AN West will be looking into the issues that keep good projects never built, and asking architects, developers, and planners to weigh in on how this can be fixed. (The Protest in the next issue, for instance, is coming from a small developer.) I encourage your input as well, on AN’s web site, on social media, and in emails and letters. And I’m encouraged that there will be yet another chance for Mayoral candidates to weigh in, with the LA mayoral forums in mid April, sponsored by AIA/LA and AN. Let’s make sure that the next crop of visionary projects get built, and that our cities once again become laboratories for innovation.

Sam Lubell