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Only the Bestor

Bestor Architecture and Jamie Bush + Co. bring an unfinished Lautner into the 21st century
In 2013, Bestor Architecture, interior designer Jamie Bush + Co., and landscape architects Studio-MLA were tapped to restore and complete the Silvertop Residence, a domed, cave-like home designed by John Lautner in 1956 for industrialist-inventor Kenneth Reiner. “Big chunks of the house weren’t finished,” Barbara Bestor of Bestor Architecture explained as she described the ad hoc kitchen and bathroom spaces she initially found in the home. “But we tried to bring a 21st-century idea of what progressive architecture might be in this context.” The Los Angeles home represents Lautner’s own attempts to create a progressive architectural vision for domestic life and includes his first spanning concrete shell structure as well as movable glass walls and interior finishes that can conveniently snap off for maintenance and replacement. Within a T-shaped composition of intersecting semicircles in plan, the home is divided into sleeping, kitchen, and living zones that frame opposing outdoor spaces, including a pool patio and a tree-filled courtyard. Bestor explained that Lautner and Reiner had infused the home with a spirit of material inventiveness that included Portuguese cork ceiling tiles, thin-shell concrete finishes, and other factory-produced elements. It was an ethos that Bestor sought to channel, but rather than imposing a new order on the home, her restoration is instead geared toward reviving and perfecting many of Lautner’s original ideas. For example, the architect replaced rudimentary mechanical systems for a movable window wall with a state-of-the-art motorized pulley concealed by scalloped concrete edging and an upturned swoop of terrazzo flooring. She also perfected the home’s master bathroom through the addition of a fully retractable 20-ton glass partition that disappears into the floor. Coupled with a disappearing skylight system, the shower is now a completely outdoor experience that is more true to the original intent for the space than 1950s-era technology allowed. Bestor’s hand also worked silently below the floors and within the walls of the house, where transformative HVAC, digital, lighting, and sound systems were added. In the master bedroom, an original moonroof above the bed has been redesigned to completely disappear. Fully concealed by dummy ceiling panels when closed, the opening is one of several precisely designed and exactly located operable windows around the house. The home’s kitchen received some of the most dramatic transformations of the project. Tucked into a low block between the entry and the space-age living room, the new kitchen is wrapped in vertical bands of thin cypress slats and is lit from above by square-shaped skylights. Glimmering stainless appliances designed by Jamie Bush fill out the space, while overhead, restored and original pieces of cork ceiling intermingle and conceal technological equipment. The stealthy and informed approach, according to Bestor, allowed her team to “think aloud through forms and ideas” in a way that mirrored Lautner’s original work while still remaining respectful to those designs. Today, the home lives on as it was always meant to: completed, occupied, and at least for now, technologically up-to-date.
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In Memoriam

Lithuanian-born environmental artist and designer Aleksandra Kasuba passes
Aleksandra Kasuba, a Lithuanian-born environmental artist and designer responsible for numerous public art commissions in the 1970s and 1980s as well as pioneering environments made of tensile fabrics, died on March 5 in New Mexico. Kasuba originally intended to be an architect, but with the University of Kaunas closed by the occupying Nazi regime, she enrolled in art school until that too was shuttered. Fleeing with her art teacher and future husband, sculptor Vytautas Kašuba, she wound up in a Displaced Persons’ Camp in Germany until they were allowed to emigrate to the United States in 1947. Possessed with a restless curiosity, Kasuba sought out every opportunity to learn more about visual art, attending the famous Four O’clock Forums held by Louise Nevelson while developing a practice in mosaic and tile to supplement her husband’s income. At a show of hers in the Waddell Gallery in 1965, Edward Larrabee Barnes approached her and asked if she would work in brick. Seizing the opportunity, she deduced how to represent the invisible forces of structure in brick wall relief and launched a successful line of large-scale works, such as the wall at Barnes’s 1971 Dining Hall at Rochester Institute of Technology, a brick relief at 560 Lexington Avenue for the Eggers Group, and a wall at 7 World Trade Center which was destroyed in the 9/11 attacks. At the same time, Kasuba continued her experimentation with materials, shaping light and shadow with lucite for the seminal Experiments in Art and Technology exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 1968 and the Art and Technology program at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. A breakthrough came when she found she could make tensile structures out of synthetic fabrics. Just as she sought to represent the structural forces in her brick walls, she made visible the forces flowing through the fabric. Among her noted achievements with fabric were her 1971 Live-In Environment, in which she erased any traces of 90-degree angles in a floor of her West 90th Street townhouse, creating a space for contemplation and creativity. In 1973, she was commissioned by the Carborundum Museum of Ceramics in Niagara Falls to build an environment for the display of ceramics. In 1975, she realized The Spectral Passage at the De Young Museum in San Francisco, composed of seven structures, relating form to color. Inspired by this show, she devised Spectrum, An Afterthought, which would be revisited at the National Gallery of Art in Vilnius in 2014 (a retrospective of her will open there in 2020). Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Kasuba continued research with curvilinear walls, experimenting with how tensile membranes might be made rigid and self-supporting. After the death of her husband, she moved to New Mexico where she built a traditionally framed house in the desert together with two prototype shell structures. In these, she stretched wire between wooden frames as a base that she covered with building materials and aluminum surfacing. Kasuba was also a prolific author, producing a series of books on her life, utopian communities, and reflections on creativity. She is survived by her daughter, two grandsons, sixteen great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandson. Her archive is at the Archives of American Art in Washington, D.C.
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High Desert Test Sites

Another arts festival returns to the Southern California desert
It’s getting rather busy in California’s High Desert these days. With an ever-expanding set of art-related events, programs, and biennials taking place across the region, High Desert Test Sites (HDTS), a long-running artist showcase in the area, has announced its 2020 return. The event, titled HDTS2020 and conceived of as a “free-roving” art exposition, aims to revisit a 1972 slideshow lecture given by American land artist Robert Smithson titled Hotel Palenque via a series of new public artworks and events. The lecture, given by Smithson to his students at the University of Utah after a trip through Mexico in 1969, centers on an “eccentrically built hotel…simultaneously undergoing decay and renovation” that Smithson encountered while on his travels. Smithson considered the hotel a “de-architecturalized” space that existed both as a ruin and a site of reconstruction in keeping with the artist’s interests in fragmented landscapes and simultaneous states of being. The work, according to the Guggenheim website, was developed in tandem with a photographic series titled Yucatan Mirror Displacements (1–9) that Smithson created by photographing dispersed sites that had been augmented with the installation of 12-inch, square-shaped mirrors. For the 2020 run, HDTS has brought on guest curator Iwona Blazwick from the Whitechapel Gallery in London. The series will feature the work of eight artists, including Alice Channer, Gerald Clarke, Jr., Dineo Seshee Bopape, Erkan Özgen, Dana Sherwood, Paloma Varga Weisz, and Rachel Whiteread. Smithson will also be included in the showcase, which will focus on creating “a poetic narrative on the geometry of ruin, the entropic play of nature, and the ghosts of cultures both ancient and modern.” The artists are slated to create or place their works across the High Desert region, both in urbanized areas and within the desert landscapes. HDTS, a non-profit organization founded by artist Andrea Zittel, Los Angeles gallerist Shaun Caley Regen, and others in 2003, aims to “support immersive experiences and exchanges between artists, critical thinkers, and general audiences—challenging all to expand their definition of art to take on new areas of relevancy,” according to Zittel’s website. HDTS2020 will include a public discussion titled Desert as Situation on April 7 hosted by the Palm Springs Art Museum (PSAM) and moderated by Brooke Hodge, director of architecture and design at PSAM. The exhibition series itself runs from April 18 through May 9, 2020.
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Sky-lightness

Griffin Enright Architects’ Birch Residence tracks the sun with a jagged skylight
While curmudgeonly critics lament the return of pomo styling in architecture schools, it can be easy to forget that in Los Angeles, few architectural modes ever go fully out of style. A case in point is the Birch Residence, designed by Griffin Enright Architects (GEA), which was not specifically conceived as a deconstructivist work, but bears the movement’s expansive and explosive feel. From the street, the home’s erupting components—smooth white stucco boxes, projecting and frameless windows, and a central light well—stand out amid the surrounding suburban tract houses. Though situated on a mostly flat site, the main level, containing entertainment-focused kitchen and living areas, is elevated several steps above grade due to an underground garage. As a result, the home spreads from setback to setback, allowing for inventive uses of the tight urban lot. The home’s boxy volumes push and pull against a jagged two-story skylight that runs through the center of the building and divides its constituent parts with glass, steel, and freeform refractive panels. The slinking, canted skylight is topped with an angular shade designed to track the sun from east to west on its daily journey. A clear glass bridge bisects the light well, providing access between the two bedroom wings on the second floor. Below, splayed living spaces and a sculptural stair further accentuate the light well’s vertical orientation. According to Margaret Griffin, principal at GEA, the skylight “brings a seasonal component to the house” while also creating a promontory from which to catch views of the nearby Hollywood sign. The skylight, a tour de force of structural engineering, construction detailing, and exacting handiwork, folds down over the back facade of the house, where a single sheet of canted glass meets a polished travertine floor that spills out onto a backyard patio and reflecting pool. “We try to bring particular innovations that transform the way people live,” said Griffin, explaining the dark-colored paneling that wraps the living room ceiling as well as the main kitchen areas. “We realized that a dark ceiling makes space feel bigger than it really is, so one plane is darker to give a greater depth of space as well as a more expansive feeling to the home.”
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Always Greener on the BK Side

OMA’s first Brooklyn project is a pair of zigzagging waterfront towers
The Greenpoint Landing megaproject in Brooklyn has gained a duo of interlocking rental towers courtesy of OMA. The ten-tower mixed-use development will ultimately bring 5,500 rental units to Greenpoint. Developer Brookfield Properties, who are bringing four towers to the development, and Park Tower Group have revealed the newest additions to the site, two leaning towers joined by a seven-story base. Other than the 745 rental units across both towers, 30 percent of which will be affordable, the project will expand the waterfront esplanade around the site by 2.5 linear acres. Other than the 768,000 square feet of residential space, the podium will also add 8,600-square-feet of ground-floor retail. The two towers will, as has become fashionable across the river in Manhattan, twist, turn, and part in the middle to reveal a wider view of the cityscape to the west. While the 300-foot-tall north tower will narrow as it rises thanks to a series of setbacks-turned-terraces, the 400-foot-tall southern tower will resemble a flipped version of its neighbor thanks to a series of cantilevers. “Brookfield and Park Tower Group have been working together to connect Greenpoint with its waterfront,” said OMA partner and project lead Jason Long, “and we are thrilled to be collaborating with them on our first project in Brooklyn. We have designed two towers—a ziggurat and its inverse—carefully calibrated to one another. Defined by the space between them, they frame a new view of Greenpoint and new vista from the neighborhood to Manhattan.” Both towers will feature large windows and a facade of precast concrete carved with “slices” that alternate direction as each major section changes. The direction of the carvings are aligned with the sun’s relative position in the sky, ensuring that the light is dispersed over the building dynamically throughout the day. James Corner Field Operations will be designing the new waterfront landscape areas, while Beyer Blinder Belle will serve as the project’s executive architect. Los Angeles’s Marmol Radziner will be handling the buildings’ interiors. Construction on the project is expected to kick off in August of this year.
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A Look Inside

Unmentionables Symposium promises a fresh look at the current state of interior architecture
This spring, the Woodbury School of Architecture in Los Angeles will once again present the Unmentionables Symposiuman experimental program made up of talks and interactive performances that aims to provide a fresh look at the current state of interior architecture. Presented by Woodbury’s Department of Interior Architecture, the symposium hopes to go further than past years by providing a “forum for rarely mentioned ideas in spatial practice and theory” that also interrogates the conventional format of the symposium itself. Last presented in 2017, the biennial gathering aims to bring to light some of the conveniently ignored elements of interior architecture. The 2017 symposium showcased wide-ranging lectures on the importance of curtains in architecture, for example, as well as panel discussions centered around air and atmosphere, labor issues, and gender, among other topics. Rather than engaging in the conventional lecture- and panel discussion-focused programming for the 2019 event, symposium coordinator Maria Kobalyan explained that the organizers instead hope to embrace new discursive formats and open-ended presentations in tandem with under-sung topics. Kobalyan added, “We just don’t want people to be sitting down all day.” This year’s symposium is set to take place at WUHO Gallery in Hollywood and will feature keynote presentations by Jane Rendell, Director of Architectural Research at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, and Joel Sanders of Joel Sanders Architect. Rendell has written extensively on gendered urban spaces and on the blurred lines between art and architectural practice, among other topics, while Sanders practices architecture and has also published a book on inclusive bathroom design. Other speakers include Los Angeles architect Lauren Amador; Los Angeles-, Richmond-, and London-based Peter Culley of Spatial Affairs Bureau; and Deborah Schneiderman of DeSc: Architecture and Pratt University.

The full list of speakers:

  • Lauren Amador, Principal, Amador Architecture
  • Amy Campos, Associate Professor and Chair of Interior Design, California College of the Arts
  • Annie Coggan, Adjunct Associate Professor of Interior Design, Pratt Institute
  • Matthew Gillis, Principal, G!LL!S; Adjunct Professor of Architecture and Interior Architecture, Woodbury University
  • Parsa Rezaee, MArch 1 Candidate, Woodbury University
  • Jennifer Meakins, Adjunct Faculty Adjunct Professor of Interior Architecture, Woodbury University, California Polytechnic State University Pomona
  • Emily Pellicano, Assistant Professor, Marywood University School of Architecture
  • Bryony Roberts, Founder, Bryony Roberts Studio; Assistant Professor, Columbia GSAPP
  • Cathrine Veikos, Professor of Architecture, California College of the Arts
  • Deborah Schneiderman, Principal/Founder, deSc, Professor of Interior Design, Pratt Institute
  • Igor Siddiqui, Associate Professor and Program Director of Interior Design, The University of Texas at Austin
  • Rossen Ventzislavov, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Woodbury University
The symposium is set to take place on April 6. See the Unmentionables Symposium website for more information.
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Don’t Park Here

San Diego eliminates parking requirements for transit-adjacent projects
In California, when it rains, it pours. At least, that seems to be the case when it comes to the flood of parking reforms taking place across the state. The most recent example comes from San Diego, where this week, the city council passed a new parking reform package that eliminated parking requirements for sites located within 1/2-mile of a transit stop. The effort also sets new parking maximum—instead of minimum—requirements in certain areas, including in the city’s downtown. There, a maximum of one parking stall will be allowed per residential unit, with the added restriction that parking must be built below ground if it is built at all. The city will now also require multi-family housing developers to provide so-called “transportation amenities” for their residents, including free transit passes, bicycle storage facilities, and on-site daycare facilities to help reduce automobile trips. In new developments that require at least one stall, the new rules will require one Americans with Disabilities Act–compliant parking stall. For buildings with no parking, no ADA-compliant stalls will be required. San Diego’s embrace of parking reform comes as Republican mayor Kevin Faulconer takes up the mantle of the insurgent “Yes In My Back Yard” (YIMBY) movement in a push to spur housing construction while meeting local climate goals. The reforms enacted in San Diego, for example, mirror some of the policies proposed in Senate Bill 827, a statewide pro-density, YIMBY-backed bill that drew controversy across the state. The efforts also mirror reforms taking place at the state level that have picked up steam under California’s new governor Gavin Newsom. San Diego, like many California cities, is mired with high housing costs and surging levels of homelessness. Though politically noxious until very recently, doing away with parking near transit has come to be seen as an entry-level reform for spurring housing construction because aside from fueling automobile-dependant lifestyles, parking is, simply put, expensive to build. A city report estimates that each parking stall adds between $40,000 and $90,000 to the cost of each residential unit. Those front-end costs translate to higher monthly costs for renters and buyers, costly increases for a state where many residents spend the majority of their incomes on housing and transportation. Further, from a design perspective, required parking imposes many limitations. Before the new ordinance, for example, parking requirements were tied to the number of bedrooms in each unit, meaning that larger residential units, the two- and three-bedroom configurations that are best suited for families, could require up to three or four parking stalls per residence. The requirements are particularly onerous for small- and medium-scale developments on tight urban lots, where required driveways, exacting stall dimensions, and other car-related required elements fundamentally shape not just building design but often, the number of housing units that can be built overall. Cities across the state are becoming wise to the high cost of free parking, however. San Francisco and Sacramento are pursuing their own city-led efforts to curtail parking requirements while Los Angeles’s Transit-Oriented Communities program has successfully sought to induce developers to build affordable housing in lieu of car stalls.
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46th Pritzker Prize Winner

Japanese architect Arata Isozaki named the 2019 Pritzker laureate
Japanese architect, planner, and theorist Arata Isozaki has been awarded the 2019 Pritzker Architecture Prize. Isozaki, born in 1931, was deeply influenced by the aftermath of World War II and the destruction of his hometown of Ōita, after which he became fascinated by the temporal nature of the built environment. “When I was old enough to begin an understanding of the world,” writes Isozaki, “my hometown was burned down. Across the shore, the Atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, so I grew up on ground zero. It was in complete ruins, and there was no architecture, no buildings and not even a city. Only barracks and shelters surrounded me. So, my first experience of architecture was the void of architecture, and I began to consider how people might rebuild their homes and cities.” After founding his own practice in the 1960s, Isozaki left Japan to cultivate a broader knowledge of world architecture. In his sixty years of practice, Isozaki has continued to build in a manner known more for its programmatic solutions and contextual nature than solid adherence to a single style or typology. From the Ōita Prefectural Library built in 1966, a stalwart example of Japanese Brutalism, to the 1986 Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, Isozaki has never shied away from tailoring his approach to specific projects. Following the reconstruction period after World War II, Isozaki made his name as one of the few Japanese architects to build abroad beginning in the 1980s and in doing so, exported a truly international style to the West. “Isozaki is a pioneer in understanding that the need for architecture is both global and local—that those two forces are part of a single challenge,” wrote Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Jury Chair in a statement. “For many years, he has been trying to make certain that areas of the world that have long traditions in architecture are not limited to that tradition, but help spread those traditions while simultaneously learning from the rest of the world.” The jury’s citation notes Isozaki’s importance in facilitating a global dialogue on design. “Clearly, he is one of the most influential figures in contemporary world architecture on a constant search, not afraid to change and try new ideas. His architecture rests on profound understanding, not only of architecture but also of philosophy, history, theory, and culture. He has brought together East and West, not through mimicry or as a collage, but through the forging of new paths. He has set an example of generosity as he supports other architects and encourages them in competitions or through collaborative works." Isozaki is the eighth Japanese architect to be awarded the prize. The 2019 awards ceremony will be held sometime in May at the Château de Versailles, which will be followed by a lecture in Paris.
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Another One

Cracked glass discovered at Salesforce Tower in San Francisco
A pair of cracked windows have been discovered at San Francisco’s Salesforce Tower. It's another stroke of bad luck for the city's newest architectural marvels. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that local Department of Building Inspection officials confirmed the presence of cracked window panes in the 61-story, Pelli Clarke Pelli-designed tower last week. The cracks were discovered along the inner panes of a dual-glazed, south-facing window on the 12th floor and a similar east-facing window on the 14th floor of the tower. A spokesperson for the building’s owner told CBS in San Francisco that because the cracks are located on the inside of the window assembly, the damage poses no danger of falling glass. The cause for the cracks has not been discovered, but plans are underway to replace the affected windows in the coming weeks. The Salesforce Tower opened in January 2018 and is currently San Francisco’s tallest building. At 1,070 feet in height, the building is considered the second tallest structure in the western United States behind Los Angeles’s Wilshire Grand tower. The discovery of cracked windows at Salesforce comes months after broken window panes were discovered in the Handel Architects-designed Millennium Tower just one block over. The 58-story tower has settled over 18 inches on one side and is also leaning by 14 inches, according to recent reports. The settling is believed to have caused the cracked windows discovered last year at the tower. Plans for a $100 million fix to stop the sinking are currently under development. Those efforts include drilling up to 300 new micro-piles through the building's foundation and into the bedrock below in an effort to stabilize the tower. The tower opened in 2009 and cost about $350 million to build. Another new San Francisco project, the Transbay Transit Center, located at the base of the Salesforce Tower, remains closed nearly six months after a pair of cracked structural beams were discovered in that building. A permanent fix for the damaged beams is currently underway, though a reopening date for the transit center has yet to be announced. Officials with the Transbay Joint Powers Authority blame manufacturing defects for the damaged beams. These troubles come as news of the city’s precarious subsoils and the potential earthquake risk for certain high-rise towers are brought to light as well.
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MALLrats

Jennifer Bonner’s MALL isn’t afraid to break out of the box
MALL stands for Mass Architectural Loopty Loops or Miniature Angles & Little Lines, among other variations. Just like its ever-changing moniker, MALL’s work is constantly shifting. Founded by Jennifer Bonner in 2009, the Boston-based studio develops collections of projects that iteratively build from one to the next. As a graduate of Auburn University’s Rural Studio and Harvard Graduate School of Design—where she currently serves as faculty—Bonner channels her love of the American South and uses her teaching to experiment with new typologies and invent new modes of architectural representation. Her colorful, out-of-the-box approach to design is just one of many reasons why she is named one of AN Interior’s top 50 interior architects. AN associate editor Sydney Franklin spoke with Bonner about stepping away from tradition and what’s next for MALL. AN Interior: What would you say are the driving forces behind your aesthetic project? Jennifer Bonner: As you probably noticed from looking at my work, each of the projects are very different formally. At MALL, we begin by working on a conceptual and intellectual project first, and the formal emerges out of these considerations. I am against producing an overall “MALL aesthetic” and much more interested in many architectures. Yet within a single project, the process I’ve set up for my office is to work through many iterations around singular ideas—never discarding any, but creating a cute collection. You can see these collections in the work of Domestic Hats and Best Sandwiches. The latter is a colorful spatial experiment questioning how architecture might stack, in which we are interested in reimagining the extruded midrise office tower. AN: So these collections allow you to explore multiple new typologies? JB: Each of my larger conceptual projects has the potentiality to question paradigms, which is what I’m most interested in. Take the roof forms in Domestic Hats and Haus Gables, a single-family house opening this month made from one of the original Domestic Hats models. I believe the roof plan can be an instigator of space rather than using Le Corbusier’s free plan and Adolf Loos’s raumplan. Here I was looking to expand different roof typologies, which is a topic I dove into while teaching at Georgia Tech. AN: You’re also keen on expanding your use of unique materials, textures, and colors in your formal projects. JB: Yes, I really want to keep pushing the boundaries of materiality. I’m currently working on this through a project called Faux Brick, a distant cousin to the Glittery Faux-Facade study I developed in 2017. In preparation for this year’s Bauhaus Centennial, I’ve studied a pair of houses by Mies van der Rohe in Germany where I argue that authentic bricks are used as a fake structural strategy. In this project, we’re trying to figure out how the rendering and other representational techniques involving bad bump maps and bad meshes might create new faux-brick facades. AN: How has your experience teaching and living in different places like London, Istanbul, Los Angeles, and Boston informed your work? JB: As someone who has one foot in academia and one foot in practice, it has been exciting to absorb all of these cities into the way I imagine architecture. Having grown up in Alabama and recently living in Atlanta, I have decidedly made an effort to work on architecture in the American South. It is not by accident that my first architecture, Haus Gables, is located in Atlanta. AN: For Atlanta, Haus Gables is a really avant-garde residential design. It’s made of cross-laminated timber and features quirky exterior and interior finishes. How were you able to make it so different? JB: It’s completely self-funded without a traditional client—so my partner and I have taken on all of the risk. It was important for me that the design be as radical as possible in my first built work, and not diluted by many external factors. Radical, however, does not mean there wasn’t a fixed budget (which there certainly was). Throughout my career, I’ve worked with several clients associated with the public realm, such as institutions and galleries, but that kind of client is different from, say, a client who wants you to design a house. AN: So you want to design and develop your own projects too? JB: I wouldn’t call myself a developer just yet. But I’ve always been into what John Portman did in Atlanta in the 1960s as an architect who both developed and found financing for his projects. By doing this, he was able to produce a new typology, the super atrium, which I’m not sure he would have been able to accomplish so early in his career if he had faced typical constraints.
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Gavin Problems?

President Trump threatens to cancel California’s high-speed rail funding
Why did California Governor Gavin Newsom stir up the proverbial hornets' nest with his vague and confusing comments regarding the state’s high-speed rail (HSR) plans last week? That’s become the $920 million question many are asking themselves now as President Donald Trump has threatened to—perhaps illegally—cancel a sizable grant already allocated to the project following days of confusing debate over the future of the high-speed line. During a “state of the state” speech last week, Newsom provided unclear backing for completing the full project as approved by California voters in 2008 when they passed Proposition 1A, a ballot measure that allocated $9.95 billion in general obligation bonds for the planning and construction of an 800-mile high-speed rail system connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles. During his speech, Newsom said:
The project, as currently planned, would cost too much and take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency. Right now, there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A. I wish there were. However, we do have the capacity to complete a high-speed rail link between Merced and Bakersfield. I know that some critics will say this is a ‘train to nowhere.’ But that’s wrong and offensive. The people of the Central Valley endure the worst air pollution in America as well as some of the longest commutes. And they have suffered too many years of neglect from policymakers here in Sacramento. They deserve better.
The comments were widely interpreted as a death knell for the L.A. and San Francisco spurs of the line, a characterization the governor disputed in the aftermath of the speech. Newsom spokesperson Nathan Click, speaking to the press, offered the following clarification: “The state will continue undertaking the broader project—completing the bookend projects and finishing the environmental review for the [San Francisco] to L.A. leg—that would allow the project to continue seeking other funding streams." But by that point, the damage had been done. Speaking via Twitter, President Trump said, “California has been forced to cancel the massive bullet train project after having spent and wasted many billions of dollars,” adding, “They owe the Federal Government three and a half billion dollars. We want that money back now. Whole project is a ‘green’ disaster!" It only gets worse from there. The Los Angeles Times reported that an additional $2.5 billion in additional federal grant funding has been thrown into question as Trump Administration officials are “actively exploring every legal option” for taking the money back in light of slow progress as well as the governor’s statements. The funds are currently being put to use building the 119-mile route that Newsom has pledged to finish. The Times reported further that Ronald Batory, the chief of the Federal Railroad Administration who issued the grants to California in 2009 and 2010, penned a legal analysis of the situation to California High-Speed Rail Authority chief executive Brian Kelly stating that California “has materially failed to comply with the terms of the [grant] agreement and has failed to make reasonable progress on the project.” Batory further alleged that California had failed to deliver $100 million in matching funds for the project that were due in late 2018. Batory’s missive also referenced Newsom’s speech directly, saying that the governor has instigated a “significant retreat from the state’s initial vision and commitment.” Experts disagree whether the federal government can legally take back money that has already been allocated or spent, but that has not stopped President Trump from continuing his attacks on the state’s rail plan this week. Either way, the long-held and hard-fought vision of California high-speed rail has been thrown into doubt. The uncertain news has reverberated across the state, including in San Francisco, where the structurally damaged Salesforce Transit Center sits vacant, with an entire subterranean level laying in wait for a high-speed rail line that now might never come.
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Let’s Build

UCLA launches the country’s first intensive affordable housing development course
The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Ziman Center for Real Estate has launched a unique affordable housing development program geared toward sharing some of the most innovative approaches in the field with housing professionals. The executive course, a partnership between school administration and private donors, consists of an intensive three-week program that brings together professors in urban planning and real estate, UCLA M.Arch I graduates, and interested students to develop conceptual proposals for affordable housing projects in Los Angeles. The program—developed by Ziman Center professor of finance Stuart Gabriel, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs lecturer in urban planning Joan Ling, CityLAB UCLA director Dana Cuff, and others—takes students through the exercise of designing, permitting, and funding their projects with the goal of instilling a “curriculum-based” approach to affordable housing development, according to Ziman Center founding executive director Tim Kawahara. Most of the students in the program are working professionals who are already engaged with the world of affordable housing development in some form, Kawahara explained, but are looking to expand and enrich their current knowledge. Kawahara said that because many of the professionals working in affordable housing have fallen into the field unexpectedly or work for self-taught non-profit housing developers, there is something of a gap in terms of shared, industry-wide knowledge. That’s where the university's deep bench of housing policy- and development-focused professors is stepping in to create a formalized approach to help affordable projects come to life. “The affordable housing crisis in California has reached an untenable level,” Kawahara said. “We have been doing a lot of teaching in the affordable housing space and wanted to find a way to help address the crisis, so we said, ‘Lets do a university-based executive program that will help deliver as many affordable housing and middle income and units as possible.’” The program’s inaugural class has been a smash success. After planning for an introductory cohort of roughly two dozen students, the Ziman Center received over 140 applications for the program. The university is now looking at ways of expanding the reach of the program, either by raising additional funding to hold the course more often throughout the year or by transforming the curriculum into a syndicated learning package that can be taken up by other universities. Word of the program even reached the California State Legislature, which has asked Ziman Center to give a version of the class to interested lawmakers. Organizers hope that more projects like the Little Berkeley development by CityLAB-affiliated Kevin Daly Architects come to life as a result of the program. The award-winning eight-unit project organizes residences in a staggered arrangement on a tight urban lot in Santa Monica and uses oddly-shaped interstitual spaces to provide outdoor access for residents. With California working to allocate tens of billions of dollars in new funding for affordable, supportive, and transitional housing projects, timing for the course and its much-needed curriculum is on the organizers’ side. Across the state, efforts are being made at all levels of governance to bring new funding sources and other incentives to affordable housing developments, while many California cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, have instituted so-called linkage fees that require market-rate developers to include subsidized units in their developments. California’s new governor is working to enact a robust pro-housing agenda that aims to deliver up to 3.5 million units in less than a decade. Perhaps not unexpectedly given this momentum, Kawahara, sees affordable housing as a “growth industry” that might even have the potential to fare better than others if the economy takes a much-predicted downturn. With increasing levels of funding for these projects and political interest in the housing crisis only growing, it’s possible that a sizable percentage of the state’s new housing could come from affordable development initiatives. There’s even room to grow, because despite the prodigious growth in housing incentives and funding for certain targeted groups, “We still have a low- and middle-income housing affordability problem,” Kawahara said.