Search results for "michael lehrer"
In a city with a reputation for exporting its design talent to distant cities, Los Angeles native Michael Lehrer, with his firm Lehrer Architects, is one of a handful of homegrown architects whose distinct style is visible all over Southern California. Asked to explain how his firm has produced so many highly visible public projects in the region, Lehrer credits “working hard like a dog for several decades.”
A key question of his firm’s work, according to Lehrer: “How do you leverage every project into a larger cultural idea?” The firm’s recent string of public projects have answered that question by expanding the impact of small but deeply valued corners of the city beyond traditional or jurisdictional boundaries, no matter how modest the budget.
Also visible in all of Lehrer Architect’s public projects is a Southern Californian ethos of light, color, and opening buildings to the outdoors. “Making things that bring joy is serious and profound,” said Lehrer of his connection to the Southern California design tradition. “That’s the gift of Los Angeles.”
When AN visited the Lehrer Architects studio in Silver Lake, the building’s large sliding doors were wide open, allowing cool breezes and the sounds of playing children to drift inside. The studio’s walls displayed the work of an artist in residence and the collected sketches of a monthly figure drawing class. “The ability to offer a place of one’s making is a delicious thing,” said Lehrer of the studio’s role in the community as a cultural and artistic center.
Potrero Heights Park Community and Senior Services Center
To add a building to a park without subsequently destroying the park, Lehrer Architects located this new community center on the street, doubling the building’s role as a gateway and a flexible pavilion space. Blending indoor and outdoor spaces, the building opens on all sides and uses curtains to allow flexible interior reprogramming. Vibrant colors and seating built into the building are popular in the community. “80 percent of urban design is the narrative you give to a place,” said Lehrer. “I’m interested in making that story palpable.”
Los Angeles, California
The trick of the Reseda Pool project is to transform fencing into iconic community architecture. Built for the Bureau of Engineering in the city of Los Angeles, requirements for parking and fencing further constrained a modest $3 million budget. To achieve visual impact, the firm designed 30-foot-tall towers and hung art by Jane Tsong on their dense chain link and vinyl surfaces. Lighting the towers at night creates a beacon in the community. “The challenge for the designer is to make something memorable, special, iconic, and celebratory,” said Lehrer Since the pool’s completion, the city of Los Angeles’ Bureau of Engineering has hired Lehrer to restore and renovate Central Pool in South Los Angeles.
Spring Street Park
Los Angeles, California
Since Spring Street Park opened in the summer of 2013 it has been a welcome gift to the exploding Downtown Los Angeles residential scene. Designed in a collaboration between Lehrer Architects and the city of Los Angeles’ Bureau of Engineering, the park contains a lot in its .7 acres. Its nooks and open spaces are designed to accommodate groups ranging in size from one to more than a hundred, while walking paths, children’s play equipment, and custom-designed seating provide many ways to enjoy the space.
Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden
UCLA Campus, Los Angeles, California
With this multi-phased project, which includes a new visitor’s center, a re-orientation of the site, and new landscaping, the firm worked to integrate the garden into the campus and to invite the public into the garden. In so doing, the project extends the west edge of the garden beyond Tiverton Drive, making the street a promenade to bring visitors in and out. “Our gift is finding beauty where others don’t,” said Lehrer.
Santa Monica Canyon, a tranquil neighborhood embedded into the hills just inland from the Pacific Coast, is blessed with thick woods, gurgling creeks, and cooling ocean breezes. It’s truly one of the great refuges from LA’s urban frenzy. So it makes no sense that many of the million-dollar houses there seem to turn their back on it.
Michael Lehrer’s Canyon Residence doesn’t. Yes, it’s still a 13,000-square-foot mansion—this is no rustic bungalow. But despite its gem-like finishes and ample spaces, you often forget that. In much of the residence, the distinction between inside and outside doesn’t exist. Many of its walls disappear and the scene outside engulfs every room.
The home, clad in pristine white plaster, is organized along two main spines, which are marked by transparent glazed catwalks that provide full site lines down their length. Along those spines the house is arranged as a series of cube-shaped pavilions in the landscape, making their way around four large trees. Lehrer solved a geometric puzzle in their staggered layout, exposing as much surface area as possible. (He calls the spatial rigor “deep order.”) And within that organization, layered clerestories, skylights, bridges, and window walls provide more peeks of light and scenery.
After you walk into the house you come upon the pavilions that are the most open to the landscape—a sloping amalgamation containing modern sculptures, ancient trees, a brook, emerald-green grass, thick brush, and a working produce and flower garden. The living room’s walls disappear completely on two sides, creating an outdoor room; the breakfast room’s walls slide away on alternating sides to allow cross breezes; and the dining room’s walls are made of pivoting glass doors that open up in theatrical fashion to the yard.
The next pavilion is basically the living center. Its centerpiece is the “great room,” a 40-foot-wide space containing both the open kitchen and a family room. It’s where most of the action happens, and you can see into most corners of the house from here, thanks to its large openings, which often start above existing timber and plaster-clad walls.
The final pavilion, clad in translucent glass and focused around an industrial courtyard, is the owner’s sculpture studio. His interest in materials, and stone in particular, extends to the house. He’s picked out onyx and other gem-like stones that adorn, among other things, the bathroom and bedroom furniture and fixtures. The whole place feels like a sculpture.
Also bucking its size and luxury, the house is net zero, thanks to roofs covered with photovoltaic panels, no air-conditioning, hydronic heating, cross ventilation, and little need for lights during the day. While this is a luxurious house, Lehrer calls it his laboratory for ideas. “You have no excuses with an opportunity like this,” he said.
But the organization’s goals—limited high-density development and the preservation of spread-out, low-density neighborhoods—also happen to align with the growing voices of so-called Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) groups. The suburban-minded citizenry supporting the NIMBY movement aim to use political and legislative maneuvers to maintain sparse, auto-dependent neighborhoods, propping up property values and physically manifesting social stratification in the process. The Los Angeles region’s capacity for high-density housing has been slowly hemmed in by these groups over the decades, resulting in the current and ongoing housing crisis. Estimates indicate that the L.A. region would need to build more than a quarter-million units today just to keep up with demand, and as of December 2015, the region’s vacancy rate for rental units stood at a meager 2.7 percent, a historic and unhealthy low. Increasingly, academics and housing and social justice activists have argued that high rents resulting from low vacancy rates actively harm local economies and the poor. This idea has gained such prominence that even President Barack Obama has voiced his position. In the recently-released Housing Development Toolkit, President Obama calls for anti-NIMBY planning ideas, saying, “By modernizing their approaches to housing development regulation, states and localities can restrain unchecked housing cost growth, protect homeowners, and strengthen their economies.”
Westside Residents Left Scrambling to Know When LA City Council Will Hold Martin Cadillac Project Hearing https://t.co/ql8GSDQczP— PreserveLA (@PreserveLA) September 15, 2016
UPDATE LA City Council approves boutique hotel in Hollywood, displaces tenants & wipes out affordable housing units. https://t.co/cbu7PzDvxW — PreserveLA (@PreserveLA) June 30, 2016Amid the larger context of an intensifying regional homelessness crisis and the potential economic sluggishness resulting from high housing costs, one must ask which version of Los Angeles that the anti-development measures aim to preserve. One of the group’s central policy planks is the abolition of so-called “spot zoning” decisions, the types of lot-by-lot concessions working within contemporary Los Angeles’s outdated zoning code demands. Because Los Angeles’s zoning ordinances and current General Plan have not been updated since the 1990s, many of the large-scale projects delivering housing infrastructure to the region—luxury, affordable, and supportive alike—require “spot” modifications to the code in order to allow for the higher density and height associated with their development. CPLA, in a press release, accuses the City Council, where “campaign cash, gifts, and donations” are exchanged openly, of being too cozy with these developers, saying that benefactor developers “are allowed to destroy community character and max out local streets and water mains” through their use of these spot zoning measures. Because the Los Angeles City Council has the power to approve and make demands of development projects that need spot zoning variances, the opportunity for crooked politics is certainly rife, but many across the region are asking if an outright moratorium on spot zoning isn’t too drastic of a response given the current conditions. And because high-density housing development is already relatively limited to certain pockets and enough housing has not been built overall, the region is also contending with a parallel gentrification and displacement crisis. The initiative is seen by the development community as a project-killer and in pro-housing circles as a threat to working class neighborhoods. Housing advocates argue that a halt in construction would further limit the development of affordable units in tow with the luxury projects the initiative seeks to curb, and push wealthier professionals into working class neighborhoods, displacing residents further down the economic ladder.
What Happens When Opponents of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative Panic?https://t.co/DzvDiNAbdp pic.twitter.com/GeaWlai0v5 — PreserveLA (@PreserveLA) August 16, 2016Michael Lehrer, principal at Lehrer Architects in Los Angeles, told The Architect's Newspaper (AN) via email, "The insidious effect of the new initiative will be a trickle down lack-of-housing. There will be less and less affordable housing, so that cheaper housing will be filled by people of more means. More people of lesser means will then become homeless." NII backers, though, have successfully peddled fear and suspicion through their campaign, bringing together an unholy alliance of Hollywood celebrities, anti-gentrification and working class advocacy groups, and wealthy landowners, blaming the skyline-changing projects for altering a perceived sense of “neighborhood character” and decrying the city’s “rigged development system.” These groups ignore the fact that the largest impediment to the city’s affordability lies not with luxury towers, but with an overabundance of single family homes and low-density zoning. If Los Angeles is to get more affordable, it must densify—not continue to spread out into the desert. Lehrer went on to say that restricting development as the NII proposes to do "radically restricts housing development. Legitimate concerns about lesser quality development must be answered with higher collective, legislative, and political leadership for design excellence and thoughtful urbanism and architecture that cherishes streets and quality pedestrian experience. That’s what we must always focus on and demand." In Santa Monica, the proposed Measure LV is on the Nobember 2016 ballot and would dole out even more draconian measures by requiring every building built taller than 32 feet in height to be put to a public vote. Regarding how anti-development initiatives like Measure LV would impact the ability of local architects to produce innovative architectural solutions that work toward alleviating the housing crisis, Julie Eizenberg and Hank Koning of Santa Monica—based Koning Eizenberg Architects told AN, “Requiring a public vote on buildings over 32-feet will inhibit any creative solutions in the development of multi-unit housing. Project budgets will stay the same, but the money currently spent on inventive solutions and creative design will instead be spent campaigning for a public vote. It’s a shame people are so afraid.” The Santa Monica ordinance would also upturn decades of civic progress for the beachside municipality that has a long tradition of mixed use development and pedestrian life. Worse still, the recently-opened Expo Line extension to the city from Downtown Los Angeles has reinvigorated the city’s potential for transit-oriented development; Measure LV would decapitate that energy with generational consequences. Koning and Eizenberg take issue with the relatively-low height threshold imposed by the measure, saying, “Under the current code, the maximum height that can be built by-right on most boulevards in Santa Monica is already 32-feet. Anything over that, up to a cap of 55-feet, goes through the Development Review Process that involves extensive public hearings. In most cases, we’re only arguing about 23-feet—but those feet make all the difference in terms of efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and housing creation." The Los Angeles chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIALA) also recently came out against Measure LV, saying in a press release, “Measure LV ... is extreme, costly, and would result in devastating consequences ranging from haphazard planning, increased housing costs and decreased supply of affordable housing.” AIALA argues that the measure would undermine the city's Land Use and Circulation Element, a planning instrument already developed for Santa Monica via a “20-year-long democratic process.” The organization points out that Measure LV would hinder the development of housing units, overall, undercut the orderly planning approaches already in place through unpredictable voter approvals, lacks exemptions for public buildings like firehouses, and could also potentially limit the effectiveness of the city’s Architectural Review Board. L.A's measure, among several development-related initiatives that have gained traction this election year, will have to wait until the presidential election is over to have its test before voters.
To Live and House in L.A.
Mayor Eric Garcetti aims to dedicate $138 million in funding to combat homelessness in L.A.
Estimates for 2015 released by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority put Los Angeles County’s homeless population at 44,359 individuals, with 17,687 of the 25,686 homeless residents of the City of Los Angeles being completely unsheltered. On April 20, in what is being referred to as a call to arms across the city, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that he had appropriated $138 million in funding aimed at addressing some of the needs of this vulnerable and marginalized population. A portion of the new funds—$86 million—is earmarked for the development of permanent affordable housing.
Though the sum is vast, there are serious concerns regarding the viability of the proposal’s funding sources. Garcetti’s budget calls for the majority of the funds to be raised from linkage fees paid by developers, a set of fees that are not currently collected by the city. Should the L.A. City Council approve the mayor’s budget, it will have to instate new linkage fees as well. Simultaneously, homeless-relief advocates consider the $138 million sum a pittance of what is needed to seriously address the area’s entrenched homelessness issues, with many calling for a November ballot initiative to establish a permanent fund for the cause. Additionally in this election year, homelessness is being seen more widely as a phenomenon directly related to what some see as a rise in income inequality and endemic wage stagnation.
Amid this context, the impact of this new funding for affordable and supportive housing could be vast. The City of L.A. is planning to use the sale or redevelopment of several surplus properties it holds to fund some of the construction of new affordable housing. L.A.’s Skid Row Housing Trust (SRHT), a nonprofit established in 1989 to build permanent affordable housing for low-income Angelenos, will likely be one of the organizations to lead the efforts in increasing the city’s affordable-housing stock. And, with recently completed projects by high-caliber area firms like Michael Maltzan Architecture, Brooks + Scarpa Architects, and Killefer Flammang Architects, SRHT is poised to lead the campaign to win the hearts, minds, and pockets of the city’s many powerful, moneyed interests resistant to homeless housing in their neighborhoods. Regarding the recently completed Brooks + Scarpa SIX project, SRHT CEO Mike Alvidrez remarked, “We’ve tried to showcase the architect’s talents. Good design is an integral part of all the work that we do.” He went on to say, “The city, county, and state have always made dollars available for affordable housing, but at too small a scale. [SRHT’s projects have shown that] high-quality affordable housing can be attractive and be seen as a valuable aesthetic contribution to the communities in which they are developed. Hopefully [good design] will assuage some of the concerns people have; there’s no reason well-designed buildings and housing for homeless people across L.A. can’t coexist.”
After AN contributor Peter Zellner wrote a blistering critique of L.A.’s response to the homelessness crisis, the city’s American Institute of Architects chapter got involved by convening a congress aimed at bringing together designers, affordable-housing leaders, and politicians around homelessness issues. Adding to his critique, Zellner said, “Architects and designers have to become more involved politically in order to raise awareness. It would be incumbent upon architects to think of forms of urbanism that integrate approaches for housing the homeless and articulate a viable alternate vision [for L.A.’s future] that is dense, vertical, and integrated. [We can] lead through design.”
The congress, called Design for Dignity, took place on May 6 and featured panel discussions and lectures from advocates working across the city, from the streets of Skid Row to the corridors of City Hall. Regarding the role design can play in addressing the homelessness crisis, congress participant, architect, and homeless-relief advocate Michael Lehrer said, “We have to create places that are nurturing and safe—that’s important. It’s also critical the response provides a range of types of inhabitation. Some of these informal communities are old and have deep social structures: How do you provide a wholesome existence and place and still provide space for individuals who are not fully interested in being a part of the social armature?”
With the state of California recently announcing a $2 billion plan to fund affordable housing for mentally ill citizens living on the streets statewide and the county of Los Angeles soon to put forth a plan of its own, one wonders if these efforts might finally begin to reverse the fortunes of tens of thousands of Los Angeles’s residents.
Design For Dignity
AIA|LA asks “How will design professions respond to the nearly 47,000 homeless people living in L.A. County?”
Urban Design Honor Award Winners:Santa Fe Railyard Park and Plaza, Frederic SCHWARTZ Architects with Ken Smith Landscape Architect Santa Fe, NM Master Plan for the Central Delaware, Cooper, Robertson & Partners and Kieran Timberlake with OLIN Partnership Philadelphia, PA
Urban Design Merit Award Winners:Water Proving Grounds: Rising Currents, LTL Architects New York, NY Holding Pattern, Interboro Partners Queens, NY Click on a thumbnail to launch the slideshow. All photos courtesy respective firms unless noted otherwise.
While Pershing Square, a hardscaped wasteland populated by painfully dated public art, seems to be a lost cause, a small but promising public park is well underway in the middle of Downtown Los Angeles, setting up what many see as a tipping point for a growing residential community.
Construction of the 0.7-acre lot that will become the Spring Street Park has been underway since October in Downtown’s Historic Core, a neighborhood full of Beaux Arts and art deco buildings that has become the city’s unofficial residential center. “This park will announce the maturity of the re-population of this area,” said Deborah Weintraub, chief engineer of LA’s Bureau of Engineering (BoE), which is leading the project.
Downtown added 15,000 residents between 2000 and 2010, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, all while bereft of a functional public park. In 2009, the city made a surprise decision to purchase the site using $5.1 million in Quimby funds (money set aside by local residents and developers for public improvements) from Council District 9. Enter Spring Street Park, designed by BoE and LA-based design firm Lehrer Architects LA.
At the northern end of the site, a grassy ellipse is oriented askew to Spring Street, while to the south a plaza with permeable pavement anchors the L-shaped parcel. Benches and walls are strategically placed among the park’s overlapping, curved surfaces, creating zones that will allow visitors to “be a part of a large public space while still having a private and intimate experience,” according to Michael Lehrer, founder and principal of Lehrer Architects LA.
Encouraging users to move between private and public realms, stands of bamboo and subtle fences blur the boundaries between the park, surrounding residential buildings, and the street. Meanwhile a long, diagonal walkway bisects the park, connecting Spring Street on one side and an alley leading to Main Street on the other.
The park will be managed by a partnership between the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks and a group of local residents called the Friends of the Old Bank District Gardens. The project is expected to open in fall of 2013.
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“Jada Beyer at Sierra Woods was fantastic. We met him on the Creekside House, where he fabricated an integral cedar slat and glass wall. When we were having trouble finding someone to produce acoustic ceiling panels, he was able to knock those out, too. We then used him again for the window system at the Lake Tahoe residence we did.”
Bohlin Cywinski Jackson
“When it comes to specialized glazing conditions, we have found that Giroux has tremendous skill with in-house design and construction.”
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ARCHITECTS FOR OBAMA
Frank Gehry, Thom Mayne, and Sharon Johnston were among those scheduled to join Hillary Clinton at “Angelenos Go Green for Obama,” a $500-ticket carbon-neutral fundraiser at steampunk wonderland The Edison on October 4. But Gehry actually gave an even bigger chunk of change to Barack Obama over a year ago, bolstered by additional contributions from his wife Berta. In fact, when it comes to (mostly blue) support from California architects, Gwynne Pugh, Kevin Daly, Barbara Bestor, Frank Escher, Steven Kanner, Rob Quigley, Olivier Touraine, and Anne Fougeron to name a few, are all in the tank with Obama. However, across the board it’s not a resounding “O”: Craig Hartman gave his big bucks to Hillary Clinton, as did Michael Lehrer and Brenda Levin, while Leo Marmol and Ron Radziner both donated to John Edwards’ campaign last year.
TROUBLE ON THE HOME FRONT?
We recently got our grubby hands on a mockup of the new magazine Homefront LA, planning a January debut. It promises to go “beyond architecture, home design and real estate to feature people who have a passion for the everyday luxury of home” in the midst of a mortgage crisis. Homefront LA is the baby of the young JD McRae, who touts himself as a “third generation publisher whose family owns about 45 other publications,” thanks to his grandfather George Sample, a journalist and newspaper owner who died in June of this year. But staff shuffles and logistical issues have already plagued the start-up. Once named on the website as editor-in-chief, former House Beautiful EIC Mark Mayfield balked at the move to LA and opted to stay in New York instead with an editor-at-large title, so the mag tapped Michael Cannell for the top gig. Although Cannell recently left his online editorial director role at Dwell, we hear he, too is going to stay in NY, commuting every few weeks to the Beverly Hilton. We guess writing about “the unique, exciting lifestyle of Angelenos at home” doesn’t require you to be one. At least one of the mostly NY-transplants, executive editor Deborah Schoeneman, lives here, and is best known around town for her salacious gossip industry novel, 4% Famous—sigh, a woman after our own heart!
Things are rough everywhere, so we hear. Not the best time to be putting Craig Ellwood’s famous Daphne House in Hillsborough, California on the market for the first time since it was completed in 1961. The San Mateo county steel-beam and glass construction features a 3,700-square-foot open plan around a central courtyard pool for a cool $3.7 million. Yet, according to realtor Jim Arbeed, a sale is pending … Speaking of San Francisco sales, we have it on good faith that local firm SMWM is about to be acquired. The rumored suitor? Drumroll, please: Perkins+Will.
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