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Just Don’t

Los Angeles is at a crossroads—don’t let it become New York
Makin’ my way downtown, I zip along on my Lime® scooter through the ersatz Japanese village of Little Tokyo, past taxis, buses, and Prii, to a bustling, small-scale warehouse district on the fringe of Los Angeles’s central core. The whirlwind of scales, land uses, languages, and people is dizzying, but I finally land at my destination: Sonoratown, a lively taco spot famous for its soft tortillas, which are made with flour driven up from Sonora, Mexico, in small batches by the owner’s mom. This delirious, quasi-urban experience is one that could only happen in the messy, diverse urban fabric of Los Angeles. You are free to grab whatever pieces of the kaleidoscopic surroundings you can, and the faster you are moving, the more there is to take. Somehow, this frantic energy and free movement seem unaffected or held back by the past. The cultural critic Sean Monahan called LA the capital of the 2010s, describing it as:
...a city whose attributes anticipate collapse: flat and amorphous, rather than vertical and defined; kitsch and pop, rather than avant-garde and tech; individualistic and mass, rather than institutional and elite. You can suggest San Francisco, HQ of disruption, or New York, backdrop for protest movements (#OWS, #BLM). But both places fail to capture the spirit of the age, because they are fighting so hard to change it. They are relics of empire, unsure of themselves after a decade in which success was indistinguishable from failure… Built on celebrity, media, and lifestyle, L.A. doesn’t presume to be building the future, merely inhabiting it. It’s a pick your poison kind of place. [Go wild] at Chateau Marmont. Spend half your paycheck on inscrutable health food at Erewhon. Commute four hours so you can live in a Riverside McMansion. Drive Uber every day, write screenplays every night. Sell out, drop out, suck up, fuck up. There is no right or wrong way to do L.A.
Monahan accurately describes why Los Angeles encapsulates the present, and why it’s the most exciting place in the US right now. However, it is also important to note where the city is moving in the 2020s. With the 2028 Olympics as a finish line, Los Angeles is at a crossroads, on a path to become a different place in the next decade. But with the city already at the forefront of global media culture (The Kardashians, Moon Juice, Goop, etc.), it doesn’t need global architecture to maintain its position as a worldwide force. How it defines itself as a physical place is still up for grabs, and it should learn lessons from other hyper-globalized cities, namely New York. Tomorrow’s Los Angeles is one of layers. Moving on from its days as a bastion of mythological American modernism centered around mobility (cars), individuality (single-family homes), and triumph over nature (lawns), it will add new collectivities on to itself. These layers will arise from the constant flux of the new: Technologies and emerging social patterns meld nicely into the loose, still-codifying culture and its corresponding urban forms. It is the flickering of new, communal, car-free, publicly subsidized lifestyles against the old, car-centric, low-density, low-regulation, “libertarian” bones of the urban landscape that make it such an interesting place for urbanism today. The oft-bandied-about claim that the city is libertarian is also not entirely accurate, as California is a sea of regulation and red tape, continually votes to raise its already high taxes, and both California and Los Angeles are leading on climate action. The city is quietly building public infrastructure at a pace that vastly outpaces New York. New York’s Second Avenue Subway took somewhere between 10 and 100 years to complete three stations, and the next phase will be three stops and will be completed by 2029 at the earliest. Meanwhile Los Angeles is (optimistically) on course to build 28 new lines by 2028. This includes an airport-connection line that will allow a direct link from LAX to the city. Meanwhile, New York’s MTA is in a worsening crisis with crumbling stations and delays only getting worse, and New Jersey’s NJ Transit recently gave up on accounting for the traffic expected to reach the American Dream Mall, instead calling on private industry to complete the line, citing none other than Los Angeles’s electric rail airport connector as an example. That’s right—L.A. is leading the way in public transit. Meanwhile, Uber, a municipal car share and micro-mobility options such as scooters have already altered how people get around (many young people don’t have cars at all) and where they live, partly due to an explosion in transit-oriented development around the new metro lines. It is unclear exactly how successful, affordable, and sustainable this will be, but change is certainly underway. New transit networks both public and private, along with lower parking requirements for new construction will profoundly impact development and housing typologies in the future. But it is no secret that Los Angeles is careening toward a New York–like affordability crisis (if it isn’t there already) that goes hand-in-hand with the urban whitewash of global capital. Homelessness is at record levels and only getting worse. In response, architects are working to develop new housing typologies, from affordable prototypes and accessory dwelling units, to larger, multi-family schemes that continue to evolve with new regulations and design challenges. The L.A. River and the L.A River Greenway in the San Fernando Valley are also emerging sites of urban experimentation and reclamation/rehabilitation of greenspace. Los Angeles has a unique architectural culture and urban fabric, but red flags are emerging. First, Bjarke Ingels Group and Herzog & de Meuron, international firms that are both very popular with the New York development community, have projects downtown. Related Group (of Hudson Yards fame) has moved in and is developing a large Frank Gehry project across from Gehry’s own Disney Concert Hall. It perfectly illustrates the lower design quality of developer-led construction and echoes Related Companies’ other project, Hudson Yards: “The project is anchored by a central plaza wrapped with shopping areas and public art.” The biggest red flag might be the shortlist for the La Brea Tar Pits project. In Miracle Mile’s Museum Row, a neighborhood that already has been marred by architectural globalists—once by KPF and twice by Renzo Piano—the shortlist for the La Brea master plan is New York establishment firms WEISS/MANFREDI and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, along with Danish firm Dorte Mandrup. It is a truly odd and troubling list. All three are talented firms, but their selection signals the wind turning toward a placeless architecture where, in California terms, “there is no there there,” reflecting classic donor-class aesthetics. Don’t even get me started on what director Michael Govan and the LACMA board are doing to push through their new building. Joseph Giovannini said it best:
In a sleight of hand that still has serious consequences for LACMA and Los Angeles, Govan introduced [Peter] Zumthor, the architect who presumably could achieve this world-class building, to his Board of Trustees. There was no competition, no public review or discussion, no transparency, just a shoo-in of the architect who had arrived in Los Angeles in Govan’s back pocket. “It won’t be the seventh Renzo Piano building in the country,” Govan explained to me in an interview. “We’ll have the only Zumthor.” …Had he even made it into a normal architect selection process, the jury might have concluded that he was mismatched and dangerously underequipped for the commission.
Some Angelenos say that local architects should get their due. L.A. has been defined in many ways by outsiders such as Neutra and Schindler, but also by local legends like Thom Mayne and Frank Gehry, as well as a younger generation like Barbara Bestor, Michael Maltzan, and a host of others who can deliver top-notch design. Los Angeles doesn't need the continental, polite, same-as-everywhere architecture that plagues institutions around the world. The architecture scene has always valued experimentation and allowed younger, more avant-garde approaches and diverse practices to gain ground, outside of the institutional weight that plagues places like the East Coast. It is not “provincial”—as some claim—to want to preserve this well-established local flavor while moving forward. In fact, what would be provincial is thinking that it is necessary to look outward for world-class architecture, or that a mythical global culture needs to be imported for the city to become a world-class place. Nothing defines the periphery like the center, and nothing makes one more provincial than defining oneself against New York. Of course, outside architects can come in and add to the culture; it just takes a bit of judgment. For instance, Spanish firm SelgasCano’s bright, breezy, kit-of-parts style seems to fit with L.A.’s pop modernist aesthetic, and Arata Isozaki’s MOCA has also become an iconic part of L.A. architecture. So let L.A. be regional and different. Don’t let it succumb to the pressures of global capital and “global architecture.” Don’t let Boyle Heights—a strong Latino neighborhood under development pressure, with several buildings already being renovated—become Hudson Yards. New York City has been ruined by capital, which was weaponized to take away the grittiness of places like Times Square, a project of Ed Koch and eventually of Rudy Guiliani. Later, technocrat billionaire Michael Bloomberg finished the sanitization of the city with sloppy rezonings of Williamsburg, West Chelsea, and Long Island City most notably, which ushered in the era of bland office towers and mega mall-like sterility. Developers like President Donald Trump and Related Companies, along with their elected enablers like Bloomberg and Guiliani have shared class interests that threaten the small-scale, local and regional urban landscapes where artists, immigrants, and the working class foment culture. How can Los Angeles be a laboratory for resisting the entropic, hegemonic cancer that is global capital, the global donor class, and the donor-class aesthetic? One tactic, and to be fair, something that the Bloomberg administration got right in places like Brooklyn and Staten Island, is downzoning to preserve the character of neighborhoods. This is also tricky and can lead to NIMBYism, which L.A. has certainly had its share of recently. In a similar vein, Thom Mayne provocatively suggested clustering development on the Wilshire corridor in order to protect other areas. The Wilshire area has seen some development, but not at the scale Mayne has suggested. Additionally, serious and innovative criticism is needed. Critics must not fall into 20th-century modes of operating; they have to get out in front of these debacles rather than react to them. There are a host of critics operating in Los Angeles, and no one is better positioned to have an impact than former L.A. Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne, who is now in a unique role as the Chief Design Officer for the City of Los Angeles, a position where he is literally helping craft RFPs (request for proposals). As long as Hawthorne is able to be heard in the government and in the public and can surround himself with good people who will help guide L.A. through this crucial time, there is a real opportunity to have more and more expert opinions in the process that will avoid the disasters that haunt New York. This, along with more equitable and compensated juried design competitions, can help the people who make financial decisions make "better" aesthetic and cultural decisions. Regionalism, when connected to local ecology, provokes more interesting and nuanced design than a totalizing, global aesthetic. In terms of what resistance might look like outside of design review, Los Angeles is already taking on challenges in a unique way. In Boyle Heights, gentrifying art galleries have been pushed out by strong neighborhood coalitions demanding affordable housing and neighborhood services. Los Angeles could also adopt anti-gentrification policies such as rent control or downzoning to prevent the displacement of both residential and retail spaces. Many cities have adopted such plans, while Berlin and other cities have enacted rent freezes and other regulations on the housing market to ensure affordability. Los Angeles in many ways is the logical conclusion of the myth of the American West. Several time zones and thousands of miles in distance from New York and other global cities, it has historically been connected to global culture through mass media, not physical space. This isolation has left it to its own devices as an urban place. This doesn’t need to change as it grows into more of a global force. New forms and ways of living can be cultivated without abandoning what makes it a special place: its resistance to the forces of the outside. In the 2020s, defining a new localism would be quite an amazing achievement.
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As the Days Go By

Three distinct schemes speculate on the future of the long-forsaken L.A. River
The L.A. River is not to Los Angeles as the Seine is to Paris, nor the Thames to London. Its 51 miles of concrete were not designed to become a uniting landmark when they were first poured in 1938, but rather as a functional safeguard against an infamous flood that devastated the city in March of that year. Though it currently provides a handful of narrow parks, bike trails and opportunities for brief kayaking excursions along its winding path between its mouth in Long Beach and the flats of Canoga Park, the LA River has widely been dismissed as little more than a blight in the neighborhoods it divides in half. Only within the last few years, however, has the city funded drastic improvements to the appearance and functionality of the Mighty L.A. Revisiting the loosely organized LA River Master Plan of 1996, the city has most recently focused its attention on Taylor Yard (also known as the G2 parcel), a 42-acre parcel sitting on the river’s midway marker near Mount Washington that was once a hub for the Southern Pacific Railroad freight trains that enabled the city’s growth in the first half of the 20th century. After purchasing the land for $60 million, the city invited firms WSP and Studio MLA (Mia Lehrer + Associates) to collaborate on three separate visions (viewable here and released in June) for the abandoned site’s future as a public park, each of which is distinguished by varying levels of interaction with the river: “Island” would blend the park and the river with the addition of an artificial island (in a formal gesture reminiscent of the Ile de la Cité in Paris); “Soft Edge” would provide a large, flat park set against the river without obstructing its path; and “The Yards” would feature a radial plan with a raised circular platform at its center from which visitors can observe the river and the city from a vantage point. The unifying consideration for each of the three plans, however, is to replace the prohibitive fencing along the L.A. River with amenities which will draw visitors close to its edge. “With Taylor Yard,” Mia Lehrer expressed, “our hope is to create experiences at different scales that are very close to nature and also celebratory of the community.” Whichever plan is selected will have to incorporate a viewing platform to be completed next year by SelgasCano, the Spanish firm behind Second Home and the Serpentine Pavilion currently parked at the La Brea Tar Pits. The Taylor Yards project will be opened to the public in shifts, the last of which is expected to be completed at least ten years from now. “The objective of a phased approach is to address required remediation as funding is available,” said Michael Drennan, project manager for WSP, “while allowing more immediate public use of portions of the site, along with interim site uses for natural flora and fauna.”
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Highlighting L.A.

Los Angeles Design Festival to highlight city’s design chops this weekend
The Los Angeles Design Festival (LADF) returns to L.A. this weekend, offering up a wide-ranging slate of art- and design-focused events that aim to highlight the city’s growing design scene.  We’ve put together a few highlights for the weekend below. Though the festivities actually kicked off last night at the official opening party, things get serious today, with a bevy of installations and receptions opening to the public Friday and on through the weekend. Highlighting the day’s events will be a keynote address by Los Angeles Chief Design Officer and former Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne.  The keynote presentation will feature a discussion focused on housing in Los Angeles between Hawthorne, Barbara Bestor of Bestor Architecture, Julie Eizenberg of Koning Eizenberg Architects, and Jimenez Lai of Bureau Spectacular.  This evening, Antonio Pacheco, AN’s west editor, will be moderating a panel discussion at SPF:a Gallery titled “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the L.A. River” that will focus on whether L.A. can avoid the dreaded “High Line Effect” as it revitalizes and restores the Los Angeles River. The discussion will feature panelists Deborah Weintraub, Chief Deputy City Engineer, and Chief Architect for the City of Los Angeles; Mia Lehrer, president and founder of Studio-MLA; Helen Leung, co-executive director, LA-Más; Mark Motonaga, partner at Rios Clementi Hale Studios; and Yuval Bar-Zemer, co-founder, managing partner at Linear City Development LLC. Saturday, the INTRO/LA modern furniture exhibition opens in the Row DTLA complex in Downtown Los Angeles. The annual exhibition will highlight the work of Another Human, Block Shop, Estudio Persona, Massproductions, and Waka Waka, among many others.  Saturday will also feature a special pop-up show featuring the work of L.A.-based offices Feral Office and Spatial Affairs. The exhibition will highlight the collaborative work of Berenika Boberska (Feral Office) and Peter Culley (Spatial Affairs) who have come together for a joint project titled “New Walled Cities and Hinterlands,” an exploration of Los Angeles’s particular urban forms as they relate to clustered densities and single-family neighborhoods.   Sunday will see another panel discussion—also at SPF:a Gallery—this one led by Steven Sharp, founder and editor-in-chief of Urbanize.LA, who will preside over a conversation titled “The Tech Frontier: The Rise of 'Silicon Beach'” that will address the socio-economic implications Silicon Beach could have over the long term as moneyed tech workers settle in Los Angeles. The panel will include Marc Huffman, vice president of planning & entitlements, Brookfield Residential; Michael Manville, assistant professor of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs; Li Wen, design director and Principal at Gensler; and Russell Fortmeyer, associate principal for sustainability, ARUP. The last day of the festival will showcase a “a critical round-table discussion” called “The Morning After” covering the DOPIUM.LA [ D / M E N S / O N S ] exhibition and event at the A+D Museum taking place the night before. The discussion will feature contributions from curators, designers, and artists involved with DOPIUM.LA, as well as a conversation centered on the notion of temporality and impermanence in the production and exhibition of works of design and art, including how those efforts contribute to material reality. The afternoon will also feature a conversation between Andrew Holder and Benjamin Freyinger of the Los Angeles Design Group hosted by THIS X THAT, Hem, and Poketo. See the LADF website for more information and a full slate of calendar events.
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Awards Season

AIA|LA awards highlight diverse range of practices and projects
The American Institute of Architects Los Angeles (AIA|LA) chapter recently announced the winners of its 2017 Design Awards, which recognizes practices and projects across the region in categories celebrating overall design, status as rising talent, and quality of environmental sustainability. The three award categories—Design Award; Next L.A.; and COTE—paint a picture of the diverse and multi-faceted character of Los Angeles’s architecture scene, with winners representing a broad spectrum of practice.   Design Awards AIA|LA’s Design Awards highlighted two projects in particular with top honors: The New United States Courthouse by SOM and the Crest Apartments by Michael Maltzan Architecture (MMA). Since opening in late 2016, the new courthouse has become one of the region’s premier public buildings. The iconic cube-shaped structure utilizes a 28-foot cantilever over the ground floor areas to create an open, public plaza and garden designed by Mia Lehrer + Associates. MMA’s Crest Apartments, on the other hand, is a very different sort of project. The 64-unit affordable housing project utilizes minimal ground floor structure and exuberant plantings and paving strategies to create flexible recreation spaces that double as car parking when not in use. The project was developed with Skid Row Housing Trust to benefit veterans who have previously experienced homelessness. The following projects were awarded “merit” and “citation” designations by the AIA|LA Design Awards jury:   Merit Awards Road to Awe, Dan Brunn Architecture West Hollywood, CA Hyundai Capital Convention Hall, Gensler Seoul, South Korea Oak Pass Main House, Walker Workshop Beverly Hills, CA House Noir, Lorcan O'Herlihy Architects Malibu, CA Citation Awards Helmut Lang Flagship Store, Standard Los Angeles, CA Southern Utah Museum of Art, Brooks+Scarpa Cedar City, Utah South Los Angeles Pool Renovation, Lehrer Architects LA South Los Angeles, CA Sunset La Cienega Residences, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP + Lorcan O'Herlihy Architects West Hollywood, CA Prototype | A True Starter Home, Lehrer Architects LA South Los Angeles, CA The Salkin House, Bestor Architecture Los Angeles, CA Corner Pocket House, Edward Ogosta Architecture Manhattan Beach, CA Ayzenberg Group, Corsini Stark Architects Pasadena, CA Platform, Abramson Teiger Architects Culver City, CA Desert Palisades Guardhouse, Studio AR&D Architects Palm Springs, CA The Evelyn and Mo Ostin Music Center at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, Kevin Daly Architects Los Angeles, CA Rice University Moody Center for the Arts, Michael Maltzan Architecture Houston, TX Saddle Peak Residence, Sant Architects Topanga, CA Mar Vista House Addition and Renovation, Sharif, Lynch: Architecture Los Angeles, CA 2017 AIA|LA Design Awards jurors were Gabriela Carrillo, co-founder, Taller | Mauricio Rocha + Gabriela Carrillo; Lance Evans, associate principal and senior vice president, HKS Architects; and Neil  M. Denari, professor, Department of Architecture and Urban Design at UCLA. AIA|LA Next L.A. The AIA|LA Next L.A. awards honor yet-to-be-built projects that are in the design and planning stage.  This year’s winning project—The West Hollywood Belltower—is designed by Tom Wiscombe Architecture. The project aims to redefine the vernacular billboard as a spatial, digital installation framed by a public park. The proposal was generated as part of a design competition orchestrated by the City of West Hollywood to guide the design of future billboards. The following projects were awarded “merit” and “citation” designations by the AIA|LA Next L.A. awards jury:   Merit Award Los Angeles Residence, Baumgartner + Uriu Los Angeles, CA   Citation Award St. Georges Church, PARALX Beirut, Lebanon A4H Office Building, P-A-T-T-E-R-N-S Glendale, CA Varna Library, XTEN Architecture Varna, Bulgaria Sberbank Technopark, Eric Owen Moss Architects Moscow, Russia Silver Lake Duplex, Warren Techentin Architecture Los Angeles, CA Twin Villa, Patrick TIGHE Architecture & John V Mutlow Architects Beijing, China Second House, Freeland Buck Los Angeles, CA Jurors for AIA|LA Next L.A. awards were: Mark Foster Gage, principal, Mark Foster Gage Architects; Alvin Huang, design principal, Synthesis Design + Architecture; and Julia Koerner, Director, JK Design GmbH.   COTE Award AIA|LA’s Committee on the Environment focuses on highlighting projects that “demonstrate achievement in the implementation of sustainability features” and is awarded by a panel of experts who focus on performance, systems integration, and sustainability research. For 2017, the committee awarded four projects with top honors, including the Mesa Court Towers at University of California, Irvine designed by Mithun. The project features a LEED Platinum sustainability rating, exterior circulation, and an emphasis on day-lit spaces. Other winners in the category include: the J. Craig Venter Institute La Jolla by ZGF Architects; the New United States Courthouse by SOM; and The SIX Veterans Housing by Brooks+Scarpa.   Citation Award UCLA Hitch Suites & Commons Building, Steinberg Los Angeles, CA Kaiser Permanente, Kraemer Radiation Oncology Center, Yazdani Studio of CannonDesign Anaheim, CA The jurors for the 2017 AIA|LA COTE Awards were: Ezequiel Farca, creative director, Ezequiel Farca + Cristina Grappin; Dan Heinfeld, president, LPA; and Ben Loescher, founding principal, Loescher Meachem Architects.   Other Awards At its award ceremony last week, the organization also presented its 2017 Presidential Honoree awards, which included honors for architects Design, Bitches, builders MATT Construction, and Mike Alvidrez of the Skid Row Housing Trust, among others. Those awards include: Emerging Practice Award: Catherine Johnson, AIA; Rebecca Rudolph, AIA | Design, Bitches Design Advocate, Builder Award: Steve Matt, Affiliate AIA|LA, Co-Founder, MATT Construction; and the late Paul Matt, Co-Founder, MATT Construction Community Contribution Award: Southern California Chapter, National Organization of Minority Architects (SoCalNOMA) 25-Year Award: Grand Central Market Restoration Design Advocate, Developer Award: Mike Alvidrez, Chief Executive Officer, Skid Row Housing Trust Building Team Award: Wilshire Grand Building Team Honorary AIA|LA Award: Tibby Rothman, Marketing Strategist, AIA|LA | journalist, writer, creative Educator Award: Dr. Douglas E. Noble, FAIA, Ph.D; Discipline Head, Building Science, Director of the Master of Building Science, University of Southern California, School of Architecture Gold Medal: Lawrence Scarpa, FAIA; Design Principal, Brooks + Scarpa
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More Green, Less Concrete

New L.A. River restoration renderings revealed by Mia Lehrer, AECOM, Gruen Associates and others
A partnership between the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office, AECOM, Gruen Associates, Chee Salette, WSP,  CH2M, Mia Lehrer + Associates (MLA), and Tetra Tech has produced preliminary visioning plans for a segment of the Los Angeles River running through Downtown Los Angeles. The dramatic proposals aim to reconfigure a several-mile stretch of the concrete-lined river running from the southern tip of the Frogtown neighborhood north of Downtown to the Redondo Junction at its far southern end. Each of the seven teams was given a separate segment of the river to reconfigure and asked to take into account river-adjacent projects currently under development like BIG’s 670 Mesquit, among others. The teams were also asked to anticipate future planning approaches, including private-public partnerships and a potential extension of the Red Line subway to the Arts District. The proposals, according to a project website, are meant to focus on increasing pedestrian connectivity to the river while also “embracing bold, world-class design.” Gruen Associates, Barclay to Spring Street: Gruen Associates’ scheme seeks to reconfigure a narrow stretch of riverfront between Interstate 110 and the northern border of Chinatown by covering over an existing rail yard with a meadow and elevated public paths. WSP, Spring Street to Cesar Chavez Avenue: WSP’s proposal aims to create a series of stepped terraces that gradually meet the existing river bottom. The terraces expand as they reach the river, creating a broad, swoopy promenade. CH2M, Cesar Chavez Avenue to 1st Street: CH2M’s scheme creates a dramatic creek just south of Interstate 101 that rises up to meet the northern edge of the Arts District neighborhood. Renderings included with the proposal showcase broad bicycle and pedestrian paths as well as integrated seating and meandering trails. Chee Salette, 1st Street to 4th Street: Chee Salette’s proposal calls for a densely-packed sculpture garden sandwiched between Michael Maltzan Architecture’s (MMA) One Santa Fe complex and the L.A. River. The scheme features a river crossing that traverses the L.A. River’s bottom. Like the previous concepts, the scheme envisions placing a broad, stepped cap over the existing Metro rail yard that runs parallel to the waterway, where the Red Line extension would go.   Mia Lehrer + Associates, 4th Street to 7th Street: MLA’s proposal extends work the firm has proposed for the adjacent 670 Mesquit project—MLA is landscape architect for that project, as well—by adding a riverine forest, wetlands, and stormwater filtration pools to the eastern banks of the river. The scheme also envisions creating a connection between the forthcoming 6th Street bridge park underneath the new MMA-designed 6th Street bridge and the nearby Hollenbeck Park. AECOM, 7th Street to Olympic Boulevard: The AECOM proposal aims to utilize a network of new pedestrian bridges over the river to connect the western and eastern banks of the river around a segment of the Arts District that has seen several new development proposals in recent months, including a new SoHo House outpost and an 110-unit live/work complex by Studio One Eleven. The AECOM scheme proposes a series of elevated park islands resting on diminutive feet and focuses on improving a Department of General Services-owned lot with demonstration gardens and a new solar farm. Tetra Tech, Olympic Boulevard to 26th Street: The scheme for the final leg of the study area includes the grounds surrounding the vacant Sears, Roebuck & Company Mail Order Building, which is currently slated to be redeveloped by Izek Shomof into a mixed-use complex. The Tetra Tech scheme envisions a new bridge at East Washington Boulevard over the river as well as a series of terraced gardens along the western banks of the river as well as a covered promenade along the eastern banks. No word yet on which, if any, of these proposals will actually be built. A budget for the bridge-heavy collection of ideas has not been released. See the LA River Design Dialogue (3D) website for more information.
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Dear Mr. President,

Over 250 architects sign open letter to Donald Trump
A letter written by the grassroots coalition Architects Advocate has been signed by 276 architecture and design firms and sent to President-elect Donald Trump. The letter focuses on three specific actions addressing climate change, a clean and competitive U.S. economy using renewable energy, and standing up against special interest money in politics. “The President-elect has pledged to create jobs in urban and rural communities. We believe the best way to achieve this is to take decisive action on climate change by investing in a low-carbon US economy because it is a win-win for businesses, people, and the environment alike” said Tom Jacobs with Krueck+Sexton Architects, one of the letter signatories. “The consensus about needed action on climate change among design industry professionals is overwhelming, and the general public supports such actions with significant majorities across party lines as well. We are not being political by speaking out—we are acting in the best interest of every American, present and future, and are inviting the President-elect to join us moving forward.” The letter is copied below: President-elect Trump, As American architects, we are dedicated to creating healthy, productive, and safe communities for all. We are committed to doing so in a way that is economically viable, socially equitable, and environmentally sustainable. In these communities, families and businesses thrive. Throughout our great history we have always depended on the natural environment. It has nurtured us and has enabled vast freedom, growth, innovation, and profit. Today we are already experiencing the potentially irreversible negative impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss. American prosperity is at risk. Our children and grandchildren face the real possibility of our country and world in turmoil. Because buildings alone account for almost 40% of total U.S. energy use and 72% percent of U.S. electricity use, America’s architects are on the front line addressing climate change in a meaningful way. Action on climate change is supported across party lines by significant majorities of Americans, including the military and leaders of industry, faith, science, and education. By taking decisive action now we all can be remembered as historic and courageous actors who helped secure humanity’s future. We can turn our climate challenge into an unrivaled economic opportunity that creates desirable and healthy jobs in rural and urban communities alike. All Americans win if:
  • We invest in a clean and competitive U.S. economy that is powered by renewable energy through cost-effective and innovative solutions. This creates jobs and lowers the costs of living and doing business.
  • We stand up to the influence of special interest money in politics to create a truly level playing field. Subsidies for renewable energy technologies should be equal to the many hidden and costly subsidies that support fossil fuels and nuclear energy. Alternatively, all subsidies across all energy sources should be removed in their entirety.
  • We re-affirm America’s commitment to addressing climate change through the continued participation in the historic Paris Climate Agreement.
We invite you to join our commitment to developing healthy and prosperous communities, and to designing and building the great America that future generations deserve. Together, we can ensure our children and grandchildren will remember us with pride. Signed, 229 Architecture Firms 24 Landscape Architecture Firms 21 Design + Consulting Industry Firms 2 Organizations see following pages for all signatories Architecture Firms: agps architecture, Los Angeles CA AIM Associates, Petaluma CA Alchemy Architects, St. Paul MN Alima Silverman Architect, Santa Rosa CA AltusWorks, Chicago IL Anderson Krygier, Inc., Portland OR Angela Klein Architect, Alameda CA Ankrom Moisan Architects, Portland OR Anthony Belluschi FAIA Consulting Architect, Portland OR Antunovich Associates, Chicago IL Archimage Architects, Ltd., Chicago IL archimania, Memphis TN architect’s office, San Francisco CA Architecture Is Fun, Inc., Chicago IL architecture+, Troy NY ARExA, New York NY Bailey Edward Design, Inc., Chicago IL Bassetti Architects, Seattle WA Bauer Latoza Studio, Chicago IL beta-field, Charlottesville VA Bisbee Architecture + Design, Santa Rosa CA bKL Architecture, Chicago IL Blue Truck, Inc., San Francisco CA BNIM, Des Moines IA Booth Hansen, Chicago IL Bora Architects, Portland OR Boyer Architects LLC, Evanston IL Brewer Studio Architects, Sebastopol CA Brininstool + Lynch, Ltd., Chicago IL Brooks + Scarpa, Los Angeles CA Brubaker Design, Chicago IL Brush Architects, LLC, Chicago IL building Lab, Emeryville CA Burhani Design Architects, Chicago IL CAMESgibson, Chicago IL Caples Jefferson Architects, Long Island City NY Carlo Parente Architect, Chicago IL CaVA Architects, LLP, Philadelphia PA Charles Pipal, AIA, Riverside IL Chen & Associates, A+E, Sebastopol CA Chris Binger Architect, San Diego CA Christoper Strom Architects, St Louis Park MN Circle West Architects, Phoenix AZ Circo Architects, Inc., Riverside IL Constantine D. Vasilios & Associates Ltd, Chicago IL Cook Architectural Design Studio, Chicago IL Cordogan Clark & Associates, Chicago IL Dan Miller Architects Ltd., Chicago IL David Crabbe Architect, San Carlos CA David Fleener Architects, Chicago IL Deam + Dine, Sausalito CA Deanna Berman Design Alternatives, Chicago IL Deborah Berke Partners, New York NY Design Smak, Evanston IL Design Team, LLC, Highland Park IL Design2 LAST, Inc., Edmonds WA Dev Architects, Woodside CA Dilworth Eliot Studio, San Francisco CA Dirk Denison Architects, Chicago IL DOES Architecture, San Francisco CA Dragani Martone Studio, LLP, Philadelphia PA DRIFT-Design, Oakland CA DSGN Associates, Dallas TX Duvivier Architects, Venice CA Dwyer/Oglesbay, Minneapolis MN Eastlake Studio, Chicago IL Eckenhoff Saunders Architects, Chicago IL Ellipsis Architecture, Chicago IL emar Studio for Public Architecture, Culver City CA Environ Architecture, Inc., Long Beach CA Equinox Design, Sebastopol CA EQUINOX Design and Development, Windsor CA Eskew+Dumez+Ripple, New Orleans LA Farr Associates, Chicago IL Feldman Architecture, San Francisco CA Fiona E. O’Neill, Architect, The Sea Ranch CA Fletcher Studio, San Francisco CA Fougeron Architecture, San Francisco CA Frank Zilm & Associates, Inc., Kansas City MO GEMMILL DESIGN Architectural Studio, San Francisco CA General Architecture Collaborative, Syracuse NY Gerhard Zinserling Architects, Chicago IL Gray Organschi Architecture, New Haven CT Greater Good Studio, Chicago IL Green Building Architects, Petaluma CA Hacker Architects, Portland OR Handel Architects LLP, New York NY Harboe Architects, Chicago IL Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture, Chicago IL Heidrun Hoppe Associates, Evanston IL Heitzman Architects, Oak Park IL Herman Coliver Locus Architecture, San Francisco CA Holbert and Associates, Architects, Chicago IL HouseHaus, Chicago IL HPZS, Chicago IL husARchitecture Inc., Chicago IL Huth Architects, Newton MA Ibañez Architecture, Fort Worth TX Imai Keller Moore Architects, Watertown MA INVISION planning | architecture | interiors, Waterloo IA JAHN, LLC, Chicago IL JAMTGÅRDESIGN, San Francisco CA JDD-Architects, Chicago IL JGMA, Chicago IL Jones Design Studio, PLLC, Tulsa OK jones | haydu, San Francisco CA Jones Studio, Tempe AZ Jurassic Studio, Chicago IL Kaplan Architects, San Francisco CA Katherine Austin, AIA, Architect, Bend OR Kathleen Hallahan, Architect, San Diego CA Kathryn Quinn Architects, Ltd., Chicago IL Kipnis Architecture + Planning, Chicago IL Klara Valent Interiors, Tucson AZ Klopf Architecture, San Francisco CA Klopfer Martin Design Group, Boston MA Krueck+Sexton Architects, Chicago IL Kuklinski+Rappe Architects, Chicago IL Kupiec Architects PC, Santa Barbara CA Kuth Ranieri Architects, San Francisco CA lab practices, Syracuse NY Lake|Flato Architects, San Antonio TX Lance Jay Brown Architecture + Urban Design, New York NY Landon Bone Baker Architects Ltd., Chicago IL Latent Design, Chicago IL Lawton Stanley Architects, Chicago IL LEDDY MAYTUM STACY Architects, San Francisco CA Leers Weinzapfel Associates, Boston MA Legat Architects, Chicago IL Liv Companies, Burr Ridge IL Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects, Los Angeles CA Lucy C. Williams, Architect, St. Louis MO Lundberg Design, San Francisco CA Marble Fairbanks Architects, Brooklyn NY Marilyn Standley, Architect, Sebastopol CA Mark English Architects, San Francisco CA Marlon Blackwell Architects, Fayetteville AR MAS Studio, Chicago IL Merryman Barnes Architects, Inc., Portland OR Michael Hennessey Architecture, San Francisco CA Mitchell Garman Architects, Dallas TX Mithun, San Francisco CA Morgante Wilson Architects, Evanston IL Morse and Cleaver Architects, Sebastopol CA moss, Chicago IL MRSA Architects, Chicago IL MSR Design, Minneapolis MN MW Steele Group Inc., San Diego CA MX3 ARCHITECTS, Chicago IL NADAAA, Boston MA NEEDBASED, Santa Fe NM Nicholas Design Collaborative, Chicago IL Norman Kelley, Chicago IL Northlight Architects LLC, Chicago IL Nushu, LLC, Chicago IL OKW Architects, Inc., Chicago IL Opsis Architecture, Portland OR Page, Austin TX Pappageorge Haymes Partners, Chicago IL Patricia K. Emmons Architecture & Fine Art, Seattle WA Paul Preissner Architects, Chicago IL Paulett Taggart Architects, San Francisco CA Payette, Boston MA PLACE, Portland OR Propel Studio, Portland OR Public Design Architects, Oak Park IL RATIO Architects, Indianapolis IN (r)evolution architecture, LaGrange IL Risinger + Associates, Inc., Chicago IL River Architects, Cold Spring NY RL Dooley Architect, PLLC, Bremerton WA RNT Architects, San Diego CA Rockford Architects Inc., Rockford IL Rockwell Associates Architects, Evanston IL Ross Barney Architects, Chicago IL Rubiostudio, Chicago IL Ruland Design Group, San Diego CA Conger Architects, Chicago IL Salus Architecture Inc., Seattle WA Sam Marts Architects & Planners, Ltd., Chicago IL Sanders Pace Architecture, Knoxville TN Sarah Deeds Architect, Berkeley CA Scott / Edwards Architecture, Portland OR scrafano architects, Chicago IL Searl Lamaster Howe Architects, Chicago IL Serena Sturm Architects, Chicago IL Shands Studio, San Anselmo CA SHED Studio, Chicago IL Siegel & Strain Architects, Emeryville CA SKJN Architekten Corp., Chicago IL Smith-Miller+Hawkinson Architects, LLP, New York NY SMNG A Ltd., Chicago IL Snøhetta, New York NY Snow Kreilich Architects, Minneapolis MN SPACE Architects + Planners, Chicago IL SRG Partnership, Portland OR Stefan Helgeson Associates, LLC, Edina MN Stephen J. Wierzbowski, AIA, Chicago IL STL Architects, Chicago IL Strawn + Sierralta, Honolulu HI Strening Architects, Santa Rosa CA Studio Dwell Architects, Chicago IL Studio KDA, Berkeley CA studio M MERGE, Oakland CA Studio Ma, Phoenix AZ Studio Nigro Architecture + Design, Chicago IL Studio VK, New York NY Suski Design, Inc. Architects, Chicago IL TannerHecht Architecture, San Francisco CA TEF Design, San Francisco CA Thomas Roszak Architecture, Chicago IL Tilton, Kelly + Bell, LLC, Chicago IL Troyer Group, Mishawaka IN UrbanWorks, Ltd., Chicago IL Van Meter Williams Pollack LLP, San Francisco CA Vinci | Hamp Architects, Inc., Chicago IL Vladimir Radutny Architects, Chicago IL von Oeyen Architects, Los Angeles CA von Weise Associates, Chicago IL Walter Street ARCHITECTURE, Chicago IL Whitney Inc., Oak Brook IL Will Bruder Architects, Phoenix AZ Worn Jerabek Wiltse Architects P.C., Chicago IL Wrap Architecture, Chicago IL WRNS Studio, San Francisco CA ZGF Architects LLP, Portland OR 2 Point Perspective: Architecture + Interiors, Chicago IL 2rz Architecture, Chicago IL 34-Ten, LLC, Chicago IL Landscape Architecture Firms: Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture, San Francisco CA Coen + Partners, Minneapolis MN Fieldwork Design Group, Chicago IL GLS Landscape/Architecture, San Francisco CA Ground Inc. Landscape Architecture, Somerville MA Hargreaves Associates, San Francisco CA Hargreaves Jones, New York NY Hinterlands Urbanism and Landscape, LLC, Chicago IL Lenet, Crestani, Tallman Land Design, LLC, Chicago IL LENS Landscape Architecture, LLC, Bend OR Mark Tessier Landscape Architecture, Inc., Santa Monica CA Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, New York NY Mauro Crestani & Associates, Landscape Architects, Chicago IL McKay Landscape Architects, Chicago IL Mia Lehrer + Associates, Los Angeles CA Prassas Landscape Studio LLC, Chicago IL Reed Hilderbrand, Cambridge MA Rinda West Landscape Designs, Chicago IL site, Chicago IL Terry Guen Design Associates, Chicago IL The Organic Garden Coach, Downers Grove IL Topiarius, Inc., Chicago IL Ulrich Bachand Landscape Architecture, LLC, Dedham MA Wenk Associates, Denver CO Design + Consulting Industry Firms: Atelier Ten, Environmental Design, New Haven CT Corey Gaffer Photography, Minneapolis MN Development Management Associates, LLC, Chicago IL EHT Traceries, Inc., Washington DC Green Dinosaur, Inc., Culver City CA HJKessler Associates, Chicago IL Interface, Atlanta GA Jaros, Baum & Bolles Consulting Engineers, New York NY jozeph forakis...design, Brooklyn NY Lee Bey Architectural Photography, Chicago IL Lightswitch Architectural, Chicago IL Medical Facility Innovations Ltd., Leavenworth WA New Voodou, Santa Fe NM Paul Hydzik Photography, Chicago IL Spirit of Space, Milwaukee WI Talentstar, Inc., Petaluma CA The Walker Group NW, Seattle WA Thirst, Chicago IL Threshold Acoustics LLC, Chicago IL Tom Harris Architectural Photography, Chicago IL visualizedconcepts inc., Chicago IL Organizations: Archeworks, Chicago IL Architects Advocate for Action on Climate Change, Chicago IL
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Q&A with the BoE

From anti-flood measures to ecology, see what the L.A. Bureau of Engineering has in store for the L.A. River

Gary Lee Moore is the city engineer with the Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering, one of the many organizations and agencies involved in the ongoing restoration and redevelopment of the Los Angeles River. Among the numerous river-related projects on which the bureau is currently working are the restoration of an 11-mile run of the river within city limits and the replacement of the Sixth Street Viaduct with new designs by Michael Maltzan Architecture.

The Architect’s Newspaper: What role does the L.A. Bureau of Engineering play in facilitating the ongoing L.A. River restoration process?

Gary Lee Moore: The Bureau of Engineering (BoE) has a long history of working on the Los Angeles River. We led the development of the L.A. River Revitalization Master Plan, passed by the Los Angeles City Council in 2007, and were assigned the responsibility of implementing the plan, which continues today. BoE also led the city’s collaboration with the United States Army Corps of Engineers on the development of the Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility study and the Alternative with Restoration Benefits and Opportunities for Revitalization (ARBOR) study that recommended Alternative 20 (the policy recommendation that called for the most expansive level of restoration for the river). Alternative 20 was adopted by the city council in June 2016 and is pending approval in Congress. BoE is also managing a variety of significant L.A. River projects that include new bikeways, river-adjacent parks, bridges that cross the river, and bridge underpasses, as well as restored river-access points and existing bridges. For our regional colleagues who are also focusing on river revitalization, BoE has been the city’s point of collaboration. This includes a variety of nonprofits and other public agencies.

How does the L.A. River restoration feed into the BoE’s overall mission?

BoE’s vision is to transform Los Angeles into the world’s most livable city. Revitalization of the Los Angeles River corridor, with public access, open space, native ecosystem restoration, and world-class parks, will contribute to creating a more livable, more sustainable Los Angeles.

What are some of the approaches being taken with regard to maintaining the river’s usefulness as a piece of flood control infrastructure for the region?

The ARBOR study assumed that current levels of flood protection would be maintained with the suggested changes to the river. For example, this means increasing the flood channel’s capacity where planting is suggested in the channel for habitat creation.

Which measures are being taken to guide forthcoming development along the L.A. River toward having a more positive relationship with the local hydrology and ecology (in terms of runoff, infiltration, sewage, etc.)?

The city established a citywide Low Impact Development ordinance in 2012 that requires on-site capture or infiltration and a dispersed approach to stormwater management that positively diverts it to the L.A. River.

In addition, recent projects done by the city along the L.A. River have been designed to direct stormwater into vegetated swales. The River Improvement Overlay (RIO) guidelines  produced by the Department of City Planning in 2014 provide private property owners along the river with design approaches that reflect habitat sensitivity.

In terms of ecology, the city uses Los Angeles County’s L.A. River Master Plan Landscaping Guidelines and Plant Palettes, published in 2004, which calls for a native L.A. River plant palette all along the river. This palette was identified to support local fauna and to restore the native landscape.

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Current Events

L.A. River revitalization takes center stage in public eye (and real estate development)

2016 has been big for the Los Angeles River’s ongoing restoration process, as several of the multi-agency, intragovernmental urban water infrastructure projects surrounding its redevelopment have begun implementation.

The 51-mile-long concrete channel currently known as the L.A. River was created in 1938 as a flood control measure, and has been the site of steadily growing public interest for decades. Activist groups started gathering around the idea of river as a social justice cause for the city back in the 1980s, exploring its hidden potential for creating an urban oasis. River-focused landscape architects like Mia Lehrer and organizations like Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR), founded in 1986 by poet, filmmaker, and writer Lewis MacAdams, have been at the forefront of river advocacy for years and are responsible for keeping the river in the public eye. But suddenly, the project has gained international notoriety both as the poster child for the post-World War II era’s ham-handed approach to urban hydrology, and, crucially, as an urban project the success of which could rewrite the future of America’s second-largest city.

In 2004, the City of Los Angeles founded a nonprofit group, L.A. River Revitalization Corporation, to wrangle the ever-growing constellation of river-related programs, and ultimately hired Frank Gehry and Associates, landscape firm OLIN, and Geosyntec Consultants to create a master plan. The team is currently in the midst of working through the initial study phases and has held a handful of community meetings across the region to discuss on-the-ground concerns and to gather ideas, in the process creating the L.A. River Index, an online resource for sharing information with the public. A preview of the L.A. River VR Experience, an initiative by media producers Camilla Andersson and Anders Hjemdahl at Pacific Virtual Reality and FoLAR, was released on October 8, timed with the organization’s 30th anniversary. The project is currently in the final stages of production and features a VR tour along the entire LA River. 

Additionally, Gruen Associates, Mia Lehrer Associates, and Oyler Wu Collaborative were recently selected to design bike paths across the river’s length in the San Fernando Valley. Their project will link to the existing, popular path along the river running through the Frogtown neighborhood just north of Downtown Los Angeles. That particular area has been the site of highly partisan anti-gentrification battles, as the development community quickly began to take note of an impending windfall if the river becomes a desirable location. Housing projects have begun to sprout up around this neck of the river, which is surrounded by a mix of sleepy residential and industrial areas. A forthcoming project by Rios Clementi Hale Studios aims to bring 419 apartments, 39,600 square feet of ground-floor retail space, and 18 acres of open space to a river-adjacent site.

In Downtown Los Angeles, Michael Maltzan Architecture (MMA) is working toward beginning construction on their new vision for the Sixth Street Viaduct. The project will replace a structurally compromised bridge from 1932 currently under demolition. MMA aims to work in parallel with the bridge’s demolition, starting construction at the recently demolished eastern banks of the river and moving in the path of the old bridge. That project, a partnership with the City’s Bureau of Engineering, is being designed explicitly to facilitate community access to the river along both banks, and is due to be completed in 2019.

Whether it’s online, in virtual reality, or along the newly permeable banks of a beautified L.A. River, one thing is sure: L.A.’s River is changing very, very quickly.

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NIMBY

L.A.'s anti-development “Neighborhood Integrity Initiative” heads to March 2017 ballot
After being approved by their respective municipal bodies, a Los Angeles-area anti-development ballot measures isofficially heading to March 2017 ballot, raising many questions about the future of development and architecture in the region. The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously in September to send that city’s Neighborhood Integrity Initiative (NII)—a measure that would, among other things, block certain kinds of new development in the city for two years and force the city to update its General Plan—to the ballot. The approval comes a few weeks after supporters of the initiative delivered the necessary 104,000 signatures to City Hall, setting in motion the official leg of what has already been a brutal and painful political slog in the city. The initiative is organized by a group known as the Coalition to Preserve Los Angeles (CPLA), itself primarily funded by the nonprofit AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF). The group contends that the region’s recent development boom has had adverse impacts on the lives of its patients, who, because of new development, must now struggle with more traffic and rising rents. The group’s initiative, adopting the anti-establishment tenor of the other so-called populist movements of this election cycle, takes aim at politicians and developers. The group’s literature and social media presence paint a vivid picture: Los Angeles as a dystopia made up of crooked politicians in cahoots with monied developers, with both groups exploiting the city’s hugely outdated General Plan for personal and political gain at the expense of everything else, “neighborhood character” especially. 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.”   Amid 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. Michael 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. 
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Well-Grounded Design

"Landscape Architecture as Necessity" conference at USC aims to "counter the onslaught of politically-correct eco-speak"
The University of Southern California (USC) School of Architecture will be holding a three-day long conference this week focused on issues of landscape urbanism. The conference, titled Landscape as Necessity, is built around the idea that the landscape architecture discipline is, as stated on the conference website, “uniquely able to synthesize ecological systems, scientific data, engineering methods, social practices, and cultural values, integrating them into the design of the built environment.” As such, the three-day symposium will feature a vast array of practitioners, researchers, artists, and luminaries who will discuss their work.   One of the conference headliners is Gerdo Aquino, CEO of Los Angeles–based SWA, designers of the revamped San Jacinto Plaza in El Paso, Texas that has been reimagined to appeal to Millennials. Another top billing is Hadley Arnold of the Arid Lands Institute, one of the many firms currently studying the Los Angeles River and planning for its redevelopment. Arnold will lead a paper presentation covering the topic of “water urbanism” with practitioner, professor, and author Anuradha Mathur of the University of Pennsylvania. Explanatory text on the conference website describes the mission of the conference as charting new territories: “The overuse and debasement of the words ‘sustainable’, ‘resilient,’ and ‘adaptable’ mean that now more than ever, real flesh and blood projects must rise to the fore and counter the onslaught of politically-correct eco-speak.” Because the conference aims to ground itself with real world projects, many practicing landscape architects will participate in discussion panels, lecture on their work, and review writings. These practitioners include Los Angeles–based Mia Lehrer of Mia Lehrer Associates, who was recently selected to design the new First and Broadway Park in Downtown Los Angeles with OMA; Elizabeth Mossop of Spackman Mossop + Michaels landscape architects, based in Sydney and New Orleans; Bradley Cantrell, a Harvard-based researcher and 2014 Rome Prize Fellow in landscape architecture; and Mark Rios of Rios Clementi Hale Studios, landscape architects for the Martin Expo Town Center in West Los Angeles. Among the many others joining will be Henri Bava Founder of Paris-based landscape architecture firm Agence Ter, recently selected as the winners of an international design competition aimed at redesigning Los Angeles’s Pershing Square. Landscape as Necessity is being organized by Assistant Professor Alison Hirsch and Professor and Director Kelly Shannon of the USC landscape architecture program. Shannon spearheaded the Mekong Delta Regional Plan 2030 and Vision 2050 plan, a multi-disciplinary, multi-year study aimed at preserving and modernizing Vietnam’s major agricultural region. In an interview earlier this month with Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Designs, Shannon described her team’s intentions behind holding the conference, saying “Ultimately, it should become clear that landscape architecture will be a major game changer in the coming decades in Los Angeles and beyond. However, there must be strong political will and a chance for paradigmatic projects to lead transformative policy.” The conference runs from Wednesday, September 21, 2016 to Saturday, September 24, 2016. To learn more, see the Landscape as Necessity website.
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L.A. Icon

Deborah Weintraub awarded 2016 Julia Morgan ICON Award

Deborah Weintraub has been awarded the 2016 Julia Morgan ICON Award for her outstanding contributions to the design industry as City of Los Angeles chief deputy city engineer. Weintraub is the highest-ranking architect in L.A. and is currently overseeing design work, project management, and construction management services for over 400 active projects totaling $3.5 billion, including Mia Lehrer + Associates’ proposal for the new FaB Park in Downtown Los Angeles, the Gehry Partners–led L.A. River restoration plan, Michael Maltzan Architecture’s replacement of the Sixth Street Viaduct, and HMC Architects’ proposal for the L.A. Convention Center.

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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.