Posts tagged with "California":

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How Tom Wiscombe Architecture will reinvent the Sunset Strip billboard

Tom Wiscombe Architecture (TWA) has been selected as the winner for “The Sunset Strip Spectacular Pilot Creative Off-Site Advertising Sign Request for Proposal” (RFP) competition for a site located at 8775 Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, California.

TWA’s proposal reinvents the billboard as an overall typology, replacing the static, image-based, automobile-centric qualities with digitally driven, interactive, and public-space–making approaches.

The RFP comes as the City of West Hollywood, California, seeks to modernize the ubiquitous billboards that dot the Sunset Strip, a 1.5-mile stretch of Sunset Boulevard that cuts across the city’s northwestern edge. The municipality’s RFP called on designers to “design a technologically advanced, engaging, one-of-a-kind, billboard structure” while also inspiring “a 21st century vision with contemporary digital and interactive technologies, media, and multidimensional graphic design.”

TWA’s proposal reinvents the billboard as an overall typology, replacing the static, image-based, automobile-centric qualities with digitally driven, interactive, and public-space–making approaches. The scheme takes the typical “sign-on-a-stick” billboard and rotates it 90 degrees so that the short edge of the sign rests on the ground. In the process, the billboard transforms from a sign to a bell tower and, in the architect’s words, “speaks to a world where commercial and cultural content can be hybridized, and media is no longer just a way of advertising but a way of life.”

These two, now-vertical billboard planes are then bent and folded into a configuration that allows for human occupation. The billboard assembly is placed onto the site, which is articulated in the manner of a public plaza.

Wiscombe described the project this way: “Just a few months ago, Elton John and Lady Gaga did a pop-up duet right nearby our site, in support of his AIDS Foundation. I like to think of ‘The Belltower’ as a contemporary catalyst and venue for civic engagements like that. We are also committed to making it into a kind of digital testing ground for artists, who will be curated by our partner MoCA. They will essentially be able to take it over for periods of time. I think that fusing together the worlds of art and commerce will give the project life and force us out of our habitual modes of consuming media.”

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Santa Monica to make all new single-family residential construction net-zero energy starting in 2017

The city of Santa Monica, California has become the first municipality in the world to require net-zero energy construction for all new single-family residences. The city recently passed an ordinance mandating that all future single-family homes built in the coastal enclave achieve ZNE status, based on the standards contained within the 2016 California Green Building Standards Code (CALGreen). Though the term has many nuanced definitions deployed across the construction industry and energy development fields, the CALGreen standard referenced by the Santa Monica ordinance defines ZNE construction as resulting in a building where the value of the energy produced on-site by renewable energy technologies and the value of the energy consumed annually by the building are equal. The new sustainability ordinance was approved by the Santa Monica City Council last week and will go effect in 2017 pending further approval. The new rule also contains a provision requiring new multifamily and commercial buildings reduce their energy consumption to ten percent below the rates set forth in the currently-in-effect 2016 California Energy Code. In a press release announcing the new guidelines, Santa Monica Mayor Tony Vazquez celebrated the city’s environmental bonafides, saying “Santa Monica is proud to take a global lead in zero net energy building standards that put the State’s environmental policy to action. Council's adoption of this new ordinance reflects our city's continued commitment to the environment,” adding, “ZNE construction, considered the gold standard for green buildings, is a major component that will help us reach our ambitious goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.” The measure comes after a steady increase in environmentally-focused regulation across the state and follows the adoption of the state’s Long Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan by the California Public Utilities Commission in 2008. That plan established a roadmap for all buildings in the state to be zero net energy users over time. The plan also established a goal for all residential construction to be ZNE by 2020 with all new commercial construction achieving the same status by 2030. Most municipalities, however, have lagged in reaching efficiency targets and Santa Monica’s aggressive timetable for realizing these changes marks the first ordinance passed by a California municipality to strive for ZNE construction. The measure also brings into relief a gaping disconnect in terms of what is and is not considered “sustainable” in the public mind, with the glossy, technological approaches to sustainability being pursued at the municipal level being seemingly at odds with draconian, anti-development measures being pursued via the ballot box aimed at reducing the city’s ability to generate dense, urban development. Before final implementation, the measure must gain final approval from the California Energy Commission.
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Peek inside under-construction UC Santa Barbara housing by Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects

Construction on Los Angeles–based Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects’ (LOHA) 95,000-square-foot San Joaquin Housing projects at University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) is nearing completion.

The firm is designing two of four housing clusters on the 15-acre North Campus, one of the areas where the 20,000-student university is concentrating construction efforts as it aims to increase its student population by up to 5,000 new students over the next nine years. The San Joaquin Housing area is to contain housing for 1,000 of those new residents.

LOHA’s schemes are manifested as a pair of two- to three-story clustered apartment blocks joined by external circulation and communal spaces. The structures themselves are organized in shifting geometries, with rhomboid volumes projecting over, into, and from an activated courtyard. Walkways are made up of articulated armatures that attach to the buildings’ facades and project into the courtyard. The courtyard’s exterior-facing walls feature punched openings and are marked by white siding, while dark surfaces line the courtyard’s interior. Though the overall project aims for a certain kind of scalar contextuality, this organizational scheme is decidedly daring: Social hubs, such as reading rooms, dining areas, and other gathering spots are distributed along these pedestrian routes, with some of these volumes elevated one or two stories above grade. Construction photographs show a staccato filigree of painted steel supports framing out the walkways between plywood- and Tyvek-wrapped buildings.

The San Joaquin Housing complex, abutting the northern edge of the adjacent, unincorporated community of Isla Vista west of UCSB, is being developed as part of a multi-architect housing expansion for the university master planned by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM). LOHA’s two adjacent complexes will be joined by two low-rise apartment blocks from L.A.’s Kevin Daly Architects (KDA) and two housing towers by SOM. Philadelphia-based architects Kieran Timberlake will also be designing a dining facility in the complex. 

New construction is the result of the campus’s 2010 “Long Range Development Plan” (LRDP), set in motion to plan for the campus’s growth in its ecologically sensitive, largely suburban coastal community. The university’s growth rate dictated in that document, one percent per annum, is designed to mirror that of the neighboring city of Santa Barbara. Perhaps California’s state and local agencies should take note of this latest housing construction: It seems someone has finally figured out how to build housing to meet the community’s needs in a timely fashion without offending the neighbors too much.

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Controversy erupts as $6 billion Orange County development boom gains steam

Over the last ten years, Anaheim, California has seen steady growth in multi-family housing and mixed-use development that has—perhaps—begun to change the city’s reputation. The area was wiped almost totally clean in 1970s “urban renewal” efforts. With this influx of new residents and the addition of trend-conscious destination-amenities, like foodie market halls and “anti-malls,” Orange County developers have made strides in rebuilding and rebranding the municipality. However, a recently approved collection of publicly-subsidized, multi-billion dollar developments in the city's downtown—and near the Disneyland theme parks—are complicating downtown Anaheim's emerging narrative as a center for conscious consumerism. These developments include the construction of Disney’s new $1.5 billion Star Wars theme park, a $190 million expansion to the city’s convention center, and an increase in the luxury hotel supply that will cost $1.92 billion. Taken together, these projects will total a roughly $3.5 billion investment in the coming years. Moreover, they could shift the market in the so-called Anaheim Resort District (ARD), a 1,100-acre purpose-built hotel and entertainment development adjacent to downtown Anaheim aimed at convention-goers and theme park attendees, toward luxury tourism. In July, Anaheim approved three proposed luxury hotel developments for the area, aiming to bring an additional 1,914 new luxury rooms into operation within a few years. These projects include two developments by the Wincome Group: a 580-room hotel adjacent to Disney’s California Adventure park that will feature 50,000 square feet of meeting space and a 580-room hotel across from the convention center that will contain 40,000 square feet of meeting space. The third development involves a 700-room hotel by Walt Disney Parks and Resorts overlooking the Star Wars-themed Disney expansion. A press release for the Wincome project states that “design details of the properties are still to be announced” but preliminary renderings released by the development teams so far feature an assortment of architectural styles, including classical revival and contemporary. Disney’s development team has only released an artist's renderings of interior and poolside spaces. These developments are being built in addition to a previously-approved, 466-room JW Marriott hotel, also in the ARD, that is expected to begin construction next year. When combined, all four projects are due to add 2,380 luxury suites to the ARD and will encompass a building boom for luxury, “four diamond”-rated accommodations. Disney currently operates the only luxury hotel properties in the area on its theme park grounds, making the four additional hotel sites highly contested, especially considering that Wincome and Disney alone will receive a combined $550 billion in taxpayer subsidies to build their high-end hotels. The contentious use of these subsidies, which would send up to 90 percent of the taxes collected for each hotel bed back toward the operators (with the remainder going to the city), is amplified by the fact that the city still hasn’t finished paying off the initial round of public funding that led to the “four diamond” hotels Disney built in the late 1990s. Developers behind these new projects consider the subsidies necessary for their investments to pan out while city officials foresee a potential glut of luxury beds on the market. Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait was quoted in the Orange Count Register as calling the tax plan “financially devastating” for the city. Opponents also contend the increase in luxury units will cannibalize revenue from currently-operating, non-subsidized hotel projects. Complicating things further, a concurrent, $2.34-billion project in the nearby “Platinum Triangle” district, a collection of office, retail, convention, and sports facilities that include the Anaheim Angels Stadium directly adjacent to the ARD, is also making its way toward final approval. The new areas are modeled on the L.A. Live development beside the Los Angeles Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles; they will include a medley of pedestrian-oriented amenities, including hundreds of condominiums and apartments as well as over a half million square feet of shopping, office, and leisure areas. The Anaheim Angels recently came out against the development, citing the project's lack of Environmental Impact Report and its potentially adverse impact on the team’s own shopping and commercial expansion planned for another stadium-adjacent site. As quoted in the Los Angeles Times, Anaheim Angels attorney Allan Abshez wrote in a letter to the city that the project would “cannibalize the Angels’ existing food, beverage and retail operations at Angel Stadium” adding further that this disruption would “fundamentally undermine the Angels’ negotiations to remain in Anaheim over the long term.” Because the Angels’ stadium is publically-owned and the city is unwilling to fund needed renovations for the stadium, the team intends to embark on their own building spree to raise revenue for renovations. With plans for a new $300 million streetcar linking the HOK-designed ARTIC transit hub to Downtown Anaheim and Disneyland moving toward approval and an estimated 28,000 new residents expected to move into the Platinum Triangle area over the next decade, it’s clear to see that no matter what happens, Anaheim is decidedly changing. The question is not how successful that transformation will be, but whether Anaheim will get a return on its investment in the long haul.
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Lawndale, California’s newest park playfully recreates the city’s natural, historic landscape

In Lawndale, California, Rudolph Park host a myriad of paths of which feature a range of interactive spaces and landscape elements interspersed on the way. Not long ago, however, the 1.5-acre lot contributed little to the city and the state's South Bay area, which was deemed "park poor" due to its lack of pedestrian access to such park. Two non-profit organizations From Lot to Spot (FLTS) and The Trust for Public Land (TPL) worked with Laguna Beach, CA and Pasadena, CA-based landscape architecture firm EPTDESIGN to rejuvenation Rudolph Park. Upon its re-opening, Lawndale Mayor Robert Pullen-Miles described it as "the crown jewel of the city." The Architect's Newspaper spoke to the firm to discuss their approach and reasoning behind their design decisions.

The Architect's Newspaper: What informed the development of the “intellectual” and unstructured play experiences created for children’s areas? Why was this focused on?

EPTDESIGN: The park’s program was developed through community workshops led by FLTS and TPL. Program elements included green space, an amphitheater, a climbing wall, natural play, a restroom, a walking loop, fitness equipment, play for all ages, a picnic area, and a gently rolling lawn. EPTDESIGN developed a concept narrative to tie the program elements together. A narrative based on the site’s natural history grew from the public’s stated desire to have a “natural” space, and as a way to distinguish the park from others in the general area...that centered on a singularly themed play structure.

Could you explain the thought process behind the various topographical elements that feature throughout? 

Lawndale sits where the coastal dunes once met the inland prairie, a land characterized by [a] unique topography of dunes and vernal pools. The park seeks to reintroduce the neighborhood to the dunes and prairie that once formed their landscape and to the ecosystems of the hills that frame the region. The park is divided into three zones: The Dunes, Prairie, and Hills. As a result, this playful topographic design allows the visitor to traverse high and low spots. [It] also highlights the site's low-impact stormwater strategy. To enter the site, one crosses over a vegetated swale and infiltration basin where all stormwater is collected.

With regards to the climbing wall, how does the form and arrangement link to the overall scheme? What material is this and how was the wall constructed?

The concept narrative espoused playful topography as a way to tie the design to the site’s natural history, but the grading was also a very useful design tool to promote safety. The climbing wall and restroom were both grant-funding-contingent program elements that posed site security challenges. Both are large vertical elements that could obstruct sightlines from the street. Through the use of creative grading, the restroom was built into a constructed hillside. The climbing wall was oriented perpendicular to the street, sharing the same earthwork as the restroom structure, thus eliminating hiding spots. Behind and above the restroom and climbing wall, the finish grade slopes away gently, allowing unobstructed sightlines to the back of the park while creating a universally accessible route from the lowest spot in the park up to the highest.

The 50-foot-long climbing wall is an innovative feature, and an expression of horizontal strata, which involved extensive collaboration between the landscape architect, civil and structural engineers, architect, artist, and contractors. The climbing face is built from precast concrete modules that are anchored to a structural retaining wall. To keep cost down, there are only four different modules. Through the use of 3D modeling, the modules were laid out to create a varied and unexpected yet climbable texture while...avoiding the tacked-on look of off-the-shelf climbing wall handholds and integrating artwork.

I would also ask the same thing about the tiles. Are they featured throughout the park or just those pictured?

The tile work was done by artist Frank Bauer. EPTDESIGN worked with Bauer on the subject matter and locations. There are multiple pieces, and they are displayed in each of the three zones. Within the Dunes zone, ceramics were placed in a water runnel, and feature three-dimensional pieces for kids to discover. In the Prairie, tile work can be found in the entry plaza. And in the Hills zone, ceramic flower mosaics were placed in the climbing wall niches. All are intended to be “touched” and not just for visual display.

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Former California prison to become trailblazing medical marijuana farm

Claremont Custody Center in Coalinga, California is set to be repurposed as a medical marijuana production facility, after Coalinga city officials jointly agreed to sell the building to a local firm, Ocean Grown Extracts, to the tune of $4.1 million—conveniently covering the city's $3.8 million debt.

Prior to closure, the prison had a capacity of more than 500 inmates though operations were put to an end when California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations decided to shut the facility down in 2011. Now, after lying empty for half a decade, the building will now become a high-security factory for cannabis oil extraction.

“It’s like the Grateful Dead said: ‘What a long, strange trip it’s been,’” Coalinga Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Keough told the Fresno Bee after he and council members voted 4-1 in favor of the plan. “We listened to the citizens and created a package that was reflective of our population.”

“You can never do anything that satisfies everyone,” Keough added, “but we were pretty darn close to doing that.” It has also been reported that the 77,000-square-foot building is due to create approximately 100 new jobs as well ending a "long journey to medical cannabis legalization for Coalinga" despite medical marijuana use being legal in California for quite some time.

Co-owner of Ocean Grown Extracts Casey Dalton explained the firm has their eyes set on operations being up and running before the end of the year. “We’re thrilled to be able to offer 100 jobs and make safe medicine available for patients,” she said. “We appreciate Coalinga taking a chance not only on us, but on the industry.”

In order for the firm to carry out extraction, the facility must be secured under locked gates with no public access with 24-hour surveillance. As for the building's interior, much of it will remain as it was left. Meanwhile, all employees are subject to stringent background checks which must be passed, plants must have tracking devices on them and the plant must also have techniques for odor control.

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California developers sidestep environmental laws, hasten project approval with ballot initiatives

California’s ballot initiative system allows residents to propose laws as well as approve them by popular vote. In the past, this has resulted in drastically reducing property taxes and the approval of the country’s first law for medical marijuana. Recently, controversy has arisen due to the use of the system by developers to disregard state environmental laws and consequently hasten the pace of major developments, reports The New York Times. Using this popular vote system, plans were approved for several major development projects in Moreno Valley including “a stadium in Carson, a shopping center north of San Diego and a vast warehouse complex,” the article lists. This process of approval circumvents the California Environmental Quality Act whose rules would otherwise present obstacles for the developers. Another concern, addressed by The Times article, is that residents do not even have the opportunity to vote on the designs in question. In order for a project to be considered for special election or approval, a petition with the signatures of 15 percent of eligible voters is required. Local officials can then proceed to approve the project without a ballot to avoid the financial burden a special election would present. While the California Environmental Quality Act requires that developers “to identify and mitigate the environmental effects of their projects,” the law is not enforced by any government agency, only by lawsuits. Claims to sue “can range from destroying animal habitats to blocking a view,” The Times states. As a result, projects can be delayed and their costs exacerbated. Out of nine plans for new Walmart stores in California, eight were approved without a ballot. A California Supreme Court decision in 2014 addressed Walmart’s actions determining that elected officials can indeed approve projects without a ballot and therefore avoiding “environmental review.” Other developers have followed suit and projects across the state have attracted scrutiny and opposition for this reason, including a shopping center in Carlsbad and a proposed World Logistics Center in Moreno Valley.
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Three ballot initiatives that could reshape California’s cities in 2016

This year, aside from deciding who will become the 45th President of the United States, voters across the West will consider several important statewide ballot races that will directly impact the region’s urban landscapes, ecological future, and transportation infrastructure. In California particularly, the philosophy of direct democracy via ballot proposals promises to bring many contentious issues to election day.

Charter Amendment C

San Francisco’s municipal lawmakers are taking their debate over affordable housing directly to the people. Consensus in the Bay Area is to raise the minimum inclusionary housing requirement from its current 12% level. Partisans, however, can’t seem to agree on whether to raise the minimum to 25%, as proposed by Supervisors Jane Kim and Aaron Peskin. Their ballot measure will be up for a vote in this June’s California primary. With details of the plan still to be hammered out and as a development boom rumbles through the city’s South of Market district, the city government must act soon if the area is to contain a better-than-average affordable housing stock.

Measure R 2

Voters in L.A. are potentially looking to cement their growing rail legacy with a 40-year capital improvement campaign funded by a round of tax increases. Thanks to the passage of 2008’s Measure R, two light rail extensions are opening in L.A. this year. In March, Los Angeles Metro put forth a wish list of projects to be funded by Measure R 2, the transit agency’s plan to raise L.A. County’s sale tax by an additional $.50. The increase, coupled with an extension of 2008’s hike, is expected to raise $120 billion for transportation related projects over 40 years. Metro is looking to avoid a repeat of 2012’s slim defeat of the similar Measure J, which garnered 64.72% of the vote, just shy of the 66.6% supermajority needed to pass. When asked about how Metro plans to broaden support within the electorate, Pauletta Tonilas, Chief Communications Officer, told AN, “Our goal is to plan for future growth and provide ways to better the way we get around the county. The draft plan we’ve released shows we are delivering projects in every area of the county and that has been a big part of our support.”

Anticipated projects include fast tracking the long-delayed westside Purple Line subway and South L.A.’s LAX “people mover” extension of the Green Line, as well as a third extension to the northern arm of the Gold Line to Azusa in the eastern reaches of the San Gabriel Valley.

Neighborhood Integrity Initiative and Build a Better L.A. Initiative

The NIMBY-driven Neighborhood Integrity Initiative (NII) is battling the Union-supported Build a Better L.A. (BBLA) measure for a say in the city’s growth. The NII takes aim at booming-Los Angeles’s outdated city plan, by forcing the city to update all supplementary community plans while changes to the General Plan can be agreed upon. Simultaneously, the bill puts a moratorium on all spot-zoned projects for two years. Because many of the city’s most ambitious construction projects require these spot-zoning measures—due to the outdated nature of the code—the NII effectively halts development city-wide. The BBLA initiative is fighting to instead fast track projects requiring spot-zoning variances if those projects employ union labor and include construction of affordable housing units.

In perhaps a sign of things to come this November, two large, density-oriented projects recently won approval in very different parts of L.A. County. Koning Eizenberg Architecture’s 249-unit, 32-foot tall mixed use complex at 500 Broadway won enthusiastic approval from Santa Monica’s City Council. The scheme’s approval centered on its addition of 64 off-site affordable housing units as well as its proximity to the soon-to-be-opened Expo Line extension. In Hollywood, the Stanley Saitowitz / Natoma Architects-designed Palladium Residences, two 30-story towers with 731 units, won approval from L.A. City Council. Although the project is comprised solely of market rate units, council members praised its location near public transit, in this case, the Red Line subway a few blocks north.

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California’s 7x7x7 program explores how its schools can be more sustainable

How can innovative design achieve zero net energy?

This is the challenge put forth by Chester “Chet” Widom, FAIA, State Architect of California, in the “7x7x7: Design, Energy, Water” initiative for the state’s education system. California has the largest population of any state in the union, yet it is strapped by a 5-year long drought that threatens the state’s economy and way of life.

In light of these concerns, Widom examined the geography and geology of California and determined the state is made up of seven distinct ecologies. He selected seven of the state’s leading sustainable design firms (WRNS Studio, Aedis Architects, Lionakis, Ehrlich Architects, DLR Group, Hamilton + Aitken Architects, and HGA Architects) and gave each an educational institution to study. Faced with unique instances of geographic and demographic diversity, the seven architecture firms were each asked to develop a conceptual case study that could form the foundation for a major state-wide campus design revolution.

In February, the California Division of the State Architect (DSA) completed a new initiative called “7x7x7: Design, Energy, Water,” that highlights ways to “improve the built environment while simultaneously greening California’s aging school facilities.” Widom pointed out that California has 10,000 campuses serving students from Kindergarten through community college. He postulated that each campus has an average of five buildings in need of renovation, meaning 50,000 buildings must be adapted, state-wide; a staggering challenge, indeed. But, if the state could use energy and water reductions to save $3,000 per year per structure over ten years, it could save $1.5 billion overall, money that could be put back into young people’s education.

That ambition inspires the seven imaginative projects dispersed across the state. 

WRNS Studio and Ehrlich Architects were challenged by the harsh, tight urban environments of their sites in Oakland and South-Central Los Angeles, respectively. Both elected to use the energy and water challenge to totally transform their campuses. At Lincoln Elementary School in Oakland, dubbed “a place of asphalt” by Pauline Souza of WRNS, the team connected the students to nature by developing what Le Corbusier called the "5th facade," the roof, into outdoor, PV-powered energy-efficient classrooms. Souza said they would achieve 45% energy and water reductions by creating more natural environments for their “harshest critics,” 6-11 year-olds. Ehrlich Architects, with Mia Lehrer + Associates landscape architects, transformed the entire site—ground plane and roof—into a learning garden. Through xeriscape landscape interventions they would divert 200,000 gallons of water annually to be used for irrigation, education, and to teach students the value of the local watershed. This would ultimately turn, said the architects, “the entire campus into a learning tool.”

Embracing advanced technology in diverse climates led DLR and HGA to bring us back to the future. Working at the Bubbling Wells Elementary School in hot and windy Desert Hot Springs, DLR explored ideas to conserve energy and water, like “Water Harvesting.” This concept uses the wind to run a series of compressors that collect condensate from the humidity in the air, essentially capturing water out of thin air. DLR is now exploring a test of this technology with the Palm Springs Unified School District. In downtown LA, HGA was asked to study Los Angeles Trade Technical College. Rather than seeking to achieve Zero Net Energy, the firm instead suggested changing the question: What would happen if the project “started at zero” and moved toward the positive? With an integrated approach using cloud-based computer analysis and parametric modeling, HGA analyzed 640,000 combinations of design strategies to improve the healthiness and energy-efficiency of the school. One impressive result was the reduction in carbon emissions. The current building currently produces 2 million pounds of carbon dioxide per year, the equivalent of the CO2 produced by 191 cars annually, but with a cluster of design interventions, the team would reduce carbon emissions to zero.

“DSA is proactive in meeting Governor Brown’s directive to achieve Zero Net Energy by 2030” and that, “7x7x7: Design, Energy, Water, is just the beginning of a process that has the power to transform 10,000 campuses and help teach millions of California students how to become stewards of their own environment,” Widom explained.

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The Golden State’s cities calculate how to use unspent development revenues

Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley Reseda neighborhood is poised to spend $23 million in reactivated excess bonds as a result of post-redevelopment bills signed late last year by Governor Jerry Brown.

The action came last September after a series of legislative moves that in 2011 began to wind down and ultimately dissolve all 400 of California’s local city and County Redevelopment Agencies (CRAs)—entities originally conceived to funnel tax increments into blighted areas to promote economic development and affordable housing projects. Leading up to the dissolution, much criticism had been directed to community redevelopment agencies, citing waste and corruption.

“The only way to mend it was to end it and cut out abuses,” said L.A. city councilmember Bob Blumenfield, who was serving in the California State Assembly at the time of the 2011 CRA dissolution and now represents the Third District, which spans the northwest portion of Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley, including the communities of Canoga Park, Reseda, Tarzana, Winnetka, and Woodland Hills. His district contains three of the nine CRA-owned properties that must be developed within a certain frame of time, as set forth in the governor’s bills. “If we don’t put together an acceptable development deal within three years, the nine properties get sold off. Having said that, we have the potential with these three lots in our district to generate catalytic investment that we think will create a domino effect of more development.”

Reseda’s plans for the reinvestment of funds in Los Angeles consist of two key vision plans related geographically and culturally along the historic portion of Sherman Way. The Reseda Theater Adaptive Reuse Project (for which the RFP phase is underway) hopes to spur commercial oriented development, including entertainment, dining, and other services, to activate the street and generate more foot traffic. The “Reseda Rising” project is a larger revitalization project for Sherman Way’s historic commercial corridor and would include two non-contiguous CRA properties as lynchpins in the effort.

For other parts of Los Angeles, the city was able to transfer a pipeline of affordable housing projects, as well as some unspent affordable housing and general redevelopment purpose bonds. Once those projects are completed, however, there will be no more traditional tax increment funds to devote to redevelopment. Los Angeles is currently gearing up to establish a new type of agency that will take the place of the former redevelopment agencies. This model, provisionally referred to as Community Revitalization and Investment Authorities (CRIAs), would provide a minimum 25 percent work programs for affordable housing, with the intention to put a focus on challenged neighborhoods. Unlike the former CRAs, CRIAs would be run by separate boards composed of elected officials and at least two public members.

But the new agencies would be working with nearly 70 percent fewer funds under the CRIA model in accordance with restrictions governor Brown has set out in AB107 and other respective bills. When asked, Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office couldn’t give benchmark dates or a timeline for this kind of reorganization, but re-emphasized the mayor’s strong desire to get 100,000 new housing units built in the city by 2021 (Under the mayor’s plan, outlined in 2014, 30,000 new building permits for housing have already been issued as of September 2015.)

Meanwhile, San Francisco will use its reinstated funds to finance a few key housing projects, but the city also negotiated to spend a portion of reactivated funds to implement the Transbay Redevelopment—a large-scale neighborhood and transportation redevelopment atop derelict and demolished highway ramps that were damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Currently used for parking, the mixed-use, transit-oriented neighborhood will comprise approximately seven million square feet of residential, office, retail, hotel, and park spaces, but 1,200 new units reserved for very low, low, and moderate income households (befitting SB 107 requirements). The project between the South of Market Street area and Rincon Hill on San Francisco’s east side also features a 1,100-foot tall-skyscraper by Pelli Clarke Pelli—the Salesforce Tower. San Francisco was able to continue with the Transbay Redevelopment in part because it is  a continuation of funds originally allocated through a CRA, and also because of sheer political will and a big lobbying effort.

Other cities continue to fight for what they view are their legal rights to the property taxes and accrued interest that made up their local CRA funds. Watsonville and Glendale’s lawsuits against the California Department of Finance were settled in the municipalities’ favor, but hundreds of others remain unresolved.

Back in Reseda, councilmember Blumenfield is looking ahead to the economic development opportunities in his district, despite the looming questions about what kind of new agency might accommodate such projects in the future. “If we don’t spend the excess bond money from a development perspective, it’s just gone,” he said. “In my district we need market rate housing and affordable housing. We might be able to use some of the bond money to build affordable housing. Instead of traditional redevelopment funding, there are other options, such as borrowing on future tax revenue or subverting funds back into a project—these are just another shade of the same color.” 

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Y Combinator is funding a California net-zero design-build firm

  It seems that nearly every week we hear about a new startup securing millions in funding. Last spring (2nd quarter 2015) venture capitalists contributed $17.5 billion in investments, close to the highest level since 2000 (and we know what happened back then). But for now, the money is pouring in. Many West coast cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle are experiencing both the positive and unintended consequences of that growth. Now Y Combinator, the investment firm/incubator based in Mountain View, California with investments in high-profile companies like Airbnb, Dropbox, Instacart, and Reddit, has plans to go into the construction business. The company is backing a design-build firm, Acre Designs, that specializes in net-zero energy home kits. Acre Designs is seeking to break into the market and ride new net zero laws in California. In revisions to Title 24 last summer, the state mandated that all new residences (including single family, under three-story multifamily, and low income) meet net zero energy requirements by 2020. Commercial buildings must do the same by 2030. The California Energy Commission and the California Public Utilities Commission define net zero as energy-neutral buildings whose energy production is equal to energy consumption over the course of a year. There's a small-but-important detail in Title 24: the homes can be net-zero energy ready—not necessarily achieving net-zero energy levels—by 2020. The cost for Acre Design's houses is not cheap. Prices hover around $277-$333 per square foot but this includes construction and features such as solar panels and appliances. The firm is also giving discounts to people who rent their home for more than 50 days on Airbnb. The company is planning its first home/vacation rental hybrid for a client in Cannon Beach, Oregon. There are three size options: small (2 bedrooms, 1,200 square feet, $400K), medium (3 bedrooms, 1,500 square feet, $450k), and large (4 bedrooms, 1,800 square feet, $500k). There are also two design variants: a house with a more traditional pitched roof and a second, midcentury modern-inspired version that sports a butterfly roof. Once the foundation is ready, construction can take up to three months. It will be interesting to see how the California net-zero mandate, and the companies that fill the void, plays out. For now, we can wait and hope that reducing energy consumption is also considered in the ways people get to, and from, these homes.
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A New Online Trove of West Coast Midcentury Modern Architecture

Sometimes photographs are used to tell a story. Other times they mark the passage of time or celebrate a joyous moment or memory. And if we are lucky, we can catch a glimpse of what interested the photographer and how they experienced that moment. Today, we view much of our architecture through the literal and figurative lens of professional photography that circulates on design websites, firm pages, and social media. But how do architects see their own work? The work of their contemporaries? What happens when the architect takes control of the camera? The University of Southern California has digitized approximately 1,300 slides by architect Pierre Koenig and architect and color slide company owner, Fritz Block. Those images now reside in a public database documenting the pair's photographs of mostly 1950s and 1960s midcentury modern architecture on the West Coast. Koenig had already selected certain images for digitization in the late 1990s, though unfortunately that didn't come to pass. But now architects, designers, midcentury modern fanatics, and history buffs can get a unique glimpse into a wide range of modern architecture. The photo database's of projects include Koenig’s Case Study #22, John Lautner's Foster Residence, and Pietro Belluschi's Central Lutheran Church. “The Block and Koenig slides are two of the smaller unique collections in the possession of the USC Libraries,” explains USC on the collection's webpage. “They document examples of 20th century California architecture that developed stylistically from the foundations of the International Style as established by the 1932 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, titled Modern Architecture: International Exhibition, and of European pre-World War II Modernism.”