Earlier this week we learned that Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne would be stepping down to take on the city’s newly-created role of Chief Design Officer. The move is a bold, encouraging one that should go a long way toward, as Hawthorne put it, “raising the quality of public architecture and urban design across the city—and the level of civic conversation about those subjects,” through his employment of oversight, advocacy, competitions, forums, and more. But it’s the second part of that statement, regarding civic conversation, that, regardless of this positive development, is under siege in the architecture world. Until Hawthorne is replaced — and given the turmoil at the L.A. Times that’s no certainty— our country will have still fewer regular architectural critics at its major metropolitan news outlets. You can count them on one hand in fact: Blair Kamin at the Chicago Tribune, John King at the San Francisco Chronicle, Mark Lamster at the Dallas Morning News, Julie Iovine at the Wall Street Journal, and Inga Saffron at the Philadelphia Inquirer. Beyond these dailies, while New York Magazine’s Justin Davidson and Curbed’s Alexandra Lange offer regular critiques, the New York Times’ critic Michael Kimmelman is M.I.A., the New Yorker has never replaced Paul Goldberger, and at The Boston Globe, The Miami Herald, The Nation, The San Jose Mercury News, and Vanity Fair, Robert Campbell, Alastair Gordon, Michael Sorkin, Alan Hess and Goldberger—all talented voices, as are all the people listed above— haven’t appeared for at least half a year. Papers like The Seattle Times, the Providence Journal, and the Washington Post never replaced their outgoing critics, USA Today has never had one, and half of the nation’s ten largest cities have no critic. It goes without saying that the L.A. Times absolutely must name a new full-time architecture critic, particularly at a time when the nation's second largest city is undergoing unprecedented transformation. Without a well-positioned critical voice, the city will lack a professional to alert them to and analyze these tumultuous built changes, or an advocate to critique decisions that, as they so often do in the developer-driven city, advance private interests over the public good. (Or, on the other end of the spectrum, marginalize design through discourse and work that most people can't relate to.) A critic can and must do much more, from awakening us to triumphs in sustainability and technology to suggesting ways to minimize sprawl or enhance public space. We don’t have to always agree with them, but he or she plays an essential role in instigating and informing a vital public discourse and to alerting us to the critical role design plays in our lives. The same goes for so many of the country’s cities, where nobody is minding the store, architecturally. The results speak for themselves: an overwhelming majority of architecture, both public and private, that’s ok, fine, serviceable. But not enough. It’s an architecture that, like most of our economy, excels for the very richest individuals, corporations and cultural institutions, but offers mediocrity to almost everyone else. Architecture should and must be for everyone, across the board, from housing to retail to schools to government buildings to civic parks. It must help propel our society, and our spirits, forward through inspiration and innovation, not just provide luxury, comfort, or status. Of course, architecture criticism isn’t limited to major commercial outlets. There are fantastic voices at many design periodicals, like this one. But critics at general interest publications still, even in this fractured media landscape, have the greatest ability to reach a wide audience, outside the bubbles of design or niche journalism, who are often preaching to the converted. While the news, sports, fashion, entertainment, and financial media promote and dissect the minutiae of their fields before millions, prompting debate, feedback, and change, the architecture and construction industry — a significant force in overall U.S. GDP—is largely on the fringe of the public conversation. (One example: If you watch March Madness this week, you’ll see more college basketball critics on one telecast than you’ll find countrywide speaking to architecture. Aline Saarinen was once NBC News’ full time architecture critic, but those days of elevated exposure are long gone.) Meanwhile, critics, as with so many players in the ailing journalism world, are increasingly being sidestepped for computerized engines like Rotten Tomatoes or for blogs that aggregate other work and churn out press releases. Or even worse, for abbreviated Facebook or Twitter posts. Algorithms and big data have their place in showing us where we are, but they can’t replace analysis, critique, understanding, common sense, and heart. Having Hawthorne— along with advocates like Deborah Weintraub at the L.A. Bureau of Engineering and Seleta Reynolds at the L.A. Department of Transportation— stationed at City Hall will be bring a keen eye and a valuable voice to the official conversation. But that conversation needs to extend to a much wider public, through experts outside the city payroll. As for his new job, Hawthorne must, as he suggests he will, make his work to improve the civic realm as public as possible, ensuring that design involves everyone, not just those in power. This is a fantastic opportunity for a gifted communicator to bring the public inside a generally opaque realm through his writing, speaking, and facility for public engagement. But he also needs a partner or two (preferably more) in the media, and as more chief design officers (hopefully) pop up around the country, so must they. Architecture is not art in a gallery. Along with landscape architecture and urban design, it is a public profession. It is for the public, not despite them. We need to empower more informed voices to keep it that way.
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Over sixty years ago the original Wilshire Grand Hotel opened as the Hotel Statler, thanks to the City of Los Angeles, which issued the largest single building permit in their history for the construction of the $15 million project. That landmark legacy continues today, as the new 1,100-foot-tall Wilshire Grand tower lays claim to being the tallest building in Los Angeles, the tallest building in California, and the tallest building west of the Mississippi River. The tower formally breaks from a 1974 ordinance requiring towers to have flat roofs for helicopter rescue in the event of fire. A tapered form was permitted due to advances in fire safety and building technology, such as a reinforced concrete central core that exceeds the city’s current fire code. The facade features a fully integrated, centrally controlled experiential LED lighting developed by StandardVision. The linear fixtures were custom made per floor, and installed throughout each of the tower's 73 floors. One centrally controlled system ties the entire system together. This allows possibility for the facade for incorporate full motion video, artwork, accent lighting, and brand signage as desired. All linear accent lighting was integrated into the glazing panels, and the fixtures were pre-installed in the facade contractor’s shop prior to site delivery. This unitized approach minimized staging time on-site and allowed for a smooth installation workflow. Joshua Van Blankenship, vice president of media platforms for StandardVision, said this was one of the biggest challenges of the project. Another technical challenge was to ensure lighting occurred seamlessly despite traveling over expansion joints in the facade and encountering over 200 parametrically controlled panel widths. “Resolving these two factors with Benson [the facade contractor] allowed us to save tens of thousands of man-hours in exterior installation, and focus our budget on providing the technology solution the architect wanted without a single SV change order,” he said.Penetrations through the building envelope were reduced to a singular point per floor level. A small kick plate access hatch offers accessibility from the interior. This utility space houses LED drivers for the fixtures and wiring for the system. The detailing and design coordination of this moment in the facade went through rigorous proof of concept water-testing to ensure performance. Van Blankenship credits a close design-build relationship between documentation and fabrication teams at Benson and StandardVision for the success of the integrated lighting system. “Our designers in L.A. were regularly working these shifted-hours to have time to overlap with Benson's Singapore team, and by the end of the process, we were incredibly efficient in defining how our respective scopes were going to relate.” he said. “Throughout this entire process AC Martin, Turner and Rosendin (the electrical contractors) were great partners in helping to make this hybrid system work.” Wilshire Grand’s lighting system highlights a robust curtainwall system that was optimized for California’s seismic loads and solar gain. Thornton Tomasetti developed a parametric facade panelization model that consolidated and synchronized information in required for architectural documentation and specialty construction. Concurrently, Glumac developed energy models and shading studies throughout the design process to study building envelope performance. The models take into account shade from DTLA’s surrounding context cast onto the tower, proposing a series of varied fin depths along the south facade. This level of study saved curtain wall material while maximizing the shading potential of the building envelope. California’s Title 24 energy code limits glazing to 40 percent window-to-wall ratio (WWR), but with these advanced parametric modeling and analysis tools, the design teams were able to demonstrate a larger WWR of 50 percent could still outperform California code baseline through careful specification of glazing material, insulation values, and shading schemes.
While much of the buzz surrounding the Academy Awards centers on the winners and the red carpet, there's one thing all eyes are sure to be on: the stage. And that's why the Academy has gone all out this year, with a maximalist fantasy of a set design to honor the awards' 90th anniversary, which takes place on Sunday, March 4. The crystal confection is the brainchild of Derek McLane, a Tony and Emmy award–winning scenic designer who incorporated a whopping 45 million Swarovski crystals into the design. This is McLane's sixth time designing Hollywood's most-watched stage, and it's his most ambitious–and abstract—yet. The centerpiece of the design is a crystalline proscenium, made of octagonal tiles blending crystal, metal, and mirror, while the stage itself is a dynamic design that will shift throughout the event, thanks to a combination of physical and digital effects. And, fittingly for the Oscars' 90th anniversary, the stage design pulls inspiration from a wide range of references from throughout film history, from classic Hollywood Regency design to Art Deco. It's too soon to call it, but the stage might just be the night's best dressed.
Officials in Los Angeles broke ground late last week on the second leg of a long-planned 9.1-mile extension of the city’s Purple Line subway. The so-called Section 2 extension will bring an additional 2.59 miles of underground track and two new stations to the line in addition to the 3.92 miles currently under construction for Section 1 of the extension, The Source reports. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) began construction on the Section 1 extension in 2015 and is currently 30 percent done with work on that leg. Work on Section 1 is expected to be completed by 2023, with Section 2 wrapping up in 2025, and a planned Section 3 completed the following year. Metro is aiming to finish the entire 9.2-mile extension before the year 2028, when Los Angeles is due to host the Summer Olympics. Section 1 of the extension will thread the heavy rail line to the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and La Cienega, just west of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art campus. Sections 2 and 3 will bring the line to Century City and the Veterans Administration campus in Westwood, respectively. Metro recently awarded a $1.37-billion construction contract to joint venture contractor Tutor Perini O&G to build the Section 2 subway; Another joint venture contractor—Skanska-Traylor-Shea—is building Section 1. Work on the line has already begun to impact the areas around the extension, with many new high-rise projects currently in the pipeline for sites immediately surrounding Wilshire Boulevard. The expansion has also spurred new construction of luxury-oriented housing adjacent to existing stops, as well. During a public presentation earlier this month, Metro officials detailed construction activity for the extensions, providing an update on utility relocation work, detailing which street tree specimens would need to be removed—and replaced—to facilitate construction, and also debuted preliminary renderings for the above-ground elements of several new transit stations. Renderings for these new stations depict glass canopy-topped subway entrances surrounded by hardscaped plaza spaces. Next, Tutor Perini O&G and several utility companies will work on reorganizing the maze of pipes and conduit below city streets for Section 2 areas, while work on a staging site that will be used to begin drilling the subway tunnel takes place. Work on the Section 1 extension will continue as planned.
Pre-Hispanic revivals—from the Aztec, Maya, and other civilizations—were popular in California during the 1920s and 1930s in the design of theaters, hotels, furnishings, and jewelry, but such engagements with the Mesoamerican past had other fascinating manifestations from the 1950s to the 1970s. This panel will explore the new ways artists used pre-Hispanic imagery to mark regional and cultural identity, whether as emblems of defiance by the Chicano civil rights movement or symbols of timeless craft traditions. Moderated by LACMA associate curator Megan E. O’Neil, the panel includes University of Pittsburgh assistant professor Jennifer Josten, UCLA Fowler Museum chief curator Matthew Robb, and artist Judithe Hernández.
Los Angeles–based Omgivning, though only nine years old, is already well known when it comes to adaptively reusing some of L.A.’s most historic structures. The firm’s name—taken from the Swedish word for “ambiance”—was started by Karin Liljegren in 2009 after she spent 15 years specializing in adaptive reuse projects, including the revitalization of Downtown L.A.’s Old Bank District, at Killefer Flammang Architects. Liljegren’s office grew out of a desire to “help people connect to something” in their built environment, as she explains it, a concept the designers use to push the limits of adaptive reuse. The office has worked on over 250 projects, everything from two-million-square-foot behemoths to tiny coffee shops, and it currently has a slate of impressive designs in the pipeline that will help reshape how Angelenos live and work in their city. Broadway Trade Center Omgivning is currently working on a 1.1-million-square-foot restoration of the Broadway Trade Center in Downtown Los Angeles. The five-story Beaux Arts–style structure—designed in 1908 by Alfred Rosenheim as a department store—has been underutilized since the 1970s. Omgivning is repurposing the building into a mixed-use complex that will contain storefronts and a food hall along the ground with 400,000 square feet of creative office spaces on the levels above. The architects will also add a series of rooftop structures to the complex, housing a private social club, a 100,000-square-foot hotel, and two roof decks. Though the project will contain two separate rooftop pools, designs are being carried out in a somewhat open-ended fashion in anticipation of potential market shifts that could require the complex to be reorganized in the future. Sears Building The office is also working to reconfigure one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks: the Sears, Roebuck & Company Mail Order Building designed by George C. Nimmons, in Boyle Heights. The art deco megastructure contains 1.8 million square feet of interior space and is made up of eight separate structures all contained under one roof. For the project, Omgivning is carving nine light courts into the ten-story building to bring in daylight and accentuate each of the building’s discrete sections. The light courts will create massive indoor atria while also allowing for the restoration of the original facades along each of these exposures. The massive development will act as a “city unto itself,” Liljegren explains, adding that the scale of the project is such that it can support a wide array of uses, like restaurants, 100,000 square feet of retail, 200,000 square feet of creative offices, 1,030 residential units, and a 130,000-square-foot rooftop. Broadway Lofts Omgivning’s recently completed Broadway Lofts project brings 58 live-work units to an adaptively reused six-story historic office building in Downtown L.A. The complex is packed with multilevel lofts that are connected via new light wells, similar to but at a much smaller scale than the light wells planned for the Sears building. The wells, spanned by new glass bridges and highlighted with floor-to-ceiling window assemblies populated by colored glass, bring interior views and daylight to each of the units. The arrangement allows for each of the 650-square-foot units to receive daylight from two directions. Don Francisco’s Coffee The office also works at the small scale, as evidenced by the tropically inspired designs for the 4,500-square-foot Don Francisco’s Coffee storefront in the historic Spring Arcade Building in Downtown L.A. The white-walled Cuban-themed cafe features wooden midcentury modern furniture, decorative tilework, and gold-topped tables strewn about a long, narrow space. The soaring volume is divided up by concrete structural columns, while a pair of arched doorways frame a separate study room lined with tropical plants.
When it comes to plazas and parks, Los Angeles–area landscape architects and designers have big plans for the future. The region is slowly warming up to the possibility of a more pedestrian-oriented urbanism, and, as a result, public spaces old and new are being imagined to suit that potential future. And while the region is adding plenty of new parks—the new Los Angeles State Historic Park, the ever-expanding Grand Park by Rios Clementi Hale Studios (RCH Studios), and the now-iconic Tongva Park by James Corner Field Operations come to mind—attention is now beginning to shift toward redefining the public plaza as it is practiced in L.A. One experiment comes from RCH Studio’s renovations to the Music Center plaza, originally designed by landscape architects Cornell, Bridgers, and Troller in association with Welton Becket and Associates in 1967. The stepped concrete plaza currently contains a Jacques Lipchitz–designed sculpture at its center, the art object surrounded by a maze of sunken courtyards, large planter boxes, and interactive fountains. RCH Studios plans to revamp the plaza to make the space more ADA-compliant while also bringing pedestrian energy from bustling Grand Avenue up into the plaza. The complex is on the same street as the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Broad Museum and sits on axis with Grand Park and City Hall, relationships that the designers wanted to emphasize and perfect over the course of their renovations. Bob Hale, partner at RCH Studios, said, “Creating open space in L.A. is a very different thing than doing so in other places,” explaining that one of the goals of the renovations was to make the plaza hospitable enough to function as a “fifth venue” to complement the four existing concert halls and performance spaces on the site. The proposed 50,000-square-foot plaza—scheduled to reopen in 2019—will be completely flat, punctuated at its corners by pavilions containing a full-service restaurant, a cafe, a bar, permanent public restrooms, and a welcome kiosk. The project will also involve replacing existing—and over-pruned—ficus trees with new Agonis Flexuosa trees that will help create a more comfortable plaza as their canopies fill out. In Culver City, SWA Principal Gerdo Aquino and his team are working to create a new central square for the city on top of what was once a dusty parking lot. The firm’s Culver Steps project—created in partnership with EYRC architects and Hackman Capital Partners—is part of a podium-style development that will bring a new 55,000-square-foot stepped plaza with generously landscaped open spaces to the city’s core. The ascendant plaza will sit above a new underground parking garage and will share ground floor areas with a bevy of storefronts. A so-called “grand staircase” is to run up the slope, flanked by pockets of seating areas. The summit of the jaggedly stepped promenade will contain restaurants on one side and a four-story office structure on another. In all, the superblock- size project will unite a mix of squares and promenades served by the commercial and office spaces. “Many American cities are reimagining their city centers, sometimes in unconventional locations and ways,” Aquino explained. “The city and the major stakeholders have always considered the plaza as something that could be ‘out of the box’ and not tied down to any one precedent.” Landscaping for the plaza is inspired by the Sierra Nevada Mountains and will contain more conventional plantings along its lowest levels, with increasingly showy and diverse species of shade trees and evergreens up the steps and at the top of the structure. Ultimately, the steps will open in 2019 with the aim of creating a bustling and interactive plaza “filled with as many trees as possible.”
The Architecture and Design Museum (A+D Museum) in Los Angeles has elevated assistant director and curator Anthony Morey to the position of executive director. Morey is a Southern California Institute of Architecture– and Harvard Graduate School of Design–educated designer, writer, and theorist. He has served as a discussion moderator at the GSD and is also an editor-at-large for Archinect. Morey teaches design at the University of Southern California School of Architecture and also maintains a practice, Ynotworkshop. Morey also co-founded and is the chief curator of One-Night Stand for Art & Architecture in Los Angeles, an annual exhibition of cutting-edge works by young designers. In a statement announcing Morey’s tenure, incoming A+D Museum board president Nancy Levens said:
"Fortunately, this is one of those lightning in a bottle moments for A+D. The board consists of idea-driven and dedicated individuals who transformed the passion and energy of a nomadic museum into a fixture of the Arts District and we are committed to bringing it all to the next level. [Morey has] stepped into his role seamlessly. He is already providing the leadership necessary to drive the expansion of A+D’s community relations, exhibits, and programs. His intelligence and enthusiasm for the Museum’s mission are, of course, also invaluable and the best imaginable fit.”In the same statement, Morey said, “The diversity and trajectories of architecture and design are at an all-time high and as important as ever, if not more, and the role of the museum—our museum—is to produce a platform to present and promote progressive architecture and design equal to the rigor, enthusiasm, and diversity that exists within the culture we represent.” Morey takes the helm of A+D Museum following the relatively short tenure of Dora Epstein Jones, who was appointed to lead the museum in 2016 following its move from the Miracle Mile neighborhood to the Los Angeles Arts District. Morey will be the third director for the institution.
In recent months, legislators in California have begun a concerted effort to use state law to address the state’s ongoing housing crisis. The moves come amid worsening regional inequality that has pushed housing affordability outside the reach of many populations. Facing mounting pressure from a growing cohort of pro-housing YIMBY activists and increasingly grim economic and social impacts—including a sharp increase in the number of rent-burdened households and the number of individuals and families experiencing homelessness—state-level legislators have begun to take action where municipal leaders have thus far stopped short. Late last year, the California State Legislature approved a bundle of housing-focused bills in what amounted to the first key win for state-led housing reform efforts. The legislature passed a total of seven bills aimed at streamlining permitting, enforcing regional housing production benchmarks, and preventing municipalities from down-zoning parcels or rejecting by-right projects. Several of the bills also aimed to stimulate new housing spending for affordable units, including a measure that will allow for a low-income housing–focused $3 billion bond to go onto the November 2018 statewide ballot and a measure that institutes a modest levy on certain real estate transactions in the state in order to raise up to $250 million each year for low income housing construction. The two combined measures could make over $8 billion in new funding available for affordable housing production over the next decade. These bills followed the adoption in late 2016 of a streamlined Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) ordinance that legalizes backyard homes across the state while also providing minimum zoning standards for ADUs that homeowners and developers can follow when local rules do not exist. The shift has led to a surge in ADU applications across California’s big and small cities alike, as homeowners move to build new ADUs while also legalizing existing bootlegged units. In a blow to NIMBY activists, the move also essentially doubled the residential density of the state’s single-family zoned lots overnight, with the added benefit that ADUs developed in certain areas—historic districts, ½-mile from transit—could be built without added parking. A recent report from the University of California, Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation concluded that “ADUs are poised to play a significant role in alleviating California’s housing crisis and state, regional, and local leaders should continue to examine ways in which barriers to this type of development can be removed.” The report cited an explosion in building permits for ADUs following their legalization, with 1,980 units pending in Los Angeles for 2017 compared with just 90 the year prior. Efforts are currently underway to continue to streamline ADU development at the state level. Hopes of using state law to right California’s housing market were boosted further this year by the introduction of SB 827, a transformative new state law that would, among other things, override local planning code to raise height limits and boost density while abolishing parking requirements for lots located near mass transit. The bill is authored by State Senator Scott Wiener—one of the authors of several of the 2017 housing bills—and has the backing of many of the state’s increasingly influential pro-housing activists. Specifically, for properties located within ¼ mile of a transit corridor or one block from a major transit stop, the bill would disallow height limits lower than 85 feet, except for when a particular parcel fronts a street 45 feet or less in width, in which case the minimum height limit would drop to 55 feet. The bill would also forbid height limits below 55 feet for all areas ½ mile from transit routes. The law, if passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, would also forbid the imposition of minimum parking requirements for parcels within a ½-mile radius of a transit stop or within a ¼-mile radius from a transit corridor. One of the bill’s strengths is that these provisions lump high-performing bus routes in with light and heavy rail infrastructure, making their potential effects across the state quite vast, as many of its major cities have extensive bus networks. Wiener’s bill is seen widely as a potentially earth-shattering piece of legislation that would upend decades’ worth of ever-tightening local control—often at the expense of density and new construction. The abolition of parking minimums in particular would represent a sea-change in car-loving California, where parking takes up a lot of space and significantly adds to the cost of building new housing. Policy Club, a collective of digitally-savvy professionals who aim to utilize data to help politicians craft “smarter public policies that will move the needle on some of California’s most pressing challenges” has generated a visualization that postulates what some of the changes in density, parking, and maximum height might look like for the City of Los Angeles. Hunter Owens, a Policy Club contributor, explained that, at least in L.A., parking reductions associated with the bill will do the most to change the way the city builds in response to the bill. Owens said, "We were surprised to find that it's the parking requirements that are keeping building heights and density down," adding that many potentially affected areas in L.A. already benefit from lenient height limits. Doing away with parking requirements would allow housing developers to build more of the units they are entitled to build and make for a more efficient use of land, the maps show. The group is currently working to digitize city planning codes from across the state in an effort to create more visualizations. Another potential benefit from the bill would be the dramatic increase in the number of new sites where deed-restricted affordable housing units could potentially be built if SB 827 and the affordable housing bond pass later this year, according to Brian Hanlon of California YIMBY. SB 827 would permit nonprofit developers to build affordable housing in many so-called "high-opportunity" areas throughout the state that currently prohibit dense development. The bill would also dramatically expand the production of deed-restricted affordable housing in cities with inclusionary zoning policies, since building market-rate homes also requires providing homes for low-income Californians, Hanlon explained. These changes could make deed-restricted affordable housing an additional major force in resolving the crisis by incentivizing—rather than requiring—inclusionary development along transit routes. That component as well as the other provisions of the law could generate “millions” of potential new units, according to Hanlon’s early projections. Though official estimates are still pending, the prospect for lots of new housing construction are good if SB 827 passes later this year.
The Architectural League of New York’s Emerging Voices award and lecture series highlights individuals and firms with distinct design “voices”, singling out those with the potential to go on to even greater heights. 2018 saw two rounds of judging; first by a panel of past Emerging Voices winners, and a second to pick the winners. The first-round jury included Virginia San Fratello, Sebastian Schmaling, Wonne Ickx, Lola Sheppard, Marcelo Spina, Carlos Jimenez, and Marlon Blackwell, as well as members of the second-round jury, Sunil Bald, Lisa Gray, Stella Betts, Jing Liu, Paul Makovsky, Tom Phifer, Chris Reed, and Billie Tsien. AN originally profiled all of the emerging voices firms in our February print issue. LA-Más founders Helen Leung and Elizabeth Timme will deliver their lecture on March 22nd, 2018, at the SVA Theatre in Manhattan. For LA-Más, architecture does nothing if it doesn’t address a need. Guided by co-executive directors Elizabeth Timme and Helen Leung, the nonprofit urban design organization believes that too many young architects have become disconnected from this fundamental aspect of the discipline. By combining expertise in both design and policy, and by forming productive partnerships with other nonprofits, community groups, and local governments, the duo is creating street-level strategies for empowering communities that are often overlooked or threatened by demographic shifts. Working in collaboration with district councils or local business development groups, LA-Más has developed a series of vibrant projects, throughout L.A. designed to create a safer and more accessible pedestrian experience. These high-impact, low-cost projects include wayfinding, murals, street furniture, and temporary parks like the cartoon-inspired interventions of Hollywood Pop!, which converts a vacant corner lot into a privately owned public space where passersby can share their thoughts about the neighborhood’s future. More substantial transformations have resulted from their small business support program, which was created to provide local mom-and-pops with design services and additional support. LA-Más doesn’t just give these businesses a new storefront; they give them a new outreach network and help with leases, licenses, and websites. “They don’t just feel like they’re surviving,” said Leung, “but that they’re supported, which is a huge paradigm change.” These projects aren’t the result of abstract planning exercise but of listening to the people who live and work in the neighborhood. Timme added: “That’s what Helen and I do—we facilitate a conversation between a community and the city.” LA-Más’s work with accessory dwelling units (ADUs) is its most ambitious, and perhaps most impactful, project yet. Created to combat the housing crisis in L.A., its ADU Pilot Project is an opportunity to get residents directly involved in the development of their communities by building affordable housing in their own backyards—literally. In collaboration with organizations including the mayor’s office, local council, and Habitat for Humanity, the firm is building their first ADU in the Highland Park neighborhood. The two-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot project will not only be a model for affordable and contextual housing solutions but for innovative financing and future ADU policy. And it’s the best example yet of the benefits offered by LA-Más’s unique blending of policy and planning. As Leung said, “Because we can combine all these skills, we get to test ideas, implement, figure out what works, ground it in the need of the community, and really push the boundaries of what’s possible.”
In recent years, the West Coast’s booming cities have seen significant population growth, resulting in an ongoing and worsening housing-affordability crisis. Though there are many overlapping causes for this crisis, the phenomenon is partially a product of too much success and not enough planning—cities like Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have added tens of thousands of new jobs over the years, but have built comparatively few homes to serve those workers. The result is a dizzying increase in the number of people experiencing burdensome rents and homelessness coupled with an expanded reliance on automobile transit as people are forced to live farther away from their jobs in order to afford housing. This regime is straining urban and civic life as more and more people—including college students, school teachers, and even police officers and firefighters— face increasing difficulties in terms of housing affordability. But just as the overlapping crises of climate change, housing unaffordability, and gridlock threaten to overwhelm these cities, potential solutions may be afoot. Across the region, major cities are beginning to cooperate at the regional level with peripheral municipalities in an effort to rein in carbon emissions, increase affordability and equity, and decrease automobile reliance. By relying on envisioned networks of transit-connected villages to grow up rather than out, entire metropolitan regions have the potential to be remade in the image of multi-nodal urbanism. In the Los Angeles area, the Southern California Association of Governments represents 18 million residents across a six-county region with the aim of helping to reduce sprawl. To the north, the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association aims to unite the region’s 101 municipalities toward measured growth. Of the three major West Coast cities, however, Seattle—nearly 30 years into its own regional planning experiment following the passage of the Washington State Growth Management Act in 1990—is the furthest along in its efforts to articulate a new form of dense regional urbanism centered on regional transit and dispersed density. As it should, the path toward this brave new world begins with high-capacity transit. Though only established in 1993, the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority (Sound Transit) is in the midst of a massive, multibillion-dollar expansion plan that will see the transit agency extend a slew of new light rail and bus rapid transit (BRT) lines across the Puget Sound region. Sound Transit has been undergoing vigorous growth since 1996, when the agency published its initial “Sound Move” plan, which has been amended, expanded, and reapproved by regional voters first in 2008 and again in 2016. The most recent version— Sound Transit 3 (ST3)—consists of a 25-year vision aimed at adding an additional 62 new miles of light rail throughout the region with the goal of ultimately creating 116 miles of light rail augmented by expanded commuter rail and new BRT services. Crucially, the expanded system includes increased street bus service, shorter headways between buses and trains, and increased transit capacity via longer train cars and articulated buses. When fully built out, the system will span north to Everett, south to Tacoma, east to Redmond and west to Ballard and serve a projected population of five million. Aside from being a transit plan, ST3 is also part of a dogged, municipally led vision aimed at supplementing Seattle’s downtown core by investing in and redeveloping existing cities and towns across the Puget Sound. The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), a cooperative agency tasked with envisioning equitable growth strategies for the region, leads the effort on the planning side. The organization helps to study and deploy land-use reforms like up-zoning, works to preserve the location and size of existing industrial lands, and pursues transportation and urbanization planning initiatives with the aim of keeping the rural areas, farmland, and forests around metropolitan regions “healthy and thriving,” according to the organization’s website. The council’s Vision 2040 plan—a growth management– focused environmental, economic, and transportation vision for Puget Sound crafted in 2007—aims to provide a blueprint for this transformation. PSRC’s vision seeks to direct urban growth so that it coincides with Sound Transit’s projected transit map for the future, overlaying progressive planning principles atop new transit corridors before the new lines are ever built. The effect is that land can be bought sooner and at cheaper prices, allowing, for example, nonprofit housing providers to maximize their investments long before surrounding real estate appreciates. Vision 2040 aims to create a set of interconnected “regional centers” that concentrate a density of housing, jobs, and civic and entertainment uses along these new transit corridors. According to PSRC, Washington state’s job growth will be three times higher than the national average over the next five years, a phenomenon the group hopes will reshape the Puget Sound region as a whole. The council is currently working to update its regional-centers plan, and it seeks to cluster groups of complementary industries across the region synergistically with housing and other services. Producing this “housing-jobs balance,” Josh Brown, executive director of PSRC said, is a central mission of the organization. Brown explained, “Our plan calls for larger existing cities to accommodate growth so we can achieve a better housing-jobs balance across the region.” Using this so-called Centers Framework, the organization has been able to create a plan for concentrating urban growth in existing urban centers and projects that, by 2040, the region will be served by over one hundred high-capacity transit stations surrounded by a density of mixed uses. PSRC administers and supports various programs to fulfill these goals, including helping to launch the so-called Regional Equitable Development Initiative (REDI) Fund, which helps to capture low land prices in future-growth areas with the intention of developing mixed-use projects that contain full-throated affordable housing components. The REDI Fund was launched by Enterprise Community Partners and regional partners like PSRC in December 2016 and recently closed on its first deal, a project developed with the Tacoma Housing Authority to create 300 to 500 new homes in the city’s West End neighborhood. For the project, at least 150 of the units will be priced for low- and moderate-income households in a bid to provide affordable housing for community college students in danger of falling into homelessness. The project is planned for a site across the street from Tacoma Community College and will eventually sit at the southern terminus of a forthcoming light rail line. The development will help PSRC achieve its interlocking goals of promoting density in existing corridors while also supporting the region’s burgeoning cohort of future workers. James Madden, senior program director with Enterprise Community Partners, said, “Our goal is to get private land into the hands of mission-oriented nonprofits in order to create mixed-income, multifamily housing.” The initiative comes as the region begins to embrace the coming changes. In the city of Lynwood, north of Seattle, for example, a 250-acre site surrounding a forthcoming light rail station is being redeveloped into a district called City Center that will contain mixed-use development and include a convention center and pedestrian- oriented street design. The plan will help Lynnwood grow in population by over 50 percent in coming decades. The eastern city of Redmond—where Microsoft’s headquarters are located—is also pushing forward on new transit-oriented projects, including the city’s Overlake Village, a 170-acre district that will contain 40,000 residents in the future. The first phase of the redevelopment is a 1,400-unit complex called Esterra Park that will also contain 1.2 million square feet of offices, 25,000 square feet of retail uses, a hotel, and a conference center. Taken together, the multifaceted growth plans in place across the Puget Sound region can serve as an example of a potential future for West Coast cities, a vision that is particularly focused on equity, pedestrianism, and dense urban redevelopment.
Los Angeles–based La Terra Development and Urban Architecture Lab are working to bring a combined 246 apartments and 23,300 square feet of retail to two sites adjacent to Barnsdall Art Park—home of the Frank Lloyd Wright–designed Hollyhock House—in L.A.’s Los Feliz neighborhood. Dubbed Los Feliz I and Los Feliz II and located at 4850 and 4900 Hollywood Boulevard, respectively, the two apartment complexes are designed to preserve views from the street toward the Hollyhock House, according to community preferences for neighborhood development. Renderings released by the developer show a pair of contemporary structures that feature a mix of vertically- and horizontally-oriented bands of projecting window assemblies, with the 4850 structure stepping back as it rises, creating rooftop terraces along lower sections. This structure contains a wide street frontage along Hollywood Boulevard that is occupied by storefronts and features a second-level courtyard, as well. The 4850 project aims to bring 96 apartments and 9,500 square feet of retail to the area, while the larger 4900 project will contain 150 units and 13,800 square feet of retail uses. The 4900 proposal, on the other hand, is articulated as a more conventional apartment block with a solid wall of repeating window bays and projecting balconies running the length of Hollywood Boulevard. Located just a few blocks from the Vermont-Sunset stop on the Red Line subway, the projects are also being marketed by the developers as having commanding views of the Hollyhock House, the Griffith Observatory, and the Hollywood Sign. The twin developments join a growing list of medium-density projects that are on the way to the transit-adjacent area, including a trio of similarly-massed apartments headed for Sunset Junction, a 202-unit complex from Killefer Flammang Architects, and a 96-unit project by architecture firm KTGY. The La Terra projects are currently under development, but a timeline has not been released for either project, Urbanize.la reports. For more information, see the La Terra Development website.