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'The Bar Has Never Been Higher': As LA Changes, Architects Need To Step Up Their Game

The Los Angeles landscape is changing. 

More boldly designed buildings are rising from the ground. New creative offices are fundamentally transforming how people work. More transit-oriented, mixed-use developments are being developed or in the pipeline.

CallisonRTKL President and CEO Kelly M. Farrell

To adapt to those changes, architects and designers have to step up their game, said CallisonRTKL President and CEO Kelly M. Farrell, who is speaking at Bisnow's Architecture and Design Summit June 19.

“I think the bar has never been higher in Los Angeles,” Farrell said. 

As more businesses, investment and people are coming into various areas of Los Angeles, architects and designers — together with their clients — are designing and planning how people will live, work and play now and into the future.

Los Angeles is transforming into a modern metropolis, Farrell said. Just look at some of the buildings that have been built in the past decade and areas that have changed.  

Using the changes in downtown Los Angeles as an example, there is a new approach to urbanism and more mixed-use towers are dotting the neighborhood's skyline, Farrell said. The Arts District and South Park have become vibrant places, she said.

“Look at The Broad [museum], the new courthouse, the Lucas Museum [of Narrative Art],” she said. “We are truly building a downtown for its residents and we are creating new experiences.  Our streets are knitting together, the pedestrian experience is becoming much more dynamic. The architecture is no longer focused on establishing place. It’s creating a visual and experiential identity for downtown. 

“These places are changing fast because of development and urban infill. And as architects, we have a responsibility to make that change for the better,” she said.

Rendering of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Los Angeles

Now more than ever clients are aware of their building presence, both in the interior and exterior, ZGF partner James Woolum said. Woolum was part of the design team that designed Google’s Spruce Goose headquarters in Playa Vista.

“The stakes are higher these days,” Woolum said. “In the old days, I’m saying like 15 years ago, the vast majority of our clients weren’t seeing a huge range of what’s out there [in terms of architecture and design] … it was largely a closed-loop system.

“But because of the rise of social media and the internet, people are more connected and curious,” he said. “They are aware of who is doing what.”

Woolum said companies and developers are challenging themselves to build visually appealing and functional spaces.

One important component on building the future of Los Angeles, Farrell and Woolum predict, will be dynamic mixed-use, transit-oriented development and sustainability. 

Because of LA's notorious traffic congestion and the demand for housing in urban areas, cars might be a thing of the past and developers and businesses might have to rethink how they design some parts of their buildings, Woolum said.

If more workers are using public transportation or bikes, Woolum said, office buildings may have to add a place for bike storage, showers and/or locker facilities.

"This is an encouraging trend, because it more resembles the organic growth of a city," Farrell said. "Vibrant urban places are not single-use environments that go dark at 6 o’clock. They’re dynamic, ever-changing tableaux that combine living and working and playing and shopping. Life’s rich pageant. They are safe and easily accessible. They are diverse and unique. They have something for everyone. That’s why mixed-use is such a strong tool."

But to have a fully dynamic mixed-use metropolis, the architectural community will have to contribute in some way to addressing some of Los Angeles' societal issues — such as homelessness, the dearth of affordable housing and transit issues, Farrell said.

"These aren’t traditional design or architecture challenges but societal ones where design and architecture are part of a larger solution," she said. "Architecture practices need to play a role in their communities and that includes helping to identify approaches to some of those big, intractable problems the world is facing."

Find out more at Bisnow's Architecture and Design Summit on June 19 at the LA Grand Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.