On a warm Friday morning last month, seven interns and new hires at downtown L.A. architecture firm HansonLA embarked on an unusual assignment: walking from the firm’s Spring Street office more than 16 miles to the Santa Monica Pier.

The trek was part of an annual rite started by firm co-founder Douglas Hanson nine years ago as a way to help trainees observe neighborhoods at street level.

“As an avid walker myself, there is no substitute for getting out on the street and observing the height and scale of buildings and feeling the energy of a neighborhood,” said Hanson, 57. “You certainly can’t get that from a car and even Google’s 3-D street views don’t convey it. Every architect should do this.”

Hanson said each intern took different routes, with most completing their walks in six to seven hours, though one intern managed to get lost and didn’t finish until after dark. At the pier, senior members of the firm were waiting to drive them back downtown.

“It was amazing to witness the change in scale from the high-rises downtown to the flatter, more sprawled-out areas,” said Austin Adams, a 20-year-old Angeleno who just completed his junior year at Syracuse University.

Adams said the most memorable moment came as he walked past a church under construction on Wilshire Boulevard.

“I actually stopped to watch as they put the stained-glass windows in; the light hitting the windows was spectacular,” he said.

– Howard Fine

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