Nearly 50 years ago, British architectural scholar Reyner Banham embraced Los Angeles for its non-convention, identifying four separate identities – beach, foothill, flatland and freeway – that characterized its development. Banham’s Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies is widely regarded as a classic component of the city’s literature, mentioned with Raymond Chandler, Christopher Isherwood and other writers who defined L.A.
Banham did not dismiss Los Angeles for its stereotypical quirks; rather he idolized its superficialities – sprawling, sun worshipping, car-centric and indulgent. Today’s Los Angeles is undeniably and without quirk a major urban place. A vibrant and diverse resident culture in Downtown Los Angeles is but one example of a true renaissance, and mature urbanism thrives in other L.A. communities. The pattern and practice of development in today’s Los Angeles reflects a maturation from the age of Banham’s halcyon boosterism.
Development in Los Angeles now embraces infill locations and has largely abandoned sprawling dispersal into suburbia. Infill locations, especially those located near transit resources and often utilizing adaptive reuse opportunities, reflect both millennial demand and available opportunities. Adaptive reuse is particularly suited to housing, as large industrial or institutional structures are converted to multifamily residential. One such example is East River Group’s repositioning of the former Sears shipping facility in Boyle Heights. The conversion of the historic building on Olympic Boulevard includes 345,000 square feet of retail space, 1,030 live/work units, 250,000 square feet of creative office space and a parking structure with 1,500 spaces. Taking advantage of small unit sizes and transit-based development incentives, the project is “affordable-by-design” and will provide a mix of housing and employment to Boyle Heights.
Using existing physical infrastructure to provide housing in infill locations is not unique to Los Angeles, but in many transitioning urban areas adaptive reuse has invigorated communities and fostered more redevelopment. Moreover, a vibrant mix of new development and repurposed older uses lends permanence to communities and counters the faddishness of earlier eras of Los Angeles development.
In a more enlightened way than Banham’s celebration of the freeway ecology, contemporary L.A. continues to re- evaluate its relationship with the automobile. Development patterns now reflect increased use of transit, shared vehicle services and alternative forms of transport. Development approvals, including the under construction mixed-use project near the corner of Pico and Sepulveda Boulevards in West L.A., now disconnect the use of land from the automobile. Betting that future multifamily residents will not uniformly demand parking spaces, approvals “decouple” parking from housing so that residents can choose between a parking space or a transit pass when they sign a lease. When and if residents do not use all of a building’s parking, the landlord is free to market its parking amenity to other users, such as transit riders who commute from neighboring rail stations.