House & Robertson’s Jim House, left, and Doug Robertson at Columbia Square project in Hollywood.

House & Robertson’s Jim House, left, and Doug Robertson at Columbia Square project in Hollywood. Photo by Ringo Chiu.

Small, hip architecture firms have won plenty of projects lately amid L.A.’s new building boom, but to get projects built right, on budget and with the blessings of city code officials, those firms sometimes turn to the uncreative, unsexy skills of what’s called executive architects.

Firms such as House & Robertson Architects Inc. in Culver City don’t do the design work handled by most architects. Instead, they have a more behind-the-scenes role: They draft the detailed, technical drawings that contractors need to build structures. They manage project budgets and supervise contractors. And they make sure projects meet local construction requirements.

Those are jobs small architecture firms often can’t handle in house, especially on big or complex projects. And as small design-oriented firms have seen their business grow, so have executive architects.

At House & Robertson, revenue has exceeded the firm’s prerecession peak by about 20 percent, said Principal Jim House, who runs the firm with partner Doug Robertson. Their staff of 29 architects is bigger than it ever was.

“More and more developers are looking at not bringing in old-guard design firms, but younger, more creative architects,” House said. “But they also want to keep them on track with budgets, and that’s part of the trend that’s led to a big uptick in business (for us) over the last couple of years.”

Another firm specializing in executive architecture, Adamson Associates Architects, which is based in Toronto but has an office in Los Angeles, has also seen business pick up. George Metzger, an Adamson principal in Los Angeles, said developers increasingly want design firms to focus on design and let executive architects handle the rest. He’s also seen developers hiring more foreign or out-of-state architects. When the designer isn’t in town, Metzger said developers are especially keen to have a local executive architect.

“It’s becoming a smaller world, so developers are selecting architects from all parts of the world,” he said. “But those design architects don’t have design experience locally, so the trend is to combine them with local executive architects.”

Creative spaces

One of House & Robertson’s current projects is Columbia Square, a blocklong project under construction in Hollywood by West L.A. developer Kilroy Realty Corp. Kilroy hopes the project will attract creative firms and young workers with a mix of creative office space, high-rise housing, shops, restaurants and park space, all built on a former radio, TV and film production site on Sunset Boulevard.


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