Rogerio Carvalheiro, Assoc. AIA
RCFD Studio
City of West Hollywood Planning Commissioner

Interiview and Intro by Carlo Caccavale, Hon. AIA|LA

There has been much talk within the AIA about encouraging architects and designers to engage in civic life, especially these past 18 months. AIA has launched a campaign called Citizen Architect to recognize architects and designers who are taking time to participate in the life of the community and operate changes from inside, and hopefully inspire others to embrace activism.

AIA LA wants to celebrate the members who are taking the extra step to make changes in our society, to educate communities and lead the design conversation in the city. This is why we will be featuring members whose actions put their words in motion in discussions about their experience and the rewards they get from involvement.

I met with Rogerio Carvalheiro, Assoc. AIA over dinner to discuss his position as City of West Hollywood Planning Commission. Rogerio is the founder and Principal of RCDF Studio and teaches at UCLA Extensions Graduate School of Interior Architecture. There is much I want to ask him.

CC: How did you get involved with the City of West Hollywood and what led to this position?

RC: I was originally introduced to the City of West Hollywood as a board member of The Foundation for The Aids Monument (FAM). Our monument will be located in the City of West Hollywood. As Chair of the Design Committee for FAM, I made several presentations to the West Hollywood Arts and Cultural Affairs Commission (ACAC) and through that interaction I got to know several City Council Members, city staff, and ACAC. Shortly thereafter my life shifted and I moved back into West Hollywood at about the same time a vacancy surfaced in ACAC. Wanting to support the idea that art in our urban fabric benefits community, I applied for the open seat and was lucky enough to be selected. Then and after serving on ACAC for 2 years, an opening became available on the Planning Commission. There was a desire to have someone with an architecture background on the Commission. My name was circulated and I was brought in as a candidate. I interviewed together with 10 other people and was chosen for the position.

CC: As a Planning Commissioner, you have the opportunity to stand for good architecture in the city…

RC: Architects and designers bring a unique point of view to any Committee that is void of a design voice. I see how relevant this is to the project review process. At this time I am the only Commissioner on the Planning Commission with an architecture background and as such I am able to relate to and support Architects and their projects by establishing a design focused conversation that benefits the project itself – we speak a similar language.

CC: As a Planning Commissioner with an architecture background, your opinion might play a bigger role in the final decision: do you think that is the case? Do you think an architect on a Planning Commission becomes a stronger influencer?

RC: Yes, though it might not be any greater than anyone else on the Commission. The Commission is also composed of other professionals including lawyers, and this variety of viewpoints and backgrounds creates a great opportunity for good projects to shine. When I teach, I always invite (at least) one non-designer/architect on each final jury. I let my students know that if someone who does not speak our “design” language understands (and appreciates) your project, then they have succeeded in conveying their project message – the same applies to the Planning Commission. I enjoy that moment when I see a fellow “non-design” Commissioner understand the conceptual origins of a project. At that point I feel we are introducing another successful project into my City.

I also believe and support the idea that Architects and Designers can and should be visionaries. Collectively we can contribute and create strong civic identities. My goal as a Planning Commissioner is to guide the dialogue in this direction.

CC: Then, what do you think is the value of your position with regard to the development of the city of West Hollywood?

RC: In this position I am, hopefully, in a position to prevent mistakes from happening. Because of our education we understand our architecture and planning history, we know what has and what has not worked both locally and globally. This information informs our present day design decisions and how we perceive and create the future. As an example, we all know that few liked the Eiffel tower when it was built, people thought it was a disgrace but history has proven them wrong. The Eiffel Tower became a symbol of ingenuity and a symbol of one of my favorite cities. That said, we currently have a project moving through our city process that draws comparisons and I am in support of this innovative and unique structure. Some community members are in disagreement with me. I will continue to use my voice in support of ingenuity and forward thinking projects.

As a Commissioner I also have the opportunity to interact with the community. As noted, some might not like a particular project based on personal taste, or pre-conceived ideas, etc. These situations are great opportunities for me to understand how people outside our profession and in my community think and perceive their world. It is a fantastic opportunity to relate to the community in a meaningful way. In turn, they bring ideas and observations to my attention that are valid and worth consideration.

CC: Which brings me to the question about NIMBYSM which is a strong “movement” in LA and West Hollywood: how do you, as Planning Commissioner, react to the opposition coming from the neighborhoods?

RC: You listen and carefully consider their thoughts and criticisms. I sometimes have to put on a psychologist’s hat because, as I have already observed, the project is not always the issue but its something buried behind the reasoning that wants to be uncovered. It might even become an investigative or deductive process. Either way my goal is to find an informative answer that creates a fruitful dialogue, which can lead to a mutual understanding and a better decision that benefits everyone.

CC: What is your personal reward in being on the Planning Commission?

RC: How much I am expanding my own connection with my community – I grew up in a small town in Canada and it was easy to have a connection within that little community but in a big city like Los Angeles, a sense of community can be fleeting at best.

CC: This is a great conversation – do you have any final thoughts?

RC: Well, I would like to mention French Architect, Odile Decq – she noted (and I completely agree) that the great recession has fundamentally changed us and that the aim now shouldn’t necessarily be to be the “starchitect” but to have a meaningful involvement at a political and social level. Be part of the change and don’t stand on the sidelines waiting for the change to happen before you respond. We know that change doesn’t always happen from behind a desk, its time we get in there and mold the clay.

CC: Thank you Rogerio for your engagement – keep up the good work!


Rogerio Carvalheiro received a Master of Architecture from the University of California, Los Angeles.  Prior to founding RCDF Studio, he worked with Philippe Stark for SBE, with Cheryl Rowley Design, Koning and Eizenberg, and Moore Ruble Yudell.  He gained considerable experience working at The J. Paul Getty Trust as a Senior Project Manager and as Senior Design Director at Catellus Development Corporation.  He also has ample landscape design experience working at Burton and Spitz Landscape and Jay Griffith Landscape Design.  The sum total of his resume allows Rogerio to be involved at all levels from concept to completion with each RCDF Studio project.  Throughout his 20+ year career span, Rogerio remains active in the development of numerous award winning cultural, civic, commercial, residential, and hospitality projects.   At present, he serves as a Commissioner for the City of West Hollywood’s Planning Commission and for the Planning Commission’s Design Review Subcommittee, and also serves as Chair of the Design Committee for the Foundation for The AIDS Monument slated for install in 2019. In addition to his work with his firm and civic engagements, he regularly teaches advanced design studio courses at UCLA’s Graduate School of Interior Architecture. 
Last updated: 26-Apr-2018 02:34 PM
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