Last Updated: November 17, 2011




As a city, how do we remain competitive? How do we most effectively celebrate our strengths and repair our deficiencies?

AIA|LA applauds the ongoing leadership of the City of Los Angeles to implement the "Development Reform Strategic Plan: Building a Better LA". Collaboratively, the Mayor's Office of Economic and Business Policy, the Department of Building and Safety and the Department of City Planning have institutionalized a leadership structure that will benefit the City for years to come.

It's an excellent start and we commend the team that brought the plan to fruition.

Although we're confident that executing the initiatives outlined in the strategic plan will help transition the City of Los Angeles into a better place to live, work and visit, AIA|LA would like to build upon its progressive foundation and advocate for four additional objectives:

  1. Build a World Class City, Prioritize Design Excellence
  2. Concentrate on Development Hotspots via Pilot Projects
  3. Utilize Alternative Delivery Methods to Maximize Public Funds
  4. Invest in an Updated Zoning Code

OBJECTIVE #1: Build a World Class City, Prioritize Design Excellence

The setting of Los Angeles rivals any major city in the world. Los Angeles is also the proud home to a wonderfully talented and diverse population that excels in producing creative and technically innovative solutions. Frequently, we export those creative solutions to other parts of the world, which in turn, due to our own systemic impediments, often puts our city at an economic disadvantage.

When compared to other world-class cities, we are quickly losing our competitive edge. To regain our competitiveness, the idea isn't to stop exporting creative solutions (that's our livelihood!) - but rather, we need to immediately start applying those innovative design solutions here - in our own city - where they will matter most. Complicating matters even further is the fact that during this time of economic and regulator uncertainty, we must learn to do more with less. Our systems have to be more efficient, and our investments have to be optimized to deliver maximum value to the public.

To solve this challenge, the City of Los Angeles must apply a core tenet of design excellence to improve our urban system citywide. Since every dollar counts and every imminent decision becomes exponentially more important than the last, excellence in architecture and urban design will translate into greater cost-savings and a higher value of return on our public investments.

Pursuant to the successful implementation of the City's recent Development Reform Strategic Plan (DRSP), AIA|LA encourages City of Los Angeles leadership to institutionalize an official Design Excellence Program and to have this program executed by appointing a Deputy Mayor of Architecture and Urban Design.

A smart precedent for how a design excellence program can save government agencies money and add long-term value to public investments is New York City's Department of Design and Construction (DDC), which is led by architect David J. Burney, FAIA. Founded under the leadership of Mayor Bloomberg, the DDC's Design and Construction Excellence Program was modeled after the GSA's extremely successful Design Excellence initiative, which was quite successfully led by architect Ed Feiner, FAIA.

The Deputy Mayor of Architecture and Urban Design will work in tandem with the Deputy Mayor of Economic and Business Policy to optimize the capital improvement projects being led by the city in such a way to:

a.) Prioritize design excellence;
b.) Ensure interdepartmental and intergovernmental cooperation resulting in more efficient and better integrated design and delivery of transportation, building and open space projects
c.) Augment the urban planning and design mission of the city to bring greater attention to development hotspots.

Currently, city departments often work in isolation from one another. Ongoing capital improvement projects are not coordinated amongst each of the departments holistically and are sometimes in direct conflict with one another. An example of this may be when the CRA/LA implements streetscape improvements that quickly get up-rooted by LADWP, or when the Bureau of Street Services initiates streetscape improvement projects that do not comply with imminent updates to an area's community plan or zoning overlay.

A Deputy Mayor of Architecture and Urban Design charged with overseeing all of these divergent efforts will identify collateral opportunities and leverage capital investments more effectively. A Deputy Mayor of Architecture and Urban Design can optimize city dollars so that one well-designed and comprehensive capital improvement plan serves the objectives of several departments simultaneously. Essentially, the Deputy Mayor of Architecture and Urban Design will serve as an conduit to better knit together the various city leaders and offices that either help to deliver or help service the contracts and permits for capital improvement projects.


Only certain areas of the City of Los Angeles can sustain continued growth and densification. Since protecting the character of our single-family residential neighborhoods is vital to the long-term health and well-being of our City, sustainable development in targeted areas of our City needs to become a greater priority to facilitate the long-term growth of our region. Applied resources need to be channeled to specific, designated areas that can accommodate growth - Development Hotspots. Most of these growth-zones will be in our Transit-Oriented Districts, or where capital improvements are already occurring. Well- designed pilot or 'demonstration' projects, which provide an example of the shape of future development, can be a cost efficient and quick way to test planning concepts and inform long range planning efforts.

AIA|LA recommends to establish a planning congress representative of the leadership of citywide planning, with the inclusion of each Councilmembers planning deputies and representatives from departments such as LADOT, LADWP, LAWA, the Port of LA, CRA/ LA and leadership from METRO. This team will identify areas for targeted specific plans and will solicit public/private development in the form of highly-visible pilot projects that will help test and sharpen the city's internal methods and will further the communities trust that certain, targeted development can be implemented strategically into our existing communities. This can be done with a balanced mixture of regulatory clarity and meaningful incentives for great design (great design being something that not only looks good but functions with superior performance). A sspecific zoning overlay, created around development, can provide the city with immediate results that can then be implemented in a long-range plan or modified as necessary.

Given that the planning effort involved with implementing our Community Plans is a long-range effort, we believe that targeted specific plans can be developed more quickly, around areas where development is already occurring. These areas may not coincide with our Community Plans, but may be in an area where transit dollars are concentrated (such as transit stops along the new Expo Line) or where capital improvements are occurring, such as at the Port of LA or where the CRA may be targeting the development of affordable mixed-use housing. Pilot projects enable the City to maximize the value of its capital investments and serve as a model by which development, urban design and planning can occur simultaneously. they are also aimed at demonstrating how a high standard of design excellence can ensure the successful integration into existing communities, while at the same time serve as a means of testing larger planning and policy initiatives. As such, they are an ideal vehicle by which to achieve greater certainty, efficiency and transparency in the delivery of administrative services.

OBJECTIVE #3: Utilize Alternative Delivery Methods To Maximize Public Funds

The City of Los Angeles has historically used the design/low-bid/build method of delivery for capital improvement projects. More recently, the City has selectively used Design- Build. The private sector utilizes a wide array of delivery methods, selecting the method that is optimal for each project. We support the City's effort to pursue all the various project delivery methods available in the toolbox, to maximize its investments and achieve greater efficiency in its project delivery. We understand the request to give broader authority to City contracting agencies to use alternative delivery methods will be before Council shortly as a draft Ordinance, and we support this direction.

Project delivery processes must enhance the quality, cost-effectiveness and sustainability of our built environment. This can best be achieved through industry-wide adoption of integrated approaches to project delivery characterized by early and regular involvement of owners, architects, constructors, fabricators and end user/operators in an environment of effective collaboration, mutually defined goals and open information sharing. Working towards this goal, AIA|LA requests that the City:

a.) Address legislative barriers that hinder the City's ability to freely utilize a wider range of delivery methods.
b.) Adopt measures to allow qualifications and past performance to be used as criteria in the selection of contractors.
c.) Work with AIA|LA and other organizations to achieve statewide change of those legislative barriers.

The quality and economy of architecture and urban design projects benefit from integrated, coordinated and cooperative teams of architects, engineers, and builders. The design/low- bid/build method prohibits builders from assisting design teams in the planning and design of projects. Low-bid selection also negates consideration of contractor's qualifications and past performance. This method has often led to adversarial relationships between owners, design professionals, and builders which in turn have led to added project costs in the form of excessive change orders, schedule overruns and legal costs.

Both private and government sectors are increasingly utilizing project delivery methods other than design/low-bid/build with positive results. Methods such as Integrated Project Delivery (IPD), design-assist, design-build, lease lease-back, CM multiple-prime and CM- at-risk are being used to reduce change orders, improve budget and schedule conformance, and realize improved quality and predictability of results. In the year 2010, with the leadership of the Office of Controller Wendy Greuel, and the City Engineer Gary Lee Moore, AIA|LA coordinated presentations and discussions on alternative project delivery methods and their benefits in achieving well-designed, best value projects. Following these workshops, City Council directed the Chief Legislative Analyst and the City Administrative Officer to work with other City departments to draft a City ordinance to permit alternative methods for City projects. This effort needs to be commended and the Ordinance adopted by Council so that the City contracting agencies are able to select appropriate contracting methods on a project-by-project basis.


Development and investment in our built environment is severely hindered by an antiquated zoning code that has not been comprehensively updated since it was written in 1946. Because the code has been amended hundreds of times over the past sixty-five years, it has grown increasingly complex and is often out of sync with our City's General Plan Framework.

Too much time and money is diverted away from project design and, instead, directed towards interpreting or deciphering the zoning code and its patchwork of overlays, special entitlements and site-specific conditions. Likewise, it has become a document that requires an excessive amount of Planning Departmental staff time to manage and is no longer fiscally responsible.

AIA|LA strongly recommends that City Councilmembers prioritize investing in a new, updated zoning code for the City of Los Angeles. As outlined in the recently completed Development Reform Strategic Plan (DSRP), City Council should strive to adequately fund this endeavor as an INVESTMENT in our City's future - not just an expense or an expenditure, but as an investment that will return added value back to the City's coffers. With a work program expected to cost $8 million over the course of five years, AIA|LA encourages this investment to be immediately considered in next year's budget cycle.

Some of this funding may come from leveraging opportunities with SCAG, Federal Sustainable Communities Grants (HUD, DOT, EPA), State of California Strategic Growth Council, or the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Investing in an updated version of our City's Zoning Code will provide numerous benefits.

A modern, zoning code will deliver:
* More predictable outcomes for the community and for developers
* Effective development standards with an added emphasis on design
* More streamlined review processes
* A more user-friendly code, with greater accessibility and customer service
* Fewer costly and burdensome discretionary actions
* Efficient use Planning Department staff and resources
* Better implementation of the General Plan Framework
* Better accessibility to all stakeholders
* A concise list of provisions and conditions for each particular property parcel
* Greater compatibility with a web-based permitting system
* Advanced integration with user-friendly software interface systems

Updating the zoning code will also enable the City to produce a document that is easier to understand and more comprehensible to the general public, fostering greater community involvement and civic leadership. A web-based, user-friendly zoning code will allow the City of Los Angeles to remain competitive as a world-class city.

Numerous other cities have successfully updated and revised their zoning codes. If Los Angeles wishes to remain as a competitive place to live and work, then it must commit to investing in a new zoning code.

JUMPSTART: Implementation Strategies

Each Mayor has the discretion to organize their administration as they deem most effective. Therefore, since we as a City are currently interviewing candidates for our next Mayor, we encourage city leadership to advocate to our next future Mayor the vital importance of designating a Deputy Mayor of Architecture and Urban Design and leading a campaign that will highlight the value and importance of better integrating our city departments to maximize opportunities for design excellence.

The pilot projects would be located where development is occurring. They should test varying formats of delivery, from a reform of the redevelopment process to insure better planning and architectural quality of publicly-subsidized private ventures through an improved procurement process; to public projects that experiment with new selection methods such as peer review or design competitions, The planning mechanism by which these could be achieved would be through the creation of a "spot zone" which is specific to the project site itself, and so has no overt or formal planning implications beyond the project. The sites should likewise vary in a range of different council districts and involve the various public agencies that have ongoing oversight of significant design and construction projects in the City.

Create a pilot-program and identify specific projects to test alternative delivery methods and use the results to inform policy changes. We are asking for each Council Member to identify an appropriate capital improvement project in their district, and to facilitate efforts to determine which alternative delivery method to utilize that will return optimal results.

Because of the size and complexity of the City of Los Angeles, and because writing a citywide zoning code is a herculean task, AIA|LA recognizes the need to and the jurisprudence of initiating a pilot program to test the efficacies of a revised zoning process. Focusing on areas where major economic activity and property development is warranted and needed, like Downtown Los Angeles or in areas with imminent large-scale transit investments, will enable a smoother transition for when the zoning code is updated citywide. The updated code will need to allow for better, faster development with a strong emphasis on design excellence. With that urgency in mind, AIA|LA is ready to serve as a leadership resource on a Zoning Code Revision Citizen's Committee.


The Los Angeles chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA|LA) is an organization of over 3200 design professionals. Our mission is to provide leadership in improving the built environment of Los Angeles, and the health and wellbeing of the citizens that it supports.

It is with care and compassion for our city that we strive through various advocacy initiatives and professional outreach programs to highlight the vital role of architecture and urban design.

Advancing and expanding the vital role of architecture and urban design:
+ Ensures a more attractive and livable city
+ Fosters a healthier and more sustainable environment
+ Builds "cultural capital" by attracting visitors and tourist dollars
+ Enlivens communities and bolsters civic pride
+ Enables greater cost-savings and a higher return on public investments

Our profession is the leading edge of a building industry that accounts for one in nine dollars of our national $14 trillion gross domestic product. Architects are vital to the economic recovery of our city; when an architect is hired, 30 additional jobs are created to build what we design.

To download a PDF of the 2011 AIA|LA Issue Briefs, PLEASE CLICK HERE.

For more information, please contact:
Will Wright, Hon. AIA|LA
Director of Government & Public Affairs
AIA Los Angeles
3780 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 800
Los Angeles, CA 90010
tel.: 1.213.639.0764
email: Will [@]

Photography credit: CLAIRE HARLAN |

"Futures not achieved are only branches of the past: dead branches."
- Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

Last updated: 11-Dec-2012 10:41 PM
Share Share