Los Angeles Debates Controversial Citywide Design Guidelines

James Brasuell discusses the contentious proposal to adopt citywide design guidelines for use by L.A.'s City Council. While the guidelines are intended to raise the level of design throughout the city, some argue they will stifle good design.

With masterworks by influential architects such as Frank Gehry, Richard Neutra, and Rudolph Schindler gracing its neighborhoods, Los Angeles has a hearty history of experimental architecture. But could such touchstones of modern architecture have been built if a set of design guidelines had been in place to mandate "good design." That's the question at the heart of a debate over the elevation of L.A. existing Citywide Design Guidelines for use by the City Council.

"The LA planning commission has used the Citywide Design Guidelines since 2011 in its advisory role on large projects and planning policies," explains Brasuell. "But according to LA city planner Deborah Kahen, the main criticism of the guidelines in that time has been a lack of teeth in enforcement. By adopting the guidelines for use by the city council, said Kahen, the new ordinance would provide a 'blanket' over the city, compensating for inadequate design standards in a patchwork of community plans."

The counter-argument, delivered by concerned architects such as Andrew Zago, is "that the guidelines might be too stifling: 'The guidelines may well prevent a lot of the worst from happening, but they may also prevent the best from happening,' he said"

"Acknowledging that the guidelines are well intentioned, Zago suggested that if the city wants to promote higher levels of design, it should develop language to empower local architects to turn the city into an incubator of architectural innovation: 'I would imagine that the city should say, ‘Wow, were [sic] leading the world in innovative architecture practices. What can we do with our codes to see some of these things happen on the streets?’”

Full Story: Blessing or Curse?

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