What Will the 'Third Los Angeles' Look Like?

Architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne describes an L.A. in flux, at once beholden to its postwar image and pushing in a new direction. The city, he says, faces existential questions on a scale unmatched elsewhere in the nation.

2 minute read

January 21, 2016, 10:00 AM PST

By Philip Rojc @PhilipRojc


Eastside Gold Line and Los Angeles skyline

JulieAndSteve / Flickr

In an interview, Christopher Hawthorne discusses why L.A. may be entering its third great incarnation. "All of us continue to be disappointed by how much of the reading of L.A. just assumes that the city started in 1930 or 1945 [...] Southern California was really built around the convenient marriage between streetcar lines and real estate speculation. That laid down the network on top of which the freeways were built."

After post-WWII suburbanization replaced an older car-less Los Angeles, today's push for public infrastructure is both reversal and revolution. Hawthorne remarks, "An easy way to think about what's happening is there was a time when nine out of every ten changes to a boulevard in L.A. were done with the idea of drivers in mind. Parking lots were added, sidewalks shrunk, buildings were destroyed along boulevards. Now the opposite is true; the vast majority of changes to boulevards are in favor of a balanced street."

Following an era suited to the individual, the city is considering its collective ambitions. "A lot of the basic ways in which the city defines itself are up for grabs in a way that's not true in any other major American city that I can think of. It's not true in San Francisco, New York, or Chicago. Those cities are in many ways fixed. In L.A., existential questions are still up for grabs."

L.A.'s "third era" may well include architectural rediscovery in the public space. Hawthorne says, "[L.A. has] become a very constrained, regulated, and risk-averse place in terms of new architecture. That's still surprising for people outside of L.A. to hear [...] We do have a great history of public space and civic architecture that we lost sight of."

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