Daily Archives: July 16, 2013

Sticks and Stucco

A quick follow-up to this post on LA density, after some more good conversation yesterday on Twitter, with Neal Lamontagne and Niall Huffman. That exchange drifted towards removing barriers to smaller-footprint mid-rise projects, for example, trying to configure parking on a small site. There are others, and this is an excellent but separate topic, so I’m still leaving it for another post for now.

However, the issue of barriers to small scale projects was not the thrust of the LA Downtown News article at hand, which was more like “gee, developers downtown are building a lot of wood-frame mid-rises, and we really wish they’d have built high-rises instead”, and my post on LA density was intended as a response to that mentality.

To wit, in the article, Eric Owen Moss, director of the Southern California Institute of Architecture, is quoted saying that, “it seems odd that as the city grows, the quality of Downtown stone construction is being replaced by sticks and plaster”. As I said in my initial post, that is simply a matter of taste. From an engineering perspective, well-built wood-frame construction is pretty high quality in terms of its load bearing capacity, ability to resist earthquake loads, and so on. I lived in Boston for a long time, so personally I’ve had enough brick and stone work to last a lifetime, but if someone wants to build it here in LA, more power to them.

Neal tweeted that it seems strange that downtown sites would not support taller construction. Maybe, maybe not, but from the article it seems like developers are getting to make the decision for themselves, which I think is a good thing. When I read things like “sites where some say the city should be encouraging more density”, alarm bells go off in my mind. “Encouraging” reads like saying that the mayor should call and give the developer a motivational speech; in practice, it means that the developer will be given monetary incentives to build high-rises. In a city like Los Angeles, where housing costs are already very high and public services face budget cuts, it is simply ridiculous for taxpayer money to be given to developers to construct housing – especially housing that, by the very nature of its type of construction, is going to be high-rent.

At least, it’s ridiculous from the perspective of my goals – so we’re back to that point, about defining our goals. If your goal is to have high-rises or stone construction, maybe those sacrifices are worth it. My goals center on affordability for residents and businesses. For the foreseeable future, it is going to be cheaper to build five six-story buildings than to build one thirty-story building. Los Angeles is so vast, and served by such a solid grid of arterials that could offer high quality transit, that the supply of sites suitable for mid-rise construction is nearly limitless. Again, I have nothing against high-rises, and if developers want to build them, that’s fine by me. But given this blog’s focus on affordability, and stated neutrality regarding architecture, if the details are sticks and stucco, it’s cool with me.