Qualified Condition

September 10, 2008

This is Why People Hate Big Projects

Filed under: Building Plays Well With Others — qualifiedcondition @ 8:57 pm


A friend of mine once said that LA is where the best architects come to do their worst work.  I think that’s a very interesting sentiment.  For the most part I just think that LA is full of really shitty buildings designed by incompetent hacks–though her theory comes across much better at dinner parties.  I thought it might be fun to do a little compare and contrast between two new medium sized multi-family residential projects that have caught my attention recently.  One is a condo building in a lovely part of Los Feliz (or Los Feliz Village if you must) and the other is a condo, er, loft building in central Pasadena.  The point here is not to show that Pasadena gets better projects per se (though their practical application of actual design standards seems to be leaps and bounds beyond Los Angeles) just to point out some of the ingredients of what makes a good project and what makes a zaftig heinous stucco neighborhood eyesore.


One of the first things that stands out between these two projects is their relationship to the surrounding neighborhood context.  The Los Feliz project is on an R-3 lot that is surrounded by R-1 lots, which is nerd-speak for “it’s allowed to be a big dense building that happens to be surrounded by single-family houses.”  I’ll save the critique of the LA Zoning Code for another day (mostly because the phrase “Form Based Zoning” is a buzz word that makes me want to drink gin from the cat dish) and just say for now that it’s possible to design a big building next to smaller buildings in a way that doesn’t look this abrupt.  The Los Feliz project is a giant rectilinear mass surrounded by cute cottages, a fact exacerbated by its cheap-ass materials and circus-came-to-town color scheme.  The Pasadena project on the other hand does something pretty remarkable—while it is in actuality a 3-4 story structure it steps down to two stories along Marengo Ave so that its scale is in keeping with the other two-story structures that front Marengo.  Hell, it even has a symmetrical elevation on Marengo because all of the other older structures on the street do.  The small gesture allows what is really a large project appear much smaller when it needs to.



There is an obvious difference in materials and finish quality between these two projects.  The Pasadena project uses a unique wood panel system for the exterior along with concrete, lots of custom glass and some mosaic tile (though the studio theme is lost on me and looks kinda dumb in my opinion).  The Los Feliz building on the other hand will melt when it catches on fire because it is made almost exclusively of foam plant-ons that are covered with a thick textured spray-stucco.  The Pasadena project comes across as thoughtful—articulation in the façade represents actual rooms and balconies and the overall mass is broken down in a way that conveys a pattern of modules.  Patterns are always good for the passer-by.  The Los Feliz Project looks like it is trying desperately to be fancy.  There are lots of doo-dads, arches, balcony railings where there aren’t balconies, window dents where there aren’t windows but none of it means anything, it’s decoration and it’s the condo equivalent of the McMansion.  Even the front door, the mouth of the monster, is only a gesture as the architect’s inability to deal gracefully with ADA requirements has necessitated that it be a “looking” door only.



 Certainly there must be a wide margin for individual tastes and styles (I admit that I don’t care for most “classically” themed buildings that are erected today in much the same way that I don’t like reading a fax of a fax of a photocopy) but I think the point here is more with regard to the actual form and function of the structure and its ability to relate to an existing context.  The Pasadena struture works and the Los Feliz Village looks like it wants fries with that.




  1. We do a lot of work in Pasadena and South Pas. and one of the reasons the cities getter better work (to a certain extent) is the design review process. While on the surface this keeps out the “hacks,” it is also very limiting. Although I like our projects in Pasadena, they are never our best work and are limited by what we know, or discover, design review will approve. It may weed out the crap, but it also limits the “best work”

    Comment by cls — September 11, 2008 @ 2:32 am

  2. i agree with you… but i really do hate those lofts in pasadena… 3,2,1— sooo cheesy!

    also, go north of orange grove and you’ll see a lot of those crappy projects… which are actually “the projects”.

    Comment by xie — September 11, 2008 @ 5:13 am

  3. most likely, in Los Feliz, accounting for the taste of Armenians…

    Comment by ryan — September 11, 2008 @ 5:21 pm

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