Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne is trading weekly columns for annual budgets.
The 14-year Times vet announced this week that he will be moving across the street to City Hall to become the city’s first chief design officer. He wrote in his announcement that he’ll be “working in the mayor’s office to raise the quality of public architecture and urban design across the city — and the level of civic conversation about those subjects.” His duties will include helping city engineering and transportation officials infuse design qualities into infrastructure, and forming design competitions to recruit emerging architects for civic projects and be “something of an experiment, an effort to produce better architecture, urban design and what we once called ‘public works’ for Los Angeles.”
During his tenure with the Times, Hawthorne proposed retiring whole sections of the city’s freeways and sung the praises of pre-fab buildings, particularly where multi-family residential is concerned. But his ideals will, no doubt, be tested by L.A.’s many growing pains, including the city’s housing crisis and surge in homelessness. From his Times post announcing his departure:
It’s a caricature to say that Los Angeles has never valued the design of its public spaces (or even worse, that it has none). It is true, however, that in the decades after World War II, Los Angeles — like many American cities — pursued a new and largely privatized kind of urbanism, dependent on both the freeway and the single-family house, while increasingly neglecting its public side.
That has changed in marked fashion over the last decade. Thanks not only to ballot and bond measures but also to shifts in how people live and get around the region, Los Angeles is re-embracing and reinvesting in its public spaces and arguably its very public-ness. Several of the major initiatives we’ve taxed ourselves to pay for over the last decade — to build transit lines, parks and housing for the formerly homeless — touch on or even promise to reshape the public realm.
Hawthrone added a post-script about the paper’s recent tumult, which Curbed LA elaborated on. The newsroom recently unionized, then watched scandal rock its parent company, and was finally sold. “With no replacement announced, some critics are wondering if Hawthorne’s position will be filled at all,” according to Curbed.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.