Los Angeles, often hailed as the entertainment capital of the world, is not only a hub for the film and music industries but also a fascinating canvas of urban design. The city’s architectural landscape reflects a rich tapestry woven with threads of history, culture, and innovation. As one navigates the vast expanse of Los Angeles, it becomes apparent that the city’s design is a dynamic fusion of tradition and modernity.

Los Angeles is a city deeply connected to its natural surroundings. The sprawling landscape of hills and canyons has influenced the design of residential areas like Hollywood Hills, where homes are strategically perched to offer breathtaking views of the city below. This integration of nature into the urban fabric is a unique aspect of Los Angeles, providing residents with a sense of escape within the confines of the city.

One challenge that Los Angeles has faced over time is the need to integrate sustainable urban design. The city’s dependence on automobiles has led to notorious traffic congestion and air quality issues. Besides, the original city plan did little to factor in renewable energy, clean transport, and other sustainable living aspects. However, recent initiatives have aimed to reshape the urban landscape with an emphasis on public transportation, green spaces, and environmentally conscious architecture. Projects like the revitalization of the Los Angeles River and the expansion of the Metro rail system demonstrate the city’s commitment to a more sustainable and livable future.

What will it take to make Los Angeles sustainable?

In shaping the growth of large cities such as LA, it is necessary to have all hands on deck. Architects and designers play an integral role in transitioning major cities to sustainable spaces. The same can be said about Los Angeles as it makes bold steps towards becoming a net zero city.

This week, we sat down with two sustainable-focused designers from Woods Bagot Studio to discuss LA’s transition to a sustainable city. Matt Ducharme, West Coast Principal for Woods Bagot, and Russell Fortmeyer, Global Sustainability Leader at the Studio, had some important insights to offer. 

Matt and Russell agree that in transitioning Los Angeles to a sustainable city, it is necessary to move with the culture. Beyond the physical structures, Los Angeles embraces public art as an integral part of its urban design. Murals and street art adorn buildings across the city, contributing to its dynamic visual culture. The Arts District, once an industrial area, has been transformed into a vibrant neighborhood filled with galleries, studios, and murals that showcase the city’s commitment to fostering creativity.

Woods Bagot Studio has been at the forefront of championing a holistic approach to sustainability through integrating culture, lifestyle, and architecture. We talked about- “Renewing the Dream: The Mobility Revolution and the Future of Los Angeles-” a book recently produced by the studio. It shows in pictures and facts how difficult it is to transition to Los Angeles without integrating several aspects such as culture, government, and mobility. 

© Dennis M. Keeley: cover, 30. Image courtesy Rizzoli New York, Renewing the Dream: The Mobility Revolution and the Future of Los Angeles, 2023

The book, authored by several architects and sustainability experts at Woods Bagot, looks at case studies from history and even the present that are key to changing the face of LA. Among the factors of interest is the prospect of introducing e-charging stations instead of gas stations throughout the city. It also considers a shift in pop culture in terms of advertisement.

“We are talking about the impact of transitioning to clean energy and not just sustainable buildings. Think about replacing every gas station in LA with an E-charging station. This will have a massive impact on the carbon footprint but will also affect our electricity consumption,” said Matt while speaking to Inhabitat.

Who are the key players?

Although the two experts agree that designers and the public must play a central role in changing Los Angeles into a sustainable city, they say the responsibility ultimately rests with policymakers. According to Russel, sustainability is a wide concept that cannot be left to developers or designers alone. He says that the government must put in place policies and incentives to get the private sector moving.

“Of course, the role of transitioning such complex cities lies with the private sector. The government can’t spearhead every aspect of development. With that said, government policies should make it possible for the transition to happen. Providing incentives is one way they can help with this.” Said Russell

Woods Bagot, Beyond feature film screenings, the large-scale LED screens can provide the energized, dynamic backdrop for a wide variety of uses and activities, from community gatherings to product launch events to opening night parties to weeknight “hang-outs” bringing together residents and visitors from across Downtown Los Angeles and beyond. Image courtesy Rizzoli New York, Renewing the Dream: The Mobility Revolution and the Future of Los Angeles, 2023

Los Angeles is already changing, given California’s robust policies to attain net zero targets. For instance, a state law banning high-emission vehicles has removed over 200,000 vehicles from California roads this year alone. Such significant policies have changed how Los Angeles commutes and consequently impacted its carbon footprint.

At the heart of Los Angeles lies a diverse collection of neighborhoods, each with its own unique personality and architectural character. Understanding the unique challenges of these neighborhoods is necessary to be able to move forward. This is why designers and developers must work together to transition Los Angeles to full sustainability.

Russell says that the recently released book does not only target developers, but it looks to speak to all players. He argues that sustainability will be achieved when each of these parties takes up their role. The first step is awareness of the need to create a sustainable city and make sustainability desirable.

“I do think that architecture and design should make zero carbon desirable in the future,” said Russell. “This is why we are looking at a holistic approach by targeting culture and mobility- things that people can relate to.”

Woods Bagot is an architecture and design studio focusing on making sustainable architecture attractive. They have a global presence with offices in London, UK, Brisbane, Australia, Beijing, China, Los Angeles, USA, and Singapore, among other locations. They use case studies, history, culture, and empathy to champion sustainability as part of present and future architecture.

The focus on transitioning LA to a sustainable city helps shed more light on what can be done elsewhere to move the once giant polluting cities to sustainable living spaces. As the cities continue to evolve, the interplay between tradition and innovation must shape their design.

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