The new federal courthouse in downtown LA’s Civic Center. Photo credit: Avishay Artsy.
FROM THIS EPISODE
Are tech companies going to build the new company towns? Twenty cities across America are celebrating because they have been shortlisted to be Amazon’s HQ2. Los Angeles is one of them. But here’s the big question facing LA: how would it house Amazon’s anticipated 50,000 employees?
Like fellow contenders Boston, New York and Miami, LA’s housing is very expensive and there’s resistance to building more.
“Companies like Amazon pay their creative class and tech workers like gold… and they treat their service workers like dirt. They contract that work out. They treat these people terribly, they're subject to precarious conditions, they're commuting an hour or two to work,” says urban theorist Richard Florida.
Florida says of companies like Amazon and Google, as well as real estate developers and corporations that consider themselves anchor institutions, “it is their economic and moral obligation to stop extracting from cities, seeing them just as a talent pool or a place to host workers or place companies, and to see them as a place to really build inclusive prosperity.”
Tech companies, it seems, are recognizing they have to look beyond the bounds of their campuses. Facebook has announced plans to build a village of 1,500 homes and a walkable retail district in the Belle Haven section of Menlo Park. That is one of the last affordable places to live in Silicon Valley. These projects have echoes of an industrial-era company town. So what can high-tech companies learn from the corporations of the last century that built housing for their workers?
Architecture journalist Zach Mortice tells DnA about lessons that can be drawn from company towns of the 19th and early 20th century, on the one hand visionary places created by “benevolent capitalists looking to make really long term investments. And on the other, dystopian end, vultures really looking to use this urban infrastructure to extract all the money and value they could out of the land and out of the people.” In a future in which Amazon might own our apartment, he asks, which way will tech companies go?
A rendering of Facebook's planned Anton Menlo Community housing.
It is hard to tell now, but in the middle of the last century Santa Monica was a company town of sorts.
Many of its citizens held blue collar jobs at Douglas Aircraft Company at what is now Santa Monica Airport and lived in houses built for them around the airport. That neighborhood is now affluent Sunset Park, regular workforce housing in Santa Monica is almost impossible to come by and now around four fifths of people who work in the city do not live there.
Those commuters include many of the teachers in the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District, and their daily commute is so draining a growing number of them are quitting their jobs. So the Santa Monica-Malibu school district is considering options for creating housing for their staff.
“It's not that we would be providing free housing,” explains Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District COO Carey Upton, “but we would help provide them something that they could afford within the budgets and the salaries that we are able to pay.”
The district has not nailed down any details. “We know that there are a couple of different options, whether it would be built by the district or it would be working on a piece of land working with a developer,” Upton says. But they are taking cues from Silicon Valley and San Francisco, where school districts face the same challenge. Teachers, city staffers, economic development experts and philanthropist Nicolas Berggruen chime in on how and why to bring teachers’ housing closer to schools.
Malibu High School. Photo credit: Avishay Artsy.
Jack Moreau, Transportation Management Specialist for the City of Santa Monica
Anthony Orlando, PhD student in Public Policy and Management at USC
Hillary Weissman, Assistant principal at Malibu High School
Greg DiLeo, Head of physical education at Lincoln Middle School in Santa Monica
Carey Upton, Chief Operations Officer at Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District
Nicolas Berggruen, Berggruen Holdings / Berggruen Institute (@nberggruen)
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It’s awards season, and not just in Hollywood. Every year the American Institute of Architects bestows honors on buildings by fellow professionals.
But the jurors caused a bit of a stir this year, by choosing not to give any building or firm the Twenty-five Year Award. This is a prize that goes to a building that has "stood the test of time and continues to set standards of excellence for its architectural design and significance."
Past winners include Louis Kahn's Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla. So what was so bad about buildings from 25-35 years ago?
“We just didn't feel comfortable with elevating any of the submissions this year,” said Lee Becker, the jury chair and a partner with DC-based firm Hartman Cox. He emphasized that their range of choices is limited to the submissions they receive from the design firms.
However, their decision has critics asking if it’s because their time frame coincides with postmodernism, which many architects loathe.
Becker insists nobody “on the jury had an aversion to any ism, whether it was Modernism, Post-Modernism or anything.”
The AT&T Building in New York, designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee, is one of the buildings critics argue could have won the AIA’s Twenty-five Year Award.
Lee Becker, Partner at Hartman-Cox Architects, chair of the jury for the AIA 2018 Design Awards
The American Institute of Architects caused a stir by giving no building its Twenty-five Year Award in 2018.
But it did bestow an Honor Award for architecture on nine buildings, including the new Federal Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles, on the south of 1st at Broadway. This building -- an elegant 10-story cube clad in pleated glass that appears to hover over a public plaza -- gained fame as the backdrop in a widely published picture from last year’s Women’s March.
It was designed for the General Services Administration by the Los Angeles office of Skidmore Owings & Merrill, or SOM, whose landmark buildings include the Willis Tower in Chicago, the Freedom Tower in New York and Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
Jury chair Lee Becker tells DnA “the building fits its context extremely well, has a really sophisticated facade,” and jurors were especially impressed by “the quality of light in the building... oftentimes the courtrooms wind up in the middle of the building and don't have good light. And SOM did an amazing job at having light filtered down through the building.”
DnA talks with SOM architects Michael Mann and José Palacios about how the courthouse represented a Rubik’s Cube of a design challenge (they put four courthouses on every floor, around an atrium, and arrived at a perfect cube) as well as their excitement at seeing “how this building became a part of the city” when crowds packed the plaza for the 2017 Women’s March.
We also hear from Catherine Opie, creator of the public art in the atrium, about her cascade of photographs of Yosemite Falls that she hopes convey “the scales of justice,” so that all of a sudden in the middle of the piece you go from the hope and light of the atrium to the dark murky forest of Yosemite “in the same way that if you have to go before a federal judge your life might be in that same place.”
The interior of the new federal courthouse in downtown LA. Photo by Avishay Artsy.
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