By Jack Skelley
International change-makers of the built envirornment convened for the recent FutureBuild Sessions (produced by ULI Los Angeles) at VerdeXchange in Los Angeles. The annual event, which attracts designers, developers, civic leaders, and environmental stakeholders, explored urgent urban issues, including: transforming the Los Angeles River; the world’s greenest buildings; how transportation tech is transforming cities; places built to withstand quakes, droughts and climate change, and more.
Made to Last, a panel on resiliency (including seismic and infrastructure challenges) was moderated by Ann Gray, Principal of GRAY Real Estate Advisors and publisher of FORM magazine. Contributors included Marissa Aho, Chief Resiliency Officer, City of Los Angeles, Frank Bush, Executive Officer, Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety, and Rick Cole, Santa Monica City Manager. Gray launched the discussion with a compelling video, “Our Changing World,” produced by RICS and dramatizing trends reshaping the planet.
The conversation quickly got local—“There is simply not enough money to go around.” Cole noted that before Los Angeles can address drastic resilience issues, the city faces approximately $100 billion in infrastructure needs. Bush cited the approximately 13,000 buildings in the city that require seismic retrofits. Aho offered some solace, reporting that L.A. is among the 100 Resilient Cities funded by Rockefeller Foundation, and that the city is implementing 18 recommendations of seimologist Dr. Lucy Jones, the influential “earthquake lady.”
Challenges remain huge. Cole blasted the “immature poltical culture” that fixates on the click-bait of fear and hysteria, rather than on real solutions.
“We have to get back to the basics” of fixing the city, he said. “Otherwise we will have a third-world infrastructure trying to govern a first-world economy.”
Cole had the ear-catching quote of the day: “The best cities in Italy are run by communists. The best cities in the Southern California are run by renters,”—namely, Santa Monica and West Hollywood.
The Evolution of Energy
Another compelling panel was “The Most Sustainable Buildings in the World”, moderated by Frances Anderton, host of “DnA: Design and Architecture,” KCRW; joined by David Martin, FAIA, Design Principal, AC Martin, who is designing the the 73-story Wilshire Grand tower; David Kramer, President, Hudson Companies, creating Manhattan’s Riverwalk on Roosevelt Island, considered one of the most energy-efficient developments in the world; and Harlan Kelly, General Manager, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.
The Riverwalk technologies are advanced, responding to New York’s extremes of heat, cold, and even inundating storm surges. In some ways, the mission for Los Angeles buildings is simpler: to unlearn unnecessary design habits. Martin says his team will “fine-tune” the Wilshire Grand to Downtown L.A.’s micro-climate.
Approaches include breathable skin, and smaller and smarter air-conditioning, so that the building’s HVAC system is not working overtime. The skyscraper will include hundreds of openable windows, which, for some reason, are still rare in L.A. high-rises.
“In New York City you want to insulate the client from the climate,” Martin said. “ In L.A. we want to connect with the outside where it’s beautiful outside right now!”
Hyperloop and Healthy Communities
With panels jointly produced by ULI Los Angeles and VerdeXchange, the cross-polination was fertile.
“Next Generation Sustainable Development” was moderated by Richard Katz, Founder, Katz Consulting, Inc. asking questions of Randall Lewis, Owner, Lewis Group of Companies; Quay Hays, CEO, GROW Holdings; and Michael Dieden, Founder, Creative Housing Associates. These are three of California’s most visionary developers.
Hays is creating Quay Valley, a sustainable town planned in Central California that will also house the first test-track for the revolutionary hyperloop transportation technology. Dieden is a pioneer of transit-oriented developments who is passionate about creating human-scaled environments. And Lewis is a constant innovator whose latest communities – many on Ontario Ranch in California’s Inland Empire – include emerging concepts
He listed them in rapid-fire: healthy design (in coordination with ULI’s Building Healthy Places initiative); education-centered communities with schools and joint-use facilities at the center; “Harvest” branded developments with edible landscaping and outdoor dining; and, with heathcare a growing industry in the Inland Empire, an ambitious coordination with local colleges and medical educators.
Many of them fall under the Healthy Ontario banner, which emphasizes prevention and wellness, access to healthcare, education and lifelong learning, and safe and complete neighborhoods.