Christopher Hawthorne has long been the architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times. But on Monday, he announced he'll be leaving the paper to take on a new role. Starting next month, Hawthorne will be L.A.'s first chief design officer. Mayor Eric Garcetti personally tapped him for the job.
Christopher Hawthorne joined Take Two to talk about his new position navigating L.A. toward its post-suburban future.
The Chief Designer Officer job, explained
It’s a big city, so there's a lot to think about in terms of design and architecture. In certain ways the job will resemble other chief jobs in Mayor Garcetti’s administration -- thinking across several departments in coordination with other agencies about these issues. In my case, it’s thinking about the public realm chiefly, so civic architeicture in terms of public space. L.A. is really investing in the public realm in new ways with transit, housing, parks. There’s a lot of money already in hand or approved by voters. My job more than anything will be thinking how to bring a unified vision to spend that money most efficiently.
How the upcoming Olympics might affect L.A. design
The design of the '84 Olympics, that scaffolding and color scheme, all those things epitomized L.A. and the character and optimism of L.A. in the ‘80s. I look to that as a model all the time as a design that was really efficient and pragmatic at the time … I look at that as a quintessential L.A. design: exuberance, optimism and multiculturalism but also that deadline, having the Olympics be 10 years away, that was one of the reasons I was attractd to the job.
How much of L.A. could be changed by the 2028 Olympics
Mayor Garceti is one of the main reasons I took the job. He is genuinely interested and knowledgeable about these issues. He cares about them a lot and knows something about therm. There’s the 10-year deadline for the Olympics and his second term -- he has a 5-1/2-year second term -- so there are a couple deadlines there to think about what we can do. It’s a wide canvas. We have to be thinking of different time frames. The homeless and housing crisis, we have to move immediately on that front. Other things will be medium and longer term, but 10 years is long enough to think about getting things executed in time for LA showing itself to the world.
L.A. is undergoing a major transformation
L.A., like a lot of cities post war, invested in the private realm -- the freeways, single-family houses and a kind of suburban idea of L.A. at this giant metropolitan scale. We've run out of room to sprawl at the edges, and we need to retrofit some spaces that were closed off to public access. The L.A. River is the clearest example. Not only did we channelize the river to prevent flooding but closed off the river as a public entity… We’re trying to retrofit a space like that so it fulfills flood control responsibilities but also reopen it to public access in a city that has been really park poor. We have great public spaces here, but they’re largely along the periphery, the beaches, Griffith Park. They’re not accessible to large parts of the city.