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Design Panel to Advise City on Public Projects

December 09, 1987|SCOTT HARRIS | Times Staff Writer

Amid heightened concern about Los Angeles' growth and aesthetics, Mayor Tom Bradley is creating a Design Advisory Panel to provide an "early warning system" against unwise planning of future public projects.

The panel, to be comprised of appointed professionals from Los Angeles' architectural community, would in theory enable the city to prevent design errors and avoid costly disputes such as one that has delayed progress on the $152.4-million expansion of the Central Library, members of the panel said.

Role for Panel

According to a draft directive from the mayor, the panel also is to play an active role in recommending projects. It would also solicit proposals from qualified firms that have previously shied away from public projects because of the problems of dealing with a bureaucracy.

Although its membership has not been officially announced, it was learned that the panel will include Richard Weinstein, dean of the UCLA Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning; Robert Harris, dean of the USC School of Architecture, and Cyril Chern, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Chern's post is expected to rotate to the incoming AIA president in January.

The panel is expected to include two other private architects, who have not yet been selected, said Dee Dee Myers, a spokeswoman for the mayor.

Basis for Creation

The creation of the panel, UCLA's Weinstein said, reflects growing community concerns about a "continuum" of environmental issues, ranging from traffic congestion to skyline aesthetics.

The political challenge, Weinstein said, is to find "a middle way" to address both the need for development and the concerns of the slow-growth movement.

"This group stands or falls on the basis of whether the mayor and people making the decision want it to work," he said. "Unless those in the decision-making situation regard what we're doing as useful, we won't be useful."

One of the group's key duties will be to act as an adviser to the city's Cultural Affairs Commission, which under the City Charter controls design decisions over every project built on or above city property. The commission's purview ranges from sidewalk awnings to major projects such as "First Street North," a $250-million development plan in Little Tokyo that would include office, hotel and residential uses. Several major developers are bidding for the contract.

Merry Norris, president of the Cultural Affairs Commission, said she lobbied for creation of the panel because it was apparent that the commission, comprised of lay people, lacked the expertise to adequately critique architectural designs. The commission has previously solicited a private architectural organization, the Urban Design Advisory Coalition to provide guidance.

"We want to provide an early warning system, so we don't catch problems too late," said UCLA's Weinstein. "The library is a perfect example of catching an issue too late. It would have been better for everybody concerned had the debate been joined right up front."

Center of Dispute

The planned expansion of the Central Library, designed by New York architect Norman Pfeiffer, took an unexpected controversial turn in April. Although the mayor favored Pfeiffer's plan, the commission rejected it, citing sharp criticism from the Urban Design Advisory Coalition that the wing's massiveness and style would conflict with Bertram Goodhue's landmark original.

Pfeiffer went back to the drawing board. But last month, when the City Council approved the $152.4-million funding plan, it came out strongly in favor of Pfeiffer's original, raising the possibility of a stalemate between the council and commission over the building's design.

Pfeiffer is again refining his design. Although Norris said differences with the council have been ironed out, she acknowledged that she does not know whether Pfeiffer's next version will include a flat atrium, as preferred by the commission, or the more dramatic peaked atrium, as preferred by the council and mayor.

In addition to its review role, the panel probably will identify four or five projects every year for "special attention" and provide creative guidance throughout the process, Weinstein said.

Myers said the panel would also be expected to recommend projects that would serve the public interest. One hypothetical example would be ways of preserving historic buildings.

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