On a clear day, Harry Childs can look out from his office on the 23rd floor of downtown's Transamerica Tower and see Catalina Island.
But that's not the only view for Childs, director of member services of the Merchants and Manufacturers Assn.
By looking down from his Olympian heights, he can see the roofs of neighboring buildings, each topped by its own assemblage of clutter.
"Aesthetically," the diplomatic Childs says, "the sight of gray gravel, tar paper and assorted machinery leaves a lot to be desired."
While Childs sees mostly tops of older low-rise buildings, roofs of the even-more-cluttered new high-rises can be downright ugly.
The rise of high-rises in Los Angeles has given their tenants a view of Los Angeles' roofs previously possessed only from helicopters and by pigeons.
Helicopter landing pads are one of the reasons that Los Angeles high-rises have plain flat roofs, says architect Greg Nelson of the Los Angeles firm, Johannes Van Tilburg & Partners. The pads are required in case people have to be evacuated.
Other types of rooftop clutter are communication antennas, cooling towers, air conditioning, heating and ventilating equipment and elevator machinery. Today's architects are attempting to improve the appearance of roofs by curving the wall design onto the roof, he says.
Use as Garden Space
As land becomes scarcer, some roofs are being used as places for people to enjoy as garden space, as is done in New York, Nelson says.
Don Conway, director of the architectural program at Woodbury University, Burbank, says that those who designed the romantic rooftops of Paris about 200 years ago didn't have to deal with all the mechanical equipment put on today's roofs.
The first thing that must be done, Conway says, is for architects to admit that they have a problem and then do something about it.
"How many renderings have you seen that show the roof?" he asks rhetorically.
Save on Rentable Space
David Peters, director of engineering, Southland Heating and Air Conditioning, Long Beach, explains that builders put equipment on roofs so they won't have to use rentable space within the building.
"The sheer size of air conditioning and ventilating equipment creates a problem," he says.
In addition, the machinery is often noisy and, in the case of equipment used to ventilate bathrooms and other interior areas of the building, not exactly odor-free.
However, architect Norman Millar, of the Los Angeles firm A to Z, says that all is not lost.
Millar, who teaches at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and at USC, had his students develop enclosure designs for high-rises.
One student came up with an idea for a a giant Princess phone that would sit on top of the downtown Pacific Bell Building and serve as an employees lounge.
Another suggestion was that high-rises have two roofs, with the equipment in the lower one, and landing pad and garden area on the top.