Los Angeles Questions Its Flat Topped Skyscrapers Again

Architecture, West
Friday, December 20, 2013
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The less-flat roof of the upcoming Wilshire Grand in Downtown Los Angeles (AC Martin)

The less-flat roof of the upcoming Wilshire Grand in Downtown Los Angeles (AC Martin)

Los Angeles has for years been working to change its fire code to allow for skyscrapers without boring flat tops. It looks like there’s been a breakthrough. LA Councilman Jose Huizar recently announced that his office and the LA Fire Department have issued “Policy No. 10,” a step to reform the department’s decades-old policy calling for  flat rooflines for helicopter rescue.

LA's flat skyline (LA Tourism)

LA’s flat skyline (LA Tourism)

New technology has allowed firefighters better rescue access via reinforced elevator shafts (otherwise known as “hardened elevators”) and stairwells, so helicopter rescue isn’t as vital. So while buildings over 120-feet-tall (up from 75 feet in previous regulations) will still need helicopter landing areas, they won’t take up the entire rooftop, leaving room for spires and other new forms. The policy, said Huizar, “will contribute to a more inspired and creative urban design and iconic skyline” for the city. The measure will have to be adapted to various types of buildings and scales moving forward. “The biggest challenge will be finding an evolving set of fire, life, safety measures that will allow us to adjust this policy for future buildings of varied size, height and traffic capacities while also meeting the current level of safety and protection,” Huizar told AN.

The first exception to the rule will be downtown’s new 1,100-foot-tall Wilshire Grand hotel, whose architects, AC Martin, worked closely with the fire department (including several meetings with helicopter pilots, pointed out firm principal David Martin) to devise a modified design that worked for all parties.The slim roof—an extension of a sail-like facade–still does contain a helicopter landing area (officially called a “tactical approach”), but it is split into several levels. AC Martin is also working on a new high-rise residential development in South Park for developer Mack Urban that will  include a “sculpted” top, according to Martin, who is again working closely with the Fire Department. “We want to advance the idea, rather than do what we did before,” he said.

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