The LA Times’s Architecture Critic Will Now Get to Reshape Los Angeles as the City’s First Chief Design Officer

The city faces some of the most difficult urban planning challenges in America.

The downtown skyline of Los Angeles, California on October 12, 2017 where a new report from USC and Beacon Economics shows Southern California's housing crisis is leading to an increase in rent for Los Angeles and Orange county into 2019. Photo: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images.

Prominent architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne will leave his job at the LA Times after 14 years to become Los Angeles’ first-ever chief design officer in Mayor Eric Garcetti’s administration. He is slated to begin in April.

Hawthorne has written extensively about public space and architecture, in Southern California and beyond, and is a professor of architecture at Occidental College in Los Angeles. In his final Times column, Hawthorne wrote that his new job description is to “produce better architecture, urban design and what we once called ‘public works’ for Los Angeles.” He said he believes that design can have multiple positive effects on the city: “Good design can be an end in itself; it can also be a means to a political, social, or even moral end.”

To be sure, the journalist will face some of the most difficult urban planning challenges in the US, including a significant housing shortage, a high rate of homelessness, gentrification, crumbling infrastructure, and insufficient public transportation. “No big city in America has fewer platforms and institutions for talking about those issues than Los Angeles,” he admitted. “At the same time, given the investments and new infrastructure I’ve outlined above, no city needs those platforms more.”

Hawthorne says the transformation of LA’s public space—especially its parks and green spaces—will be a priority for him. He intends to work closely with city officials like the Debra Weintraub at the Bureau of Engineering and Seleta Reynolds at the Department of Transportation to incorporate more efficient design characteristics in the city’s multiple infrastructure and civic projects.

While the move from the newsroom to City Hall may seem unique, Hawthorne isn’t the first critic to follow that path. Former Chicago Sun-Times design writer Lee Bey made a similar jump in the early 2000s and was one of the first to congratulate Hawthorne on his new job. “I did the same thing 17 years ago when I stepped down as Sun-Times arch critic to become deputy chief of staff for urban design under Mayor Daley. Was a fantastic move. You’ll enjoy!” Bey wrote in a Twitter post.

In a statement, Garcetti said that Hawthorne will have the city’s full support. “We are investing billions in new infrastructure and the public spaces that will transform how Angelenos and people from around the world experience our city,” he said.

In his column, Hawthorne added that “the money to build this new infrastructure, park space, and housing is in hand or has been approved.”

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