Los Angeles Could Soon Shed its Boxy Skyline

Thursday, October 16th, 2014
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The lifting of a long-standing helipad requirement is set to open up the Los Angeles skyline to innovative new designs.

Since 1958, architects and builders in LA have been adhering to a fire code which required all buildings standing 75 feet or higher to feature an emergency helicopter landing pad on their roofs.

Last week, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that the fire code would be lifted, and described the new rule as a “sea change for Los Angeles design.”

The new rule states that helipads are no longer mandatory on new buildings, but that structures that do not include them will require extra safety features such as automatic sprinkler systems ,stairways, elevators and video cameras to compensate.

The recently-rescinded restriction, which was instituted more than 50 years ago, has resulted in a fairly boxy skyline for LA and has hampered architects in their skyscraper designs.

“Anyone who’s been to New York or cities like Shanghai, Hong Kong and even San Francisco can see how the tops of buildings can help to define the identity of a city,” said former Los Angeles city council member and planning commissioner Mike Woo. “But for Los Angeles, for years, we have limited ourselves.”

Woo, who currently heads the College of Environmental Design at Cal Poly Pomona, pushed for the rule changes while he was in office.


The Last 56 years have seen a helipad required on LA buildings over 75 feet

The lifting of the long-standing regulation mean the sky is now the limit for architects.

LA’s current tallest building is the 310-metre US Bank Tower, one of a series of flat-top buildings that make up the downtown skyline. The building is generally rectangular in shape, though it features a circular rooftop. A similar aesthetic is evident throughout the tallest buildings in the city including the Aon Centre and Two California Plaza.

The city’s skyline is set to add the 335-metre Wilshire Grand Tower, which is slated to be the first skyscraper built without the helipad requirement when it is completed in 2017. Upon completion, the mixed-use hotel and office building will become the city’s tallest tower.

Injected with greenery and a spire atop, it will also be one of the first tall buildings in Los Angeles to feature glass floor to ceiling in a bid to maximise views and natural light. The Wilshire Grand will be largely surrounded by granite buildings. Architects AC Martin say the “more glassy expression will portray the building as being ‘of our time,’ a unique contrast to its neighbors.”

In keeping with the need for fire safety measures, it will also feature concrete-reinforced hardened elevator shafts that allow elevators to function during a fire evacuation.


The top of the Wilshire Grand currently under construction – helipad free

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