The bones of the Da Vinci apartments burned to ash and rubble yesterday. The DV, part of developer Geoff Palmer's hideous and anti-urban Renaissance Collection, will be 1.3 million square feet and take up an entire, freeway-side city block when it's inevitably finished (an untouched section will open in January and Palmer intends to rebuild the rest, probably with a nice wad of insurance money in his pocket). The Da Vinci and Palmer's other buildings are bad for Downtown—they're fortresses with skybridges that kill street-level activity and cloister residents away in their marble-countered units, plus they're really ugly—and there's been a fair amount of delight in the aftermath of the fire (including from us). Couple that with the federal arson investigation that's about to get underway and people are suddenly wondering if this was a crime of aesthetic passion.
We would be pretty shocked if some design nerd had burned down the Da Vinci, but the building's awful design is a big part of why it burned so spectacularly. The Da Vinci will have 526 apartments spread out across its city block, with 1,000 parking spaces (and a bit of retail space, but those rarely fill up in Palmer's buildings). And like the rest of the Renaissance Collection, it's short: seven stories. Developers like to build to seven stories because that's as high as they can generally go with a wood frame, which is cheaper than a steel frame. (The DV had five wooden floors above two concrete ones.)
But that kind of mid-rise development, if allowed to spread too widely, could seriously hobble the revitalization that's been going on Downtown over the last decade. Shorter buildings don't take advantage of the little available space in the neighborhood, which means they won't be able to handle its rapid growth. City Councilmember Jose Huizar called last year for a ban on buildings under seven stories in parts of Downtown; his spokesperson explained that short buidlings are "not getting maximum efficiency out of the space. And then they're around for decades."
Or else they go up in an inferno so hot it melts freeway signs, damages city buildings, and accidentally warms the homeless people your skybridges are meant to keep you from ever having to acknowledge. "When you got that bare wood. It burns. It burns good," as one fire captain said.
· Terrible Fauxtalian Fortress Lost in Spectacular Downtown Fire [Curbed LA]
· The Past and Future of Downtown's Burnt Da Vinci Apartments [Curbed LA]
· Councilmember Wants to Halt Low-Rise Building in South Park [Curbed LA]