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LA names first ‘chief design officer’

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Architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne is leaving the Los Angeles Times to work in City Hall

Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne is leaving the paper to take the newly created position of chief design officer for the City of Los Angeles.

According to a release from Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office, Hawthorne’s new role will include bringing a “unified design vision to projects that are shaping Los Angeles’ urban landscape,” and collaborating with city officials, departments, and architects on a wide range of public projects including housing, parks, and transit.

“We are investing billions in new infrastructure and public spaces that will transform how Angelenos and people from around the world experience our city,” read a statement from Mayor Garcetti. “Anyone who’s familiar with Christopher’s work knows that his creative eye, and his understanding of urban design are unparalleled. I am proud to welcome him to my administration in this important new role.”

Hawthorne will join a group of senior advisors who work directly with the mayor and hold similar titles like chief sustainability officer, chief resilience officer, and chief data officer. His role will be couched in the mayor’s Office of Economic Development.

In a story for the Los Angeles Times announcing his new role, Hawthorne noted that in addition to overseeing the design of public works projects, his job will include organizing design competitions and public forums, as well as campaigns to “persuade talented emerging architects to pursue civic projects.”

He will also be responsible for improving the city’s public-facing architecture and design, he wrote:

Though I’ll be tackling a range of projects, my work will have a clear central focus: the public realm. It’s a caricature to say that Los Angeles has never valued the design of its public spaces (or even worse, that it has none). It is true, however, that in the decades after World War II, Los Angeles—like many American cities—pursued a new and largely privatized kind of urbanism, dependent on both the freeway and the single-family house, while increasingly neglecting its public side.

That has changed in marked fashion over the last decade. Thanks not only to ballot and bond measures but also to shifts in how people live and get around the region, Los Angeles is re-embracing and reinvesting in its public spaces and arguably its very public-ness. Several of the major initiatives we’ve taxed ourselves to pay for over the last decade — to build transit lines, parks and housing for the formerly homeless — touch on or even promise to reshape the public realm.

His comments underscore a theme that’s been present in his work over the last decade at the LA Times: The city is undergoing a dramatic transformation—which will likely accelerate even more quickly in upcoming years thanks to the deadline of the 2028 Summer Olympics.

The sudden departure of Hawthorne from the paper, where he’s held the title of architecture critic since 2004, comes as the newsroom has unionized and the publication falls under new ownership. With no replacement announced, some critics are wondering if Hawthorne’s position will be filled at all. Hawthorne’s last stories will be published in the upcoming weeks and he’ll start work in City Hall next month.