Can An Structure Agency Reform LA’s Adaptive Reuse Constructing Insurance policies?
The Omgivning offices and projects the team has worked on include The Griffin and the Lane Building
Zoning laws and building codes usually remain in the hands of city officials who determine how architects and developers can bring their projects to life.
But in Los Angeles, one architect refuses to accept the status quo and has spent more than a decade redesigning the guidelines that shape her home.
“We identify the things that don’t work during code implementation and develop a plan for how to fix them,” said Karin Liljegren. “If there are codes or guidelines that stand in the way of our projects, we develop a solution – not only for the benefit of our projects, but for all existing buildings, future projects and the city as a whole.”
Liljegren is the founder and head of the architecture and interior design office Omgivning. Her specialty are adaptive reuse projects. She explained that a lot of the work on reuse projects is bringing an older building into line with current building codes. This transformation is difficult, she said, and sometimes borders on the impossible. It was this challenge that first inspired Liljegren to get involved in government politics.
In 2002, Liljegren was asked by the Los Angeles Building Department to help implement the Adaptive Reuse Ordinance guidelines for building and fire safety regulations into the Los Angeles city code. As the lead designer on some of the earliest ARO projects in LA, she was able to bring hands-on experience that helped city officials better understand and interpret the ARO and its implications.
Today, Omgivning is working on new guidelines that will help LA developers keep buildings safe without breaking the bank.
For example, while LA is an active seismic zone, many buildings across the city have been constructed from non-ductile concrete. In 2014, the city issued a new ordinance that stipulates seismic retrofitting. In the past five years, only 30 of the 2,000 buildings covered by the regulation have submitted retrofit plans for review. Omgivning set out to find out why. The team found that the regulation had significant unintended consequences and that unexpected costs and schedule delays made owners choose not to comply.
Omgivning convened a group of experts, gathered data on costs, lender requirements, unforeseen conditions and code interpretations, and partnered with the mayor’s economic development department. The company now oversees a private stakeholder team that is creating incentives to help developers offset the additional costs of these upgrades and encourage them to comply.
The Omgivning team is also working to update some of LA’s most out of date building codes that are not only holding back projects, but potentially putting residents at risk.
Take, for example, the pool cover codes in Los Angeles County, which Liljegren says has been problematic for years and particularly frustrating for architects. The county’s interpretation of state codes became increasingly restrictive, to the point where hotels couldn’t have walk-in bars by their pools.
“It may sound like a minor, but the poolside experience we had as Angelenos is an important part of our culture,” said Liljegren. “So we consulted with other architects, developers, and the Central City Association to come up with suggestions on how the code could work and be reformed to help all pools in the county. ”
The reforms proposed by the Omgivning team will allow hotel designers to place bars in pool canopies and address real-world safety concerns. In the outgoing version of the code, parents and children can be unintentionally separated during swimming time, as access to uses is separated. The reforms proposed by Omgivning eliminate this problem.
Omgivning also played an important role in drawing up guidelines to revitalize Broadway, LA’s most famous historic district. By the late 2000s, more than 2 million upper floor SFs along seven blocks of Broadway were completely empty. Liljegren and her team have teamed up with Councilor Jose Huizar’s Bringing Back Broadway initiative to find out what’s holding the area from realizing its potential.
Having learned that the State Historic Building Code was too vague and not applied, they set about creating clear interpretations that could be better applied to the historic buildings on Broadway. The result was the Historic Broadway Commercial Reuse Bulletin.
“It paved the way for the growth spurt on Broadway to escalate,” Liljegren said.
Since then, Omgivning has worked on more than 30 projects on Broadway, helping transform the area into a vibrant part of the city filled with thriving retail stores, restaurants, office space, and hotels.
“We understand that building codes cannot really be changed, they are required by the state,” said Liljegren. “Our approach is to work within the codes and develop creative reform ideas that are based on meaningful interpretations, save money and ensure everyone’s safety.”
This feature was created in collaboration between Bisnow Branded Content and Omgivning. Bisnow’s news staff was not involved in the production of this content.