Dear property developers: your stucco buildings are ruining my city

When it comes to stucco, there are two types of people: those who understand it, and those who are completely delusional. Here’s the breakdown.

The Ones who get it

I’m not in a position to speak for other cities, but when it comes to Los Angeles, it seems like the people who truly grasp how stucco should fit into our world are, unsurprisingly, the people who end up living and working in or near the buildings that are covered in it. Considering the number of stuccoed buildings in LA, this ends up being the vast majority of people.

The delusionals

The delusionals are exactly the group of people you don’t want them to be: the developers. They have money and business clout, but far too frequently, their ability to recognize beauty and art is pithy, and on top of that, they haven’t a damn clue what the people who are directly affected by their work want. Either that or they’re motivated by nothing but finances, and they don’t care. In the end, it doesn’t really matter what the reason is, because the end result is the same: developers ruin neighborhoods.

I don’t believe there’s anyone out there who truly loves the sprawly, unremarkable stucco buildings that make up Los Angeles. Of course, this isn’t to say that stucco can’t be used tastefully, but the reality is that it almost never is. Even the people who support the tasteful use of stucco often do for horrible reasons. The author of this LA Times article claims that “[Stucco] ties into the mythology of L.A. as an insubstantial place. Its very qualities fit the character of our landscape.” Basically, that means that he thinks LA is already so tacky that building another tacky building isn’t so bad, because at least it matches. Sorry buddy, but you need to GTFO. Someone who is really proud of the city they live in doesn’t settle for mediocrity. I think it’s pretty safe to assume that most people aren’t calling out for more generic garbage. So why in the heck does it keep getting built?

My inspiration for this writing was an article I happened to find on Curbed this morning announcing the progress on handful of new development projects throughout the city. My immediate thought when scrolling through was just how boring and generic and covered in stucco everything was. Was this really the kind of stuff people were looking to see in their neighborhoods? Am I the only one that find it tasteless and boring and cheesy and just plain bad? And then I got to the comments, and what I found was astonishing; Not only were there people who agreed with me, but everyone agreed with me. Everyone.

Here’s the very first comment:

omfg. they’re gonna tear down megatoys and built this ugly shit?

i’m all for more development in the arts district. but can we please enforce some sort of high standard for design? not always this ugly wood framing + stucco crap that looks horrible in 15 years?

the arts district is so popular now in part because of its wonderful architectural heritage. i don’t suggest mimicking that type of historical architecture, but we could at least push for projects that are of an equal caliber of design (though appropriate for the present day.)

man, all of this crap. hikari, sakura crossing, mura, savoy, artisan on 2nd… it’s so so so so freaking ugly. omfg.


Or how about this one:

wait… and they want to close garey street between first and 2nd? what the fuck? how did they even get away with that on rose street between artisan and savoy? freaking disgusting. building stuff is great, more urbanization is great, but we need to do it in a way that is intelligent.


And my personal favorite:

I’m totally in favor of new projects but none of these designs looks like their even from this millenium. The early 90’s called, it wants its architecture back.


Okay, so everyone hates everything. That being the case, why are these projects still moving forward? My guess? It’s the perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances.

  • There’s a high demand for housing in Los Angeles, which gives developers incentive to build.
  • There’s a strong desire to stimulate the economy, which makes the boards that are in charge of approving these projects far more inclined to approve the kind of garbage that a competitive market never would have allowed for. (Wallmart is a prime example)
  • Developers value function over form, and are either financially motivated–which tends to lead to those enormous, generic, multicolored stucco buildings that were debatably cool for a few minutes in 1992–or just completely out of touch with the people they are actually building for
  • Even if they do care, there’s no requirement that a developer have any artistic taste. If he happens to be someone who doesn’t get art, or worse, someone who thinks he gets art, but doesn’t, it’s too bad for the neighbors.

Still, I find it extremely difficult to believe that any developer who cares about his future tenants could see a stream of such unanimously negative comments in response to his project (which, by the way, is not an isolated incident. On the arts district project, for example, there are gobs of brutally negative comments on every single article), and still decide to move forward with it. This is what honestly blows me away. Developers have a rare opportunity that most people will never have: they have the opportunity to drastically alter the landscape of a city in ways that will affect its residents long into the future. How is that not enough to motivate them to do the very best work they can do? Sure they may not be artists themselves, but wouldn’t they at least want to build something that everyone in the neighborhood doesn’t hate?

So much of Los Angeles has been ruined by this type of development. When was the last time anyone you knew took a trip to LA to visit the valley? And no, visiting family doesn’t count. And Hollywood? Well, I think if it weren’t for the movie stars, tourism would plummet to pretty damn close to zero. And I can’t in good faith say that this is entirely due to crappy stucco development, but one thing is for sure: it isn’t helping.

The Arts District in Downtown is one of my favorite places in the city, because as an area that was, up until recently, a god-forsaken wasteland of empty warehouses and homeless people, developers have avoided the area like the plague. But now it’s becoming trendy, and quite a bit cooler. Over the last couple of years, this has led to some really great things; old historical factories are being converted into lofts, warehouses into shops and grocery stores. The place has genuine character to it. It’s unique, and it is therefor a destination. Now that it’s a destination, the developers are moving in with their stucco and trying to capitalize on what is currently unique by turning it into a whole lot more of the same: enormous housing structures that take up entire city blocks with repetitive nothingness which doesn’t even attempt to fit in with the present charm of the neighborhood. Ironically, the buildings they’re putting in actually work to eliminate the neighborhood itself by making it generally unremarkable, just like so many other parts of this city. And who knows, they probably mean well. I don’t think anyone is opposed to adding high density housing in the arts district. But just because we want it doesn’t mean we’re okay with it ruining the neighborhood.

History has shown us over and over again that the key to a distinguished and interesting destination is to think smaller, and to think unique. And yet developers refuse to learn from their mistakes. They would rather build mass-produced junk near something that everyone loves rather than make the minor adjustments required to become something that everyone loves. And frankly, it’s just plain sad.

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