- Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced last week he named Christopher Hawthorne as the city's first chief design officer, responsible for enhancing "the quality of civic architecture and urban design" across the city, according to a statement.
- Hawthorne, who formerly worked as an architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times, published his final column March 12, in which he described his new role as "something of an experiment," noting how he will use his experience to "raise the quality of public architecture."
- In an interview with Curbed Los Angeles, Hawthorne explained he is one of the first to take on the title of "chief design officer" in a U.S. city. Other cities have pursued similar roles that prioritize urban design.
Transitioning from a newspaper columnist to a "chief" officer in one of America's largest cities will be no simple task, which Hawthorne acknowledged in his final piece for the L.A. Times. "Writing a column is a far cry from the daily work of nudging huge public-sector agencies to see good design as fundamental to their missions," he wrote, though he touted his 13 years of architecture criticism in the city as a unique experience that will ultimately elevate his credibility in the space.
Garcetti's decision to create this new role is timely, especially as the city experiences extreme congestion and housing challenges. Garcetti wrote in a statement the city is "investing billions in new infrastructure and public spaces that will transform how Angelenos and people from around the world experience [the] city," and Hawthorne's participation in these investments will be a driving force for innovation.
The city is also preparing to host the 2028 Summer Olympics, which is expected to attract millions of guests to Los Angeles. This 10-year benchmark will be a seen as a "deadline" for Hawthorne to evolve the city's landscape into one that is accessible and navigable for visitors from around the world.
If Hawthorne is successful in the role, it may inspire other cities to create their own design positions under the mayor's leadership. As industry leaders such as Gia Biagi of Studio Gang and Theaster Gates of Rebuild Foundation explained during a design-focused panel at the annual South by Southwest conference last week, reimagining a city's landscape and utilizing space in a way that's efficient and inclusive is crucial for a city as it pushes toward a more smart and connected future.