There's Actually a Legitimate Reason Why L.A.'s Skyline is So Ugly

By Sarah Zhang on at

Los Angeles' skyline has none of the soaring spires that grace the Burj Khalifa or the Chrysler Building. Instead, it's uniformly flat, like someone took an axe to downtown and left only stumps of buildings. And it's all because of a piece of misguided regulation.

L.A.'s architecture has long been stunted by a clause in the city code that requires every building to have a helipad on top. At last, this regulation has been repealed. May the pointy buildings begin to rise!

Civil Engineering magazine recently brought our attention to Regulation 10 of the Los Angeles Municipal Code that was revised last fall. Under Regulation 10, every building over 75 feet tall has must have a helicopter landing pad on its roof for emergency evacuations during a fire. The result? A downtown full of uninspiring flat roofs.

Now, the helipads are not a great idea, even if you take aesthetics out of the equation. Helicopter rescues are dangerous and chaotic; the hot air of a fire makes helicopters very difficult control. Imagine trying to land one on a roof full of people. In all the time Regulation 10 was in effect, helipads were used just one time in Los Angeles, to evacuate a handful of people during a fire in the then First Interstate Bank building (now the Aon Center) in 1988.

Helicopter rescues are so rare and helipads are so expensive the firefighting money is better spent elsewhere. Modern buildings now have automatic and redundant sprinkler systems, smoke-control systems, and fire-protected areas of the building—making helipads essentially obsolete.

But now that Regulation 10 has been revised, L.A. may finally get a more graceful skyline. The Wiltshire Grand, which will be the tallest building west of Chicago when completed, will be one of the city's first non flat-topped buildings. You can see it below, sticking out like a unicorn with its spire jutting into the sky. [ASCE, LA Times, KCET]

Top image: AP Photo/Nick Ut