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by Susannah Abbey

Angela Brooks, architect and founding member of Livable Places

Angela Brooks is a principal Architect for the Los Angeles firm Pugh + Scarpa. She is also a founding member and past Board President of Livable Places, a public policy organization made up of urban planners, designers and housing policy experts working to make the city of Los Angeles more environmentally sustainable. They are advocates of Smart Growth, which includes pedestrian-friendly streets, accessible public transportation, and affordable housing for low-income families.

Angela Brooks started her career in the Interior Design program at the University of Florida. But she soon switched majors, going on to receive a Bachelor of Design from the University of Florida and then a Master's degree in Architecture from the Southern California Institute of Architecture. While her educational and early career experiences were generally positive, starting out in the profession was not without its obstacles.

"I think the most challenging thing was to get people to take me seriously at a young age," she remembers. "The education of architects is out of step with the profession. The AIA seems to be a men's 'club' where you pay a lot of money and don't get a whole lot out of it."

The staff of Livable Places
Livable Places emerged out of Brooks' frustration at the lack of any coordinated planning in the city of Los Angeles. Proper planning would allow the population to densify while increasing the quality of life and providing for a sustainable community. She and other Smarth Growth proponents use terms like "nodes of high density" and "transit-oriented design" to talk about what a future metropolis would look like. But far from being futuristic, this vision involves some very old-fashioned ideas: imagine neighborhoods where people can easily walk to work or to the public transit stop, cross streets without feeling threatened by cars, or gather together with neighbors to talk or relax.

Willowbrook Green Apartments
Despite the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated profession, working in a large urban environment where green design was nothing more than a short-lived trend of the 1970s, Brooks has remained steadfast to her ideals, tackling some daunting projects. Most recently, she completed the design and construction of a 40-unit, low-income apartment building called Colorado Court. Colorado Court has solar panels, a co-generation micro turbine and a host of other energy efficient measures.

"It was challenging because we were charting new territory in terms of what the city inspectors know and the consultants so there was a lot of time spent educating others." This was also, she asserts, her most satisfying work to date, "for the same reasons (that it was difficult). It turned out to be a beautiful project."

Brooks' effort to bring Green Building to L.A. has a long, difficult road ahead. "Aesthetics and sustainability are on equal footing for me," says Brooks. "However, sustainability usually takes a back seat to aesthetics when the developer gets involved because it is more expensive." The affordability issue is also an important one, she adds. "We do a lot of projects for non-profits because we believe in this. As architects, our responsibility is to always practice good design whether the project is small or large or has a big or small budget."

Written by Susannah Abbey
Photos courtesy of Pugh + Scarpa, Livable Places, DesignAdvisor.org
Last changed on: 6/13/2007 11:47:02 AM

Livable Places

Architect and Community Hero Samuel Mockbee

Sustainable Architecture Hero William McDonough

Affordable housing from DesignAdvisor.org

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