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Kirstin Harper-Smith M.B.A. ’15

Kirstin Harper-Smith, senior project manager with Suffolk Construction, has been involved with major construction projects in downtown Los Angeles. We asked her to share her thoughts about the L.A. skyline and her 10 favorite tall buildings.

Los Angeles, as with any city, will always have its critics and lovers of its landscape and skyline. As a construction professional, I see something much more than buildings and skyscrapers when I look at the skyline — the years of planning, development and community relations that took place before the ground was even broken. I see the passion of design and architecture that goes into these buildings, and I understand the hard work and commitment that goes into bringing these structures into existence. They’re all beautiful buildings in their own unique ways, and their designs, collectively, represent the beauty of our city.

Unsurprisingly, Los Angeles designers and building professionals face challenges, such as population, traffic, landscape and seismic activity, that are unique to our city. In L.A., there are also small footprints — that is, a limited amount of space on the ground to build projects. This can complicate the logistics. For example, when you have less space to work with, engineers have to be more innovative and creative in protecting against seismic activity. The range of engineering and design methods required to meet the multitude of styles in Los Angeles is what makes this city exceptional for any person in my profession.

The history of our buildings is the history of Los Angeles — take Olvera Street, or Chinatown, or Union Station, each of which have a unique look and feel based on the people who live and work there. The construction and building industry represents adaptation and change. As a community, we erect buildings to serve and support specific purposes. Then, once those buildings outgrow their original purposes, we modify them or replace them to meet the new needs of our community. Just as our communities and people must change and adapt to new technologies and lifestyles, so must the design, engineering and construction worlds evolve. This dynamic makes Los Angeles a living, breathing entity and contributes to its eminent attractiveness. The diversity of height, design and engineering of the skyscrapers in Los Angeles is reflective of our eclectic diversity as Angelenos, and helps to make L.A. ever more unique among American cities.

Biography
Kirstin Harper-Smith is the senior project manager for Suffolk Construction at 888 Grand Hope Lofts. Her responsibilities include overseeing the budget, managing her team, and coordinating the project with the owner and design team. Earlier in her career, she worked on the building of L.A. LIVE!, multiple LAUSD schools and the Hall of Justice in downtown Los Angeles. Harper-Smith earned a master’s degree in business administration with an emphasis on organizational behavior from the College of Business Administration in 2015. Before attending LMU, she received a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering with a construction emphasis from USC.

 

1. U.S. BANK TOWER

COMPLETION: 1990
ARCHITECT : Pei Cobb Freed & Partners (firm); Architect of Record: Ellerbe Becket
LOCATION: 633 W. Fifth St., Los Angeles, CA 90071
HEIGHT: 73 floors (plus 2 floors below ground); 1,018 feet

A symbol of Los Angeles, this high rise’s stature and prominence remind me of the focus and commitment of the engineers, construction professionals and labor force who dedicated so much of their time, energy and resources to design and build this tower. I marvel at this building.

2. WESTIN BONAVENTURE HOTEL

COMPLETION: 1976
ARCHITECT: John Portman & Associates (firm)
LOCATION: 404 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, CA 90071
HEIGHT: 35 floors; 388 feet

The hotel’s glass façade and grand presence bring the glamour of Hollywood to downtown, while the interior complex with its endless hotel rooms, mixed retail/restaurant space and rotating bar demonstrate the value of leveraging space for multiple functions.

3. WILSHIRE GRAND CENTER

COMPLETION: Est. 2017
ARCHITECT: AC Martin (firm)
LOCATION: 900 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90017
HEIGHT: 73 floors; 1,100 feet

As the new tallest building west of the Mississippi River, the Wilshire Grand Center represents major feats of engineering, design and construction. Earning the world record for the largest continuous concrete pour is attributable to awesome engineering, construction planning and labor force.

4. AON CENTER

COMPLETION: 1974
ARCHITECT: Charles Luckman Associates (firm)
LOCATION: 707 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90017
HEIGHT: 62 floors (plus 5 floors below ground); 858 feet

In the late ’80s, the Aon Center experienced a devastating fire that resulted in a review of exceptions and rules in building fire life safety code, updating the requirements to prevent future such tragedies. The silver lining of that fire was safer buildings for all of us and for future generations.

5. LOS ANGELES CITY HALL

COMPLETION: 1928
ARCHITECT: John Parkinson; Architect of Record: John C. Austin
LOCATION: 200 N. Spring St., Los Angeles, CA 90012
HEIGHT: 27 floors; 454 feet

L.A. City Hall is iconic. The building’s beauty and architecture exemplify the eclectic styles of downtown architecture and symbolize the rise of this great American city. Completed in the 1920s, this building has undergone seismic retrofitting to overcome nature’s obstacles.

6. 888 GRAND HOPE LOFTS

COMPLETION: 2018
ARCHITECT: CallisonRTKL
LOCATION: 888 S. Hope St., Los Angeles, CA 90017
HEIGHT: 34 floors; 330 feet

This new building not only represents personal and professional growth for me but also symbolizes how far we have come in the construction industry. I am honored to be one of several women on this project, and I feel privileged to represent the diversity of this great city.

7. RITZ-CARLTON/MARRIOT MARQUIS LOS ANGELES

COMPLETION: 2010
ARCHITECT: Gensler (firm)
LOCATION: 900 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90015
HEIGHT: 54 stories (plus 3 stories below ground); 667 feet

This structure symbolizes the gentrification and rebirth of downtown Los Angeles. L.A. is known for entertainment and sports so it was thrilling to see the hotel recognize our city’s uniqueness while introducing modern high-rise buildings to the Los Angeles skyline.

8. EASTERN COLUMBIA BUILDING

COMPLETION: 1930
ARCHITECT: Claud Beelman
LOCATION: 849 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90014
HEIGHT: 13 stories; 264 feet

An icon of Art Deco architecture and symbol of commerce for the city, the Eastern Columbia Building represents beauty and function in Los Angeles. This tower was constructed in nine months — an incredible engineering and construction accomplishment.

9. TITLE GUARANTEE & TRUST COMPANY BUILDING

COMPLETION: 1930
ARCHITECT: Parkinson & Parkinson (firm)
LOCATION: 411 W. Fifth St., Los Angeles, CA 90013
HEIGHT: 12 stories; 240 feet

Another Art Deco icon, this building’s murals and sculptures artfully depict the city’s evolution from Spanish colonialism and indigenous life to the modern American metropolitan city of Los Angeles that was emerging in the 1930s.