architecture blog

Modative in LA Planning Newsletter

Posted by Krystal Navar on Wed, Dec 10, 2014 @ 06:12 AM

During a recent trip to City Hall, I stumbled upon pLAnning, the quarterly newsletter of the LA City Planning Department. In this edition, Simon Pastucha, a City Planner with the Urban Design Studio, presents the City’s newly-issued Citywide Design Guidelines and Small Lot Design Guidelines. Both of the images included in the article are of Modative projects: The Cullen Street Art District Homes + Artis @ Echo Park!  

Modative contributed project images and participated in review sessions for the creation of the Small Lot Design Guidelines. In fact, both Cullen and Artis were featured on the cover. We are proud that two of our projects have been selected by the Urban Design Studio as being representative of thoughtfully-designed projects that contribute to the urban fabric of Los Angeles.

LA City Planning Newsletter Cullen Modative

Cullen on the front page of the newsletter 

LA City Planning Newsletter Artis Modative

Artis on the back page of the newsletter 

Modative has created our own Small Lot Subdivision Guide, a "how-to" for developers interested in Small Lot Subdivision. Check it out and contact us with any questions.

Tags: los angeles architects, Modern Design, real estate, Residential, Small Lot Subdivision, Development, architecture resources, Housing

Modative Interview by Business of Architecture

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Tue, Apr 15, 2014 @ 06:04 AM

Last year we had the pleasure of having Enoch Sears from the Business of Architecture visit our office and conduct an on-camera interview. We've always really appreciated Enoch's approach of focusing on the business side of architecture, something that has been a vital part of our practice. So, last week, Enoch published the interview on his website and we are very happy with the results. It's an open and honest depiction of the critical issues we've faced in the last few years, which include (taken from Business of Architecture's website):

  • Promoting a hands-on approach for staff.

  • Creating a process to help your clients believe in your brand.

  • Learning to say “No” and staying focused on your firm’s goals.

  • The benefits of showing your clients an open and honest process.

  • A design-driven website vs. an informative website.

modative business architecture interview

If you're interested, you can see the interview (and a transcript) on the Business of Architecture site - THE SECRETS TO A SUCCESSFUL ARCHITECTURE FIRM: INSIDE THE MODERN ARCHITECTURE FIRM MODATIVE


Tags: Project Strategy, Organization, Architectual Practice, modern architecture firm, employees, architecture resources, Marketing

Small Home Sizes

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Fri, Jun 26, 2009 @ 11:06 AM

Our last post about the advantages of small homes got me thinking,  what really constitutes a small home? What is the size cutoff for a home to be considered small?

LEED for Homes (the industry standard for green homes) quantifies this well. Before you can even begin counting points for certification, your level is adjusted according to the size of your home. The smaller your home, the easier it is to get certified.

The chart below shows the home sizes they consider to be "neutral". If your home is larger than the "neutral" size, you're penalized; smaller, you're rewarded.


LEED for Homes Rating System

Threshold Adjustment Equation - "neutral" home sizes

 1 Bedroom
2 Bedrooms 3 Bedrooms
4 Bedrooms  5 Bedrooms
 900 sq. ft.
 1,400 sq. ft. 1,900 sq. ft. 2,600 sq. ft. 2,850 sq. ft.


I was relieved that my 1,400 sq. ft. two-bedroom townhouse falls directly into the "neutral" home size threshold. How does your home stack up?


The following is the full chart as it is found in the LEED Homes Rating System.

small home sizes

Tags: home size, small homes, architecture resources, Housing, green homes, LEED

Idea Sources, Idea Places

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Fri, Apr 24, 2009 @ 11:04 AM

While many of our ideas are generated in the office during design sessions, great ideas often come from unconventional sources and in non-professional settings.

Here are some of my favorite idea sources and places:

While trying to sleep

You're in bed, frustrated, trying to sleep while your mind churns out ideas. Are they all good ideas? No, but some of them may be genius. Genius because you're too tired to see that they will probably fail. When fully conscious you may dismiss these ideas before they reach their potential.

The Shower (or bath)

You've showered many times before. The routine is clear. Your hair practically washes itself. So this frees you up for some quality thinking - no distractions and no other people (unless you're lucky). Think of it as a warm-water-idea-isolation-chamber.

The Inexperienced

My first few years out of architecture school, I knew little of how buildings are really built. This led me to try outlandish things that a more experienced designer would reject because it wasn't the norm. Many firms thrive this way. Young, fresh ideas balanced with older and more experienced professionals to keep things in check.

Although I've since gained experience, I still like to step into that naiveté every once in a while.

People Outside Your Industry

Most of my friends work outside of the architecture world. They keep me in check. When I tell them what I'm up to, they're quick to point out what doesn't make sense to them about my industry. These industry shortcomings so ignored within the profession are so obvious to outsiders.  Are these opportunities?


Up to a certain age, kids don't care what peoplethink of them. They will play in the middle of a department store as if no one is around. Imagine if you could think like that for just aminute, forgetting what people may think of your crazy idea.

Just Walking Around

I live in Los Angeles. It's not known as a walking city, but that doesn't stop me. Walking speed allows me to take things in - not just the buildings, but how people interact with the city. A ten minute walk can yield many ideas for how the city can be improved and, surprisingly, what is already working.

Long Solo Drive

Not the kind in traffic. The open highway, headed to a destination kind. Ideas can flow here just like the shower example, except without the warm water.


Do you have any favorite sources or places for ideas?

Tags: Inspiration, Architectual Practice, architecture resources

Five Ways to Keep Your Architect in Check

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Fri, Apr 10, 2009 @ 09:04 AM

Architects are not perfect. They need your help from time to time. Schedule delays and budget overruns can happen on any project. And while it may not be your architect's fault, here are five easy ways to help keep your architect in check:

1. Detailed Contract

Many architects fear detailed contracts because they think it'll deter clients from hiring them. This approach hurts everyone, especially the owner/client. Contracts are not just about architecture fees. A good contract covers all the bases. For example, responsibilities of the various parties and what happens if things go wrong.

Here at Modative, we primarily use the AIA (American Institute of Architects) standard set of agreements. They are lengthy, detailed and a boring read, but they're based on over 120 years of knowledge.

Doing a project is serious business. If you're afraid of a detailed contract then maybe you should reconsider building something.

2. Read It Again

Be sure to re-read that detailed contract throughout the architecture process. This is a good way to know if your architect is delivering as promised.

3. Schedule Monitoring

It's easy to get off schedule when there is no schedule. Your architect should provide you a preliminary schedule at the beginning of the project and update it every few months as things will no doubt change.

Set meetings in advance, so time doesn't slip away. A great approach is to pick a standing day/time and stick to it. We'll meet every third Friday at 3 p.m. Maybe you could even grab cocktails after?

4. Budget Management

In case you haven't heard, architects are not construction pricing experts. They're just not. Architects don't have a grasp on the labor and materials markets like a general contractor does. Either bring your contractor onto the team early or hire one at key moments in the architecture process to price out your design. This is money well spent. Getting too far in the process with an over-budget design can be costly and confrontational to fix.

5. Phase Sign-offs

Architecture phases exist for a reason - to help monitor progress. Get a clear sense from your architect as to when one phase begins and the other ends. A great way to achieve this is through sign-offs. As the owner, you should sign a set of plans/documents to signify design approval at the end of every phase.

Checking this list and giving your architect a little friendly nudge from time to time will help keep things moving along.

Am I being too hard on my own profession?

Tags: architect advice, Organization, Architectual Practice, Business, architecture resources, contracts

Avoid Property Purchasing Pitfalls - Utilize an Architect

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Wed, Mar 4, 2009 @ 10:03 AM

From news reports to personal experiences, we are all now very aware that the real estate world has cooled dramatically, however, the dip in property price and increase in foreclosures has brought about a new round of opportunity. Those who are willing and able to gobble up these affordable properties are in a good position to reap the benefits in the long run. Unfortunately, however, in the last few years, we've seen plenty of mistakes in buying property that could have been avoided with a bit of help from an architect.

Utilize an Architect's Experience

People often falsely assume that they must own a property before contacting an architect. This can be a difficult error to overcome. Architects have experience in understanding zoning codes that affect the value and buildability of the property.

But My Broker Told Me...

There are many great real estate brokers out there, but there are also many not so good. Remember that a broker's end goal is to sell you a property and collect a commission. This often leads to giving you the most favorable view of a property in hopes that you'll close the deal quick and easy. Most brokers will do a very superficial code search on a property, but the problem is that zoning codes are not always so simple, nor are they the only factor in determining the development value of a property.

Beyond the Codes

Although a thorough zoning code check is an important first step, architects have experience beyond just an understanding of the codes. They can typically give you a quick idea of what the site will allow based on other factors or costs.

To give you a better feel of some potential pitfalls, let's look at a few examples that we've experienced:

Client Scenario A - Parking Counts

A few years back we had a young client named Greg come to us with a property in Los Angeles that was zoned RD2 (a  multi-family zone). Greg had already purchased this property under the assumption from his real estate agent that he could develop a four-unit condominium on the property.

In theory this was correct. The RD2 zone allowed a density of one unit for every 2,000 square feet of property and the property was 8,500 square feet in size. So yes, the code allowed four units, but there were other factors at play. The configuration of the lot, and the city's parking requirements made it impossible to properly park a four unit condo on the site. Although it may have worked with underground parking, the cost of going underground given the size and layout of the lot would have made the project infeasible.

So after analyzing all of this for Greg, we determined at most he could do a three-unit condominium. The development numbers didn't add up, so Greg had just purchased a property that was of little value to him. If he had contacted us sooner, we could have warned him and he could have found a better suited property or negotiated the price of that property down until it made financial sense.

Client Scenario B - Hillside

In Los Angeles, the search for cheap lands often leads to the hills. Not the glamorous cliff hanging homes one thinks of, but leftover raw land with severe slopes. A young couple, Claire and Sam  came to us a while back with one of these lots in mind. Their broker brought this property to their attention because it was cheap and had nothing built on it yet. To Claire and Sam it seemed like a dream property. The cheap land would allow them to build the small modern home they had been dreaming of.

Fortunately, Claire and Sam called us when they found this property. Aside from not meeting code requirements to build what they wanted, we explained to them that the added foundation costs to build on an unstable hill like this far outweighed the potential savings of the cheap land. Needless to say, they didn't purchase this particular hillside mess. We like to think that our quick advice saved them from this big financial mistake.

Free Research by an Architect

Not all scenarios are like this. These two just highlight some potential mistakes that can be made without getting an architect's help early in the process.

To help prevent some of these property purchasing pitfalls, we have added a free zoning code search to our web site. This service is available to current property owners and people searching for property in the Los Angeles area. Learning about a property's zoning code is an important first step in any potential project. A step that we are trying to make a little easier and more accessible.

TweetIt from HubSpot

Tags: Los Angeles, Property, website update, architect advice, Zoning Code Search, architecture resources

Ask an Architect

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Sun, Feb 8, 2009 @ 10:02 AM

Sometimes approaching an architect can be intimidating since few people have experience in dealing with them. Well, now asking an architect is easy. If you have a question for an architect, here are three easy ways to ask:

1. Form

Click here to fill out a confidential form. An architect will reply with an answer to the e-mail address you provide.

2. Phone

Call 310.526.7826. Ask for Derek or dial extension 01.

3. Comment

Ask a question by commenting in the forum below. Comments are monitored and can take 1-2 business days to be posted. Questions are typically answered within 1-5 business days, so check back here for the answer.

Please no questions involving structural engineering, ie. foundation, beam and column sizing. We will not answer these types of questions. If you have a structural question, please contact a structural engineer in your area. 

So, whether you have a question about a project you're considering, or just researching the architecture profession, there are no stupid questions. Ask away.

Tags: architect advice, Architectual Practice, architecture resources