This is the first in a series devoted to the life and work as an architect in Malibu. The distinct geography and topography of Malibu, in addition to the customary governmental regulations, affect how an architect will tackle design challenges when building in Malibu. In addition, its unique citizenry that fight to keep the Malibu Way of Life intact, sometimes with opposing views on development, also impact how we build here. With this series, I will address these topics and explain the nuances involved when constructing a new home or commercial property, as well as remodeling, in Malibu.
As a small bit of trivia, we moved to our first home in Malibu on the weekend of the O.J. Simpson murders, which occurred mere blocks from our house in Brentwood. So that is our marker. We left the crazy, crowded, fast lane of West Los Angeles for the open spaces and laid-back existence of Malibu on what was arguably one of the top five craziest weekends on the Westside. Other than the occasional nostalgic drive through our old, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood, we have never had a regret.
We moved to Malibu just a few years after the town won a protracted battle to become its own city, thereby saving itself from a large sewer project and the potential to quintuple in size.
This bit of Malibu history, save for the heroic effort by May Rindge to keep the Pacific Coast Highway from bisecting her Rancho Malibu, is the most important event in shaping the collective psyche of our seaside hamlet. The vibe in 1994 was decidedly no-growth.
This battle for cityhood created an experiment in advanced civics. A small town with a well-educated, yet laid-back citizenry had realized that in order to protect the lifestyle they had chosen, they would have to engage in self-governance, thereby giving up the disconnect with government that had been a cornerstone of the Malibu Way of Life prior to 1991. The locals developed the original documents of cityhood. Malibu committees wrote the General Plan, Municipal Code, and Zoning Code. Citizen committees sprung up like the bright yellow Scotch Broom on the hillsides in the spring.
It is important to note that at the same time Malibu became a city through tireless efforts of its established residents, it experienced a generational influx of new families, most of whom knew nothing about the recent fight for self-determination. This infusion of new blood was due to lower land costs, open spaces and a reasonably good school system.
This spate of newcomers planted the seed for the dynamic, the “vibe” that Malibu has today. At one end of the civic spectrum are the pre-cityhood old-timers trying to protect their hard-fought battle to “Keep Malibu, Malibu.” At the other pole are the progressively minded, post-cityhood arrivals that want to improve the town they now call home. Every resident of Malibu falls somewhere on this civic spectrum, and literally every controversy in our town can be defined in these terms.
So what does this mean for an architect? In the words of Captain Jack Sparrow, in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, when referring to the Pirate’s Code, “Well, it ain’t so much a code, mate. They’s more like guidelines.”
In other words, just because our zoning code says that you may definitely do something, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can do it. It means that, as a resident Malibu architect, you keep your ear to the ground, your finger in the wind, and your thumb on the pulse of the citizenry.
A blog on architectural design, and thoughts and ideas on the process of design, from the unique perspective of a Malibu architect, who must deal with severely restrictive zoning codes.