Design and Development – Los Angeles Business Magazine

Since they work for the developers, the architects become well versed in the building construction process. But some successful design studios take on the role of developer.

Koreaton-based Andmore Partners, led by Sean Mo and Heagi Kang, two Korean-American architects who met at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, has paved some money so they can develop the commercial and multi-family buildings they designed.

Turning to part-time developers was driven by frustration with designing projects for clients.
“Some of the decisions they made, we couldn’t understand,” Mo said. “So, we decided to do everything ourselves from the ground up.”

Sometimes there are constant design changes to projects where budgets are adjusted halfway, which has called on architects to water down their designs to meet revised budgets.

“Architects don’t have the opportunity to show leadership,” Mo said. “Every design is driven by the developer, and we don’t like it. Maybe there is a different way.”

However, the bulk of their work is designing buildings for other developers, and Mo and Kang find the fact that they develop select projects an asset. This is because they better understand the challenges of their developer clients such as escalating material costs, supply chain delays, and city planning hurdles.

finance test

Mo and Kang turned to the people around them to finance their first project.
“Fortunately, some of my friends work in the medical field — doctors and dentists,” Mo said. “While having a beer, I talked to them. I got the loan and then we bought a small property in K-Town.”
Andmore has assembled a group of 13 small private investors. Mo and Kang tried to work with banks but decided to prioritize private capital.

(from left to right) Gina Claire Nguyen, Associate Director Scott Sullivan, Director Tema Bell, Director
Gina Nguyen, left, Scott Sullivan, and Tima Bell.

The company’s first project was Mariposa, a seven-unit 5,900-square-foot complex in Koreatown, which it sold after receiving an unsolicited cash offer.
Their second project, a seven-unit on Kenmore Street in Koreatown, was sold out while it was still under construction.

Mo and Kang also created and completed the Rampart Lofts, a nine-unit apartment building in Westlake. Their next development, the Monterey Street project in Highland Park, will be a 3,500-square-foot, 12-unit mixed-use building. They are currently experiencing facility delays and are setting a first quarter start date for next year on the premises.

The development experience helps the Andmore architecture studio aspect as well.
“We’re developing ourselves, and we’re trying to have a good design,” Kang said. “It also helps get the information to the customer.”

When a client’s design for an 8,000-square-foot, multi-family development in a historic Los Angeles neighborhood didn’t receive approval, he turned to Andmore to review the design and get the go-ahead from the Wilshire Park Historic Preservation Overlay Zone.

“Architectural development and design have roles of their own,” Kang said. “The developer says that architects always cause problems because they want to make some designs to spend money. Architects criticize the developer – they only see the numbers. All of them have important value. We try to combine to strike a good balance between development and good design.”

Ideal Tenants

Mo and Kang have the freedom of design that comes with developing their own buildings.
One example is Rampart Lofts, designed by Andmore for the ideal renters – young professionals working in technology or entertainment. Instead of one- or two-bedroom apartments, the company designed studio apartments with two bathrooms.

“The developer will look at us in a strange way — a studio apartment with two bathrooms,” Kang said.
They believe that the development experience made them more valuable as architects.
“We can guide the customer who has no experience,” Mo said.

Rampart Lofts from Ardmore Partners are designed for young professionals.

Relativity Architects is another successful design studio that is getting serious about development. However, in their case, developing the property was not easy. Although relativity has tried many times, it has not been able to complete evolution.
Founded in 2013 by Timma Bell and Scott Sullivan, Relativity has recently formed a development arm, Relativity Architects Development.

“We’ve done some (projects), but unfortunately, as some developments happen sometimes, contract time is running out,” Bell said. “We have been undermined.”
Bill shared the frustration of trying to take on a developmental role.

“We’ve gotten pretty close, doing really beautiful architecture to connect the development and we’ve been flooded a few times,” Bell said, regarding potential development deals that are faltering for various reasons.

Favorable economic conditions inspired Bill and Sullivan to take on the role of the developer.
“Especially when interest rates were very low, and certain forms of development, we felt we were familiar enough with many aspects, and I don’t see why we shouldn’t try to do that,” Bell said.

Bell said there was a good reason why he wanted to get into the development field.
“It’s clear that developers are making more money,” Bell said. “Architecture is a service industry. We always get a small percentage of the cost of building.”

Gina Nguyen, Studio Director and Associate Director at Relativity, added, “This connection between being an architect and a developer is not only the money aspect, but also the ability to use our knowledge and passion to be on both ends of the development side and nurture these spaces and have a role in how cities unite.”

There was a hotel project in Silver Lake. Relativity Architects Development has partnered with the owner of a plot of property. The studio made designs for the project and compiled the benefit package.

“When we read the resulting contract, we realized that we had been sidelined from the required 15 percent to just 5 percent,” Bell said. “So we had to make a decision.”
Despite the financial weakness, the relative decided to move forward with the partnership
Until then we decided, ‘This is our first project, we’re going to take less,’ Bill said. ‘Let’s get something under our belt. Only money and experience will help us in the next stage. Everything was in place and the man who owned the land was cut off.”

Relativity will pay for attorneys and land use consultants, because the company as a developer will create a schematic design and entitlement package as well as budget details.
So far, Relativity Architects Development has not yet developed a project.

“Twice the land was pulled from under us, and the money was sidelined,” Bell said.

Small Town Politics

The other nearby development occurred in Wisconsin, where a relativist wanted to purchase a building the length of a city block for its cultivation and organization.
The relative turned to a local bank in Wisconsin to borrow money to buy the block. In the end, the bank refused these requests and told her, “You must have the money in order to borrow.”

Then came the shock. “After two months, the bank bought the building,” Bell said. “We learned about the politics of small towns very quickly.”
Bill does not regret how Relativity handled these projects.

“We’re very honest,” Bell said. “We are transparent. We run a tight ship and don’t like to hide things from the people involved in our projects. We feel that merit and integrity go a long way.”

However, he has learned that honesty does not always lead to positive results.
“One of the things we’ve learned is that in game development, unfortunately, those things don’t really matter that much,” Bell said. “We are not changing but we are definitely more careful with the projects we are moving forward with.”

Relativity is currently considering partnering and collaborating on the development of a proposed equestrian center project called Connecting Compton, a multi-year project that will repurpose a decommissioned landfill.

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