Gensler's Capacity Study

A still from the Capacity video depicts the various infrastructure resources that a future Downtown would demand.

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - Today, the Downtown area bounded by the freeways and the Los Angeles River supports about 450,000 workers and residents.

If every last square foot of property was built to the maximum height and density allowed by the city, the same area could hold 4.3 million people.

That’s among the core findings of Capacity, a study put together by Downtown-based architecture firm Gensler and students from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.

While Gensler found that Downtown could theoretically increase its population by a scale of 10, the report, which is available in an eight-minute online video that you can view below, shows why the legally allowable density is practically impossible.

The maximum build-out would add the equivalent of 360 Burj Khalifas (the tallest building in the world, in Dubai) to Downtown. While that prospect might put a sparkle in the eye of density devotees, the Gensler study argues that the demands of that population could not be supported.

“I think the bottom line is that maximum density as defined by the city is really unachievable,” said Shawn Gehle, a design director at Gensler who co-led the Capacity study. “There’s a resource demand by that population that could not be met by current infrastructure or utilities.”

According to the study, current electricity resources could support up to 2.6 million residents and workers. But when the study factors in the consumption of an even more precious resource — water — the population ceiling drops to 1.36 million.

Those factors come with a key caveat: If the city rethinks utility consumption and finds ways to be more resource efficient, then the infrastructure could support more people, Gehle said.

The Capacity study marks the third Downtown-focused research project that Gensler has organized since it moved from Santa Monica to its current Financial District headquarters in 2011. The first report imagined Downtown without cars. Last year, the company considered the future of office buildings and how they can be designed to better accommodate companies with shrinking footprints.

Ultimately, the studies are intended as resources for city planners and others considering long-range planning issues. Next year, Gensler plans to devote a new study specifically to water issues.

CAPACITY: Downtown Los Angeles from Gensler LA on Vimeo.