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LA Cleans Up with Downtown Green District Designs
A self-sustaining city revealed as AN and SCI-Arc announce Cleantech Corridor competition winners
First-prize winner Project Umbrella, by Constantin Boincean, Ralph Bertram, and Aleksandra Danielak of Oslo.
Courtesy Boincean/Bertram/Danielak

Inventive new uses for mushroom shapes, a river that acts as a community center and energy hub rather than a storm drain, and districts that breathe and recycle like humans—these are samples from the winning competitors in AN and SCI-Arc’s Cleantech Corridor and Green District competition, which asked entrants to rethink and redesign the 2,000-acre development zone on the eastern edge of downtown Los Angeles that the city has set aside for clean tech manufacturing and related uses. Many, including LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, have said that the district will be the hub of the city’s future economy.

The winning entries created iconic new architectural designs for the area, established strategies to energize and enrich it through new planning and land-use schemes, and developed environmental and energy plans to make it green and self-sustaining.

“We’re a young city with a realistic opportunity to define and implement the next conceptual city,” said SCI-Arc director Eric Owen Moss. Partners on the project included the City of Los Angeles, the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles, and the LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The jury included architects Michael Maltzan, Stan Allen, and Ming Fung; landscape architect Dennis McGlade of Olin Partnership; and officials from the partner agencies.

The winning professional scheme, Project Umbrella, revolves around large mushroom-like structures called solar evaporators that would not only serve as memorable symbols for the area, but, via a system of black-water treatment and clean-water dispersal, would transform large parts of the city grid into greener and more attractive public spaces. The second prize went to Los Angeles-based office Labtop's scheme called Greenoplasty, which removes cars from the area through a local rail line and creates a system of lightweight housing on top of the area’s existing warehouses. Third prize went to a team including Buro Happold and Mia Lehrer & Associates that conceived integrated systems for energy creation (including solar arrays and hydroelectric power), waste management, transportation, and water runoff.

The awards ceremony and a jury-led symposium will be held this Saturday, October 9, at 2 p.m. at the SCI-Arc campus. Read on for the full list of winners.

Professional Category

First Prize
Constantin Boincean, Ralph Bertram, Aleksandra Danielak
Oslo, Norway

The winning entry, Project Umbrella, reinterprets LA’s existing infrastructure by implementing a point-based renewal strategy that will gradually transform the city grid into a greener and more attractive public space. Mushroom-like structures named solar evaporators tap into the city’s sewage, collecting and clarifying the black water originating from the surrounding blocks. The clear water is distributed and released into the streets through a process of evaporation and condensation triggering a transformation of the conventional streets into a network of lush, cultivated landscapes. Green webs spreading out from the evaporators generate incentives for new, sustainable developments within and around them. The central urban plazas become focal points within a gradual process of transformation that will affect the way people will see, use, and experience their city.

Second Prize
Labtop: Thomas Sériès, Vincent Saura, Vuki Backonja, Amanda Li Chang, Eduardo Manilla, Benjamin Sériès
Los Angeles

The second-place entry, Greenoplasty, imagines an overall vision of the Cleantech Corridor based on creating a distinct urban space whose residents will not need to commute long distances to live in a district with more amenities. The designers believe that a local rail line servicing the Cleantech Corridor is a way to compress the nearly 4-mile site to more walkable distances. Furthermore, as a need for housing arises, lightweight, mixed-use buildings can be populated evenly throughout the site, positioned above warehouses. This allows all areas of the corridor an equal chance to develop, while sustaining the still functioning warehouses. In the long term, areas with more exposure and more potential residents will require more businesses, giving short-term architectural propositions the power to provoke zoning changes, and ultimately allowing a homogeneous industrial district to evolve into a more consolidated, dense, heterogeneous neighborhood.

Third Prize
Buro Happold, Mia Lehrer & Associates, Elizabeth Timme, Jim Suhr
Los Angeles

According to the third-place entry designers, the urban character of LA’s industrial corridor is a paradoxical blend of functionality and disregard. Currently, most of the city’s distribution, shipping, and freight storage occur within this zone. However, there is no structural logic or organization to this corridor. Freight modal hubs are littered along Alameda and Olympic. Additionally, a huge residential population to the east is cut off from accessing the city by this blanket of absolute, thoughtless industry. In part, because of the lack of organizational clarity to these transit systems, 20 to 30 percent of the industrial buildings that populate the site are outmoded and shuttered, with no inherent flexibility or market value. Conversely, this is part of what makes the Cleantech Corridor so provocative: its raw space and potential for industry and innovation. But to function within a modern metropolis, what the corridor needs is a systemic overhaul, a retrofitting that will allow it to transition into an intermodal landscape.

Honorable Mention
Escher GuneWardena Architecture
Los Angeles

This entry, Green District, proposes to be both the spatial and ideological center for regional Cleantech research and industry, but also to become the geographic and socio-economic connector between currently disparate parts of the city. To achieve this, three main areas have to be addressed—water, transportation, and education—for which Cleantech introduces fundamental shifts in paradigms.

Honorable Mention
Zoltan Neville
Los Angeles

INFILL-TRATION proposes a solution for the Cleantech Corridor that begins with the reconsideration of underutilized resources within the area to improve not only the industrial corridor, but the natural water system and the entire urban experience. The project acts more as a method for regeneration and growth rather than a specific design, providing a dynamic framework in which the natural process of development can occur.  

Honorable Mention
ZAGO Architecture
Los Angeles

This entry describes Los Angeles as a great city without great urbanism. This project thus proposes a series of large-scale developments along the Los Angeles River and a major reconfiguration of the river itself. In addition to building complexes at the northern half of the study area, the zone identified by the city as the Cleantech Corridor is composed largely of a recombinant urban device that simultaneously insinuates itself into the surrounding context while producing its own coherent yet varying urban space. Rather than romanticizing a sylvan future for the river, one that requires enormous flood-control mechanisms to maintain a fictive natural appearance, this proposal adds engineering to separate the need for ecological corridors in the city from the need for occasional flood control. At a point near the William Mead housing project, water is removed from the channel and pumped to an engineered wetland field located at the current piggy-back rail yards. From there, the water continues above and alongside the current channel in an ecological corridor. This corridor then follows a decommissioned rail right-of-way to Long Beach, where it is directed back to the current channel. The channel remains as a flood-control device, employed frequently in the winter months and available as an ad-hoc urban and recreational space year-round.


Student Category

First Prize
Randall Winston, Jennifer Jones, Renee Pean
School of Architecture at the University of Virginia
Charlottesville, Virginia

MessyTech recognizes the full life cycles involved in so-called clean industries, which can be complex and not perfectly clean. In turn, messy processes can lead to cleaner results. Designing and manufacturing are inherently messy, where error can lead to progress and where flexibility reigns. Creativity and artistry are fostered in environments of cross-pollination and collaboration, where conflict and harmony co-generate good ideas. The weaving of diverse infrastructures, people, and activities makes for a rich and dynamic urban fabric.

Second Prize 

Ji Hoon Kim

Bartlett School of Architecture, University College

The final design system for this creative industry is a non-production system—the system of social activities for people within the creative sector. To illustrate this, a cable-car system enables the movement of people from the current Arts District and other industrial areas over the LA River and through the New Integrated Creative Industry. This system enables more social activities and relationships between the creative industry area and other industrial areas in downtown LA. Furthermore, the two distribution areas include residences and small exhibition spaces for workers, designers, artists, and visitors. Lastly, this non-production system offers communal space between production lines to facilitate a variety of social behaviour among and between workers, designers, artists, and visitors in the New Integrated Creative Industry in downtown LA.

Third Prize
Ryan Lovett, Jesse Keenan
Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation
Columbia University
New York

This project supplements the area’s existing industrial base with an intricate series of agritech businesses. Centered around a large campus with sustainable and innovative architecture, the new zone would include a dense network of food production, fish farming, and a system of mobile food trucks to aid in immediate dispersal.

Honorable Mention
Lydia Lee Kemppainen
Interior Design Program, UCLA Extension 
Los Angeles

The idea behind the Red Door Farm is to establish a community around an urban farm that utilizes the most current technology in growing food. Its purpose is to teach people how to grow and produce good organic food in a sustainable manner, to celebrate food, and to demonstrate that good food can be accessible to everyone. The farm will actively engage in outreach efforts to the schools and community. The project also includes residences, places to dine and socialize, and businesses.

Sam Lubell