Runway, the final component of the long-debated and litigated Playa Vista project, will finally break ground in August, delivering a much-needed commercial and civic center on the site of an airport once owned by Howard Hughes. Often derided for its suburban character, Playa Vista is continuing to evolve after 30 years on the drawing board, with the forthcoming addition slated for 11 acres adjacent to the Ballona Creek Wetlands and the Pacific Ocean.
Designed by Los Angeles–based architecture and planning firm Johnson Fain, the $260 million project, developed by master developer Playa Capital Company and Runway site owner Lincoln Property Company, will be located at the site’s former runway (hence the name). Design lead Scott Johnson and his team spent three years designing before the project cleared the California Supreme Court. With a targeted opening date of 2014, Runway will add 200,000 square feet of retail, including a movie theater, shops, and restaurants, 420 apartments, and 25,000 square feet of creative office space.
“In theory, it’s an exceptional location,” said Johnson. “It’s hard to build near the ocean today. And it’s the newest part of the city.”
Since its earliest conception, developed by local firm Moule & Polyzoides, Playa Vista has been an experiment in New Urbanism, though much of the original master plan was abandoned after numerous lawsuits and market cycles. Runway retains the original concept’s ambitions, especially regarding pedestrian scale, landscaping, and what Johnson calls a “heightening of the public realm.”
The most prominent element will be a five-story, lantern-shaped vertical circulation structure that does extra duty as a people mover, social gathering place, and public art. The design team also called on traditional urban place-making concepts by breaking the Runway site’s 11 acres into smaller blocks. Rios Clementi Hale led the landscape design work. To activate the streetscape, the design team placed residential units above the commercial and retail uses in a mixed-use arrangement that tops out at a height of four stories.
The project diverges from Playa Vista’s New Urbanist progenitors in a strict adherence to contemporary architecture style. Johnson describes Runway as “beach industrial.” He is careful to point out, however, that Runway will not be a thematic environment. Only contemporary materials will be used, such as steel, tile, timber, and self-rusting Cor-ten steel—materials, Johnson said, “that will gain quality with weathering.”