For years Los Angeles has struggled to make Grand Avenue the lively cultural center of a sprawling city. But despite the addition of impressive institutions and splashy architecture, the street has never been a pedestrian-friendly place.
Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DSR), currently in the architecture world’s crosshairs for its plan to replace the American Folk Art Museum building as part of an expansion for MoMA in New York, today revealed plans to enliven the street with an eclectic new plaza, located on a sliver of space just south of the Broad art museum.
The 24,000-square-foot, $18 million plaza, which DSR is planning with Oakland-based Hood Design Studio, will extend from Grand Avenue with a grove of 100-year-old Olive trees, interspersed with crushed stone paving, flowering groundcover, and tree stump tables. Just to the west an open lawn will complement the tight scale of the grove, while at the far west edge of the space will be a new standalone restaurant, developed by Bill Chait, who has put together popular eateries like Test Kitchen, République, and Bestia. The architect of the restaurant has not yet been finalized, said Joanne Heyler, founding director of the Broad.
This section of Grand Avenue is raised on platforms, but the plaza’s platform will be turned upside down so that its base sits on the ground below and its columns point upwards, allowing more depth for the roots of trees and plantings. The technique will help create one of the few green public spaces in the immediate vicinity.
Improvements to Grand Avenue itself will include wider sidewalks in front of the Broad, new Chinese Pistache and Olive trees, LED street lights and in-ground uplights, and a mid-block traffic signal, pedestrian crosswalk, and planted median. The plaza will also connect the street to a new metro station on 2nd and Hope streets for the upcoming Regional Connector line.
“We felt it was important to create a plaza that would connect all these disparate parts on Grand Avenue,” said Heyler. “We want to make the pedestrian atmosphere as lively as the cultural atmosphere here.” Programming will likely include film screenings, concerts, and educational events, but management of such activities “is yet to be fleshed out,” said Heyler.
The new plaza will be paid for with $10 million in funds set aside by the former Community Redevelopment Agency and with $8 million from the Broad. Construction has already begun, and the plaza is expected to open this fall. But the museum, which was supposed to open this year, now won’t be opening until sometime in 2015. The delay, noted Heyler, came as a result of complications in the fabrication and delivery of the “veil,” the heavy latticed structure fronting the Broad.
Some have speculated that the plaza’s unveiling is meant distract from the museums delayed debut. But regardless, it’s another big step for a street whose public spaces are finally starting to catch up with its splashy architecture—which includes Gehry’s Disney Hall, Arata Isozaki’s MOCA, DSR’s the Broad, and Raphael Moneo’s Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Just a block north Frank Gehry and Related Companies are finally beginning to move forward with the Grand Avenue Project, which will organize retail, residential, and hotel along a U-shaped plaza on the other side of Grand Avenue. And another block north Rios Clementi Hale’s new Grand Park has helped activate the zone around the Music Center.