Up the Creek

Gehry says transformation of L.A. River into a green oasis will “never happen”

City Terrain Landscape Architecture West
Frank Gehry recently said that recreational and natural spaces along the L.A. River bottom would never happen. (Courtesy Forgemind ArchiMedia/Flickr)
Frank Gehry recently said that recreational and natural spaces along the L.A. River bottom would never happen. (Courtesy Forgemind ArchiMedia/Flickr)

At the recent Urban Land Institute (ULI) Fall Meeting in Los Angeles, architect Frank Gehry made surprising remarks concerning the future of the Los Angeles River in a wide-ranging interview with Frances Anderton, host of KCRW’s DnA: Design and Architecture.

During the discussion, Gehry told Anderton, “You can’t build habitat and you can’t build space for recreation in the river,” meaning the removal of the river’s concrete-lined bottom. He emphasized his statement, adding, “I can tell you it will never happen,” before explaining that removing the concrete lining at the bottom of the river—as has already been done along a three-mile-long section surrounding Griffith Park—would drastically reduce the channel’s ability to safely carry away storm waters from L.A.’s periodic downpours.

Gehry explained that removing the concrete would only be possible if the channel itself was made much wider, saying, “If there’s grass at [at the river’s bottom] you’d need to make the river seven times wider.” Gehry pointed to the Army Corp’s analysis, which is focused predominantly on the channel’s ability to handle massive storm surges, as the main reasoning for this statement.

The comments cast doubt on the ever-growing list of L.A. River-related restoration that see ecological and recreational use as being central to the future of the river. Up and down the length of the 51-mile-long river, various local agencies, landscape architecture, and architecture firms are working on proposals envisioning a lush, socially-activated river. At least three new bridges are in the work, as well as several new housing developments, parks and even, a plan to bring 36,000 housing units to areas surrounding the river.

Gehry’s comments raise the question—Is L.A.River in danger of finding itself up the creek without a paddle?

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