Modernism Remix

SOM and James Corner to rework Pereira’s Metropolitan Water District in Los Angeles

Architecture Development Preservation
SOM and James Corner to rework Pereira's Metropolitan Water District in Los Angeles (Courtesy Google Maps)
SOM and James Corner to rework Pereira's Metropolitan Water District in Los Angeles (Courtesy Google Maps)

In a surprise move, SOM and James Corner Field Operations (JCFO) are coming together to transform the long-dormant William Pereira–designed Metropolitan Water District headquarters in Los Angeles’s Chinatown neighborhood.

Los Angeles–based developer Palisades announced the design team on Tuesday via press release, explaining that the firms would work together to convert the historic late modernist structure into a “a mixed-use project focused on innovative design, open space and community.” The release explained that SOM design directors Paul Danna and José Luis Palacios would spearhead designs for the adaptive reuse portion of the project. JCFO will be responsible for the landscape design, including the site’s public open spaces.

In the press release, Palacios said, “At the heart of this project is a desire to reflect the spirit and the history of this property through a modern, forward-thinking lens that embraces the Downtown site’s adjacency to Chinatown, Bunker Hill, Echo Park, and the Civic Center.” Palacios added, “It’s a challenge we are confident and energized to embrace.”

The firm has its work cut out with the tower-and-matt project, as the expressive cast concrete structure—originally built between 1961 and 1973—has sat vacant for years. A tower portion of the sprawling complex was redeveloped starting in 2014 as a mixed-use development called The Elysian by Linear City Development and David Lawrence Gray Architects. The development includes 120,000 square feet of retail and 96 live/work units. The matt remaining portions of the complex have languished in tandem and were almost demolished entirely last year under previous development efforts. A brief but unsuccessful effort was made to landmark the structure, but the building’s nomination was left unapproved by city agencies. Potential reuse of the structure, however, represents a bright spot in Pereira’s fading legacy, as many of the notable architect’s other works have—or soon will—fall to the wrecking ball.

Historian and Pereira scholar Alan Hess told The Architect’s Newspaper, “MWD was a key turning point in Pereira’s long and influential career as he sought to maintain the vitality of Modern architecture while adapting to the realities of the 1960s. No place was better suited to understand these realities than Los Angeles. As one of the city’s innovative architects, Pereira designed the striking MWD to be true to Modernism’s principles while creating a livelier, more human environment.” Hess added, “Nothing would be more appropriate than for Palisades [than] to continue Pereira’s spirit of innovation by showing how adaptive reuse addresses the prime need of our times: sustainability.”

Kim Cooper, preservation advocate with Esotouric told AN, “We’re encouraged to see such a good team assigned to this important structure, and that the site’s long and influential past is on their mind. Preservation and restoration of the Pereira structure’s great bones can definitely be a part of any redevelopment project, and we look forward to being part of that conversation.”

Designs for the project are currently under development and a timeline for project completion has not been released. See the project website for more information.

SOM’s Danna and Palacios will both be presenting at the upcoming Facades+ conference in Los Angeles taking place October 19th and 20th. See the Facades+ website for more information.

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