All posts in West
Santa Monica’s Tongva Park is a true product of Southern California. It certainly has a physical connection to its context—its hills and outlooks are packed with soil from construction sites in the area; its irrigation water sourced from the local runoff recycling facility; its plants were grown in regional nurseries—but in less tangible and more sociopolitical ways, too, the park bears the mark of the Golden State.
Tongva, which opened in 2013, was funded under California’s now-defunct tax increment financing (TIF) laws. The first of their kind in the U.S., California’s TIF laws went into effect in 1952 with the passage of the Community Redevelopment Act, which set a precedent nationwide for how infrastructure might be financed. Many states have since imitated the approach to establish the funding mechanisms behind massive—and often controversial—projects, including Chicago’s Navy Pier and New York’s Hudson Yards. Tax increment financing lets municipalities borrow money for developments in areas designated as “blighted” with the assumption that the developments will generate higher property-tax revenue as land values rise. Critics have argued that TIF programs have been abused to subsidize luxury developments that do little to improve the quality of life for local residents, and in 2011, while work on Tongva was well underway, then-governor Jerry Brown dissolved California’s TIF program, making the park part of the state’s final wave of TIF-backed projects.
The park benefits from Southern California’s crazy-quilt approach to urbanism, where the wealthiest communities of the Los Angeles region have remained independent cities, enabling areas like Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, and Santa Monica to invest tax revenue within their borders without sharing with the city of Los Angeles that surrounds them. Cities where the median home price is less than Santa Monica’s, ($1.6 million, more than twice the median home price for Los Angeles) may not be able to spend so lavishly on their parks.
California comes through most tangibly in the park’s siting and the aesthetic decisions by the park’s designer, James Corner Field Operations (JCFO). JCFO incorporated several beloved trees that were already on the site into an arroyo-inspired plan that orients visitors toward spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and a beach that stretches out casually, with an air of West Coast chill, just across the street.
The park was entirely publicly funded using TIF. The City of Santa Monica bought 11.6 acres of land from the RAND Corporation; besides the park, housing was built on the site and Olympic Drive was extended through it. The city spent $53 million on the property and another $42.7 million to design and build the 6.2-acre park, which includes a small area across Main Street in front of Santa Monica City Hall.
Tongva hosts more than 30,000 plants of more than 170 species, and more than 300 trees from 21 species, most grown in seven nurseries across the state; the farthest is in Watsonville, less than 300 miles up the coast. Some trees traveled even less distance: Morty, a Moreton Bay fig tree, and the Three Amigos, a group of ficus trees, pictured below, along with several palms, were preserved and rearranged on the site to fit into the new landscape. The park mixes native and non-native drought-tolerant species in zones modeled on three California ecological communities (coastal scrub, chaparral, and riparian), creating a landscape that feels familiar but avoids cliché.
The steel cocoon-esque pavilions, pictured below, and play structures were fabricated by Paragon Steel in Los Angeles.
Custom furniture was designed using Forest Stewardship Council–certified jarrah wood, a variety of eucalyptus usually grown in Western Australia. Off-the-shelf benches from Landscape Forms were also used.
Weather Field No. 1, by Chicago-based artist Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, comprises a field of 49 stainless steel poles with weather vanes and anemometers attached.
Aggregates in the hardscaping came from pits in the nearby San Gabriel Valley. Walls have California Gold rocks.
Plants are irrigated by water from the Santa Monica Urban Runoff Recycling Facility. Stormwater from the park is also collected in bioswales, and water features recirculate potable water in closed systems.
Tongva integrates into regional transit in some of the usual West Coast ways—there are bikeshare stations and scooter access—but it’s also just a block away from one of the Los Angeles area’s biggest transit initiatives: the LA Metro Expo Line expansion. The nearby Santa Monica Station opened three years after the park and was a part of a broader regional plan, whereas Tongva was part of a separate Santa Monica–specific urban plan.
The region’s ubiquitous car culture is also present. Tongva sits at the southern tip of the picturesque Pacific Coast Highway, which extends up the shore to Big Sur, San Francisco, and beyond, and Olympic Drive, a local three-lane street, was extended along the park’s southeastern edge.
The site was previously home to the RAND Corporation headquarters, which have since relocated to a neighboring block. Housing developed by the Related Companies was built on the opposite side of the Olympic Drive extension.
Before being cleared for Tongva, the site was dominated by the RAND Corporation’s parking lot. To create the park’s lookouts, which rise in points to 18 feet and provide views to the Pacific Ocean, infill soil was taken from construction sites around the city, tested to ensure safety, and sculpted to create accessible slopes for the site.
JCFO was selected through an international competition in which 24 teams participated. After JCFO won, there were five community workshops over six months, and the scheme was presented to six review boards and commissions before site work began in 2011. Although the scheme began as a design-bid-build project, the city turned it into a design-build project midway through the process to try to speed delivery after California revoked its TIF laws.
The City of Santa Monica spends just under $100,000 annually on basic maintenance, plus about $20,000 annually on tree work and $10,000 annually on custodial work.
Although there is no operational security technology in the park, Santa Monica has used some unorthodox activity-based surveillance strategies. After squatters set up informal camps on the park’s western corner, city agencies arranged for a food truck to occupy that area, which has since discouraged people from living there. And on top of regular maintenance costs, the City of Santa Monica spends about $330,000 annually on “ambassadors” who staff the park, answering questions from visitors and keeping an eye on activity.
As is standard in many U.S. parks, Tongva closes at night; its hours are from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
The Housing Network
Facebook pledges $1 billion to counteract California's housing crisis
To be a member of the middle class in San Francisco, California, it currently requires a minimal annual income of $192,000, more than double the national average of $78,442. While the rest of the country pays a mere average of $1,216 a month to rent a one-bedroom, the same space in San Francisco can easily set you back over $3,600. California has the highest poverty rate of any American state and the recent influx of tech companies in the Bay Area—along with the sudden increase in the cost of housing that followed—is cited among the biggest culprits. With accommodations for over 12,000 employees in Menlo Park, Facebook has become one of the largest companies headquartered in the area and critics have shown little restraint in pointing the cause of the local housing crisis squarely at the social media giant. In response to long-standing complaints, Facebook announced on October 22 that it will partner with the state of California and allocate $1 billion to address the housing crisis the company took part in producing.According to Facebook Newsroom, the $1 billion will divided five ways: $250 million will go toward developing mixed-use housing in a partnership with the state of California; $150 million will be given to the Bay’s Future Fund toward the construction of affordable housing in the Bay Area; $225 million will be used to create roughly 1,500 affordable housing units on land in Menlo Park previously purchased by the company; $350 million will aid in the construction of affordable housing in other cities with Facebook offices (including Atlanta, Boston and Ashburn, Virginia); and the remaining $25 million will be used to develop housing on county-owned land for teachers and other “essential workers.”
Altogether, the pledge will bring an estimated 20,000 additional housing units to the Bay Area, with an emphasis on helping teachers, nurses, and first responders “live closer to the communities in which they work.”
The news comes months after Google, another tech giant with headquarters in the area, also pledged $1 billion towards affordable housing in June. Just yesterday Apple shared it would one-up both Facebook and Google's offerings with a $2.5 billion commitment.
Brutal But Not Forgotten
Seattle’s Brutalist Freeway Park is reviewed for National Register and approved for renovation
The gorgeously staggered concrete elements of Jim Ellis Freeway Park, one of the most significant architectural spaces in Seattle, are scattered across a thickly forested hill atop an intersection of Interstate 5 between the neighborhoods of Downtown Seattle and First Hill. Completed in 1976 by American landscape architect Lawrence Halprin and Bulgarian architect Angela Danadjieva, the 5.2-acre Freeway Park is one of only a small handful of Brutalist-designed parks in the world and is a commendable example of how parkland can be used to bridge communities that were previously divided by highway infrastructure.
Given its significance to the field of landscape architecture and the urban history of Seattle, Freeway Park was recently nominated for the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The nomination was submitted shortly after a $10 million capital improvement project was announced to restore Freeway Park as part of an agreement made with the expansion of the nearby Convention Center. A total of $9,250,000 of the funds will be used for much-needed repairs and restoration, while the remaining $750,000 will go towards the further activation of the park as part of its management by the Freeway Park Association, a non-profit organization founded in 1993 to advocate and host events in the park.
A portion of the funds may go towards reintroducing the water feature to the park, which was discontinued in 1992 following an issue with water loss that was present since its construction. The renovation process is expected to begin next summer and be completed by December 2021.
The nomination was reviewed on October 25 by the Washington State Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and it was subsequently placed on the Washington Heritage Register in a unanimous vote. Its placement on the NRHP is still yet to be announced.
Through the Looking Glass
Phillip K. Smith III's 10 Columns of mirrored light forces total immersion
The Getty Center survives nearby fires while Ellwood-designed home goes down in flames
Build it Better
Designing Justice + Designing Spaces builds infrastructure to end mass incarceration
Don't go a-changin'
Soft Schindler at L.A.'s MAK Center seeks the ephemeral in the obdurate
Many of the items on display in Soft Schindler, an exhibition currently running in the space and throughout the grounds, capture much of the essence erased by renovation by treating ephemerality itself as a medium. Curated by local design critic Mimi Zeiger, Soft Schindler exhibits the work of artists and architects as they creatively interpret the “century of fluid, alternating domesticities” since the Schindler House was first built, while also redefining modernism as softer than they had originally been described. The most thought-provoking pieces in the exhibition, however, are both time-based or site-specific. One installation which brilliantly embodies these two qualities is The Garden of Earthly Delights, a series of curtains by Colombian architecture firm AGENdA Agencia de Arquitectura that nearly fill the entirety of Rudolph Schindler’s original studio while establishing soft volumes of their own. The curtains are dyed using coffee and tobacco—two consumables which were once the “silent witnesses to discussions, encounters, and disagreements” within the home, and the piece's layout takes the gridlines of the home’s floor plan and renders them translucent and permeable. Visitors are invited to walk through the spaces created within The Garden of Earthly Delights to recall the “social dynamics of the Schindler’s table” during its early years. New York-based firm Leong Leong initiated a four-month “culinary experiment” with their outdoor installation Fermentation 01. Three marble-block vessels designed by the firm were placed in the Chace Patio, each one filled with a unique recipe by local fermentation experts Jessica Wang and Ai Fujimoto. The vessels will ferment the recipes, using the home and the Southern California climate as a sort of outdoor kitchen, and become the centerpiece of a tasting event near the end of the exhibition’s run. Like The Garden of Earthly Delights, Fermentation 01 reestablishes the home as a place of evanescent pleasures. Though not as site-specific to the Schindler House as others in the exhibition, Jorge Otero-Pailos’s Répétiteur 3 and Répétiteur 4 is a remarkably inventive take on the prompt outlined by Zeiger. The artist peeled the “dust and other residue” left on the walls of choreographer Merce Cunningham’s rehearsal studio in New York and placed them in two lightboxes occupying either side of Pauline Schindler’s original studio. The result is an uncanny reflection of the endless hours of practice that took place in Cunningham’s studio through a method unachievable with archival photography and correspondence. Had the Schindler House not been so thoroughly renovated, it would have been a real treat if Otero-Pailos presented its own decades of residue in the same format. Soft Schindler reminds its viewers to not only think of the Schindler House as “a little joy of a bungalow,” as it truly was once, but also to seek out the diaphanous between the hard lines of modernity as we know it. The show will be on display through February 16, 2020.View this post on Instagram
a bunch more images of #softschindler @makcenter w work by @alicemlang @bryonypix @laurelconsuelobroughton @stillroom @sonja.gerdes @hubbyco @agendaarq @design_bitches @miso_dtla @leong__leong @tanyaaguiniga @annapuigjaner and many others not pictured @oteropailosstudio #pedroalanzo #hugopalmarola @activeculturesla . what a fantastic opening. beyond my wildest expectations. thank you @priscillafraserchase