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Comment: Ups and Downs in Dodger Town
The proposed Dodgerland preserves the 1962 stadium amid retail and parkland development.
Courtesy Johnson Fain

The recent announcement that the Los Angeles Dodgers plan not to raze their revered stadium overlooking downtown but instead revitalize it with a parklike themed mall has been greeted with guarded optimism by both fans and a faithless public.

No one but the most imprudent publicist wants to lend the ambitious $500 million proposal his blessing just yet—certainly not in this hype-happy city, annually promised new architectural icons, fanciful ephemeral attractions, and a championship baseball team.

Then there is the down-and-dirty concern of how people are supposed to get to the new, improved, and pricey stadium, if not by private car. There already are hints of an attendance fall-off because of the increasing crush of traffic, though I suspect the team’s mediocre performance so far this season has also been a factor.

Though close to downtown, the stadium was designed and built 50 years ago in a suburban mode, surrounded by sprawling surface lots and served by a web of freeways that was adequate for the first few decades but has since become a nightmare. If “Dodgerland” is to attract the crowds needed to viably take its place in the Southland’s galaxy of themed attractions alongside Universal City and Disneyland, it is going to need a rail connection to the nearby Gold Line in Chinatown or to the Union Station transit hub serving downtown. Buses just won’t do.

Another possible connection would be the construction of a less costly tramway or trolley. This also would pay homage to the origination of the team’s name in Brooklyn, from a popular description of its fans a century ago, who when going to Ebbets Field to see a ballgame would have to dodge the streetcars converging there.

Indeed, I remember fondly in the 1940s in that beloved borough of my birth paying three cents to ride the Coney Island Trolley to the Parade Grounds and the bandbox of a ballpark beyond, to sit in a 25-cent bleacher seat. The ticket was courtesy of The Brooklyn Eagle where I worked as a newsboy.

Both the Dodger management and Mayor Villaraigosa heartily agree that a transit connection is needed, and at the press conference announcing the stadium plans, pledged to actively explore possibilities. However, given the present meltdown of the municipal budget along with federal aid to the city, no one is holding his breath.

Whether a real hope or hype, the plans for “Dodgerland” read well, taking advantage of the stadium’s dramatic hilltop site. Featured is a welcoming entry marked by a tree-lined promenade and grand plaza, conveniently connected to a relaxed landscaped pedestrian street encircling the ballpark. Christened Dodger Way and lined with eateries and an array of stores, the street is designed to entice fans to come early and stay late, to shop and dine, and not incidentally to reduce the crush of traffic around the stadium immediately before and after the games. Also in the offing is something labeled The Dodger Experience, described as a museum “showcasing the history of the Dodgers in an interactive setting.” Welcome to Dodgerland, but don’t forget your Visa card.

Playing to LA’s benign climate, the team’s culture, and the Southland’s consumerism, the plans were fashioned with appropriate flair by the design team of the locally based firms of Johnson Fain and Rios Clementi Hale Studios for architecture and landscape, together with the HKS Sports and Entertainment Group.

To their credit, the plans also respect the local concerns, especially among fans, that the landmark stadium not be compromised. Hailed as the epitome of the modern major league ballpark when it opened in 1962, the stadium now is the second oldest in the National League, and when Yankee Stadium is demolished this year, will be third oldest in the majors, ranking behind Chicago’s Wrigley Field and Boston’s Fenway Park. Given its potentially valuable site for housing on the edge of the central city, the stadium over the years has been subject to various threats. These have included its wholesale relocation downtown, to be gift-wrapped in a nostalgic urban design in the mode of the recent ballpark re-dos in San Francisco and San Diego. These proposals have been belittled by the Dodger faithful and the city’s landmark police. Also roundly razzed and promptly dismissed was a pie-in-the-sky proposal by Pritzker-award-winning architect Thom Mayne to demolish the stadium for a residential and recreational development and rebuild it a few miles away on recently dedicated city parkland. The plan alienated almost everyone, from park advocates to Dodger fans and community groups.

In addition, there’s an inherent distrust of the team’s ownership among fans. Baseball being a sport of traditions, fans have long memories, particularly Dodger fans who have not seen a World Championship in 20 years as the team passed through the hands of the miserly O’Malley family and the otherwise engaged media mogul Rupert Murdoch to the migrant McCourts, freshfaced and full of vim and vigor from chilly Boston where their nouveau ways were not appreciated as they are here in California.

Not forgotten by some is the team’s relocation from Brooklyn a half-century ago. That broke the collective hearts of the hapless faithful in the then-diminishing outer borough, mine included, until of course I moved to Los Angeles (like so many other New Yorkers). It will be interesting how that tidbit of history will be handled in The Dodger Experience museum, that is, if the team can find the financing for its plans while still looking for a center fielder who can hit.

Eavesdrop: Alissa Walker

GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS
In these trying times for real estate, we’ve heard of all sorts of sneaky tricks developers are using to woo tenants—free Mini Coopers, gift certificates for modern furniture, those guys spinning the big arrows. But the latest ploy is not only getting attention, it’s stopping traffic. Drivers heading northbound on the 110 through downtown LA last month were treated to what looked like strippers gyrating in day-glo windows of the Canvas LA apartment buildings. Curbed LA editor Josh Williams was drawn to the “big 80s poofy-style Whitesnake-video hair” of the mysterious dancing lady of the night: “It was like the iPod ads but without the iPod, or like something out of Amsterdam’s Red Light District.” Leave it to the local FOX affiliate to crack the case. Turns out, these sexy thangs aren’t available for rent; they’re simply projections: The DVD series known as Shadow Dancers also “appear nightly” at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas and the Crown Plaza, Dubai. The DVDs are available at shadowdancers.tv for all managers of low-occupancy properties looking to step up their marketing, or curious potential renters wanting to, ahem, experience this technology in the comfort of their own homes.

SAY GOODBYE
Santa Monica bid farewell to its iconic Ferris wheel spinning over the Pacific Ocean, as a winning bid on eBay rolled it from its former home on the end of the pier to halfway across the country. The auction, which closed at $132,400, was won by real estate developer Grant Humphreys, who said it will be installed somewhere in his hometown of Oklahoma City. Not one to wallow in nostalgia, Pacific Park installed a shiny new deluxe model on May 22. And in other Goodbye news, although not officially confirmed by anyone at the firm, it’s been widely reported that Frank Gehry laid off more than 20 people in late April, just ahead of announcements of even more funding delays for Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards and The Project Formerly Known As Grand Avenue. So, about that April groundbreaking…

FIELD OF DREAMS
When sports and real estate magnate Ed Roski, Jr. rolled out his plan for a new Los Angeles football stadium on April 17 it was hard not to compare his wide-eyed optimism to a certain Ray “If you build it, they will come” Kinsella. Sure, the proposed stadium is being designed by Dan Meis (who also stood by Roski’s side for Staples Center), and it has a snazzy promise of sustainability and acres of retail space for shop-happy Inland Empresses.

But it was hard not to notice everything that’s working against Roski’s plan to bring football back to LA: hundreds of millions needed in non-taxpayer funding, a seedy location that’s practically in Nevada, and, uh, how about the fact that LA doesn’t have a football team? But no one ever said Roski was a realist. Last year, Roski paid $200,000 to be among the first to fly Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic into space. He’s also embarked on other theatrical adventures, chartering a submarine to the Titanic site and climbing to Mt. Everest’s base camp. Which makes you wonder what other voices he might be hearing in his head.

Send tips, gossip, and grand prizes to slubell@archpaper.com.

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Fear and Loathing in Glendale
The Americana at Brand.
Sam Lubell

Finally it has arrived—the most anticipated new architectural development in Los Angeles in months. What is this project, you ask? A museum? A great civic building, maybe, a new school? No, it’s a mall, sort of.

The $400 million Americana at Brand, which opened in downtown Glendale on May 2, is a mix between shopping center and new town. Developed by Rick Caruso, creator of the ultra-popular “Grove” in Miracle Mile, the Americana was designed by Caruso’s staff, together with respected Boston firm Elkus Manfredi. It is set on 15.5 acres of prime real estate organized around “the Green,” a two-acre common that includes curvaceous lawns, gentle walkways, and a lake with dancing fountains. Built using eclectic styles and varied scales, the Americana includes over 50 stores and restaurants, an 18-screen movie complex, 238 apartments, and 100 luxury condominiums.

For an architecture person, the Americana is the definition of a guilty pleasure. I don’t want to like it. After all, it’s real, but in the same way that Reality TV is real. It’s a watered-down pastiche of historical architectural styles, many of them European; a simulacrum of urbanism planned to maximize consumer spending and minimize civic disruption; it’s a drain on local shops, and a ticket to new traffic jams; and it’s an all-too-clean, inorganic piece of city plopped into a city that already exists.

Despite all this, it’s still quite enjoyable and, in some ways, effective, at least for a limited amount of time. Entering the Green provokes excitement, with its sweeping, carefully composed vistas and its open congregation of humanity sitting and playing on (real!) grass, a rarity in Los Angeles. It makes you wonder how the horrible indoor mall was ever invented in a state where staying inside is generally a mistake. Besides its greenness, the size of this space is its biggest asset; unlike the Grove, streets are minimized here. In most urbanism, real streets bring excitement and activation. In fake urbanism, they spell doom. The least effective areas here are the “streets” that border on real streets, pale in comparison to the real thing, with the empty feeling of ghost towns.

Most of the architecture at the Americana is banal and unapologetically nostalgic, ranging from vaguely Italianate to art deco-light to faux colonial. Yet at least it is varied in style and size, a touch of city-ness from which many malls could benefit. The addition of real living spaces—although far from affordable ones—within the complex helps contribute to this sense of urbanity as well. And within the architectural array, there are a few gems that—while somewhat bizarre—draw the eye and keep the array from collapsing into a wasteland of boredom. A golden cupola adorns a large Guess Store. A 175-foot-tall rusted elevator tower is topped with a thin spire that looks like a cross between an oil tower and the Eiffel Tower. A few of the contemporary-style buildings, each with its own architectural expression, are pretty good: a gray limestone-and-steel-clad Barney’s; a blond wood-clad Martin and Osa; and a Lululemon Athletica whose fiberglass facade appears to be peeled away to reveal glazing.

After about an hour, the piped-in jazz, the strange security guards with their Mountie hats, and the supernatural syrupy sweetness of the place become seriously grating. It could be the set for The Prisoner. You start to doubt whether this concoction actually connects itself to the rest of Glendale, which peeks in at places but is mostly shut out. You start to wonder who would want to live over a place like this for years, not just linger for an hour. And you also start to wonder why there is no Farmer’s Market like at the Grove, just a collection of high-end stores for wealthy visitors.

Still, while the project may be a little creepy and architecturally unspectacular, for a mall it represents a stunningly good piece of urban design. Like the Grove, it’s one of the few malls I’ve been to where I’ve actually wanted to linger. These designers are getting so close to real urbanism that you wonder what they might think of next. Maybe a non-chain store that locals would want to use? Maybe an urban space that doesn’t prohibit pets and photography or have a curfew of 10 p.m.? Wait, I have an idea. Maybe these fake towns could someday even become… real towns! Well, a guy can dream, can’t he?

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Q&A: Jane Ellison Usher
Downtown LA at night
Courtesy LACVB

In the heady first days of his administration in 2005, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa handpicked Jane Ellison Usher, a legal adviser to former Mayor Tom Bradley and counsel to the 1984 Olympics, to be president of the Los Angeles City Planning Commission. He also selected the well-respected Gail Goldberg to be director of the Los Angeles City Planning Department. The two women set out on a course to deliver a great urban city to the mayor by adopting a manifesto entitled “Do Real Planning.” The rich but brief document represented a change in perspective for City Hall: create a beautiful, livable, and walkable city by upholding overall planning strategies rather than allowing city council members to negotiate political favors with developers in individual districts. More than two years later, that vision is taking hits. Not only did the council cast off Goldberg’s policy to protect lots currently zoned for industrial uses citywide, but Councilman Ed Reyes said that each councilperson should be free to determine planning policy in his own district.

Then came the council’s adoption in February of SB 1818, a state bill that provides developers with density bonuses and other incentives in return for constructing affordable housing. When the city council passed an ordinance exempting certain SB 1818 developments from environmental review processes (CEQA), Usher not only opposed the city and its planning department, but she suggested that neighborhood groups sue the city. With insiders wondering whether she would be removed from her position, Tibby Rothman sat down to talk to her about the state of planning in Los Angeles.

The Architect’s Newspaper: Given the events of the last few months, is the era of “Do Real Planning” over before it has begun?

Jane Ellison Usher: There are some foundational activities occurring in the city of Los Angeles that keep “Do Real Planning” alive certainly for me, and hopefully into perpetuity for the rest of the city. But here’s what we’re facing:


COURTESY J.E. USHER
 

One, a planning department that culturally has not been as excited and aggressive as they needed to be to do real planning. There’s a lot of leadership now at the top that’s encouraging them to be more aggressive, to think out of the box, to behave and act differently, but I don’t think there’s a magic bullet.

I would add to that that there’s quite a legacy of absence of planning in Los Angeles. There is some sense of entitlement on the part of the development community to live in a city where planning principals are secondary or perhaps tertiary. It will take us more time than we’ve had to turn that thinking around.

The third piece is the regular practice of the city council to defer to the home district whenever a planning issue is on the table. This practice has caused the city council to forget to think holistically about the city and about a vision that can be achieved if we’re focusing on all the moving pieces at the same time.

You openly invited neighborhood groups to sue the city over its implementation of SB 1818.

I did.

What’s wrong with it?

Part of my dissatisfaction was that my commission wasn’t updated until the day the ordinance took effect. And on that score, I have to say that the planning department did its commission a disservice. But the other part of my dissatisfaction was when I read the final ordinance that day, I saw such departures from all of the “Do Real Planning” conversations that the commission had been having for the last two-and-a-half years. I was taken by surprise by the final product.

An awful lot of work went into [the ordinance] on the council floor and I will confess to you that I don’t think that that’s the optimal place for that volume of change to occur.

Then my eye falls, almost immediately, on language that I had never seen discussed and it does this because I’m a lawyer. I saw a word in the ordinance that means an awful lot to a land-use lawyer and that word is “ministerial.” To a land-use lawyer, anything that is ministerial, by definition, doesn’t require CEQA [environmental impact] review. The ultimate payday for a developer is something that is ministerial, and the ordinance was defining a large set of projects as ministerial. That surprised me.

I went back and looked at the CEQA clearance for the ordinance itself. In January, the planning director had offered the council CEQA: a categorical exemption for the ordinance. And the basis for its being exempt from CEQA was her description of how the ordinance would work, namely, every project using the ordinance’s provision would have its own independent, individualized CEQA clearance. 

So here you find an ordinance that’s categorizing a large class of projects as ministerial and exempt from CEQA and the ordinance saying: Each project will have its own CEQA clearance. The two are inconsistent. 

I took it a step further. In a brochure that the California APA had written for cities as they worked on implementing SB 1818 ordinances, the California APA said that implementing ordinances must have an environmental clearance; they must go through CEQA.

So I stitched all of those pieces together and came to my own conclusion, which was that the city’s implementing ordinance insufficiently attended to CEQA. Whether a court would agree with me remains to be seen, and may never be known. But it absolutely did bother me.

In your opinion, which group hinders Los Angeles from being a great city: those developers who don’t respect the envelope or use mandates, or NIMBYs who fight structures in their neighborhood that could alleviate chronic problems such as affordable housing or mass transit projects?

Well, it’s funny. I don’t think of anybody as being a NIMBY. Somebody coined that less-than-gracious phrase and it stuck. I was thinking about this, and I like to call these people WIMBYs in the city of LA. It’s not “Not In My Backyard.” I’ve met with countless members of residents and homeowners and neighborhood associations and neighborhood councils. Their question is: “What’s In My Backyard?” I find them to be largely very responsible. They simply want to know: What’s going to be in their backyard and have we provided the support and the infrastructure for whatever it is that is going to be located near them?

Those questions are smart questions, the right questions. So if I’m supportive and in league with those kinds of questions, what is it that I have to say to developers? Well, there again, I find the developers to be largely very reasonable. They just want to know what the rules are. So I don’t blame the developers and I don’t blame the homeowners. I find that the most blameworthy place is the department of city planning, which I think has let down both sides of the equation by not defining for them with sufficient specificity what our vision is for land use.

But doesn’t that go to the city council and not the planning department?

I think we should delineate—if you have a department that’s insufficiently staffed and not directed to do real planning, you’re going to have an unhappy outcome. Here we are at a crossroads, where we’re asking the right questions, we’re staffing up the department, we’re focusing on rewriting all of the community plans with an eye to do real planning. If these plans arrive at the city council and as a consensus-building matter become adopted, we should see a different kind of city in the future, one with lots of predictability and much less uncertainty. If these plans arrive at the city council a year, two years, three years from now and are eviscerated—then you’ll have your answer. 

The word on the street is that the mayor will quietly remove you because of the email you sent out on SB 1818. What’s your response? 

I work in my role as the president of the commission at the pleasure of the mayor and on any day, at any time, it is absolutely his prerogative to remove me and that’s a power unique to him and he should exercise it whenever he thinks the time is right. 

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Gaining Speed
A conceptual downtown station.
IBI GROUP

Forget the red car era, in which public transportation was seen as unglamorous and irrelevant to Los Angeles life. In 2008, public transport projects crowd the region like sorority girls vying to be Pasadena’s Rose Queen. 

In January another hopeful, a high-speed intra-regional transportation system designed to link a necklace of Southern California airports and ports, transitioned from planning to implementation phase when the LA City Council approved a joint-government authority to oversee the development of its initial operating segment (IOS). The authority will supervise and approve route selection, the Environmental Impact Review (EIR), financing, land acquisition, bids, and construction on a proposed route linking Los Angeles to the Ontario Airport. 

If funded and built as currently conceptualized, the entire system would be completed by 2030, move at speeds of up to 300 miles per hour, and provide transportation for up to 500,000 riders a day. 

Los Angeles City Councilman Greig Smith characterized the step as “a giant leap” from a planning process more than seven years in the making. Smith represents the council on The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), which initiated the project and has carried it through preliminary planning. 

The first segment of the system is slated to have stations in West Los Angeles, Union Station, West Covina, and the Ontario Airport. According to Smith, an LAX station was also suggested for the route by SCAG’s board about six months ago. SCAG has commissioned conceptual plans from land use and transportation consulting company IBI Group, but the official design phase for the IOS could be more than a year away and would be contingent on funding. 

maglev
Conceptual rendering for Union Station. IBI GROUP

Rather than occupy city streets or require underground tunneling, the transit system would piggyback onto Los Angeles freeways. Caltrans participated in the planning stages and has bought into the concept of the project. 

A study by SCAG staff will be completed this June to help the authority decide on routes and technologies. The document will provide comparisons between the I-10, SCAG’s preferred alignment, and a newer alternative on property owned by the Union Pacific Southern Route that runs parallel to State Route 60. Transportation systems being considered include a high-speed steel wheel system, such as Japan’s bullet train, or Maglev, which harnesses advanced magnetic levitation technology and an elevated monorail. 

The latter was favored throughout much of SCAG’s project evaluations, but SCAG currently holds a technology-neutral position. Smith, however, touted Maglev for its lower construction and maintenance costs and lower pollution levels. Maglev does have one drawback, though. There are few long term data demonstrating proven success. In China, Shanghai boasts the only operating Maglev system in the world. Bullet trains, which have a lengthier track record, have positive safety records. 

IBI Group oversaw SCAG’s initial planning process and developed conceptual designs for four Maglev stations. Their work will provide a reference point for architects designing the stations in the future. 

“The aesthetic features of the stations are intended to reflect the intrinsic values of the Maglev system: advanced technology, movement, and speed,” the IBI Group stated in a report to SCAG. Their sleek, often-curved conceptual designs contrast cast-in-place concrete cores with glass and polycarbonate walls leveraging natural light and ventilation through open air stations to take advantage of the region’s climate. Louvers or perforated metal screens provide shading. Connections to other forms of transportation like light rail, bus, air, and automobile were emphasized. 

While the conceptualized stations share a visual identity, each addresses individual site considerations. At West Los Angeles, IBI’s challenge was to conceive of a station that could meet the system’s taxing demands but also retain the modest scale required to integrate with the residential community. At Union Station, the firm created space for a new mode of travel in an already packed and historic site by elevating a Maglev station above existing rail. In West Covina, the station is built into a mall—the result of SCAG successfully reaching out to the retail complex’s operator, said David Chow, director at IBI. 

As with the myriad of transportation projects in development across the region, the elephant in the room is cost. A 2005 estimate by IBI predicted the project could cost up to $7.8 billion, a figure that would be higher with current market prices. Funding-wise, the system would not be “a government subsidized project,” but rather a public-private partnership developed to supply funding, councilman Smith asserted. 

A new player on the Maglev scene, American Maglev of Marietta, Georgia, has offered an unsolicited bid, proposing to provide free construction if the first route is revised to include the port of San Pedro. In this case, fees charged to cargo transportation would finance the rest of the endeavor. But American Maglev does not yet hold a track record of successful projects. 

In making the case for a high-speed system to serve the region, Richard Marcus, program manager for Maglev and High-Speed Rail at SCAG, pointed not only to population growth but to Los Angeles’ position as a major port. According to Marcus, 43 percent of containers that enter the United States travel through the San Pedro Bay. In the next 22 years, the number of containers received will triple. “Continuing to build freeways is not the answer,” said Marcus, with understatement. “We’re going to have to come up with another way.”

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Emerging Voices 2008

 WORK AC
New York, New York

work ac ps1

work ac
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
If being chosen as part of the Emerging Voices series is a coming-of-age mark for small firms, P.S.1’s Young Architects Program has become another, with the added benefit of a summer’s worth of DJs and beer. Each spring, the museum chooses a firm to build a temporary installation in the courtyard that can accommodate its Saturday series, Warm Up, essentially a hip block party. WORK AC’s Public Farm 1 got the nod this year for a proposal that brings sustainable agriculture back to the city. A sloping structure made of cardboard tubes (left and bottom left) will incorporate planters with flowers and vegetables for harvest, rainwater basins for crop irrigation, and solar panels for cell-phone-charging stations and the like in the shade below. According to principals Amale Andraos and Dan Wood, they have details to work out, but that is in keeping with the spirit of the series: With its short time frame and modest $70,000 budget, each year’s winner has a chance for on-the-fly experimenting.

The issues WORK is grappling with at P.S.1 are ones that Andraos and Wood have been thinking about for a while. In particular, they are concerned with finding new ways to bring ecologically minded design to an urban level. “For us, it is more than a formal experiment,” explained Andraos, “it is a reflection of what is going on around us,” from the citywide popularity of farmer’s markets to the mayor’s PLANYC 2030 campaign to make New York more green. They have clearly hit on something, because in the first 24 hours after their selection was announced, Woods said they received hundreds of emails, including many that weren’t from architects. There was a man who has been running a farm in Queens, a high school teacher who has incorporated agriculture into the curriculum, and even staffers at the local botanical gardens. “It is as if we stumbled onto a whole network of people who are interested in this issue and what we are doing,” said Wood. 





JOHNSEN SCHMALING ARCHITECTS
Milwaukee, Wisconsin



Though all of the big breweries in Milwaukee are gone except for Miller, beer and its production marked the city indelibly, according to Sebastian Schmaling. “The old beer barons were often great patrons of the arts, and there are wonderful old bars downtown that have amazingly detailed interiors,” he said. In fact, his five-year-old firm, Johnsen Schmaling Architects, has made its office in one of them. One of the firm’s larger residential projects is a renovation of an old Blatz brewery building into apartments. In a subtle reference to the building’s past, the architects created screens in the lobby that hold 1,600 of the original old Blatz bottles that they found stored in the building’s basement. The panels pivot into place to separate the lounge from the main entrance, and light washes down to illuminate the amber glass (below, left and right) “We didn’t want to bring it to a frat-boy level of humor, of course, and the bottles are the only reference, but it is part of the cultural history here,” said Schmaling.


 
 
The use of the bottles is also indicative of the way that Schmaling and partner Tim Johnsen think about context, and how they bring it into their work. “Context is an overused word,” said Schmaling, “but if you can read a site more poetically and less literally, you can develop a language that guides you through the project.” Another building that takes this approach is the Camouflage House in Green Lake, Wisconsin (above). “We were lucky to be able to spend a lot of time on the site, even camping out on weekends, and began to look at the verticality of the trees, the patterns of bark, and the colors through the seasons,” Schmaling said. The finished house echoes the solid-and-void pattern that one gets when looking through trees to the water, rooting the house to its site in the woods. 





ONION FLATS
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

onion flats  
For any architect caught between a client and a contractor—at some point, that’s every architect—the idea of jettisoning both must seem tempting. The Philadelphia-based firm Onion Flats has managed to do just that, and for partner Tim McDonald, there’s no turning back. “Life is short,” said McDonald, “and we have no interest in going back and forth over color or material or budget. We control everything, straight down to the finances, and actually get a lot more accomplished.” While they sometimes form joint ventures, as they did for the Rag Flats (left and bottom left) housing, Onion Flats maintains a primary role. To do so, the firm evolved from a more traditional design/ build model into one with a
 
development arm called Onion Flats, a design practice called Plumb Bob, and a contracting and construction management firm called Jig. The three are intimately connected, allowing McDonald and his partners (two of whom are his brothers) to rethink the way they work. “Typically, a drawing set has to define 100 percent of a project, but we want our building sites to be creative places, so we have often kept ours smaller, making seven drawings as opposed to 30,” he said. McDonald explained that this lets the team respond with agility to the facts on site, which are rarely identical to those on paper. 

As the scale of the projects they take on grows—they are currently working on a 70-unit residential building called Stable Flats—their drawing sets are getting more detailed, but the underlying thinking remains the same. “On Stable Flats, we had to rethink the process some, and partnered with a company that makes modular steel and concrete structures,” he said. This foray into prefabrication will let the scale and complexity of projects continue to grow while maintaining the same level of control. If it sounds like a lot, it is, according to McDonald, but it is also worth it: “It is so hard to build something, that this just makes life easier,” he said, and “by taking on more risk, you actually reduce the stress, because you have full responsibility.” 






EL DORADO 
Kansas City, Missouri

 

el dorado
Think, for a moment, about how many architecture jokes you know, even ones involving severe black eyeglasses. There aren’t many, and for good reason: As a group, architects typically take themselves seriously. Not so Dan Maginn and his partners at el dorado, a Kansas City–based design and fabrication firm. “There is nothing less funny than a building that tries to explore humor,” he said, “but there is nothing funnier than a group of people trying to do something in an environment that isn’t set up for it.” Architecture is a tough business, said Maginn, and if you can’t hang on to some humor and humility, it’s not worth it. Maginn and his partners have set up their firm to make sure they can do just that.

According to Maginn, about 25 percent of el dorado’s work is custom fabrication, though the ability to design and produce fixtures informs almost all their work. “Designing and building things in steel satisfies a core need for a lot of us—making is crucial,” he explained. There is a 
full metal shop in the studio, and this allows the architects to test and prototype details before going on-site. “We have a lot of respect for good contractors, and as fabricators, we can form a relationship with them that is really helpful for the project,” he said. It also means that el dorado can use prefabricated elements to stay within budget, as it did for the Cox Communications (top right) and the Hodgdon Power offices (bottom right), both in Kansas.

The 14-person firm is set up as a confederacy of designers, fabricators, and artists, and on each project, one individual leads the design process and gets the input of the rest. “We can help each other and judge each other, and also make use of a design language we have already developed,” said Maginn. “We aren’t reinventing the wheel each time, but this way, each project pushes that language forward a few steps.” 





MOS 
New Haven, Connecticut

MOS

When the architect Michael Meredith got a fellowship at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, about ten years ago, the work he produced there was somewhat off the beaten architectural path: He designed a series of cushions for Donald Judd’s beautiful but ungiving furniture and wrote a series of theme songs for some friends. Nonetheless, Meredith said that much of the work he and his partner Hilary Sample are working on today has its roots back in Texas. “A lot of it comes from the people we met there,” said Meredith, like the Ancram Studio in Upstate New York (below). “The art world has been good to us,” said Meredith.

 
 
Some work comes over the transom, though not always in the standard way. A wrong number led to one MOS project that is tethered to the shore of Lake Huron in Vancouver (above). Designed for a couple, the house floats a few feet from the water’s edge on massive steel pontoons that can also be used as ballast when partially filled with water. Flexible couplings for utilities and waste allow the house to rise and fall with the lake level, which can fluctuate dramatically over the course of a year. “Climate change has really affected Lake Huron,” said Meredith.

The house may be one of MOS’ more traditional projects. “Because we both teach full-time [Sample at Yale; Meredith at Harvard’s GSD] we often gravitate towards the marginal and weird,” said Meredith, who then tried to explain what an inflatable factory/ theater/community center in Newfoundland might look like. “We don’t really have bread-and-butter projects,” he explained. But the ones they have are interesting: MOS is one of the one hundred young firms chosen by Jacques Herzog of Herzog & de Meuron to design houses for Ordos, a brand new city for 1.6 million in Mongolia. Though he is no stranger to some of the odder edges of his profession, Meredith was still impressed: “Walking around there is like being in some postapocalyptic movie—there are buildings and museums, but not always roads, and there is just no one there.”





BELZBERG ARCHITECTS 
Santa Monica California

belzberg architects

belzberg architects  
Hagy Belzberg’s big break came when his firm was commissioned to do a 12,000-square-foot interior at Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. The building was widely praised by the press, and Belzberg got a share of it for his warm and curvilinear wooden interiors (left). But just as important as the exposure was the sense of possibility it opened: “It gave us the confidence to pursue more complicated forms,” said Belzberg.

Like many of his contemporaries, Belzberg is a huge supporter of the technologies that allow him to pursue innovative forms without seeing them as an end of their own. “We only take on work that can be built, because there is a real joy in building,” he said. “You can’t get seduced by the image of what the software allows you to imagine—it’s good to have limits like budget, program, and building code.”

One project currently beginning construction is the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (above), and for Belzberg, it presented the most productive constraint of all: a public client. They decided to submerge the building underground to keep from losing any open space, and so worked very closely with the LA Department of Parks and Recreation, which he described as a collaborator on the project. “They weren’t an approving body, but they acted as a design review board on every major decision,” Belzberg said, adding that it was an invaluable part of the process because they were so well-acquainted with the many constituencies. “As architects, we sit in the office all day thinking we know what all of the voices out there are saying, but we don’t. Working with a public agency made us much more sensitive.”





STOSS LANDSCAPE
URBANISM 

Boston, Massachusetts

stoss landscape

 

stoss
A stoss is a geological term describing the side of a landscape that has borne the brunt of a glacier’s force, and it comes from the German word for “push.” There are ruder translations, too, according to principal Chris Reed, and while he wasn’t aware of them when he launched Stoss Landscape Urbanism eight years ago, the mix makes sense. Reed described his firm’s approach to the design of landscapes large and small as inventive about a place’s nature and willing to bring flexibility into urban spaces. So why not have that in a name, too? 

A playground in Quebec called the Safe Zone (top right) makes good on that approach. The brownfield site needed to be sealed off for safety, so Stoss designed a series of mounds covered in soft rubber pips made out of sneaker soles and old tires, creating a brightly colored landscape that doesn’t dictate how the kids who play there will use it. For Perkins Park in Somerville, Massachusetts, (bottom right) Reed described watching the way his own children horse around and make use of whatever catches their eye, and so he incorporated a series of overlaid patterns and colors into the design that don’t dictate what the game should be. “We wanted to provide a full palette of colors and textures and forms to give a sense of free play,” said Reed.

The same sensibility informs larger projects like the Erie Street Plaza in Green Bay, Wisconsin (top), albeit in a more adult way. “Sometimes you have to let the environmental conditions or bureaucratic conditions determine the way a project evolves over time,” he said. The Fox Riverfront in Dennis, Massachusetts is perhaps the most representative of this ethos: Reed described a landscape whose different parts will essentially duke it out over the years. Four conditions—salt marsh, cedar meadow, junegrass, and a filtration meadow—will grow or shrink as drought or municipal maintenance budgets allow. “If the town can’t afford to mow, then perhaps the cedars will grow into the junegrass, or if there is heavy rainfall, then perhaps the salt marsh will expand.” Either way, Stoss is willing to let it play out.





MOORHEAD & MOORHEAD 
New York, New York

moorhead & moorhead

Sometimes architects test out ideas by making furniture, and industrial designers often itch to work at an architectural scale, but for Moorhead & Moorhead, this regular back and forth is a given: The two-man firm consists of brothers Granger and Robert Moorhead, the former an architect and the latter an industrial designer. “Each discipline has its own logic,” explained Granger, “and that logic connects material to program. In architecture, there is a logic to detailing in the field, whereas industrial designers are detailing for production.”

According to the Moorheads, who have worked together for eight years, they try to approach each project—be it the residential compound in Uruguay they are just completing or the rubber lamp they designed for the 2002 Skin show at the Cooper-Hewitt—with the understanding of both those scales at once. Last year, they worked with their father (also an architect) on a project in North Dakota, where they grew up, that is part public art installation, part architecture. A local artist commissioned six designers to make small spaces for reflection and art that would be mobile so that many more people could use them. Their solution was to use thermal plastic rods much like the struts of a tent set into a rigid bench that is both seating and structure. The result (above) suggests something between an open-air chapel and the frame of a covered wagon, and is a compelling synthesis of the two brothers’ respective disciplines.





LECTURE SERIES:
Wednesday, 
March 5

Jamie Darnell, David Dowell, Dan Maginn, Josh Shelton, and Douglas Stockman,
el dorado

Amale Andraos and Dan Wood, 
WORK Architecture Company

 

Wednesday, 
March 26
 
Hagy Belzberg, Belzberg Architects

Michael Meredith and Hilary Sample, 
MOS


Wednesday, 
March 12
 
Johnny McDonald, 
Pat McDonald, 
Tim McDonald, 
and Howard Steinberg, 
Onion Flats

Chris Reed, 
Stoss Landscape Urbanism

 


All lectures begin at 
7:00 p.m., with the exception of the March 5 lecture, which will begin at 6:45 p.m. Lectures will be held at the New Museum, 235 Bowery.



Wednesday, 
March 19
 
Brian Johnsen and Sebastian Schmaling, 
Johnsen Schmaling Architects

Granger Moorhead 
and Robert Moorhead,
Moorhead & Moorhead

DOWNTOWN DOWNTURN?

Uncertainty looms as LA projects stall or fail
A fickle economy, rising construction costs, and skittish buyers are just a few of the factors that have slowed the frenzied development in downtown Los Angeles to a crawl. But as two of the area’s largest planned projects—Frank Gehry and the Related Companies’ $3 billion Grand Avenue Project and the $1billion Park Fifth condo towers—failed to break ground as expected during the last few months, and as several smaller projects went under, hushed conversations between architects, developers, and real estate agents persist in the shadows of half-finished skyscrapers: Is downtown’s rally over? “I have the feeling that this is not a good time to be building skyscrapers, in LA or anywhere,” said Peter Slatin of the real estate website TheSlatinReport.com (and AN contributor). “It’s risky to start building into a market that’s starting to decline without knowing how long the decline will last.” According to the National Association of Realtors, U.S. condosales were down by about 11 percent in 2007, while residential construction dropped by almost 17 percent. According to most projections the numbers aren’t expected to improve this year. Although materials prepared last year for Grand Avenue (which would include 19- and 48-story towers and a 16-acre park) indicated that Phase I of the scheme was scheduled to begin construction last October, that date has now been pushed to this summer. Karen Diehl, a representative from Related, said that updates are being made to the design documents and, despite reports to the contrary, groundbreaking was never set to happen. “We’ve never set a groundbreaking date and at present it is expected sometime this summer,” she said. According to Diehl, an existing parking structure on the site needs to be stripped of its lead paint first, then will be demolished in “the next few months” so construction can begin. Meanwhile, reports that Related had not yet secured a construction loan spurred rumors that the mixed-use project was short on financing. Groundbreaking for the 76- and 41-story towers of Park Fifth, once scheduled for the first quarter of 2008, has been pushed back to the third quarter. After reported staffing and investor shakeups, spokesperson Stephanie Holbrook now blames bureaucracy. “Park Fifth does not expect to have final entitlements for the project until the end of May,” she said. “Until these formalities are finalized, one would not start construction of a major project.” While the project was also rumored to have major financing issues, Holbrook said that financing is in place to move forward. “Park Fifth was never a brilliantly-conceived project to begin with,” Slatin said of what he thought was the building’s inability to relate to its surrounding neighborhood near Pershing Square. But for Grand Avenue, he thinks the perceived inability to sell its 390 residential units is mostly due to Gehry himself. “They wholeheartedly bought into the idea that good architecture is added value but went with an architect who is not always the greatest fit for residential design,” said Slatin. “You have to find a lot of people who are willing to take that perceived risk for an apartment that’s kind of quirky.” And a slew of projects on the way have endured similar delays or changes. The Parkside Tower, a 35-story mixed-use property downtown, has declared it has “no financing to move forward.” The Mill Street Lofts by Linear City—developer of the successful Toy Factory and Biscuit Company Lofts—is delayed until at least the fall. The Old Union Bank Building and the Blossom Plaza in China Plaza both recently switched from condos to rentals. Last May, the New York hotelier Gansevoort yanked its plans for “Gansevoort West,” leaving its developer, Chetrit Group, without a hotel partner. “The capital and credit markets are extremely challenging right now,” said Jim Atkins, a principal with The South Group, a Portland-based developer that has three residential projects in downtown LA: Elleven, Luma, Evo (still under construction), and South Figueroa (now on hold). “That’s brought investment in new condo projects to a halt. You don’t have to be an expert to know that there’s a lot of instability and that we’re facing losses and problems.” Timing, he noted, is what seems to separate the sturdy from the worried. Those who offered presales and secured financing a year or two ago did so during a robust economy. The slowing means that potential buyers today aren’t as likely to jump at a presale, which further impairs financing for any project with a residential component, said Atkins. For example, the 19-story Luma property had many buyers fall out of escrow before it opened in July. But they were able to resell those units as the property got closer to completion. “Buyers feel that if they buy today, the price might go down tomorrow,” he said. “There’s no incentive to buy six to nine months out anymore.” Their Evo project will be one of 2008’s largest debuts in a market many consider glutted. But Atkins says traffic to their sales office is good—relatively. “There’s still quite a bit of demand,” he said. “But there’s not as much as there was a few years ago.” There is one glimmer of hope. The federal economic stimulus package which recently passed by President Bush will raise the conventional loan limit cap from $417,000 to $625,000, meaning that buyers who usually had to find higher-interest, high-risk“jumbo loans” for amounts over $417,000 can lock in to lower, more stable rates. “From our buyer’s perspective, more of the downtown market is accessible at that price point,” said Atkins.
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Downtown Downturn?
Park Fifth on Pershing Square.
Courtesy KPF


The Numbers

A fickle economy, rising construction costs, and skittish buyers are just a few of the factors that have slowed the frenzied development in downtown Los Angeles to a crawl. But as two of the area’s largest planned projects—Frank Gehry and the Related Companies’ $3 billion Grand Avenue Project and the $1 billion Park Fifth condo towers—failed to break ground as expected during the last few months, and as several smaller projects went under, hushed conversations between architects, developers, and real estate agents persist in the shadows of half-finished skyscrapers: Is downtown’s rally over? 

“I have the feeling that this is not a good time to be building skyscrapers, in LA or anywhere,” said Peter Slatin of the real estate website TheSlatinReport.com (and AN contributor). “It’s risky to start building into a market that’s starting to decline without knowing how long the decline will last.” According to the National Association of Realtors, U.S. condo sales were down by about 11 percent in 2007, while residential construction dropped by almost 17 percent. According to most projections the numbers aren’t expected to improve this year. 

Although materials prepared last year for Grand Avenue (which would include 19- and 48-story towers and a 16-acre park) indicated that Phase I of the scheme was scheduled to begin construction last October, that date has now been pushed to this summer. Karen Diehl, a representative from Related, said that updates are being made to the design documents and, despite reports to the contrary, groundbreaking was never set to happen. “We’ve never set a groundbreaking date and at present it is expected sometime this summer,” she said. According to Diehl, an existing parking structure on the site needs to be stripped of its lead paint first, then will be demolished in “the next few months” so construction can begin. Meanwhile, reports that Related had not yet secured a construction loan spurred rumors that the mixed-use project was short on financing. 

Groundbreaking for the 76- and 41-story towers of Park Fifth, once scheduled for the first quarter of 2008, has been pushed back to the third quarter. After reported staffing and investor shakeups, spokesperson Stephanie Holbrook now blames bureaucracy. “Park Fifth does not expect to have final entitlements for the project until the end of May,” she said. “Until these formalities are finalized, one would not start construction of a major project.” While the project was also rumored to have major financing issues, Holbrook said that financing is in place to move forward. 

“Park Fifth was never a brilliantly-conceived project to begin with,” Slatin said of what he thought was the building’s inability to relate to its surrounding neighborhood near Pershing Square. But for Grand Avenue, he thinks the perceived inability to sell its 390 residential units is mostly due to Gehry himself. “They wholeheartedly bought into the idea that good architecture is added value but went with an architect who is not always the greatest fit for residential design,” said Slatin. “You have to find a lot of people who are willing to take that perceived risk for an apartment that’s kind of quirky.” 

And a slew of projects on the way have endured similar delays or changes. The Parkside Tower, a 35-story mixed-use property downtown, has declared it has “no financing to move forward.” The Mill Street Lofts by Linear City—developer of the successful Toy Factory and Biscuit Company Lofts—is delayed until at least the fall. The Old Union Bank Building and the Blossom Plaza in China Plaza both recently switched from condos to rentals. Last May, the New York hotelier Gansevoort yanked its plans for “Gansevoort West,” leaving its developer, Chetrit Group, without a hotel partner. 

“The capital and credit markets are extremely challenging right now,” said Jim Atkins, a principal with The South Group, a Portland-based developer that has three residential projects in downtown LA: Elleven, Luma, Evo (still under construction), and South Figueroa (now on hold). “That’s brought investment in new condo projects to a halt. You don’t have to be an expert to know that there’s a lot of instability and that we’re facing losses and problems.” 

Timing, he noted, is what seems to separate the sturdy from the worried. Those who offered presales and secured financing a year or two ago did so during a robust economy. The slowing means that potential buyers today aren’t as likely to jump at a presale, which further impairs financing for any project with a residential component, said Atkins. For example, the 19-story Luma property had many buyers fall out of escrow before it opened in July. But they were able to resell those units as the property got closer to completion. 

“Buyers feel that if they buy today, the price might go down tomorrow,” he said. “There’s no incentive to buy six to nine months out anymore.” Their Evo project will be one of 2008’s largest debuts in a market many consider glutted. But Atkins says traffic to their sales office is good—relatively. “There’s still quite a bit of demand,” he said. “But there’s not as much as there was a few years ago.” 

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Of Torii and Roji
Courtesy Edaw San Francisco

San Francisco’s Japan Center, the retail centerpiece of a controversial downtown redevelopment project that leveled most of Japantown nearly 50 years ago, is now the subject of its own new development plans presented at a public meeting on February 12. EDAW’s San Francisco office and Colorado-based retail architect Studio Taku Shimizu recently unveiled preliminary plans for a mixed-use center that reintroduces housing to these historically residential blocks. While the proposed housing enjoys broad community support, the project poses more complex questions about how best to preserve Japantown’s cultural core when the Japanese-American population is diminishing and only three such districts remain in the United States. 

This latest look at reinventing Japantown was set in motion, in part, by the 2006 sale of two malls and a hotel comprising two-thirds of Japan Center plus a nearby hotel to Los Angeles developer 3D Investments. Working with hotel group Joie de Vivre, 3D Investments moved quickly to reopen the hotels as the upscale Hotel Kabuki and anime-themed Hotel Tomo, but heeded the planning department’s request to let the larger vision for Japan Center unfold as part of the city’s community-focused Japantown “Better Neighborhoods Plan” process, set to establish land use, urban design, preservation, economic development, and transportation strategies for the area. 

The Japan Center development is seen by officials as a way to revitalize the district by restoring some of its historic density and reversing the malls’ inward-facing stance. “Before redevelopment, an estimated 250 residences and 100,000 square feet of retail, mostly in three-story Victorian shop houses, filled these two blocks,” said EDAW principal Stephen Engblom. “What we have today—a one- to two-story blind box with roughly the same amount of retail plus the hotel, and none of the residential capacity—physically has much greater potential to contribute to the community’s goals of creating an intergenerational environment with safe and friendly street fronts on Post and Geary.” 

The four schemes presented for input at a community meeting last December range from a “baseline scheme,” which would add two stories of housing above the existing malls and open the malls to the streets, to comprehensive site reconfigurations that would more than double the leasable retail space to 200,000 square feet and add 73 to 210 residential units. The higher density of such schemes would require a 14-story tower comparable in scale to the existing hotel. 

Public comment at the meeting and online has favored the “Roji” scheme (rojimeans “alley” in Japanese), which introduces more human-scaled, mid-block alleys that break up the retail and strengthen connections through the site. The “Torii” (gate) scheme’s gateway retail bridge and the “Hirobai” (plaza) scheme’s open plazas linked by curving passageways have drawn criticism for imposing upon or eliminating the Peace Plaza, an important civic gathering space, which the Roji scheme preserves. 

While higher density and expanded retail promise more affordable housing, jobs, and tax revenues, the community is cautious about gentrification, said Bob Hamaguchi, executive director of the Japantown Task Force, which facilitates the neighborhood’s planning and improvement projects. “This plan is very important to Japantown’s future,” he said. “Preserving the cultural institutions, community services, and small businesses that make Japantown what it is today is one of our objectives.” 

Paul Osaki, executive director of the nonprofit Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Northern California, echoed the concerns for small businesses that would be displaced during construction, yet acknowledged the need for Japantown to reach beyond its traditional community as low birth and immigration rates and higher rates of multi-ethnic marriages reduce the Japanese-American population. “The challenge will be to attract new, culturally relevant businesses that make Japan Center exciting and engaging to a broader multi-ethnic audience,” he told AN. Osaki, like Engblom, sees Japan’s vibrant youth culture as an energizing element of a contemporary Japantown that is anchored by history and heritage. 

After two more rounds of community input, the refined scheme will be presented in April. 

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Nokia Calling
John Edward Linden

No matter where you were in Los Angeles on the night of October 18, it was difficult to miss the opening of the Nokia Theatre. Not only did the building glow brighter than every other building in downtown, but dozens of lights spun deliriously into the sky, putting any klieg-lit premiere in Hollywood to shame. The sleek building is the first completed building at L.A. Live, the massive residential and entertainment corridor taking shape in the blocks adjacent to the Staples Center, in the South Park neighborhood.

When completed in 2010, the 4-million-square-foot L.A. Live will also include the 2,400-seat Club Nokia venue, corporate office space for Herbalife, studios for ESPN, a Grammy museum, and a flurry of dining and entertainment tenants. A 54-story tower designed by Gensler will serve as the anchor hotel for the convention center, including residential units, a 123-room Ritz-Carlton and an 878-room J. W. Marriott. AEG, the sports and entertainment corporation that also owns Staples Center, is serving as developer for the project, which is estimated at $2.5 billion. Berkeley-based ELS Architecture designed the 260,000-square-foot, 7,100-seat Nokia Theatre. The 40,000-square-foot plaza surrounding the theater was designed by Rios Clementi Hale Studio of Los Angeles.

Designed to complement the Staples Center, the Nokia’s exterior uses a similar palette of materials, including metal panels, concrete, and glass, which will in turn be referenced in other elements at L.A. Live. Beyond the drama of a three-story glass-fronted lobby buzzing with LED panels, the interior of the theater itself is understated, almost unfinished, meant to be a neutral backdrop for the performers (it’s described by the designers as the “biggest black box in the country”). The theater blends the raw energy and high-end production capabilities of larger venues—the stage measures 14,000 square feet, one of the largest in the United States—with the intimacy of a concert hall. “No seat is further than 220 feet from the stage,” says ELS principal Kurt Schindler. “Seating is designed with a comfort level that exceeds an arena and approaches a performance theater.”

More important to the exterior are the throbbing LED panels that plaster the building, giving it that healthy glow. These had to be distinctive from the air, as the Nokia-Staples complex will serve as the centerpiece of the “blimp shot” for broadcasting events. A similar consideration had to be made for the plaza, where an elegant graphic paving pattern lends richness for television cameras and familiarity on a human scale, said Bob Hale, partner at Rios Clementi Hale, alluding to more than 15 residential towers completed or under construction within walking distance of the plaza.

“For certain events it will be the center of LA, but on a day-to-day basis it’s the town square for that part of South Park,” remarked Hale, who also said that developers would like to bring a greenmarket to the plaza as just one of its many uses, from red carpet arrivals to cultural festivals. For special events, the plaza itself can convert into an entertainment venue, aided by an electronic infrastructure that allows “plug and play” audio visual capabilities, and the six towers, which can further support filming, projection, or performance space. The plaza is flanked by landscaping, including planters that provide places to sit and gather while shaded by canopies of plane trees. Rios Clementi Hale’s design will continue to be implemented to visually unite the entire L.A. Live complex. 

Hearst Castles

On November 6, Los Angeles City Council upheld the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the redevelopment of the 1913 Herald Examiner building on the southern end of downtown. The move effectively pushed forward the long-delayed scheme, which is being developed by Hearst Communications and—very significantly—includes construction of two nearby condominium towers by Morphosis.

The original EIR had been adopted in October 2006, but was appealed by Conquest Student Housing, a company that provides student housing at nearby USC. The November 6 council measure denied that appeal. The Mission Revival-style Herald Examiner building, at 1111 South Broadway, has been closed since 1989, when the Hearst-owned newspaper folded. According to the EIR, the renovated building will include 40,000 square feet of office space and 20,000 square feet of retail space. Preservation architect Brenda Levin, who has helped refurbish City Hall, the Wiltern Theater, and Grand Central Market, among other buildings, will oversee the building’s rehab.

Morphosis’ new towers, located on 1108 South Hill Street and 1201 South Main Street, will include a 24-story, 268-unit building on the site of the old Herald Examiner Press Building and a 37-story, 319-unit building, which will be built at the site of a former parking lot. Hearst would not release renderings, but according to the EIR both buildings will draw on the heavy structural grid of the Herald Examiner building for inspiration. For example the Hill Street building will have a concrete wall structural system, continuous concrete balconies, and exterior materials that could include terra cotta, red cement fiberboard, pre-finished sheet metal, or glass fiber reinforced concrete. The towers are expected to be completed by 2009 and 2010.

The project is also set to include a 50-foot-wide landscaped courtyard between the Herald Examiner Building and the new Hill Street building, and streetscape improvements including tree plantings, new sidewalks, and a possible new landscape median along Broadway. 

Eavesdrop: Alissa Walker

LIFE’S NOT SO GRAND
Well, October came and went and despite earlier announcements, if our keen Eavesdrop eyesight serves us correctly, the Grand Avenue project in downtown Los Angeles has still not broken ground. Where, oh where to place the blame now? Some say civic bureaucracy, some say steel costs, but we don’t buy either of those excuses since AEG’s L.A. Live seems to be progressing quite nicely just down the street. We do know that the designers are starting to feel the pinch. Our top-level informants tell us that Gehry Partners have put a freeze on hiring, a first in at least the last decade at the firm. And that was before the whole lawsuit from MIT citing “design flaws” in his Stata Center building. Meanwhile, Gehry himself was shilling for Audi’s new Cross Cabriolet Quattro at the L.A. Auto Show. We hear you can pick up some serious cash in those spokesman gigs.

SCI-ARC TENT CITY 
No, those people sleeping in SCI-Arc’s parking lot in early November weren’t students down on their luck, they were actually four artists recruited to inhabit experimental structures built by instructor Stephanie Smith’s design studio. Iana QuesnellAlex NerouliasJelani Haywood, and Aaron Garber-Maikovska occupied the scaffold-like aluminum shelters for ten days, and were challenged to manipulate their dwellings to explore the architecture of temporary living situations. Quesnell, a Tijuana-based artist, spent all ten nights in the downtown parking lot foraging in the SCI-Arc trash for bedding materials, bathing in a bucket shower of her own design, and using discarded sawblades to keep rats from climbing into her living room. Although her past work has included living in her truck and a stint in a tent in Bosnia, Quesnell described the situation as intense. “The first five days were a blast,” she said, “but by the sixth day I was finished.” The structures will remain up until November 30.

LONELY, LONELY LAUTNER 
World-famous mid-century modern structure. Seminal work by leading architect. Reduced to $495,000. That’s the reality in Desert Hot Springs, where a 1947 John Lautner motel can’t sell to save its life. Sure, the four-unit property, which went on the market after former owner Steve Lowe died suddenly in January, could use some work, but what gives? Tony Merchell, who managed the motel as recently as 2005, and now manages April Greiman and Michael Rotundi’s Miracle Manor nearby, says it’s actually because the neighborhood is just really …unattractive. “This neighborhood is basically no better or worse than other Desert Hot Springs neighborhoods, it’s just kinda ugly,” he said, describing the immediate area as speculative development, infill houses, vacant lots, and trailer parks. He says people who are familiar with the Julius Shulman photos showing the motel surrounded by 160 empty acres are scared away when they come to see the property. But once you get inside, says Merchell—who has slept in all four rooms—none of that matters. “All the windows and views are to the sky. It’s like looking into another world.”