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2017 Best of Design Awards for Residential – Multi-Unit
2017 Best of Design Award for Residential – Multi-Unit: True North Designer: EC3 Location: Detroit, Michigan True North is a development comprised of nine rental units and shared community gardens located two-and-a-half miles from Downtown Detroit in a quiet, spacious neighborhood. It has received widespread recognition for pioneering creative, affordable design attuned to its community. For aesthetic and economic reasons, the client challenged the architect to utilize Quonset Huts, a prefabricated lightweight structure consisting of corrugated galvanized steel and having a semicircular cross section. The placement of the huts balances openness and security, views and privacy, socializing and solitude. Each structure is assembled on top of a four-inch concrete slab with in-floor radiant heat, which is also the unit’s finished floor. The end walls feature custom steel framing around polycarbonate panels that provide a higher level of security, natural light and high thermal value. Each interior is unique and designed to inspire different creative lifestyles in Detroit. “It’s always nice to see architects do so much with so little. Despite the restraints of working with prefabricated structures and limited materials palette, they’ve made a surprisingly beautiful development—one that could easily be repeated—for a city that needs creative solutions.” —Morris Adjmi, Principal, Morris Adjmi Architects (juror) Client: Prince Concepts Executive Architect: Studio Detroit Site and Landscape Design: EC3 Landscape Contractor: Heroes Landscape Manufacturer: SteelMaster   Honorable Mention Project: American Copper Building Architect: SHoP Architects Location: New York The American Copper Buildings present two bold and dynamic copper towers ‘dancing’ on NYC's East River. The 761-unit luxury rental community, designed to patinate over time, reaches 41 and 48 stories in height with an iconic, amenity-filled skybridge connecting the two towers.   Honorable Mention  Project: 2510 Temple Architect: Tighe Architecture  Location: Los Angeles

Perched within Los Angeles’s Historic Filipinotown, this combination of market-rate and affordable apartment units responds to the city’s housing crisis. Clad in metal panels, the sculptural form of the entry serves as a connection between the private areas of the project and commercial storefronts at street level.

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Riverfront Renewal

Lower L.A. River revitalization plan finally revealed
Los Angeles is a vast, complicated place, and so is its 51-mile river. While the city’s Draft L.A. River Revitalization Master Plan, outlining a transformation of the river and the areas around it,  was launched back in 2007 (laid out by a team including Studio M-LA and Tetra Tech)  the many cities and towns south of the city have, ten years later, finally unveiled their own, set for the largely industrial 19-mile stretch between Vernon and Downtown Long Beach. The Lower Los Angeles River Working Group, a collection of officials, non-profits, and community members launched in 2015, has laid out improvements to the river that include vegetated terraces, access ramps, dams, public art, underground water retention systems and wetlands. They've also called for upgrades to almost 150 nearby properties, as well as parks, streetscapes, bridges, boardwalks, viewing platforms and pathways. To paint a picture of what could be, the working group, along with Tetra Tech and Perkins + Will, have laid out close to a dozen case studies. These include a plan for the Cudahy River Park, in the city of Cudahy, calling for new bridges, access ramps, levee terracing, and riverbank green space, as well as public art installed along the river bed itself and affordable housing rising alongside the new park. About eight miles south, the Compton Creek Confluence Area would include a new green terracing along the riverbanks, a new community center, picnic stations, and even water recreation thanks to a new rubber dam and stormwater treatment plant. Things are moving quickly on the 11-mile stretch of River between Downtown L.A. and Elysian Park: dozens of parks and trails have sprung up, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers preparing a $1 billion dollar revitalization, and AECOM wants to add 36,000 housing units.  But the south L.A. working group is still identifying funding for its endeavor, from local, state and federal sources. The group is also working to curb gentrification in these vulnerable neighborhoods, which accounts for, among several plans, the increase in affordable housing, rather than market rate proposals. The scheme, when finalized, will be incorporated into the overall Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan. Both will likely incorporate the wide-reaching approach being developed by Frank Gehry, Olin and Geosyntec on behalf of the non-profit L.A. River Revitalization Corp, or River LA.  It could be decades before the changes are completed, but if you look at the many small projects already completed further north, it's clear substantial progress could take place in the next couple of years.
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Moving Music City

Nashville mayor unveils details of $5.2 billion transit plan
Nashville’s Mayor Megan Barry has announced the ballot language for the city's much-anticipated transit referendum. The referendum, which will be voted on in a May 1, 2018 election, would bring a completely new expansive light-rail system to the city. At a cost of $5.2 billion, it would be one of the most ambitious transit plans in the United States, and the largest single project Nashville has ever taken on. The announcement included the full 205-word ballot measure, a broad overview of the proposed referendum. Those projects would “improve and expand its transit services to include: expanded bus service countywide; new transit lines; new light rail and/or rapid bus service along Nashville’s major corridors, including the Northwest Corridor and a connection through downtown Nashville; new neighborhood transit centers; improvements to the Music City Star train service; safety improvements, including sidewalks and pedestrian connections; and system modernization.” The wording also outlines the city’s plan to raise four taxes, in the form of surcharges, to fund the projects. These include, “a sales tax surcharge of 0.5 percent for the first five years, increasing to 1 percent in 2023; a hotel/motel tax surcharge of 0.25 percent for the first five years, increasing to 0.375 in 2023; a 20 percent surcharge on the business/excise tax; and a 20 percent surcharge on the rental car tax.” The next step for the referendum will be gaining the approval from the Metro Council for the ballot language. The plan includes 26 miles of new light rail, additional bus services, and most dramatically, a rail tunnel that will stretch under the downtown 40 to 50 feet below the street level. The 1.8-mile-long, 60-foot-wide tunnel would contain two tracks, and would cost an estimated $900 million. Above ground, five light rail corridors will run to the downtown from all directions in the city. While the rail portion of the project would take until 2032 to complete, the improvements to other parts of the system could be implemented much quicker. In particular, 25 miles of rapid bus transit and “neighborhood transit centers” would connect the bus system to the future rail network. Another aspect of the proposal is reduced or free transit fares for residents living below the federal poverty line. This consideration would help offset the increased sales tax burden on the poor, who are often disproportionately affected by such taxes. If Nashville residents approve the referendum, the city will join the likes of Seattle, Los Angeles, and Atlanta, who have all recently passed extensive transit plans. Critics of these types of plans question the return on investment of the billions of dollars, while proponents argue that they are needed to attract the types of companies and workers 21st-century cities need. An example often cited is the call from proposals for the Amazon HQ2. Amazon specifically requested a robust mass transit system for its workers, a requirement that many midsize cities are unable to meet.
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Dining Rooms

2017 Best of Design Awards for Hospitality
2017 Best of Design Award for Hospitality: Broken Rice Architect: Undisclosable Location: Denver, Colorado Broken Rice is a fast-casual restaurant serving traditional Asian street food with a modern feel. It was designed as a roll-out with recognizable brand identity and efficiency in construction that would also produce experiential quality. Inspired by Asian landscapes, colors, and textures, Broken Rice adopts the hexagonal geometry of Vietnamese tiles, recognizable silhouettes from the region, and repetitive objects seen in Asian street markets—visible through screens lining both sides of the space. The effect is that of looking out onto an abstract vista of cultural references. The use of color, inspired by the sunset, is deployed throughout to create false perspectives, produce depth in the space, and facilitate intimate dining conditions within the banquette cubbies. “The congruous nature of the ambitions and the execution makes the small restaurant quite special. The warm material selection and element lighting is fun and approachable.” —Emily Bauer, landscape architect, Bjarke Ingels Group (juror) Client: Startup Restaurant Interior Architecture: Undisclosable Architect of Record: Nama Partners Structural Engineering: Performance Engineering   Honorable Mention Project: Wilshire Grand Tower Complex Architect: AC Martin Place: Los Angeles, California The Wilshire Grand Tower Complex comprises a 900-room hotel sitting atop 18 office floors. Currently the tallest building west of the Mississippi, it offers sweeping views of downtown Los Angeles and is an iconic addition to the skyline.
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Civic Lesson

2017 Best of Design Awards for Civic – Administrative
2017 Best of Design Award for Civic – Administrative: Boston Emergency Medical Services Architect: The Galante Architecture Studio Location: Boston, Massachusets This new Emergency Medical Services facility replaced a dilapidated garage located on the historic grounds of the old Boston Sanatorium. Working in concert with the City of Boston Public Facilities department, the firm built a modest yet elegant building that provides security and stature through its solid shell and minimalist form. The approximately 10,500-square-foot structure comprises 11 bays—each capable of double loading and outfitted with a vehicle exhaust system—to house emergency vehicles already in Boston EMS’s fleet, plus additional equipment provided by Homeland Security in the wake of the 2013 Boston Marathon attack. A robust thermal envelope, efficient LED lights and daylighting units, and low-flow plumbing fixtures help make the building energy efficient. Its inherent flexibility supports Boston’s first responders in their efforts to protect the public and manage emergencies in both the short term and foreseeable future. "This project is a wonderful use of quotidian materials in a sharp, sophisticated way. Robert Venturi would be proud." —Matt Shaw, senior editor, The Architect's Newspaper (juror) Contractor: Gianluca Morle, WCI Corporation Project director: Scott Dupre with Boston Public Facilities Department Metal Wall Panels: Morin Daylighting Units: Firestone Building Products Site Lighting: RAB Lighting Honorable Mention New United States Courthouse – Los Angeles Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill Location: Los Angeles, California Modern in spirit and rooted in classic principles of federal architecture, the New United States Courthouse contains 24 courtrooms and 32 judicial chambers within 633,000 (energy efficient) square feet. Envisioned as a “floating” cube, the building’s innovative structural engineering concept elevates the glass volume above its stone base, mitigating blast threats while appearing as a single hovering form. Honorable Mention San Diego Central Courthouse Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill Location: San Diego, California This project consolidates San Diego County’s Criminal Trial, Family, and Civil Courts into a 22-story, 704,000-square-foot tower in the city’s downtown—a catalyst for the emerging government district. A three-story public lobby serves as the heart of the courthouse, while the traditional courthouse pediment has been reinterpreted as a shade-giving soffit.
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Athens of the Prairie

Columbus, Indiana…Don’t call it a comeback
Columbus, Indiana, is known for its legacy of midcentury, late modern, and postmodern architecture, most of which was commissioned by industrialist J.I. Miller and his pals in the 1950s, 60s , and 70s. While it is true that Miller is a “Midwest Medici” and  hugely influential on the town’s success, it is best to understand the town’s design legacy not as a series of architectural “gems” that mark the passage of time like a museum—eight National Historical Landmarks and a collection of over 50 notable works by important architects—but rather as the embodiment of a living system of socio-political values that have come to define the town. It is often said that all political systems are most successful at a small scale: Their progress is most palpable and their systems less corruptible. In Columbus, this can be seen in the town’s almost-impeccable history of public-private partnerships, where a group of leading businesspeople and community leaders realized what could be seen as the American industrial capitalist dream—and along with it—at least a part of the modernist architectural project. Recently, a group of patrons (who of course know Miller and his legacy) and world-class arts administrators have come together to continue this tradition of design and community. This exhibition, called Exhibit Columbus, is a town-wide festival of design, including five large-scale architectural installations by winners of the inaugural “J. Irwin and Xenia Miller Prize;” a series of small design interventions along the main downtown commercial corridor; and several pavilions designed by local universities and high school students. This could be read as another “biennial,” or “Design Week” alongside the growing list: Seoul, Venice, Oslo, Chicago, Lisbon, Vienna, Eindhoven, Ljubljana, New York, London, Miami, Mexico City, Shenzhen, Beijing, Stockholm, and Milan. However, the first biannual Exhibit Columbus proved to be something different. For starters, the original name “Columbus Design Biennale” was abandoned because, according to Director of Landmark Columbus Richard McCoy, "we wanted to put Columbus’s history on display rather than explore the current trends in design." This perfectly demonstrates how the primary focus of the event is not on engaging global discourse, but continuing and re-aestheticizing the design culture of the place by connecting the residents of the town. This might prove to be the best lesson from Exhibit Columbus: How to engage with the heritage of a place while pushing forward cutting-edge design. In this context, the word “continuing” is particularly important here, as it would be easy to look at this as a “revival” or a “renaissance,” where the legacy of Mr. Miller is exhumed from the grave by a new generation of design-minded leaders. However, the truth is that this mentality never really left, it has been influencing the town quietly ever since the first notable building was built. Columbus is an exception. It has a thriving economy with the highest percentage of its output as foreign exports, as much as 50 percent, according to the Washington Post. It has not seen the Rust Belt-ification of many of its neighboring towns, because local Fortune 200 company Cummins Inc., an engine manufacturer, has somehow managed to remain an industrial giant in the American Midwest and abroad. (It is said that Mr. Miller was the first American to go to China when it opened up trade with the west.) Because the town never descended into a post-industrial dystopia, strong ties to the community and the spirit of collaboration and design excellence also never went away. The underlying phenomena of “The Columbus Way,” a community-based collaborative spirit, was always there—there was never a lack of leadership in the town, or a strong sense of community. It just needed to be re-aestheticized. This idea of continuation is best seen in one of the Miller Prize installations. Oyler Wu’s Exchange is sited at the Irwin Conference Center, which is currently owned by Cummins and used for corporate hospitality, but was originally completed in 1954 by Eero Saarinen and Associates as a flagship branch of the Irwin Union Bank and Trust. The one-story banking hall pointed toward a new type of modernist space unbound by walls and conventional banking architecture, such as cages for the tellers. Instead the new open-planned bank was bound by glass walls. It would be easy to stop here and draw a connection between the white, contemporary forms of the 2017 installation—digital fabrication aesthetics made in L.A. and assembled onsite in Columbus—and the glassy Saarinen bank building, and read it as a sort of new language for Columbus: Less midcentury modern and more digital tectonics as a metaphor for a small Midwestern hamlet turned globalized 21st century networked town. However, there is more to the story than that. In fact, the entire site is less about Saarinen than about a series of urban encounters and transactions that have left that plaza the perfect place to manifest and aestheticize the continuation of the community spirit of Columbus. Oyler Wu chose to build its pavilion around a series of three decommissioned drive-thru bank teller canopies, citing the legacy of Saarinen and “Euclidean geometries, solid-void relationships, and tectonics.” However, these canopies were not designed by Eero Saarinen, but rather by local architect Frank Adams in the 1980s. In fact, when the bank was completed in 1954, the site next to it was still Harrison Motors, an auto dealership. Later, as part of a 1966 Dan Kiley–led landscape extension, three manned teller booths were added in the adjacent lot after it was purchased from the car dealership. It wasn’t until 1973 that a three-story office building was completed by Saarinen’s protégé Kevin Roche of Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates. In the 1980s, the teller booths became pneumatic drive-up stations and the Adams canopies were added. A later renovation was completed by Columbus architect Todd Williams. Considering this more complicated history of the site, it makes the most recent addition to the site, the Oyler Wu pavilion, even more poignant. It is not just Oyler Wu and Saarinen in a clean past-present relationship. It is a literal and figural continuation of myriad complex issues and histories in the town. It—and Exhibit Columbus—is an extension and re-aestheticization of something that never left. The canopies, walls, and benches of The Exchange almost grow organically out of the existing structures, continuing the evolution of the site from an autoyard to a car dealership to a bank to a conference center and then finally to a small urban parklet. Not only does the form continue to complete the implied volumes of the canopies, but it updates the use of said structures into a viable place for urban respite along a main pedestrian thoroughfare. It is certainly a new aesthetic for Columbus, as Oyler Wu’s style comes through in the welded steel forms that mingle with CNC bent steel tubing. Transparent volumes capture space that is suspended in the air, allowing us to see what was already there, but in a new frame—like Exhibit Columbus itself. So what is the impact of Exhibit Columbus and its continuation? For the locals, it is about education and a re-engagement with the design heritage and legacy. But the exhibition can't escape being relevant globally, and it has much to offer as a living, urban laboratory. If we look to some of the more forward-looking design events: The 2017 Shenzhen Bi-city Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture and its examination of the urban villages in the hyper-local yet hyper-global context of Shenzhen, The Istanbul Design Biennial 2018 and its questioning of the biennial as a site of education, and the Open Design School at Matera European Capital of Culture 2019, where the curators will try to start an academy that they hope will harness the after-effects of a global cultural event in order to invigorate one of the poorest regions of Europe. Some may not want to admit it, but Columbus is now back in its rightful place in discussion with these large global cities, as it has been historically for both design and business reasons. Today, Exhibit Columbus shares DNA with all of the aforementioned projects. How does it uniquely engage with the local community? What will be its immediate and long-term impact on the community, the economy, and the students of the town? What can we learn from Columbus’s attitude about design and community? What new forms of knowledge might arise, or what new forms of design can come from such an important and rich context? What are the new challenges Columbus faces as its demographics change and what opportunities are there to incorporate these new identities into the heritage of the place? Exhibit Columbus is positioned to be a unique voice among many voices in the cultural events sector. Based on the reactions from the community at the opening, and the sustained efforts of McCoy and his team over the duration of the exhibit, it has revived the design heritage of Columbus. “There was a hum that emerged from the exhibition,” Columbus resident Mary Harmon told AN, “What I have really loved is that there was something for all ages, interests ..........ranging from tots to the elderly and those with a knowledge, curiosity and fondness for art and architecture to those who could care less, but felt happier just walking by and seeing the people out and about.” Of course, it can still be improved upon, and it will be a site to watch for those interested in how cultural production can interface with a local community, and even become an integral part of it and its mission to make a place better through architecture and design. Thanks to Will Miller and Enrique Ramirez for their editorial support on this essay.
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Stack It Up

Renderings revealed for 11-story, A+D Museum–adjacent L.A. office tower
Architects Gensler and Legendary Development have revealed renderings for a long-anticipated 11-story development on an existing L-shaped parking lot surrounding the A+D Museum in Downtown Los Angeles. The proposed tower will be located at 4th and Hewitt Streets in L.A.’s booming Arts District and will contain up to 255,000 square feet of office spaces, 15,000 square feet of ground floor retail uses, 11,000 square feet of common areas, and 538 parking stalls. The 8,950-square-foot A+D Museum is to remain, though it will shrink to 7,800 square feet, according to a preliminary Environmental Impact Report (EIR). Rios Clementi Hale is performing landscape architecture services for the project, Urbanize.LA reports. The renderings were first published by Curbed LA. The development, according to the renderings, is designed to approximate the Arts District’s industrial vernacular aesthetic and will feature four lower levels designed to look like surrounding late nineteenth century factory buildings. These levels come complete with divided light, factory-style windows and exposed concrete frame elements. The lower portion of the building will be topped by a seven-story glass curtain wall–clad building mass that is highlighted on various corners by bump-out volumes and inset balcony spaces. The complex will overlook the existing A+D Museum and will be accessed from a courtyard currently adjacent to the museum. The project comes as the areas around the A+D Museum and adjacent Southern California Institute of Architecture campus see an increase in office-containing projects. Several former industrial complexes—including an old Coca Cola syrup factory and a defunct Maxwell House Coffee roastery—are being adapted and expanded as developers work to meet growing demand for office space in the district. Other areas of the neighborhood are seeing a boom in residential and mixed-use development, as well. The Draft EIR indicates that the project team expects to break ground on the project in 2019, with completion scheduled for 2021.
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Super Pass

Hyperloop startup Arrivo to bring 200mph system to Denver
High-speed transport is no longer a myth of the future. Yesterday, Los Angeles-based hyperloop engineering company, Arrivo, announced its partnership with the Colorado Department of Transportation to build a test track facility in the Denver Metro area. The company aims to break ground on the test site in early 2018 and plans to have a fully operating public transportation system in place by 2021.   The Arrivo transportation concept consists of creating a network of roadways which will shuffle cars, people, and freight on platforms traveling at speeds of 200 miles per hour. That is, not just pods, but individual private vehicles can take advantage of the roadways. The system will rely on individual autonomous platforms being propelled by electric power and magnetic levitation within a road-side track. Unlike the Hyperloop concept forwarded by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, cars will not travel in a near-vacuum state through low-pressure tubes, although a tube will be put in place to cut the wind resistance. This plan removes the need to build an expensive tubeway system on pylons or underground.  Arrivo's agenda will be focused on local, short-distance commutes as well, unlike Hyperloop One's long-distance proposals. Speculative routes plan to link popular locations such as downtown Denver to the international airport on the outskirts of the city, as well as linking Denver's city center to Boulder's city center. Through Arrivo's transportation network, both these trips, which currently take about an hour by traditional highway travel, would be decreased to commute times of under 10 minutes. Denver is a natural fit for a high-speed travel test facility. In recent years, Colorado has been among the nation's fastest-growing states, with the population influx putting a strain on infrastructure and plaguing cities with traffic. A 360-mile loop in the state, with Denver as one of the nodes, was also selected in the Hyperloop One global challenge. In the upcoming year, Arrivo plans to invest $10 to $15 million into the test track and engineering technology centers throughout the region.
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Mid-rise Milieu

These four developments will reshape L.A.'s storied Solano Canyon corridor
Four forthcoming developments planned for areas immediately surrounding the recently-opened Los Angeles State Historical Park in Downtown Los Angeles's Chinatown and Solano Canyon neighborhoods have the potential to completely reshape the industrial, working-class area into a new node for mid-rise, mixed-use urbanism. According to various reports and an environmental review, the four projects detailed below will bring up to 1,690 housing units, 92,406 square feet of retail and office spaces, and 2,962 parking stalls to several transit-adjacent lots currently occupied by industrial warehouses, parking lots, or hillside brush. The new 32-acre state park opened earlier this year after a lengthy approval and renovation process and will eventually link to a fully-restored Los Angeles River greenway. The largest of these developments will be the two-phase Elysian Lofts complex by developers Lincoln Property Company, S&R Properties, and architects Newman Garrison + Partners. The linear development will be located on a long, narrow site bounded by the Gold Line and Broadway. The southern end of the 8.08-acre site closest to the Chinatown transit stop will be developed first. That section will include 451 residential units—including seven live-work suites— and 9,871 square feet of ground-floor retail. This phase will also include 3,465 square feet of office spaces and a three-level subterranean parking garage containing 880 parking stalls. Phase one of the project will be distributed across three mid-rise towers rising between 7- and 14-stories in height with the tallest tower topping out at 155 feet. The second phase of the project will improve the northernmost section of the site with 469 units, 8,070 square feet of retail, and 2,000 square feet of offices. This phase of the development will also include 10 live-work units. This second three-tower complex will sit atop a three-story parking podium with 903 parking stalls and will bookend a linear park located between the two development parcels. Phase two will be distributed across three mid-rise towers rising 7-, 8-, and 14-stories in height with the tallest tower topping out at 170 feet. The northern section of the site will also host a two-story structure containing a rooftop pool for use by residents. Renderings for the project depict grouped clusters of variegated mid-rise towers clad in large expanses of glass with views oriented over the State Historic Park. The development also features tree-lined sidewalks along Broadway and internal walkways but does not physically connect to the State Historic Park. According to currently available materials, the development does not include an affordable housing component. Just below the transit stop at the foot of the Elysian Lofts site, architects Workshop Design Collective is working on a 50,000-square-foot adaptive reuse project aimed at transforming the historic Capitol Milling Building. The brick- and timber-truss structure dates to 1881 and is being designed to include an artisanal food hall, a microbrewery, and creative offices among other uses. The five-building complex will be connected by a series of indoor-outdoor spaces that include a mezzanine level, dining terraces, and a public staircase. Across the street, architects Johnson Fain and developer Atlas Capital Group are working on a new mixed-use complex called College Station that will contain 770 dwelling units, 51,000 square feet of ground floor commercial spaces, and parking for 1,179 cars and 899 bicycles. The development will be spread out across six structures situated above a two-story podium containing parking and retail. The cluster of mid-rise housing blocks would be connected by a terrace level located above the podium. Renderings of the project depict a mix of linear apartment blocks featuring projecting balconies, metal panel cladding, and vertical louvers. The controversial project has been scaled down over time due to community concerns that it would jump-start gentrification in the area. Chinatown’s median household income is roughly $22,754 per year according to Preserve LA, and while the development is expected to contain some affordable housing, it is unclear whether those units would be affordable to current longtime residents. Just down the street from College Station, Omgivning is working on a 19,000-square foot adaptive reuse complex that would transform an existing poultry processing plant into a creative office and retail complex for developer City Constructors. The project involves designing the creative office portion of the building into a new 10,000-square-foot headquarters for the developer with the remaining 9,000 square feet of space dedicated to restaurants and retail. These projects are currently in various stages of development and will join a growing number of long-term proposals for areas surrounding Chinatown, the Los Angeles River, and the adjacent Olvera Street and Civic Center neighborhoods that include a new master plan as well as a speculative proposal by AECOM to add 36,000 housing units to areas around the L.A. River. With construction ramping up and new schemes coming to light almost weekly, it’s clear that the areas around L.A.’s Chinatown will soon look very different than they do today.
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Big Town

City Market of Los Angeles project approved by L.A. Planning Department
A plan crafted by developers City Market of Los Angeles and architects Hanson LA to drastically reshape a large section of the Los Angeles Fashion District in Downtown Los Angeles was unanimously approved by the Los Angeles City Planning Commission (LACPC) yesterday afternoon. In all, the roughly ten-acre development includes 16 development sites that will ultimately render up to 945 residential units, a 201-key hotel, 312,000 square feet of educational and creative offices, 225,000 square feet of retail spaces, and 272,000 square feet commercial office areas if built according to current plans. Hanson LA is serving as the master plan architect for the project, and the firm has developed the site plan for the project as well as written design guidelines for the development that will guide “what we do for the next 100 years” on the site, Doug Hanson told The Architect's Newspaper (AN). Hanson, a principal at Hanson LA, said the plan includes establishing a site-spanning amenity level roughly 20 feet off the street that will connect various blocks by spanning over the sidewalk. The elevated park is set at the height of neighboring industrial structures in order to maintain a contextual relationship with the neighborhood. The terrace, according to Hanson, will “speak to the history of the site” as an industrial district populated by warehouse structures. The designers hope that the elevated park spaces can provide much-needed public seating and gathering spaces for the neighborhood. The two-block-wide development will be bisected along the ground floor by a series of retail-lined pedestrian streets, with the terrace level above spanning between new structures to create an outdoor mezzanine promenade. The designers released a set of new and updated renderings for the project in anticipation of the LACPC meeting that highlight the multifaceted urban dynamic the firm has sought to articulate across the site. Site design for the project has been guided by a desire to have “quality architecture” populate public and semi-public open spaces while maintaining view corridors toward iconic downtown vistas. “These aren’t massive, big buildings,” Hanson explained as he described the articulated and setback low- and high-rise placeholder forms that show up in the renderings. Structures will ultimately be designed by a variety of architectural teams according to Hanson’s guidelines and will rise from a single story up to 454 feet in height. The plans envision a sizable portion of the site dedicated to housing a satellite campus for a local university as well as a 744-seat multiplex theater, Urbanize.la reported. The developers are also seeking to transform the complex into a so-called “sign district,” a local designation that allows for the installation of large-scale, electrified advertisement and mural billboards like those coming to nearby areas. The Skid Row–adjacent development does not feature an affordable housing component but will pay over $11 million toward a funded dedicated to preserving and creating new affordable housing in the neighborhood. The project will next be reviewed by the Los Angeles City Council for final approval. A timeline for the project’s implementation has not been released, but the developers envision a roughly 20-year construction timeline for the development, depending on market conditions.
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South Park

27-story tower to rise next to Halprin's Grand-Hope Park in downtown L.A.
Developer Forest City West and architects Solomon Cordwell Buenz (SCB) have unveiled renderings for a new 27-story apartment tower slated for construction on a site directly opposite the Lawrence Halprin–designed Grand-Hope Park in Downtown Los Angeles. The residential tower—currently known as 949 Hope Street—will feature 236 market-rate apartments as well as 6,700 square feet of ground floor retail spaces, Urbanize.la reports. Renderings for the tower depict a glass curtain wall–clad monolith anchored to the street by a low, single-story plinth containing retail and sidewalk seating. The tower’s base is topped along this commercial wing with an amenity level that is depicted as a rooftop garden and lounge. This level extends behind the tower into the center of the block, where parking and more terrace spaces are located. The building features a rounded corner that demarcates a cut-through walkway along the southern edge of the site and also features inset balconies along each facade. The tower is topped, according to the renderings, with a rooftop pool and a circular indoor lounge area. The project is slated for a booming quarter of L.A.’s downtown known as South Park. The area is currently ablaze with construction cranes, as the first of upwards of 20 residential and high-end hotel towers take shape in the areas surrounding the Los Angeles Convention Center and L.A. Live entertainment complexes just to the south of the 949 Hope Street site. The northern section of the neighborhood—where the proposed tower will be located—has seen a sharp increase in high- and mid-rise residential projects over the last few years, with many more on the way. The area was originally targeted for growth in the late 1980s—with the help of Halprin and developer Maguire Partners—who envisioned Grand-Hope park as the southern cap of a district-wide parks system that would connect residential areas with corporate office towers located several blocks to the north on Bunker Hill. Though many elements of that parks system were never implemented, Halprin’s designs for the bookend parks—Grand-Hope Park to the south and Maguire Gardens at the north—were built and currently function as urban oases amid the flurry of construction. Grand-Hope Park shares a site with the postmodern-style, Jerde-designed Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising from 1993 and is heavily used by neighborhood residents. There are concerns among park preservationists over whether the mature trees in Grand-Hope park might be singed by the light reflected from the many glass towers sprouting up in the area. Tellingly, representations of the park are mostly omitted in the newly-released renderings. The 949 Hope Street project is slated for completion sometime in 2020.
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Moving On Up

First renderings revealed for the Weingart Center's trio of Skid Row towers
The first images of the Weingart Center’s Downtown Los Angeles towers have been released by San Diego–based Joseph Wong Design Associates, and the supportive housing towers are shaping up to stand apart from their neighbors. Rising across from each other on 6th Street and wedged between San Pedro and Crocker streets, the two projects (three buildings total) could provide up to 1,000 units of affordable housing on Skid Row once complete. Wrapping around the Weingart Center’s headquarters at 556 San Pedro Street, the new complexes will help expand the Center’s mission of providing transitionary housing and long-term case management to the neighborhood’s homeless population. According to the Weingart Center’s website, the 210,000-square-foot first phase of the project at 554 S. San Pedro Street will be split between two buildings and offer 80 percent permanent supportive housing for the formerly homeless, and 20 percent for affordable housing. Besides the new 228 efficiency units and 50 one-bedroom units, renderings show several open-air green areas embedded throughout each tower for residents to enjoy along with accessible rooftop space. The first phase will also include a 6,000-square-foot multipurpose area, recreation and fitness facilities, and be built to an unspecified level of LEED certification. An 18 story U-shaped building that wraps around an interior courtyard is shown in the renderings, while the separate 12 story tower hasn’t been shown in the images released. Across the street at 600 S South Pedro Street is the 19-story second site. Projected to bring 303 units to the area, 298 of them set aside for very low income individuals, the tower will also incorporate 20,000 square feet of ground floor retail. Featuring a four story wrap-around glass curtain wall at the base and patterned with cladding similar to its nearby partner, the two towers are set to make a splash in the low-slung neighborhood when finished. While other dedicated low income housing buildings in the area have traditionally been of the less expensive wood frame variety and much shorter, the Weingart Center’s ambitious project is part of a growing trend in the supportive housing world. Skid Row Housing Trust, another human services organization in the area, has also filed plans for a 77,000-square-foot, 14-story development nearby. Chelsea Investment Corporation is developing the project, and estimated completion for the first phase is in spring 2021 with the exact phasing of each site unknown at this time.