“This is not a master plan,” said Omar Brownson, executive director of the Los Angeles River Revitalization Corporation (LARRC) at an event to introduce members of the press to the work underway by Gehry Partners on the Los Angeles River. The news earlier this month that Frank Gehry was spearheading a new master plan for the river drew surprised and mixed responses from design, development, and landscape communities near and far. Gehry was not in attendance at the press event, hosted at 100 Years Studio in Downtown Los Angeles, due to recent back surgery. Instead, partners Tensho Takemori and Anand Devarajan presented a series of boards documenting the beginning phases of a study, which Brownson suggested would take 3–6 months and would be supported by public and private funding. Specific private partnerships were kept under wraps. Fifty-one miles—the length of the entire L.A. River—was reiterated again and again. The figure acted as shorthand for an all-inclusive vision for the redevelopment and the identity of the waterway. Representatives from Gehry Partners’ full team were present: landscape architects Olin, Geosyntec, and 270 Strategies, the community engagement firm that got its start doing grassroots work on the Obama campaign. The last, underscores the scope and challenge of working with the river's diverse group of institutional, governmental, and individual stakeholders. The boards presented to reporters were preliminary strategies for tackling the whole river, and in parts seemed thin. Gehry Partners has conceptualized the river as a series of “layers,” a term familiar to anyone who uses drafting or mapping software, but at bit jargony for the public. These include: flood control, water recharge, water quality, ecosystems and habitat, parks and open space, land use, stakeholders, public health, transportation, and arts and culture. Presently, the team is continuing to review the multiple reports and master plans from Alternative 20 to work by the Arid Lands Institute to documents from the DWP and Department of Sanitation, with the hope of codifying the wealth of already completed research on the river from Canoga Park to Long Beach. Much of this data is in GIS form, but the team is also working with a beta 2-D model from Army Corps of Engineer. Long term, however, Gehry Partners is developing a 3-D model in Trimble of the whole L.A. River, which should be available for public interface. According to Takemori, the company used a LIDAR unit to map close to seventy percent of the hard-bottomed sections of the channel. Soft bottom sections in Elysian Valley and Sawtelle will require more on site documentation. Devarajan suggested that the comprehensive map would help identify opportunities to “solve multiple problems with one intervention.” A question about who would design these interventions or what the overall design of the river would look like left the architects a little flummoxed, who noted that Gehry Partners has no desire as a firm to design the whole river. Brownson hedged that there might be a couple select projects. Most of the designs on view were initial screen shots of what the architects called the L.A. River Media Platform, a public, interactive website to host a centralized database of river basin materials, including the eventual 3-D model. Given the scale and scope of such a comprehensive digital effort, it is no wonder that the design firm selected is named Prophet.
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Frank Gehry must have a green thumb. First he snags the Los Angeles River and now Townscape Partners has released renderings and a model of the $300 million development on the site of the Garden of Allah, a former Mediterranean hotel rich with bohemian lore on the Sunset Strip. But what exactly is he growing? “It was all white, the Garden of Allah. It was low rise, a lot of incense burning, and people in flowing gowns,” Gehry recalled to Architectural Record. The new project replaces a strip mall and the design shows a typically Gehry Partners scheme: buildings clustered around a plaza. The firm used a similar strategy on a small scale with the 1984 Edgemar development in Santa Monica and on a grand scale with the proposed designs for Parcel Q across from Disney Hall. Gehry’s compositional jumble of mixed-use development adds up to 333,600 square feet, with 249 residential units and retail spaces. Two residential towers—one 11-stories along Crescent Heights Boulevard and one 15-stories—flank the glassy, mall-esque central building, which will feature shops, cafes, and restaurants, topped by penthouses. According to Record, the design is meant to be responsive to the scale of the street and partner Anand Devarajan was mindful about making the site feel “porous.” This need for approachability may be in response to a group called Save Sunset Boulevard, which is fighting to block the project. In March, AN reported that anti-development lawyer Robert Silverstein, objected to “the project’s potential to add to congestion, dwarf local historic buildings, block views, and waste water and other resources.” Townscape Partners plans to submit an Environmental Impact Review in the near future, with the hopes of breaking ground in winter 2016/17. (You can read the Draft Environmental Impact Report (PDF), here.) Update: After seeing the new Gehry designs, the folks at Save Sunset Boulevard have had a change of heart. In a blog post on their website, Andrew Macpherson wrote: "As one would expect Frank Gehry has transformed the project from something that looked like an airport hotel into a landmark design. That Townscape listened to the voices of the neighborhood and brought in a great architect gives me great hope that they will continue to address our other concerns."