Ricardo Legorreta’s much maligned design for Pershing Square is getting a makeover. The day after the Los Angeles City Council voted to support a public-private partnership to overhaul the five-acre urban park, councilmember José Huizar and Pershing Square Renew announced an international design competition geared to rethink the open space that now sits ingloriously on top of an underground parking garage. The design competition grew out of a task force established by Huizar, which members of the design, development, and policy communities, including Macarlane Partners, Gensler, NBBJ, JFM Development, LA Recreation & Parks, and the Urban Land Institute. MacFarlane Partners, which is developing 99,000 square-foot site overlooking the square, pledged $1 million pledge to seed Pershing Square Renew. The Department of Recreation and Parks earmarked $1 million for “immediate future for infrastructure improvements and amenities.” In 2013, AN published a series of renderings by Gensler of a reimagined Pershing Square. Rather than being an early entry into the contest, that design was a catalyst for recognizing the space’s potential. The firm is now the Urban Design Advisor to Pershing Square Renew and cannot participate in the competition. Remarks by Huizar at a city hall press conference emphasized the need for community input at every stage of the design process. The stakeholders in Downtown Los Angeles in 2015 are vastly different from 1992 when Legoretta’s project opened. The goal is to make the square more welcoming and accessible to all users. Because there are more residents and businesses downtown, the competition brief stresses that the park needs to accommodate a number of uses at any time of day or night. In early 2015, Project for Public Spaces hosted a series of outreach events and workshops, and a report of activities and programmatic vision is included as part of the competition brief materials. “The architecture doesn’t support use now,” said Huizar of Legorreta’s belltower and brightly colored walls. Frustrated at how “fortress-like” the existing park seems, he hopes instead for a town square. “Use informs design, not design informs use,” he noted. The brief and accompanying report suggests that proposed designs could incorporate surrounding roadways and sidewalks, with occasional street closures for events. One challenge for all design proposals is how to tackle the ramps leading into the parking structure; a hurdle that Gensler’s Brian Glodney described as “Like a moat.” The competition also raises some tough questions about the role of architecture in relationship to placemaking and community engagement. “Our intention is not to create a masterpiece, but to create a canvas that invites the community to create their own masterpieces in how they use the space,” said Eduardo Santana, executive director of Pershing Square Renew. The competition asks for letters of interest to be submitted this month, followed by a request for qualifications in October. A shortlist of firms will be asked to submit proposals to a jury. Finalists will present to the jury in February with a winner announced later that month. The renewed Pershing Square is planned to open in 2020.
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Los Angeles has for years been working to change its fire code to allow for skyscrapers without boring flat tops. It looks like there's been a breakthrough. LA Councilman Jose Huizar recently announced that his office and the LA Fire Department have issued "Policy No. 10," a step to reform the department's decades-old policy calling for flat rooflines for helicopter rescue. New technology has allowed firefighters better rescue access via reinforced elevator shafts (otherwise known as "hardened elevators") and stairwells, so helicopter rescue isn't as vital. So while buildings over 120-feet-tall (up from 75 feet in previous regulations) will still need helicopter landing areas, they won't take up the entire rooftop, leaving room for spires and other new forms. The policy, said Huizar, "will contribute to a more inspired and creative urban design and iconic skyline" for the city. The measure will have to be adapted to various types of buildings and scales moving forward. "The biggest challenge will be finding an evolving set of fire, life, safety measures that will allow us to adjust this policy for future buildings of varied size, height and traffic capacities while also meeting the current level of safety and protection," Huizar told AN. The first exception to the rule will be downtown's new 1,100-foot-tall Wilshire Grand hotel, whose architects, AC Martin, worked closely with the fire department (including several meetings with helicopter pilots, pointed out firm principal David Martin) to devise a modified design that worked for all parties.The slim roof—an extension of a sail-like facade–still does contain a helicopter landing area (officially called a "tactical approach"), but it is split into several levels. AC Martin is also working on a new high-rise residential development in South Park for developer Mack Urban that will include a "sculpted" top, according to Martin, who is again working closely with the Fire Department. "We want to advance the idea, rather than do what we did before," he said.
Last week Los Angeles councilman, Jose Huizar, announced the formation of a 21-member task force to help re-imagine Pershing Square, the beleaguered central park in the middle of downtown. The group includes local residents, design and architecture experts, business people, and government officials. Huizar said he hoped they could bring "a wide-range of ideas and perspectives to the discussion." They'll also have to develop an agenda and a timeline, and figure out how to fund the project. One possible funding source could be seed money from downtown developments' community benefits funds, according to Huizar's planning director, Tanner Blackman. To help get the discussion going (and shed light on the square's possibilities) Gensler shared its ideas for the square, developed over the last year has as part of its year-long company-wide "Town Square" research and design project. The ambitious goal: to "reconsider the role of public open space in cities." Their studies weighed a dizzying amount of data informing a possible redesign. Who knew there could be so many uses and designs for a park? And who knew that the current iteration could be so out of sync with what's around it. (Well actually, we did know that...) "It's a starting point," said Gensler principal Li Wen. "We'd love to test this model with the park's stakeholders," added associate Brian Glodney. That could be a while off, and there's no telling who will be selected to lead the eventual redesign. But regardless of what direction the square takes one thing is for sure: Gensler has a head start on the competition.