As implied by its name, Confluence Park overlooks the meeting of San Pedro Creek and the San Antonio River in San Antonio, Texas. Located about three miles south of downtown, the park acts as a gateway for the historic Mission Reach section of the San Antonio River. The $13.7 million project includes an education center and extensive landscaping that illustrates the diverse biomes of Texas. But what most visitors will remember about the 3.5-acre park are the nearly 30-foot-tall concrete petals that emerge from the ground to form a sprawling overhead canopy. Twenty-two of these sculptural panels are clustered together to form a single, large, open-air pavilion. Another six are paired together to form three smaller gathering areas. In addition to providing relief from the South Texas sun, these panels are shaped so that when it rains, they channel water into an integrated system of rainwater collection, filtration, and dispersal. All of this reinforces the stated mission of the park, which is to act as a destination for recreation while teaching important lessons about environmental science and sustainability. To that end, the design team sought to create a composition of architectural and landscape elements that used the same kind of logic found in nature. Ball-Nogues Studio, a Los Angeles–based design practice, established the park’s conceptual master plan. From there, the design was developed in close collaboration with the landscape architect Rialto Studio, Lake|Flato Architects, and Matsys, a San Francisco–based design practice that specializes in the development of new approaches to architectural design and fabrication. That particular skill set was critical in the development of the park’s concrete. Given the structural gymnastics involved, the project’s structural engineer, Architectural Engineers Collaborative (AEC), became an integral part of the design team as well. Although petals of steel, fabric, and wood were all considered during the design process, concrete was ultimately selected for its durability and permanence. Even though the majority of funding for the project came from private donations, Confluence Park functions as a public park, and so vandalism and long-term resiliency were key considerations. Despite the apparent complexity of the assembled petals, the design only required three unique petal shapes. These three forms were refined digitally using Grasshopper and Rhino. The resulting computer files were then provided to Kreysler & Associates and fed to their large 5-axis CNC router at their factory in California. The resulting Styrofoam “positives” were then used to manufacture the fiberglass “negatives” that were shipped to San Antonio to be used as formwork for the petals. Each of the park’s 28 petals was cast on-site but not in place. Given their complex geometry, a portion of the petal had to be exposed during the pour. This resulted in two contrasting concrete textures: a smooth finish where the concrete was poured into the fiberglass form, and a broom finish where the concrete was left exposed. As with many other aspects of the project, a custom solution was required here, too. A special eight-inch broom was used to apply the finish consistently to the petal’s curved form and to emulate the flow of water down the petals. After the concrete had cured for several days, the petals were lifted into their final positions. As with any tilt-up concrete structure, this was the moment when the highest stresses would be placed upon the petals. Adding to the complexity of the erection process was the fact that the petals had to be assembled in pairs: neighboring petals were joined to one another with two steel pin connections to form a determinant structure. The result of all this effort is a unique landmark on the south side of San Antonio. Despite the weight of the concrete petals—individual petals weigh between 15 and 20 tons each—the resulting structure feels remarkably light. The space between individual petals contributes to this feeling of weightlessness, while acrylic lenses embedded in the concrete add a bit of playfulness to the overall composition. In addition to illustrating the possibilities of contemporary concrete construction, Confluence Park demonstrates what is possible when a highly collaborative interdisciplinary design team works with an educated client to create something truly unique. It is only fitting that a park built to celebrate the confluence of diverse bodies of water be created by a confluence of diverse design professionals. Pavilion Design Matsys Landscape Architect Rialto Studio Structural Engineer Architectural Eng. Collaborative MEP CNG Engineering, PLLC Lighting Designer Mazzetti Energy Consultants Positive Energy Waterproofing Consultant Acton Partners This article originally appeared in the July/August issue of Texas Architect magazine.
Posts tagged with "Landscape Architecture":
A new home for Rolex within Dallas’s Harwood District will mark the first project completed by Kengo Kuma in the southern United States. For Gabriel Barbier Mueller, founder of Harwood International and one of the largest private collectors of Japanese armor and artifacts, the project is a coming together of values for a group at the forefront of rethinking Dallas's Uptown area 30 years prior. The existing Rolex Tower neighboring the site was the first in redeveloping a neighborhood whose transformation was accelerated further with the development of the Dallas Arts District and nearby Klyde Warren Park. Kuma’s office and Harwood’s internal group, Harwood Design Factory, collaborated closely from inception through construction. Kuma creates a simplicity in form from the site, a high point within the Harwood District near the location where street grids in Dallas shift. In a nod to the Japanese castle metaphor of reaching toward the sky, Kuma and landscape architect Sadafumi Uchiyama turned to the 15th-generation stonemason Suminori Awata to construct a plinth upon which the seven-story volume would sit prominently among its nondescript neighbors. Awata implemented traditional techniques to design and construct a wall without the help of technical drawings. “Since there are no plans drawn for walls,” Awata explained, “I go to a quarry where I spend a day or two to walk around, memorizing the characteristics of each stone and figuring out where each stone will be set.” The stone wall is a highlight that is in harmony with the building and commands its own measure of respect through clear delineation and craft. The building is a twisting abstraction of Japanese architectural tradition on a reflective glass backdrop. The form is clear, and the structure carries the intention of the form upward from the stone plinth toward the sky. The details, however, appear challenging, as there are multiple points where the fins fail to negotiate the form cleanly. Reflections during the day obscure an interior volume that at night reveals spaces that leave something to be desired, primarily consisting of lab spaces that have been finished for function rather than aesthetics. The interior comes into one with the exterior form at the lobby level where the texture of the exterior is scaled down into more detailed wood fins, stone, and glass. The landscape is ever present, with views looking out toward reflecting pools and native plantings. Uchiyama’s gardens pair with labs on alternating floors where the form torques, providing green space in line with the Harwood District’s commitment to the fifth facade as a design element. The penthouse is capped with a double-height gathering space for employees behind the continuous screen of the facade. Finishes carry over from the base of the building, and a series of furnishings custom-designed by Kuma specifically for the project accentuate the space. In many ways the Rolex Building is the anti-Dallas because of its modest size and contextual design. As architecture, the composition is clear and to the point, commanding one to discover details and intricacies. Not all of these discoveries are deeply satisfying, but they still manage to provoke thoughts and conversations often absent from similar projects in the region. But on the whole, the Rolex Building is a welcome addition to Dallas that is worthy of a visit, and an example that developers should internalize.
The award-winning San Francisco Bay Area landscape architect Ron Herman has passed away. The University of California, Berkeley College of Environmental Design (CED) announced Herman’s passing in a post on its website earlier this week. Herman, an alumnus of the school, graduated in 1964 with a Bachelors in Landscape Architecture. The designer practiced in the Bay Area for over 35 years and created over 400 full-scale gardens during this time. Herman’s designs included some of the country’s largest and most intricate residential gardens, including Japanese garden-inspired designs for the 25-acre site surrounding the home of Silicon Valley billionaire Lawrence Ellison. Herman grew up in Hollywood, where his father owned a plant nursery. As a child, Herman helped his father install gardens at the homes of rarefied clients, including celebrities Phil Silvers and Steve Allen. After graduating from CED, Herman studied Japanese garden design at Kyoto University in Japan for three years. While there, Herman grew inspired by the tension between regimented and organic forms inherent in traditional Japanese garden design. Herman brought this sensibility back home, imbuing his works with a mix of formal and informal sequences of spaces and plantings. Like his father, Herman’s list of clients included a whos-who of celebrities and prominent individuals and companies, including the professional football player Joe Montana, Neil Young, and Ellison’s company, Oracle. Herman also designed the garden for the East Wing addition by I.M. Pei to the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. In a 2002 profile, Herman summed up his philosophy to SF Gate: “A successful garden doesn't show itself all at once...there needs to be an integration or relationship between indoors and out—such as a room that opens onto the garden."
Emerging Voices winner modus studio has nearly completed a floating treehouse in the Garvan Woodland Gardens of their native Arkansas. The twisting timber Tree House rises between the oak and pine trees of the Evans Children’s Adventure Garden and is designed both to mimic the surrounding woods as well as to draw children back into nature. A soft opening for the Tree House this Saturday will cap several years of construction. Garvan Woodland Gardens is the University of Arkansas’s 210-acre botanical garden, and one of only eight public woodland gardens in the country. Modus is a frequent collaborator with the university, having most recently completed the transformation of the school’s sculpture studio. The Tree House is the first of three proposed for the woods, and modus took design cues from nature to create an arboreal play space that doubles as an educational station where visitors can learn about how trees grow. As visitors follow a suspended catwalk through the woods and the foliage recedes, visitors are gradually confronted with the Tree House’s mass. The curved Tree House reaches two stories at one end and tapers to a child-sized window at the other. The curvilinear plan, combined with the timber ribs that make up the tree house’s open structure, creates a biomorphic shape that references the expansion of tree rings. The screen created by the gaps in the scaffolding regulates light, creates unique vantage points for visitors at different parts of the tree house, and allows the building to further blend into the forest. The Tree House is rife with other biophilic touches. A timber staircase allows children to descend to the Root Plaza below, where they can experience the foliage from ground-level (or ascend up to the canopy from a trail). Inside, modus used their in-house fabrication shop to build a steel screen reminiscent of a decaying leaf, capping the tree house’s larger end while still allowing views out to the forest. Slices from native trees, bark, and other teaching tools inside the treehouse build on what modus calls the “theme of dendrology, the study of trees and wooded plants” to drive programming. The privately funded, $1.8 million project will hold its “soft” opening to the public this weekend as the landscaping underneath and some interior components are not fully installed yet. A full grand opening is expected for the fall. AN will update this article to include completed photos of the Tree House after its opening on June 30.
After Saudi Arabia cut ties with and blockaded the adjacent peninsula of Qatar in May 2017, the Middle Eastern kingdom is reportedly looking to physically sever the nearby country from the mainland. According to the Makkah newspaper, five international firms have been invited to submit proposals, due Monday, to dig a 38-mile-long canal on the Saudi side of the border. Saudi Arabia will choose its winning firm in 90 days and begin work on the tentatively-titled “Salwa Channel” immediately after, with construction planned to take less than a year. If the canal is actually built, it would bridge the Persian Gulf with a 650-foot-wide, 130-foot-deep channel that would allow ships to pass through. This form of “weaponized landscape architecture” would turn Saudi Arabia’s eastern neighbor into a full-blown island. All of this is still in the planning stages, and, as the Washington Post speculates, plans for the $750 million canal could be a ploy to pressure Qatar psychologically. No final use for the channel has actually been proposed; there have been alternating reports that the new waterway could be used for tourism, a military base, or a dump for nuclear waste. As has also been pointed out, Saudi Arabia has already blocked Qatar’s only land route, and it’s not clear if adding any other physical barriers along an inaccessible stretch would do much to impact Qatar’s ability to move goods and people in and out of the country. Qatar itself had proposed building the same canal in years past, but ultimately decided against it over the high cost.
After years of planning and handwringing over fundraising, the first phase of Philadelphia’s own “High Line,” the transformation of the Reading Viaduct rail line, was opened to the public last Thursday. Although the Rail Park’s first spur is only a quarter mile long, the rail line will be twice as long and wide as New York’s High Line when fully built out. The first section of the linear park, located on the northern edge of Center City and designed by landscape architects Studio Bryan Hanes, reflects the neighborhood’s industrial past. Native plants and trees were planted on top of the viaduct’s steel arches, and remnants of the embedded rail track are woven throughout the zigzagging walkway. Riveted I-beams have been turned into seating, and structural steel beams are used to support the hanging benches. A timeline of the neighborhood and a historical list of the city’s industrial manufacturers have been cut into a weathered Cor-ten steel “history wall” that visitors can walk beside. Unlike New York’s High Line, the Rail Park is wide enough to include both dedicated bike trails and footpaths for pedestrians, creating new links to traditionally underserved neighborhoods when the three-mile-long park is complete. Construction on the $10.8 million elevated park was beset with delays. In planning since 2010, the project finally broke ground in October of 2016 after SEPTA, the site’s former owner, agreed to lease the rail spur to the nonprofit Center City District (CCD) during construction. Now that the section is finally open, ownership has been handed over to the City of Philadelphia, with maintenance and management split between the CCD, the nonprofit Friends of the Rail Park, and the city’s Department of Parks & Recreation. Funding for the Rail Park’s 25,000-square-foot first phase was raised in combination by the Friends of the Rail Park and through a $3.5 million Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant from the state government. According to the CCD, this section of the Rail Park will serve as a design proof-of-concept and fundraising tool for the rest of the viaduct’s development. No timeline or estimated construction dates have been given for the second and third phases.
We have to imagine a place before we can actually be there. So St. Louis–based artists and curators Gavin Kroeber, Tim Portlock, and Rebecca Wanzo invited their fellow citizens to imagine the urban future with “a two-day festival of art and ideas that explores the collisions of race, urbanism, and futurism, providing a platform for alternate visions of the St. Louis to come.” The name of the event, “Dwell in Other Futures,” comes from the novel Dhalgren by the Afrofuturist writer Samuel R. Delaney, who also served as the keynote speaker and underpinning force that bound together a number of the program’s participants. To open the event, Delaney recited a chapter from his most recent novel that bolstered the role that intimacy might play in how we understand our spaces. Held on April 27 and 28, the program included a collection of workshops and presentations, with special emphasis on performances. For example, the multidisciplinary artist Eric Ellingsen, along with his team of Tyvek-hazmat-suit-clad landscape architecture faculty and students from the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts, invited the public to join as they performed a choreographic ritual on an empty land parcel across the street from the Pulitzer Foundation. Inspired by the spray paint markings that often indicate underground utility lines, Ellingsen’s team challenged the audience to assume agency over the colored ground markings that make up our cities in order to speculate how infrastructure may connect us in more creative ways. Children and adults took charge of rolling paint applicators to inscribe the site with colorful lines while an overhead drone recorded the real-time mapmaking from a bird’s-eye view. Inside, artist Autumn Knight invited audience members to offer impromptu proposals for civic institutions as part of her La-A Consortium performance, positing playful yet bureaucratic titles such as “Shephanique Center for Literacy” and the “Jadavian Center for Creative Ecologies” as a starting point. By leveraging the power of intentional naming, Knight prompted the audience to consider how they might creatively impact the identities and activities of the organizations that constitute our society. The event closed with a bang as six different local participants delivered “Manifestos for a Future St. Louis.” These brief, bold, and highly choreographed proclamations required each participant to articulate a scenario about a possible future through whatever artistic means necessary. Architectural historian Michael Allen delivered a prescient soliloquy set to a Hollywood soundtrack, warning of a “non-topian” future that intensifies our troubled present, brimming with privatization and distrust of the public sphere. Maxi Glamour, the self-proclaimed “Demon Queen of Polka and Baklava” projected a nonbinary, gender-fluid future enacted by a spectacular drag performance. Social practice designer De Nichols closed the series with an optimistic call to action, imploring us to consider what parts of the status quo need to be destroyed in order to make space for “audacious” culture-makers and “fearless” justice-makers. What conclusions did the festival draw? Its participants proposed more questions than answers, implicating the audience every step of the way, but most assuredly, the celebratory collective voice proclaimed that the future will be black, the future will be queer, and the future city demands all of our emphatic participation.
Some might say adaptive reuse is for the birds—in which case, San Francisco–based Kuth Ranieri Architects might happen to agree. The office is currently working on an unexpected adaptive-reuse project in Suzhou, China—just outside Shanghai—with fellow Bay Area landscape architects TLS Landscape Architecture, with the aim of repurposing an aged amusement park at the foot of the iconic Lion Mountain into a central green for a new, technology-focused residential hub. For the Shishan Park project, TLS has designed a district-wide master plan focused on a new circular promenade surrounding the old central lake that once anchored the forgotten fun park. The development is carved into ten subdistricts, each anchored by iconic pavilions—also designed by Kuth Ranieri—and recreational spaces “capitalizing on the site’s natural and man-made lakes as well as the mountain’s historic significance and beauty,” according to the architects. Overall, TLS’s designs highlight 18 “poetic scenes” that visually connect occupants to the existing lake, nature zones, and views of the five distinct mountaintops that can be seen from the site. At the heart of the new urban area is the disused amusement park and its original metallic roller coaster, which Kuth Ranieri plans to convert into a new, 160,000-square-foot visual and functional center for the 182-acre development. Utilizing stainless steel mesh netting to create the outermost enclosure and wooden decking and steel platforms for new occupiable promenades, Kuth Ranieri reenvisions the dilapidated roller coaster as a superscaled aviary. The plan includes a circuitous “infinity walk” that takes occupants up and through the reused roller-coaster structure to perches above the treetops furnished with viewing platforms and an expansive sky deck. The complex can be entered from any one of three access points framed by glass-wrapped concrete parabolic arches that extend into the aviary as covered walkways. Within, the complex will also contain a ten-story circulation tower that can bring visitors up to the highest observation levels. Here, a wide staircase containing landings generous enough to host public programming will wrap the elevator core. The complex will also include a green roof–topped animal care facility. The metallic enclosure surrounding the aviary is inspired by traditional Chinese ink paintings and, more specifically, by representations of Lion Mountain in such artworks. The cascading, rounded geometries of the canopy are designed to evoke “a feeling of layered misty mountains,” according to Kuth Ranieri. The project is scheduled for completion in 2020.
The first part of phase 1 of the San Pedro Creek redevelopment in San Antonio, Texas, is now open to the public, and the waterway’s rejuvenation has been touted as a celebration of Latino culture in the city. San Antonio-based Muñoz and Company was tapped in 2015 to design the 2.2-mile-long restoration of what was then a concrete drainage ditch. The completion of phase 1.1, a 2,200-foot-long stretch of riverwalk christened San Pedro Creek Culture Park, marks just one part of a four-phase plan to revitalize the 2.2-mile-long creek. “As the Trump administration boasts about building a wall between us and our Mexican roots, San Pedro Creek will be a national symbol for Latino and Anglo communities actually coming together to celebrate their shared values, history, and future,” said Henry R. Muñoz, Principal in Charge at Muñoz and project lead. “This unveiling marks the start of San Pedro Creek’s restoration, turning this neglected creek into the ‘Latino High Line,’ which exemplifies the community’s rich heritage and stands for a national dialogue playing out in nearly every city across the country.” The opening of the first phase on May 5 coincided with the 300th anniversary of San Antonio and was commemorated by the unveiling of Rain from the Heavens, a public art installation cut on stainless steel panels depicting what the stars looked like that night in 1718. Also on display in the Cultural Park are murals that honor the local culture of San Antonio and surrounding Bexar County, by artists Adriana Garcia, Katie Pell, Alex Rubio, and Joe Lopez. San Pedro Creek once flowed freely through the city but has been deepened, rerouted, and sometimes covered entirely since the 1700s. Each area of the river will eventually have its own design and accompanying visual identity, but retain a focus on the local ecology, history of San Antonio, and the water itself. The San Pedro Creek Culture Park section is hemmed in by historic limestone walls, and features widened walkways, a new boardwalk overlook, benches, and new landscaping that uses indigenous aquatic plants and trees. The widening and deepening of the creek also boosted the waterway’s ability to sequester stormwater, in addition to the five new bioswales that were installed. Phase 1.2 of the project is under construction and set to finish in 2020.
Construction on the $30 million renovation of Tribeca’s Pier 26 is slated to start up this summer, and the Hudson River Park Trust and landscape architects OLIN have released a new batch of renderings of the project’s final design. The Hudson River Park Trust went before Community Board 1’s Waterfront, Parks & Resiliency Committee last Tuesday and revealed their finalized design for transforming the 790-foot-long concrete pier. While OLIN had released glimpses of the pier’s programming before (including a playground with two enormous sturgeon-shaped jungle gyms for kids to climb), the latest design incorporates many of the features that the local community had hoped for. A gentle grass lawn and more wildly-planted “forest” area with indigenous trees will guide visitors from the western edge of Hudson River Park, towards the two child-sized soccer fields in the middle of the pier. The fields will be covered in a blue net to stop stray balls from flying into the Hudson River, and surfaced with a plastic grid capable of draining. Further west will be a lounge deck with steps adjacent to scrubby, dune-like landscaping. OLIN has designed a tiered tidal pool planted with native flora at the pier’s westernmost tip, as well as a wooden esplanade that zigzags across the length of the pier. The walkway will rise 15 feet in the air at the tip of Pier 26, giving guests a full view of both New Jersey across the river, as well as the tide pool below. OLIN will be using Kebony for the path, an engineered sustainable softwood. Planned for the space between Pier 26 and 25 is the Estuarium, a two-story, Rafael Viñoly Architects-designed education center. Only $10 million of the center’s required $50 million has been raised so far. While no start date has been set for the Estuarium’s construction, it could imperil the pier’s 2020 opening date; the site chosen for the sturgeon playground will be used a staging area during the education center’s construction (sorry, giant metal fish fans). Construction on the underside of the pier will run from this summer until next year, followed by the work on the structure's topside.
Beating out a pool of over 80 international design teams, a team with Brooklyn-based landscape architects Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) and Sir David Adjaye have been chosen to transform the 22-acre West Riverfront Park in downtown Detroit. While the nonprofit Detroit RiverFront Conservancy has stressed that they were choosing a team, not a design, MVVA’s presented plan for the park would substantially change the waterfront. While the final four competitors for the park presented big names in landscape architecture, including James Corner Field Operations, Hood Design Studio and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, the diverse programming proposed by MVVA ultimately won out. The $50-million redevelopment will present all-ages options throughout the shore, including the carving out of a beach inside of a secluded cove. Now that the design team has been chosen, the MVVA-led team and Detroit RiverFront Conservancy will solicit input from the community to nail down the final design details. The Detroit RiverFront Conservancy will also fundraise to reach the rest of the $50 million goal in the meantime, meaning the construction and completion date for the project are uncertain at the time of writing. MVVA’s design for the riverfront park mixes active uses with more passive recreational areas and mingles the park’s natural systems with the city grid, similar to firm’s approach at Brooklyn Bridge Park. On the western side of the park, there will be a pool house and built up “performance hill,” complete with a clamshell-shaped amphitheater that will sit on a pier in the river. The circular “Sport House” will go up to the east, which from the renderings looks like it will float above a basketball court and feature a green roof on top. Moving east, a tall, artificial bluff will surround the park house and picnic grove. Perhaps the most prominent feature in the proposal is the aforementioned beach at the park’s center, which will be hemmed in by a stone jetty to the west and a fishing pier to the east, likely to prevent erosion. MVVA’s renderings show kayakers and beach-goers relaxing in the summer and skating on the frozen river in the winter, part of the Conservancy's vision for an all-year-round park. Capping off the eastern edge of the park is the enormous “Great Lakes Play Garden” for children, and “Evergreen Isle.” The stone island sits parallel to the playground in the river and is designed to break up ice floes and anchor ecological improvements by creating a shallow, biologically diverse channel. The shore of the entire park will be bounded by the Detroit Riverwalk. “It was love at first sight when I saw the Detroit River,” said Michael Van Valkenburgh in a press release. “I immediately recognized that this new park could draw the city to the water’s edge.” West Riverfront Park is bounded by Rosa Parks Boulevard to the west and Eighth Street to the east, a stretch that had been in private hands for nearly 100 years before the Conservancy purchased it in 2014. A $345,000 grant from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation’s “Livable Communities” focus area financed the West Riverfront Park Design Competition. MVVA’s team for the project, besides David Adjaye, will also include Utile and Mobility in Chain, and local partners LimnoTech (Ann Arbor), PEA (Detroit) and NTH Consultants (Northville).
When it comes to plazas and parks, Los Angeles–area landscape architects and designers have big plans for the future. The region is slowly warming up to the possibility of a more pedestrian-oriented urbanism, and, as a result, public spaces old and new are being imagined to suit that potential future. And while the region is adding plenty of new parks—the new Los Angeles State Historic Park, the ever-expanding Grand Park by Rios Clementi Hale Studios (RCH Studios), and the now-iconic Tongva Park by James Corner Field Operations come to mind—attention is now beginning to shift toward redefining the public plaza as it is practiced in L.A. One experiment comes from RCH Studio’s renovations to the Music Center plaza, originally designed by landscape architects Cornell, Bridgers, and Troller in association with Welton Becket and Associates in 1967. The stepped concrete plaza currently contains a Jacques Lipchitz–designed sculpture at its center, the art object surrounded by a maze of sunken courtyards, large planter boxes, and interactive fountains. RCH Studios plans to revamp the plaza to make the space more ADA-compliant while also bringing pedestrian energy from bustling Grand Avenue up into the plaza. The complex is on the same street as the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Broad Museum and sits on axis with Grand Park and City Hall, relationships that the designers wanted to emphasize and perfect over the course of their renovations. Bob Hale, partner at RCH Studios, said, “Creating open space in L.A. is a very different thing than doing so in other places,” explaining that one of the goals of the renovations was to make the plaza hospitable enough to function as a “fifth venue” to complement the four existing concert halls and performance spaces on the site. The proposed 50,000-square-foot plaza—scheduled to reopen in 2019—will be completely flat, punctuated at its corners by pavilions containing a full-service restaurant, a cafe, a bar, permanent public restrooms, and a welcome kiosk. The project will also involve replacing existing—and over-pruned—ficus trees with new Agonis Flexuosa trees that will help create a more comfortable plaza as their canopies fill out. In Culver City, SWA Principal Gerdo Aquino and his team are working to create a new central square for the city on top of what was once a dusty parking lot. The firm’s Culver Steps project—created in partnership with EYRC architects and Hackman Capital Partners—is part of a podium-style development that will bring a new 55,000-square-foot stepped plaza with generously landscaped open spaces to the city’s core. The ascendant plaza will sit above a new underground parking garage and will share ground floor areas with a bevy of storefronts. A so-called “grand staircase” is to run up the slope, flanked by pockets of seating areas. The summit of the jaggedly stepped promenade will contain restaurants on one side and a four-story office structure on another. In all, the superblock- size project will unite a mix of squares and promenades served by the commercial and office spaces. “Many American cities are reimagining their city centers, sometimes in unconventional locations and ways,” Aquino explained. “The city and the major stakeholders have always considered the plaza as something that could be ‘out of the box’ and not tied down to any one precedent.” Landscaping for the plaza is inspired by the Sierra Nevada Mountains and will contain more conventional plantings along its lowest levels, with increasingly showy and diverse species of shade trees and evergreens up the steps and at the top of the structure. Ultimately, the steps will open in 2019 with the aim of creating a bustling and interactive plaza “filled with as many trees as possible.”