Los Angeles’s alleys have a bad reputation. They’re perceived, rightly or wrongly, as dirty, dangerous places; havens for illicit activity. All that might change soon, thanks to a demonstration project planned for South Los Angeles' South Park neighborhood. Called the Avalon Green Alley Network Demonstration, the project aims to transform at least eight segments of alleyway into an inviting pedestrian thoroughfare. The Avalon project is an initiative of Parks for People—Los Angeles, a Trust for Public Land program that has been working toward a citywide green alleys program for four years, since the USC Center for Sustainable Cities released a report on Los Angeles’s alleys' potential as environmental and social resources. The report looked at green alleys programs in other large cities, including Chicago and Seattle, and concluded that LA’s 900 linear miles of alleys might be put to use solving another of the city’s major problems: a shortage of public space. What does it mean to “green” an alley? As Laura Ballock and Tori Kjer, both of Parks for People, explained, it’s more than just improving stormwater drainage or providing cafe seating. In South Park, alleys targeted for greening will receive one of two treatments. First-tier alleys will see asphalt pavement replaced with absorptive materials, to reduce stormwater runoff. They’ll also be planted with vegetation and fruit trees and accented with public art. The remaining alleys will be cleaned up and beautified with vines and artwork. One section of alley in the Avalon area will be transformed into a pedestrian mall, with vehicular access prohibited. As important as these physical changes to LA’s alleys may be, they won’t make a real difference unless the city’s residents embrace them. To that end, Parks for People has already done extensive outreach in South Park. According to Kjer, residents who hadn’t previously met their neighbors are working together, attending meetings and forming “green teams” to clean their alleys. On the design side, the demonstration project will include pedestrian-scale elements and other graphic cues to encourage regular use. “We want it to become something so that you don’t avoid alleys, but go down alleys because they look cool, and maybe are better than the sidewalk,” Ballock said. Parks for People chose South Los Angeles as the site of their green alley demonstration project because of the “possibility for real impact,” Kjer said. The area, which has been neglected in previous rounds of infrastructure improvements, is notoriously park-poor. In addition, its proximity to the Los Angeles River means that any reduction in stormwater runoff will aid the local ecology. “We could’ve chosen alleys in a more affluent part of the city, where there would be less barriers to the project. But for the Trust for Public Land, the mission is land for the people, Kjer said. We haven’t even put a shovel in the ground yet, but the work already paying off. It’s definitely worthwhile.”
Posts tagged with "Los Angeles":
Last Thursday in his keynote address to the Transit Oriented Los Angeles conference, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the creation of the "Great Streets Initiative." In an executive directive—his first since taking office on June 30—Garcetti outlined a program that "will focus on developing streets that activate the public realm, provide economic revitalization, and support great neighborhoods." Garcetti defined "great streets" as accessible and walkable, with landscaping, shade, larger sidewalks, improved storm water drainage and green features. Turning to aesthetics, Garcetti said simply: "design matters." Los Angeles' streets should make room for sculptures and murals, and not just functional components, he argued. The "Great Streets Working Group" will direct the initiative. Led by Garcetti's Deputy Mayor of City Services, the gathering will include representatives of Departments of Planning, Cultural Affairs, Transportation, and Economic & Workforce Development, plus the Department of Public Works's Bureaus of Engineering, Street Services, Street Lighting, and Sanitation. Their first task will be to develop a plan in which 40 streets are identified for upgrades.
The AIA Los Angeles has awarded its 2013 Gold Medal to Frederick Fisher. Founder and principal at Frederick Fisher & Partner Architects, Fisher has been practicing architecture in LA for more than 30 years. During the late 1970s he was part of the “L.A. School,” a group of architects including Thom Mayne, Frank Gehry, and Eric Owen Moss who staged exhibitions at Mayne’s in-home architecture gallery.Fisher worked in Gehry’s practice for several years, yet in his own designs Fisher eschews the mind-bending geometry for which Gehry and some of his other contemporaries are known. Instead, Fisher’s work is characterized by a combination of lightness and restraint. Many of Fisher's projects have been art museums or educational buildings. Adaptive-reuse cultural projects include the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in New York, the renovation of A. Quincy Jones’s The Barn, now the home of the Chora Council of Metabolic Studio, and the Sturt Haaga Gallery of Art at Descanso Gardens. Among Fisher's work for educational institutions are the Jane B. Eisner Middle School, housed in a building originally owned by the Southern California Telephone Company, and the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Center for Information Science and Technology at Caltech. Fisher also designed the Sunnylands Center and Gardens at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands and the Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica. Fisher will receive his award at the AIA Los Angeles Design Awards Gala on October 28th. Other presidential award winners include LA mayor Eric Garcetti, LACMA director Michael Govan, and artist James Turrell.
We at Eavesdrop don’t like to toot our own horn, but sometimes we can’t help ourselves. So we have to point out the scene for the late July opening of Never Built Los Angeles, co-curated by our very own Sam Lubell. The event looked more like a Hollywood club opening than an exhibition opening, with a line that snaked around the corner and angry would-be partygoers trying to convince the bouncer (a.k.a. the fire marshal) to let them in. We especially love the description by AN contributor Guy Horton, here writing for KCRW’s blog: “The line of black clothing wrapped around the corner and kept going, reaching all the way down to a stretch of houses where local residents nervously peeked out to see what was going on. Cars were pulling all sorts of questionable maneuvers on Wilshire and adjacent streets as distracted, anxious architects hustled for parking. People were walking in from blocks away as if drawn from some invisible force. At any moment I was expecting police helicopters to appear overhead. That would have made my night complete.”
What's in a name? It seems that every time we get used to an architect's name they go ahead and change it. We're still confused by the name Ennead Architects (formerly Polshek Partnership), and we can't get our heads around monikers like Rogers Stirk Harbour (formerly Richard Rogers Partnership) and Populous (formerly HOK Sport). Not to mention the headaches when firms like AECOM swallow the likes of Ellerbe Becket and EDAW. The latest on the new name train are some of LA's brightest firms. Daly Genik Architects is now Kevin Daly Architects. And wHY Architecture is now why design. The former came as a result of shuffled leadership—partners Kevin Daly and Chris Genik parted ways amicably. The latter is a branding change to broaden the firm's scope beyond architecture. Both have completely new web sites. And both, no doubt, will puzzle us all until we finally come to terms with the inevitability of change.
Peter Zumthor’s design for a new central building at LACMA has some experts concerned with its environmental effects. Critics including John Harris, chief curator of the National History Museum’s Page Museum, worry that the project could disrupt the La Brea tar pits, the same ecological features that inspired the building’s blob-like shape. At a meeting last month the county Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 to request a presentation from the Page Museum fleshing out the curator’s concerns. That presentation has not yet been scheduled, according to the Page Museum’s press office. If Harris’s hunch proves correct, the LACMA redesign would join a long list of local architectural-environmental disasters, stretching back decades, to the earliest days of European settlement. For instance, Los Angeles Aqueduct had drained Owens Lake by 1924, and in 1941 began diverting water from Mono Lake. Only last month did the city of Los Angeles and other parties including conservationists reached a tentative settlement that would repair some of the damage done to Mono Lake. So without further ado, below is our list of some of the most significant environmental catastrophes (and near-catastrophes) in LA history. We hope LACMA's issues will be addressed, and that it won't be added to this list: Beginning in the early twentieth century, Los Angeles’s 14,000 acres of wetlands were filled in to make way for tony residential developments like Marina del Rey, dedicated in 1965. An earlier suburban enclave, Surfridge (part of Playa del Rey, developed in 1921 by Dickinson & Gillespie Co.), wiped out 300 acres of sand dunes that were home to the El Segundo Blue Butterfly, an endangered species. When LAX was built in the early 1960s, the airport took over Surfridge and razed the homes there—but not to restore the dunes. Instead, airport authorities bought the neighborhood to appease residents complaining of noise pollution and fenced it off without touching the dunes. Restoration would take another three decades to initiate and is ongoing today. On March 24, 1985, a methane gas leak caused a massive explosion in a Ross Dress-For-Less Department store in the Wilshire-Fairfax District of Los Angeles. Though the cause of the explosion remains the subject of debate, two Stanford professors argued in a 1992 paper that it was a product of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a technique that is once again being debated in the city. In any case, the disaster prompted Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-CA) ban on tunneling under Wilshire Boulevard, which in turn rerouted the subway’s Red Line. In recent years, Playa Vista, a giant development located just south of Marina del Rey, has been the site of a high-profile contest between architecture and ecology. The original plan for Playa Vista, initiated by Howard Hughes’ heirs after his death, would have destroyed 94 percent of the Ballona wetlands’ remaining acreage. After the plan was approved, the Friends of Ballona Wetlands filed a lawsuit. Following a period of inaction, the development was sold to Maguire Thomas Partners in 1990. The new developers agreed to rededicate a portion of the land to conservation and pay millions for restoration. Rounding out the list is the infamous Belmont Learning Center, now known as the Edward R. Roybal Learning Center. The high school, the nation’s most expensive at over $400 million, was built on top of the Los Angeles City Oil Field. Concerns over methane gas below the site resulted in an almost 20-year delay in the building process. The revision of state and local policy regarding school construction, and the installation of a $17 million gas-mitigation system, allowed construction to go forward, with a completely new architectural plan. Operating the system costs the school, which finally opened in 2008, between $250,000 and $500,000 annually.
LAX finally opened its shiny new Tom Bradley terminal, designed by Fentress Architects, to quite a hullabaloo in July. The throngs who showed up for “Appreciation Days” got to enjoy shopping, music, and even free LAX keychains and knickknacks. But one of the most prominent elements was missing: the public art. Major pieces by Ball-Nogues, Pae White, and Mark Bradford were all delayed for what one participant called “a lack of sophistication on LAX’s part” in shepherding such work through. In other words, the officials didn’t get how to pull this kind of thing off. Well never fear, despite the bumps, contract disputes, and many miscues, the installations will begin opening in late September and continue through the end of the year. Better late than never.
In recent years several proposals have been floated for freeway cap parks in Los Angeles with barely any traction. Until now. On Friday LA City Council voted to have various city departments (including planning and engineering) partner with nonprofit Friends of Park 101 to raise funds for a park that would bridge the 101 Freeway, connecting Downtown's Civic Center with Olvera Street and Union Station. Possible grants could come from local, state, and federal sources. It's still a long way from happening, but this is a big deal. Friends of the Hollywood Central Park have created a function on their web site where users can design their own cap park, but if Park 101 gets some of these funds we could be building a park downtown for real.
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.
[ Editor's Note: The following is a reader-submitted comment from the AN Blog in response to the post, “Gehry Lets Loose on Los Angeles, Downtown Ambitions,” which cites an interview Frank Gehry did with Los Angeles Magazine. It appeared as a letter to the editor in a recent print edition, AN07_08.14.2013. Opinions expressed in letters to the editor do not necessarily reflect the opinions or sentiments of the newspaper. AN welcomes reader letters, which could appear in our regional print editions. To share your opinion, please email email@example.com. ] The only thing that makes Los Angeles unique is that so much of it was built during the auto era (albeit on an infrastructural framework established during the interurban rail era). Different parts of Los Angeles were developed in a manner that was identical to how other cities across North America were being developed at the same time. The same succession of transportation, construction, and development technologies created a downtown in Los Angeles that is nearly indistinguishable from portions of San Francisco, Chicago, and Manhattan. The fact that the city also has linear urban spaces, such as along Wilshire, does not make Los Angeles unique nor incompatible with the sort of transit-oriented, mixed-use urban living that has been thriving for over a decade in our major cities. “Linear Downtowns” such as Wilshire are not currently pedestrian “friendly.” The scale and velocity of such spaces have long been attuned to the auto. The city could use focus on retooling these areas to serve both motorists and pedestrians. The Purple line extension will be an important step. I do not think anyone is suggesting that we abandon the automobile or the spaces it has created, but Los Angeles’ downtown will continue to become a better place as more people choose the lifestyle that level of density affords. For decades, all development in Los Angeles was auto-reliant. Now a small portion of new development has been working to revitalize a late-19th/early-20th century urban downtown. This is long overdue, and serves a demand for urban living that has been nearly impossible to find in Southern California. Master architect or no, Gehry is wrong, and pedestrian-oriented urbanism continues to be on the rise. As a west-sider, and a member of a previous generation, he appears to hold the same anti-downtown prejudices outlined in Mike Davis’ City of Quartz. Randolph Ruiz Principal, AAA Architecture San Francisco
Finally. Los Angeles' City Council on Wednesday passed a new mural ordinance, legalizing murals on private buildings after a decade of banning them. Of course would-be public artists still have to go through an extensive permitting process, and pay a$60 fee, but if they're persistent they can finally go crazy. That is, as long as their murals don't contain commercial messages. "It’s a big victory and we’re thrilled," said Isabel Rojas-Williams, executive director of the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles. The group has been protecting the city's murals and muralists since 1987. "Despite the recent restrictions, the city has remained one of the country's mural capitals." Don't believe us? Behold a selection below of our favorite (finally-sanctioned) murals from around the City of Angels, courtesy of the Mural Conservancy. They range from political to historical to street art / graffiti, to, well...the undefinable.
On Tuesday, Los Angeles County's Board of Supervisors voted to approve Disney's huge new TV and film production facility on the Golden Oak Ranch near Santa Clarita. The project is being master planned by LA-based firm, Johnson Fain, and the 58-acre "Studios at the Ranch" will include more than 500,000 square feet of studios, sound stages, offices, writers and producers "bungalows" and other developments. According to site plans submitted to the county the project's sound stages will be located on its southern side, with offices to the north. It will be completed in seven phases. According to the LA Times, the area, nicknamed "Hollywood North" and "Hollywood's Backlot," is becoming increasingly popular for filming because of its low costs and open, diverse spaces. More than half a dozen local ranches now serve as popular filming locations. More pictures and documents for the newest kid on the block below.