The Children's Institute, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization dedicated to transforming the lives of children exposed to adversity and poverty, broke ground on their new 20,000-square-foot Watts campus in South L.A. on January 30. The project was designed by Frank Gehry, who offered to work on the project pro bono. “It is our intent that the building will be comforting and welcoming," Gehry stated in a press release. "I hope this building will serve and inspire children and families for generations to come.” The project's boxy geometry, dynamic intersections, and use of corrugated metal recall the architect's earlier work throughout Los Angeles—such as the Norton Residence and Gemini G.E.L.—many of which were also designed and built on tight budgets. A formally separate lobby with a diamond-shaped skylight will usher visitors into an atrium-like space that will receive generous natural light from wraparound clerestory windows. The two-story building will house spaces for therapeutic programs and a variety of free amenities for children and families, including individual and group counseling as well as parenting workshops. The Watts Gang Task Force, which has developed a unique model of relationship-based policing to broker peace in the South Los Angeles gang community for over a decade, will also be based on the campus. “We want to be a true partner to the community,” said Martine Singer, president and CEO of the Children’s Institute, in a Youtube video promoting the new campus. “Having the community safety partnership as well as the Watts Gang Task Force in our building is not only a symbol of that but a real manifestation of what a partnership is.” The project has an estimated budget of $20 million and has been supported through private donations and partnerships with the Los Angeles Development Fund, Genesis L.A., and Wells Fargo to secure New Markets Tax Credit funding for the project. The site, on the corner of East 102nd Street and Success Avenue, was previously owned by the Children's Institute and had formerly served as the organization’s main parking lot. The new campus is currently under construction and is expected to be finished by late 2021.
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Los Angeles County has agreed to fund $4 million in stormwater improvement projects including a “green street” to capture and treat urban runoff in South L.A.’s Watts neighborhood. The funding comes as a result of a lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Los Angeles Waterkeeper against the Los Angeles County and the Los Angeles County Flood Control District from back in 2008. The lawsuit sought to hold the two entities liable for almost 500 violation of the local Clean Water Act permit along the watersheds for the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers. In a statement accompanying the ruling, Steve Fleischli, senior attorney and NRDC water program director, described the current lack of water treatment strategy as a wasted opportunity, saying, “For years, the urban slobber that’s picked up by rainwater as it flows into drains and waterways has been a real issue for Southern California – a source of pollution that’s also an underutilized supply of reusable water if it’s captured before it picks up all these pollutants.” The coming improvements will include $1.2 million in funding for residential stormwater retrofit projects designed to hold, filter, and store stormwater runoff before it becomes contaminated by street-borne pollutants in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County. The program will install so-called “distributed-infrastructure” measures like rain gardens, cisterns, and green roofs on residential sites in these areas to help achieve these goals. A major aspect of the initiative will focus on improving Watts’s 103rd Street corridor, a stretch of the city also known as “Charcoal Alley” that was heavily damaged in the 1965 Watts Uprising, via public right-of-way improvements. The strip will receive a series of upgrades aimed at filtering and sequestering stormwater runoff, as well, including the addition of bioswales, installing porous pavement, planting new street trees, including drought-tolerant and native landscaping, and other parkway improvements in an effort to filter water before it reaches the Los Angeles River. The L.A. River flows with a mix of treated wastewater and stormwater runoff and dumps directly into the Pacific Ocean. A design team has not been named for the projects, but the ruling shines a light on South L.A.’s relative dislocation from the larger L.A. River restoration measures currently underway and represents a positive shift in terms of design equity for the project.
In 2007, Martin Luther King Jr.–Harbor Hospital in South Los Angeles was shut down after failing a federal inspection. The facility opened to the public in 1972 and served Watts and Willowbrook in the wake of Watts Riots. The groundbreaking was in 1968, the year of the assassination of Dr. King, the hospital's namesake. But instead of fostering healing by bringing good medical care to the community, the hospital was plagued by a series of allegations of poor care and patient deaths. The closing, however, left residents without a full-service medical center. At the time the New York Times reported the tangle of racial politics that led to the demise—a kind of political neglect that still is all too familiar today. “It suffered what has often been called the soft bigotry of low expectations, because the Board of Supervisors were aware that the hospital was being nicknamed killer king by people who lived in the neighborhood and they continued to hide the ball,” Joe R. Hicks, vice president of Community Advocates, Inc., a Los Angeles research group, told the Times in 2007. Eight years later, healthcare has returned to the neighborhood. The Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital was officially dedicated in a ceremony led by County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas on August 7, just days before the fiftieth anniversary of the Watts Riots. Designed by HMC Architects, the 280,000 square foot, 120-bed facility began operation on July 14. The $210 million community hospital is adjacent to a multi-clinic outpatient center completed in June 2014 and part of a $650 million medical campus. A metal and blue-green glass entrance welcomes patients and visitors. In keeping with studies that show correlations between nature, health, and recovery, the new campus integrates landscape and accesses to natural environments with delighting and a warm color palette. Additionally, over one million dollars in public art projects, funded by the county, are installed throughout the hospital. “We wanted to create a beautiful, efficient hospital that would be as at home in Beverly Hills as in South Los Angeles,” said HMC Architects’ Kirk Rose “Too often economically challenged communities receive poor design, and we wanted to prove with this hospital that aesthetically pleasing, effective design doesn’t have to cost a fortune.”
We like to give Frank Gehry a hard time for his foibles, but he has actually undertaken a lot of pro bono work, including a Make It Right home in New Orleans and the Pasadena Playhouse and Jazz Bakery Theater in Los Angeles. His latest effort is in one of the most troubled neighborhoods in Los Angeles: Watts. Gehry Partners has agreed to design a new campus for the Childrens Institute (CII), a social services non-profit. They're collaborating with Inglewood firm (fer) Studio, who will be Executive Architect. The 2-acre, 50,000-square-foot campus, at 1522 East 102nd Street, will be located near the famed Watts Towers, by far the most recognizable structure in the area, and near what was once downtown Watts. While both teams have been working for about three months, the designs are not developed yet, (fer) Studio's Chris Mercier told AN. But the program will include a multi-purpose space, an art room, a kitchen, activity rooms, sports facilities, a tech lab, offices, counseling rooms, and observation spaces. "It will have a friendly, you're ready to relax atmosphere," said Mercier. The varied rooms will be scattered and integrated throughout the center and often connected to the outdoors, making people more comfortable going through counseling. The facility will allow the organization to expand its support services to over 5,000 families in the Watts area, said CII. CII president Nina Revoyr seems optimistic. "We're not going to build Disney Hall in the middle of Watts," she told the LA Times. "But that being said, the idea is that this will be something special." So many efforts to jumpstart the neighborhood have failed in the past, but Revoyr told the Times that the group has "seven figure commitments" for the project, so perhaps this one will move ahead?