I love going to Downtown Los Angeles. It’s changed. A lot. And what a fantastic way to celebrate the AIA/LA Design Awards: down on Broadway, choreographed by the Awards Committee to triangulate the historic Million Dollar Theater, the iconic Bradbury Building, and the revamped Grand Central Market for the closing party. In fact, it was so well-choreographed that it was difficult to pull people from the Bradbury (all those fantastic wood, iron, and marble details were lit up in the vertigo-inducing atrium like some movie set) to the actual theater and get them in their seats for the awards presentation. That was the vibe. It was a good time, spilling and tripping out into the street from one venue to the next.
The Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering’s competition for a $350 million expansion and renovation of the LA Convention Center has been narrowed down to three final teams. And they are: AC Martin/LMN, Gensler/Lehrer Architects, and HMC/Populous. According to the project’s Task Order Solicitation (PDF), the teams will each receive $200,000 to “develop and present conceptual designs,” including models, renderings, plans, cost estimates, phasing plans, etc. Designs are due on December 8.
Word has it that Art Center, which seems to already own all of Downtown Pasadena, has just bought the area’s massive Jacobs Engineering Building. Also on the move, USC Dean Qingyun Ma has relocated his firm’s offices to none other than Downtown LA’s Bradbury Building. How’s that for pressure? And we’ve learned of the initiation beverage of our favorite architecture-related women’s drinking and discussion group: Denise Scotch Brown. What group would Venturi inspire? We shudder to think… Something about Vermouth?
Another symbol of downtown Los Angeles’ transformation is the ongoing renovation and rebranding of the Spring Arcade Building. Modeled after the great Beaux Arts arcades of Europe, the space has long been a grubby home for non-distinct shops. The Arcade—actually two 12-story towers connected by the skylit, glass roofed, three-level arcade—was built in 1924 by architects Kenneth McDonald and Maurice Couchot. With its Spanish Baroque entryway, it originally contained 61 shops, and later added a Venetian-style bridge across its center. It now contains space for 21 shops and restaurants and still contains the landmark KRKD radio towers on its roof.
Some people say Los Angeles is run by the entertainment business, but starting this Thursday the city will belong to artists and architects. Well downtown will at least. As part of the first-ever Skyline Festival (February 13-22), local designers will be mounting ten installations within a 10-block radius in the city center. The event is sponsored by LA-based LERATA, which stands for Laboratory for Experimentation and Research in Art, Technology, and Architecture.
Speaking of zombies, two of Downtown LA’s most long-stalled projects appear to be rising from the dead. The mixed-use project revolving around Julia Morgan’s beautiful Herald Examiner Building on Broadway is apparently finally getting underway, now developed by Forest City, and no longer designed by Morphosis. The designer has yet to be revealed.
Maybe it’s because AN moved our West Coast offices here? Or maybe (more likely) there’s finally a critical mass of talent, clients, and opportunity? Either way, it seems like Downtown Los Angeles is becoming the place for architecture and engineering firms these days.
Recent moves there include Gensler, SOM, SAA, LeanArch, SDA, Freeland Buck, Nous, MADA, and Ahbe Landscape Architects, to name a few. Now these firms are being joined by two engineering giants: Arup and Buro Happold.
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.
Writer Anne Taylor Fleming recently interviewed Frank Gehry for Los Angeles Magazine, getting a glimpse into what the architect thinks about Los Angeles and the meaning of his work there. Gehry tells Fleming about some of the missed planning and architectural opportunities that continue to challenge the city, including the push to make a bona fide downtown, which he believes stems from clinging to old ideas about what a city should be.