Universal Studios, Hollywood, California
In 1999, architect Jon Jerde casually told Wired magazine, The public sector stopped making public space a long time ago. Jon Jerde, who passed away in February, was best known for designing public spaces that were motivated by this idea. CityWalk at Universal Studios Hollywood is one such example. CityWalk is a privatized, outdoor, visually chaotic streetscape dressed in "neon-lit postmodernism, that leads from several large parking garages past restaurants, cafes, trinket shops and a multiplex to the amusement's park's front gates." CityWalk was completed in 1993, a year after the Rodeny King verdict touched off days of destructive rioting and the Walt Disney Concert Hall building initiative was beginning to stall. "A little more than two decades late, there is something quaintly fatalistic about Jerde's attitude," writes Christopher Hawthorne in his article, "Los Angeles public space is rambunctious again; let's dress it properly." Fatalistic, not fatal, as Los Angeles's public spaces are showing signs of good health.
Santa Monica, California
John B. and Donald Parkinson 1939
Los Angeles, California
|Sunset Triangle Plaza|
Silver Lake, California
Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times
The Department of Transportation had early success and garnered a lot of attention with the Sunset Triangle Plaza, which in 2012, shut down a section of Griffith Park Boulevard, where it meets Sunset Boulevard, (a very busy intersection) to automobile traffic. The sound of air being sucked through teeth. The architecture firm Rios Clementi Hale Studio "laid a green polka-dot pattern on the pavement, extending what had been a small existing park to the east and creating a photogenic center of urban energy in the neighborhood." Rios Clementi Hale borrowed former New York City transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan's strategy, designating the plaza a temporary project to bypass red tape. The budget was a paltry $25,000. The Sunset Triangle Plaza became a permanent open space-"a pedestrian mall, to mall state law-overseen jointly by the city and the Silver Lake Improvement Assn."
Rios Clementi Hale did not apologize (or make any pretense of apologizing) for "its lo-fi slapdash quality." The now ubiquitous polka-dot has been replicated, in a cut and paste manner with minor changes, in other People St plaza. An alley off Lankershim Boulevard, in North Hollywood, features the green polka-dots under tables and chairs. A similar park in Pacoima replaces the polka-dots with a leaf pattern.
|Leimert Park Village Plaza|
Leimert Park, Los Angeles, California
|Los Angeles Civic Center|
Los Angeles's Civic Center another place where a more carefully considered design is needed. The city of Los Angeles has plans to extend Grand Park toward the south that will include a parcel of land at 1st and Broadway, across from City Hall and the Los Angeles Times building. To date, no plan details have been released. In 2000, the city intended to build a civic park on the former Caltrans site (1st, Spring, Main, and 2nd streets), across from City Hall. However, the Los Angeles Police Department decided that it would be better suited for its new headquarters. Redemption for this missed opportunity is at hand.
|Grand Park at night|
Rios Clementi Hale Studio
|Universal Studios CityWalk|
Los Angeles, California
Christopher Hawthorne returns to CityWalk as an example of this philosophy. He writes, "CityWalk, as a product of that philosophy, still has an undeniable energy. (Herbert Muschamp was right when he wrote in 1993 in the New York Times that Jerde's design was too rich a subject to toss away in a snit...) Jon Jerde also assumed a cynical about Los Angeles: "that the city's public realm was not just in trouble but beyond saving."
In truth, Leimert Park makes clear the fact that Los Angeles has a rich history of exciting prewar public design. This wonderful legacy was clouded by the emphasis on the privatization of public space in the postwar era. CityWalk, sitting atop a hill removed from the unruly masses, is a production of this policy. Now, Los Angeles is ready to reclaim the public sphere. The key to successfully repairing and reclaiming public space is, according to Mr. Hawthorne, "...to realize that many of the parks and plazas we're adding are both products of contemporary culture and strategies for rediscovering what came before (or extending what's nearby). Their design should reflect that; the disarray, instead of an excuse for abandoning the public realm, can be an inspiration for reconstructing it."
What Christopher Hawthorne is getting at is, instead of just cut and pasting design elements or simply pastisching period architecture, it is time for Los Angeles to take a bolder more innovative approach to public space. Modern day Los Angeles is layered messy place (something a certain Swiss architect does not understand) and instead of sanitizing the public realm and removing it from the chaos, the architecture should be inspired and revel in it. The challenge will be to take the disarray and make it something coherent.