Wednesday, August 26, 2015


Los Angeles Convention Center
Hello Everyone:

It seems that Los Angeles Mayor Eric J. Garcetti has grands plans for the city.  First, the latest in city's effort to become the American bidder for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games. Today, an Los Angeles Times article reported that a proposed budget for the summer games which includes funds for facilities renovations and new construction.  Second, there is the ongoing saga of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art redesign and, the proposed Frank Gehry master planned Los Angeles River. Christopher Hawthorne recently reported in his recent Times article, "L.A. Convention Center's proposed design screams 'conventional thinking,'" the venerable Los Angeles Convention Center is being eyed for renovation.  The problem, according to Mr. Hawthorne, is the proposed renovation is, well, conventional.

Rendering of proposed Los Angeles Convention Center
  Christopher Hawthorne does not mince words, "Over the last couple of years, Plan A for expanding the Los Angeles Convention Center has been slowly morphing into Plan B. Unfortunately, the proposed design for the expansion, though there's still time to improve it, doesn't deserve much than a gentleman's C." The story of how Plan A morphed into a Plan B that, at best, deserves a gentleman's C began in 2010 when Los Angeles offered to build a football stadium as part of the downtown site.

The Anschutz Entertainment Group, the
Aerial view of proposed LACC redesign
Populous and HMC, architects
owners of Staples Center and L.A. Live made a deal with the city of Los Angeles build an NFL stadium on a part of the sprawling convention center site.  The attraction for City Hall-a promise from AEG to pay $315-million for upgrades to the complex.  Mr. Hawthorne writes, "Though the idea was hugely complicated politically as well as architecturally, it wasn't hard to understand why the city would at least pursue it.  With visions outside money windfall dancing in civic officials's head, the thought of horrendous Sunday football traffic was a minor inconvenience.  After all, the revenue would be enough to pay for the convention center makeover.  Really, the construction of a new multi-use facility-"where luxury suites would have doubled as meeting space for conventioneers, was another story.

Los Angeles Convention Center West Hall
Eventually, AEG and the NFL have gone their separate ways, when the league entered into serious discussions with smaller cities: Inglewood and Carson.  Now, the dream of a football team in Downtown Los Angeles have been dashed and convention center has room to expand in, a more conventional manner, along Figueroa Street, from 10 Freeway across Pico Boulevard along the northern edge right to the front door of L.A. Live.

On February 18, 2015, the Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering announced a design competition for the expansion and renovation of the LACC. (  From the field of eleven architecture firms, including AC Martin Inc. and LMN Architects; Gensler and Lehrer Architects, and the eventual winner HMC Architects and Populous.  Mr. Hawthorne notes, " Still, even without the stadium attached, this is a plum commission and a major civic project with a total budget of $470 million." The chosen design, for which the City Council will discuss in November, calls for a dramatic makeover of the West Hall, the portion of the complex nearest Staples Center and L.A. Live.  The proposed design will add a concourse spanning Pico Boulevard and redesign Gilbert Lindsay Plaza along Figueroa, named for Los Angeles's first African-America Council member.

Staples Center
The changes are expected to increase meeting and exhibition space from 870,000 to 1.28 square-feet.  There are also plans for adding a major 1,000-room hotel along Chick Hearn Court, right where the convention center becomes L.A. Live.  According to Christopher Hawthorne, "Those basic moves address-and will go a long way toward solving-four problems that have long plagued the convention center..."  The Convention Center, opened in 1971, was designed by Charles Luckman and was later expanded by James Ingo Freed and I.M. Pei.  By comparison to other American convention centers, "...ours is seen as outdated, inflexible, undersized and served by a severely limited supply of nearby hotel rooms."  Outdated, maybe.  Inflexible, perhaps.  Undersized?  Not by Blogger's own estimation.  However, it would be nice if Populous and HMC could something about designing a more efficient on-site parking layout.

L.A. Live
The architecture of the proposal, "as if to compensate for the sober event-management calculations around which it is organized," leans more toward the frenetic, think the Space Mountain ride at Disneyland.  Mr. Hawthorne criticizes the design gestures as "oversized and occasionally overwrought, its colors perma-bright." Blogger concurs with this opinion. From a historic preservation perspective, the proposed designed has fetishized saving one of the Freed-Pei glass entry towers, marking the corner of Figueroa and Pico, while demolishing the one near Staples.  Blogger supposes that having a landmark on an important corner makes sense in establishing a compass point, if you will.

Chick Hearn Court with statue

A 70,000-square foot open-air ballroom would replace the current lobby and meeting rooms in the West.  Above that would be another ballroom, 100,000 square-feet, wrapped mostly in glass.  Both would offer dramatic views. Lindsay Plaza would get a much needed energy boost with colorful new paving and plants by landscape architecture firm Olin. The open space would stretch toward L.A. Live and wind its way behind Staples.  The East and West halls, would be connected by a bridge-type building spanning Pico.  Where the complex buts up against the noisy 110 Freeway, a new sound wall with thick plantings would provide updates to drivers and reduce traffic noise spilling into the convention center.

Gilbert W. Lindsay Plaza
Los Angele Convention Center
Christopher Hawthorne suggests a couple of simple changes that would seriously improve the plan: "One is to move the hotel to the Figueroa edge of the site, since what that crucial urban corridor linking USC to the heart of downtown needs is more foot traffic and a more dynamic-and also simply taller-king of urbanism."  He does observe that this ample room to build a "slender hotel while also making Lindsay Plaza a more successful open space."

One of the questions Mr. Hawthorne poses is "what the convention center owes downtown and nearby neighborhoods, architecturally or otherwise."  The cynic says since AEG, in spite of losing the NFL plan secured a five-year contract to run the convention center, has some that the complex renovations will nicely complement the L.A. Live architecture, so that traffic between the sites becomes seamless.  Blogger thinks that frenetic Pixar movie architecture of the proposed design would complement Ginza-at-night architecture of L.A. Live (Blogger's own description).

Northbound on Pico Boulevard and Figueroa Street
The way the process has unfolded, specifically the placement of the hotel and the way the rooftop ballroom is turned away from the Figueroa Street access toward L.A. Live, facilitates this seamless more than hinder it.  If there is any design difference between the proposed convention center design and L.A. Live in palette, there is a similarity in style, tone, and a general aversion to subtlety.  Mr. Hawthorne suggests, "...another goal should be to turn down the volume on both the architecture and landscape architecture of the winning proposal.  The architecture of the expanded West Hall, for instance could be significantly edited as the design is refined, its stack of folds thinned, its collection of bends and kinks streamlined."  Blogger concurs, the less visual clutter, the better.

Los Angeles Convention Center East Hall
Christopher Hawthorne also suggests "A less caffeinated plan for Lindsay Plaza would also help a treatment of Pico that didn't suggest that the street was being removed from the city grid..."  Conventioneers may come and go but the rest of us have to look at it everyday of the week.  Further, Mr. Hawthorne also ponders the question that City Council and other with have to ask, "...whether these changes would salvage the winning plan or merely make it less disappointing."  In greater sense, results of the design competition for the Convention Center is yet another reminder that Los Angeles needs to find a way to broaden the field of firms (and design philosophies).  Mr. Hawthorne cites the example of Santa Monica, "a much smaller city, has shown far more ambition in selecting architects for civic projects, choosing not just well-known international names...but also talented local firms like Koning Eizenberg and Kevin Daly Architects." This from the man who is (was) Peter Zumthor's head cheerleader.  Blogger does not have a short memory.

McCormick Place Grand Concourse
Los Angeles Convention Center
Christopher Hawthorne observes, "In certain ways the flaws of the winning design aren't surprising.  Despite some talk of new approaches, like a distributed-conference model in which events are scattered among several venues in a given city, convention architecture remains hidebound."

The stakes in this case are high not just for downtown but for the entire city and county of Los Angeles.  Instead of relying on new construction, the convention center's additional square footage will be woven into and on top the existing mid-century buildings.  Mr. Hawthorne observes, "This more and more the kind of condition architects face in L.A., a site where what's required, rather than some original or boldly eye-catching state of purpose, is a sustained, strategic effort to rehabilitate, re-clad, or even redeem older buildings in a languishing or under-performing corner of the city."

Los Angeles Convention Center interior
In 1989, James Ingo Freed made this statement,

Convention centers seldom make a profit in their own right...Essentially they are architectural machines designed to generate business for the city.

This is still true.  Nevertheless, as the city runs out of empty land and tries to revive its long ignored civic realm, it no longer has the luxury of considering a project of this scale as solely as a generator of tourist revenue or economic development.  Christopher Hawthorne writes, "We have to consider what it means for public space, neighborhood character and -as a horizontal city turns ambivalently more vertical-the shape and personality of the skyline as well."  The machine needs to function at a higher capacity.

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