|Present day Pershing Square|
Los Angeles, California
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Today we revisit the subject of Pershing Square in Downtown Los Angeles. To refresh your memories, in a post titled "Bold Visions For Pershing Square" (Jan 12, 2016), we talked about the design competition, sponsored by Pershing Square Renew (http://www.pershingsquarerenew.com), to remake this rather sad looking space into a bold and exciting public square. The competition was whittled down to four finalists: SWA and Morphosis; James Comer Field Operations with Frederick Fisher; Agence TER with SALT Landscape; wHY with Civitas. Today we are going to take a look at not only Pershing Square but also Grand Park-a park that Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne, in his article " Two downtown L.A. parks and the tricky task of designing them to best serve the city," serves as a cautionary tale for how best to serve the needs of its users in the bustling downtown area.
|Grand Park at night|
Rios Clementi Hale Studios
Los Angeles, California
|Grand Park with City Hall in the background|
|Rendering of Civic Center Park|
Case in point, the 1986 competition overseen by Janet Marie Smith's organization. The competition feature a starry panel of juror that included architect Charles Moore, landscape architect Garret Eckbo, and sculptor Robert Graham. The finalists included unknowns-New York architect Kevin Bone, whose entry tried to imitate the swooping arcs of the Southern California freeway-as well as well-known architect James Wines of SITES Projects, who recommended converted Pershing Square into "an undulating grid of plants and hardscape." Mr. Wines won the competition, but his design was never built. It was not all loved by the public and raising money proved to be a difficult task. According to Mr. Hawthorne, "His proposal-for what he called, in the flush of victory, a 'magic carpet' for L.A.-flew off and was never seen again,..."
|Pershing Square, 1994|
The ten member jury (including Council member Huizar, developer Wayne Ratkovich, and chair by Ms. Smith) has winnowed the list of ten semifinalist down to four finalists. The teams were given strict instructions to produce conceptual, not finished proposals, although one finalist the Paris landscape firm Agence Ter muscled its way into the final by ignoring that rule and producing a "appealingly straightforward, nearly complete design call for a tall, shade-giving canopy along the southern edge of the park."
|Agence Ter with SALT Landscape entry for Pershing Square|
The remaining finalists are an all-starchitect line up of designers: James Corner, the co-designer of the Highline in New York City and Frederick Fisher; landscape firm SWA Group and Morphosis; Kulapat Yantrasast of the local firm wHY and the landscape firm Civitas. The contest is anticipating a large budget for the park, well over the $11 million designated back in 1986. Once a winner is chosen, serious fundraising will begin. Christopher Hawthorne hopes that a significant amount will be set aside for maintenance and programming. The finalists are an extremely talented group and will present their design to the jury on April 27 and a public event scheduled the next day. It is entirely possible that the winning design will come find a dynamic way to stitch the park back into the downtown fabric.
|Pershing Square c.1925|
|Pershing Square Restoration Society|
A group calling itself the Pershing Square Restoration Society (restorepershingsquare.blogspot.com) is opposed to the current competition and is calling for the restoration of the 1910 Parkinson design. The park was lovely however, Mr. Hawthorne observes, "it would be impossible to re-create it without offering at least a tacit endorsement of the cultural politics that gave rise to it, which were animated to a large degree by a desire to whitewash the complicated racial history of early L.A...." More succinctly, trying to re-create the architecture of an early time almost always turns out Disney-esque. How about restoring and rehabilitating the strongest elements of the Legorreta configuration, while opening it up, making it more inviting, and removing some the larges flaws? Could be a fascinating exercise and, as Mr. Hawthorne writes, "...a concession that L.A. is overdue in coming fully to terms with its messy, flawed urban history, which is far more deeply layered than we typically let on.
|Los Angeles Times Building on 1st and Broadway, c.1926|
The finalists for the FAB-ulous competition Eric Owen Moss; landscape architect Mia Lehrer with the Office for Metropolitan Architecture; the multi-national design firm AECOM; and the architecture firm Brooks + Scarpa with Bay Area landscape architect Walter Hood. Christopher Hawthorne observes, "The designs themselves are all over the map, reflecting a competition brief from the city that asked each team to include ideas for a 'full-service destination' restaurant for 200 diners, plenty of open space and room for rotating art and architecture exhibits." When the winner is finally announced, according to L.A.'s chief deputy engineer Deborah Weintraub, "...it will be selecting not a proposal but a team to work with in fleshing out the final design.
|Pope of Broadway, 1985|
Eric Owen Moss's design is fully fleshed out and "the most powerfully strange, with a humpbacked white observation tower along 1st Street. It also shows perhaps the least room for improvement, having nearly reached the limits of its compellingly odd logic already." Mr. Hawthorne prefers the Leher-OMA or the Brooks + Scarpa and Hood entries-then start from scratch with the goal of a more calm, considered design that works well with Grand Park. While the tabla rasa approach may not be the best choice for Pershing Square, it just be the right way to approach the park at the feet of City Hall.