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Stalled California housing bill could give architects chance to redesign the state’s cities
It’s not often that Los Angeles moves to demolish one of its 1,158 Historic-Cultural Monuments (HCM), a list of relics that includes Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House, and three of the city’s majestic Moreton Bay Fig trees. But if developers Townscape Partners had their way, their Gehry Partners–designed 8150 Sunset project could do just that.
The controversial three-tower 8150 Sunset development aims to bring 229 apartments—including 38 low-income homes—and 60,000 square feet of commercial programming to the site of the Lytton Savings bank, a commercial structure with a folded concrete roof designed by local architect Kurt Meyer in 1960, an advocate for architectural preservation in L.A.
Designated HCM no. 1137 on the HCM list, Lytton Savings was recognized in 2016 after Gehry’s project was initially proposed. If demolished, it could be the first time a city monument is intentionally destroyed in 27 years, following the demolition of the A. H. Judson Estate—HCM no. 437—in 1992. The site of the Judson Estate, a mansion designed by George H. Wyman, the architect of L.A.’s Bradbury Building, remains empty to this day. In 1985, the deliciously gaudy Philharmonic Auditorium—HCM #61—in Downtown Los Angeles was also reduced to rubble and remained vacant until 2017.
This troubling legacy haunts Steven Luftman and Keith Nakata, two preservationists fighting to save Lytton Savings. They have been trying to work out a way to relocate the structure, though a new site and funds to relocate the 180-foot-long building have yet to materialize.
“It's a long shot, but it's important to make a try,” Luftman explained while highlighting the lengthy and complicated effort, adding, “The biggest obstacle to moving it is the building’s sheer size.” A recent 180-day grace period to create a plan to move the building expired on April 30, clearing the way for the developers to seek a demolition permit.
Like many buildings in Los Angeles, Lytton Savings has a hotly contested history that goes back to its prior incarnations. The structure was built atop the site of the former Gardens of Allah, a collection of bucolic hotel villas frequented by famous personalities, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Greta Garbo, and Ronald Reagan.
Frank Gehry, however, has no nostalgia for Meyer’s bank. “I came to L.A. when the Gardens of Allah were still there and was witness to [Bart Lytton] tearing them down,” Gehry said. “The way it was done was ruthless.”
Gehry explained that he was bothered by “the history of [how Lytton Savings] got there” and that he “didn't feel compelled to fight to keep it,” adding, “I offered to live with it, but the client did not want to.”
“Four of my buildings have been torn down without anyone asking,” Gehry added. “It’s kind of a better way to have it happen.”
For Better or Wearstler
Kelly Wearstler helps turn 1920s building into Santa Monica Proper Hotel
Although the Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) has been in business for decades and keeps a steadily growing constellation of offices around the globe, the firm has, until recently, had a relatively modest profile on the American West Coast.
But things are changing. As West Coast cities pursue new building efforts—including new neighborhoods, ecologically sensitive public parks, and experiments in multiuse complexes—OMA’s brand of frank intellectualism has slowly found a preliminary foothold in California.
The firm’s expanding Golden State presence includes a recently completed urban master plan for Facebook’s Willowbrook campus in Menlo Park, a residential condominium tower in San Francisco, as well as a trio of inventive projects in Los Angeles. Over the next few years, these projects are poised to join the Seattle Central Library and the Prada Epicenter Los Angeles, both from 2004, OMA’s only completed West Coast projects to date.
The latest westward push represents an ascendant energy emanating from the firm’s New York office, where OMA partners Jason Long and Shohei Shigematsu lead many dynamic projects taking shape across the continent and in Japan. When asked if a new California outpost was in the works for OMA, Shigematsu replied, “It’s always been a dream of ours,” before adding that current conditions were favorable but not exactly right for a potential OMA West branch. “Maybe if we get more projects out here.”
First and Broadway Park (FAB Park)
Also created in collaboration with Studio-MLA, the new First and Broadway Park in Los Angeles is set to contain a playful 100,000-square-foot retail, food, and cultural programming pavilion that anchors the ecologically sensitive park. The pavilion will be capped with an edible rooftop garden and a dining terrace that overlooks L.A.’s City Hall.
Along the ground, the park will be wrapped with ribbons of bench seating, elements fashioned to create interlocking outdoor rooms and plazas surrounded by native oak and sycamore trees. Water-absorbing landscapes around the seating areas are designed to harvest and retain rainwater while solar collection and a “Golden California” landscape lend the project its ecological bona fides.
The Avery (Transbay Block 8)
Related California’s crenelated 575-foot tower, known as The Avery, is part of a larger development created in conjunction with Fougeron Architecture for a blank site in downtown San Francisco’s bustling Transbay District.
For the project, the designers have carved a generous paseo through the buildable envelope for the site, creating a new retail and amenity plaza while also lending a tapered look to the 55-story tower. The gesture animates views for a collection of condominiums, market-rate apartments, and affordable housing units while also bringing sunlight down into the paseo and to the mid-rise block designed by Fougeron. Currently under construction, the tower is expected to open in 2019.
Audrey Irmas Pavilion
The Audrey Irmas Pavilion is the firm’s first cultural and religious project in the region. The trapezoidal building shares a site with the Wilshire Boulevard Temple and is made up of three interlocking volumes that connect to the outdoors via a sunken rooftop garden designed by landscape architecture firm Studio-MLA. An arched portal connects to a shared breezeway between the pavilion and the temple, which is framed by the leaning pavilion. The latter was designed with a pronounced slant both out of deference to historical structure and to illuminate the courtyard.
Referencing unbuilt proposals for Universal City and the L.A. County Museum of Art, Rem Koolhaas, OMA cofounder, said, “[The Pavilion] is part of a very consistent effort to do things here. It’s exciting if one thing happens to succeed, because architecture is a very complex profession where maybe a quarter of all attempts get anywhere.”
The Plaza at Santa Monica
Shigematsu explains that one concern driving the firm’s California projects involves delving into the region’s rich history of indoor-outdoor living. The approach is fully on display in The Plaza at Santa Monica, a 500,000-square-foot staggered mass of interlocking buildings intended to create a new mix of public outdoor spaces.
With a cultural venue embedded in the heart of the complex and ancillary indoor and outdoor public spaces laid out across building terraces, the complex aims for a unique take on the regional indoor-outdoor typology. The building is set to contain offices, a 225-suite hotel, as well as a market hall and public ice-skating rink.