Column: Design team led by Mia Lehrer picked for new downtown L.A. park


The park planned for the corner of 1st Street and Broadway, in the heart of the downtown Los Angeles Civic Center, has a design team. And a bigger budget.

A group led by landscape architecture firm Mia Lehrer & Associates has won a design competition for the 2-acre park, on the site of a former state office building adjacent to Grand Park at the foot of City Hall, city officials announced Thursday. They also upped the total budget for the park including site work and a contingency fund to $28 million. Most of that total will come from the city’s so-called Quimby funds, drawn from from real-estate development fees.



May 9, 11:20 a.m.: An earlier version of this story said that trees would be planted along Main Street. The correct street is Spring.

Lehrer’s office is collaborating on the park with the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, co-founded by architect Rem Koolhaas, and the design firm IDEO, along with a long list of other consultants. The winning proposal, which beat out finalists Eric Owen Moss, AECOM and the firm Brooks + Scarpa, calls for a canopy of oak and sycamore trees along its 1st Street and Spring Street edges, facing the Los Angeles Times and City Hall, with an open paved plaza at its center. A walkway would slice through the park on an axis connecting City Hall with a new federal courthouse designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill and under construction along 1st Street between Broadway and Hill Street.

A two-story restaurant building would anchor the northern corner of the park, where it meets a section of Grand Park along Broadway. The building would include a rooftop vegetable garden, and part of its lower floor would be scooped out to make way for wood-lined bleachers shaded by the top floor cantilevering out above. Revenue from the upscale restaurant would help fund maintenance and programming at the park.

Officials working on the project have made clear that the winning proposal isn’t final and that the city has focused on choosing a team more than a fixed design. The Lehrer team’s entry won points for its emphasis on shade, its balance of green space and hardscape and the ways in which the park would capture and treat storm water.

One overwrought element that should be reworked or scrapped altogether: a series of poles topped by metal flower-shaped forms that would capture solar energy while providing an additional bit of shade.

PERSHING SQUARE: Christopher Hawthorne on downtown’s other park-to-be »

The project, known as FAB Park, joins nearby Pershing Square on a list of major open spaces being remade as downtown Los Angeles becomes a residential center and invests more heavily its parks and public spaces. A design competition for Pershing Square, won last month by the French landscape firm Agence Ter, was organized by a nonprofit called Pershing Square Renew. It was directed in part by the office of City Councilman Jose Huizar and funded by the developer MacFarlane Partners.

The process to build FAB Park has by contrast been run in-house by the city’s Bureau of Engineering and Department of Recreation and Parks, along with Huizar as the councilman representing downtown.

Pershing Square Renew faces the task of raising the estimated $50-million budget for the Agence Ter design from public and private sources. The bulk of the FAB Park budget, even with the total revised upward, is secure in the form of Quimby fees.

Expected to be complete by 2019, FAB Park may wind up as the first design by Koolhaas’ firm to open in the city of Los Angeles. His office designed a Prada store in Beverly Hills that was finished in 2004 and has proposed a large mixed-use development in Santa Monica — as well as a new building for the Wilshire Boulevard Temple that (like the park) is expected to open in 2019. Koolhaas proposed a dramatic remaking of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art that was abandoned by the museum in 2002.

For the FAB design, the city restricted the competition to local offices on a pair of preapproved lists, one for architects and the other for landscape firms; Lehrer’s office, a prolific and well-connected one in Los Angeles, is on the landscape list and teamed with OMA and IDEO to put together a proposal. A good deal of the conceptual design work came from Benjamin Feldmann at Lehrer’s office and OMA’s Jason Long.

The effort to remake Pershing Square has some major built-in challenges, starting with the question of how to deal with the large ramps that connect to a parking structure beneath the park. The 1st and Broadway site has the advantage of being essentially flat and already cleared of the office building that once rose there and the sunken parking structure that served it.

The biggest uncertainties at FAB Park have to do with its relationship to Grand Park next door, which covers 12 acres on the hillside connecting City Hall and the Music Center. Operated by L.A. County, Grand Park was designed by Rios Clementi Hale Studios and opened in 2012.

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FAB Park, by contrast, is a city project, and it’s clear from the way the design competition has unfolded so far that the city wants it to have its own design personality. But the average user of the two parks will know little (and likely care even less) about the distinction between city and county property — and may wonder why the design of the green space at the foot of City Hall changes so dramatically as it nears the corner of 1st and Broadway.

Navigating this set of obstacles, which are more civic, political and aesthetic than infrastructural, is where the Lehrer team will earn its design fees. The goal will be to produce a park that maintains its own identity — and advances the discussion about contemporary urban design in Los Angeles, a city working in a range of ways to repair its long-neglected civic realm — while at the same time connecting fluidly to the larger green space next door.


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Op-Ed: Pershing Square’s new design is flat and simple – and that’s a good thing

Two downtown L.A. parks and the tricky task of designing them to best serve the city


12:30 p.m.: This article was updated to clarify that the new $28 million budget includes site work and a contingency fund.

This article originally published at 10:08 a.m.