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Exclusive First Look at LA’s Civic Park: Will It Create a Center for the City?

A 12-acre park in downtown could be Los Angeles’s front lawn.

Exclusive First Look at LA’s Civic Park: Will It Create a Center for the City?

Even with its miles of beaches and mountain ranges within city limits, Los Angeles ranks dead-last among major urban areas in green space. Downtown Los Angeles, an area struggling to draw residents to its redeveloped blocks, is particularly park-poor. Civic Park is a $56 million undertaking that will not only blanket a high-traffic area of downtown with green, it may also provide a physical center to the famously sprawling city. We got a preview of the design, which Rios Clementi Hale Studios will present at the groundbreaking ceremony tomorrow.

Once part of the indefinitely shelved Grand Avenue plan, which is supposed to include some Frank Gehry-designed skyscrapers to match his Walt Disney Concert Hall, Civic Park occupies a 12-acre site that rolls from the Music Center, down a gentle hill toward L.A.’s City Hall. Rios Clementi Hale Studios, who also recently renovated the theater-in-the-round Mark Taper Forum, which sits above the park’s site like a cake topper, took on the heady task of creating a park that not only boosts civic pride, but also nods to the hundreds of nationalities found in L.A.

This polyglot worldview can be found in the plant choices, culled from all over the planet, but also the park’s design itself: The park’s pathways have distinctive curves that you’ll remember from high school geography classes. They’re based on the Goode homolosine projection, a cartographer’s 1923 solution for showing the curved lines of the earth’s surface on a flat space.

The park includes a variety of spaces desperately needed for local residents: A dog run will occupy a spot at the bottom of the park, and a large performance lawn will take advantage of the sloping site for an outdoor theater. Two pavilion structures will serve as cafés and event centers and a space is even carved out for food trucks–which will only become more ubiquitous on L.A. streets–to park legally without taking up metered spaces.

Also notable is the fact that Rios Clementi Hale Studios planned the space to accommodate over 20,000 people. As you can remember from the people spilling out onto downtown streets after the Lakers won the NBA championship earlier this year–and the subsequent violence and vandalism–L.A. has no real space in which to assemble for city-wide celebrations. This park could finally be a place that all of L.A. gathers–a front lawn for the city.

Rios Clementi Hale also designed custom street furniture for the park, including hot-pink chairs and tables, but the biggest design element in the park is actually already there: An existing historic fountain will be restored, optimized for water conservation and programmed to shoot 50 feet in the air. At the groundbreaking tomorrow, that fountain will be switched off, to be turned on again when the park opens in 2012.

Images courtesy Rios Clementi Hale Studios; watercolor renderings by Doug Jamieson

About the author

Alissa is a design writer for publications like Fast Company, GOOD and Dwell who can most often be found in Los Angeles. She likes to walk, ride the bus, and eat gelato.



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