Running Down the Finalists' Designs for the First and Broadway Park

Source: L.A. Downtown News

By Eddie Kim (03/01/2016)

For years, the parcel on First Street between Broadway and Spring Street was one of Downtown's worst eyesores, holding the remnants of a 13-story state office building that was damaged in the 1971 Sylmar earthquake and mostly torn down five years later.

The city of Los Angeles bought the site from the state in 2013 and the following year demolished the old underground garage. Then came a move to turn the parcel adjacent to Grand Park into another park. A design competition was launched, and the city has whittled the list of interested architectural and landscape firms to four: AECOM, Eric Owen Moss Architects, Mia Lehrer + Associates, and Brooks + Scarpa. The designs were recently showcased during an event at City Hall.

A winner will be chosen by early March. Here is a rundown of the finalists.

Coves and Lobes: The design from Los Angeles-based AECOM offers a simple central concept: a park with an open center lawn surrounded by pockets of social space. The so-called "coves and lobes" approach includes areas with palm trees and gravel gardens, greener patches with shade trees, and hardscaped spaces with benches for people to sit.

The northwest corner holds the "Paper Plane" building with a restaurant (which the city requested for all designs). On the southeast is the "Wingnut," a large angled structure with a gallery space and a place for visitors to borrow park games, grills and other items. The park would utilize underground irrigation with water reclaimed and treated from the restaurant.

The goal is to promote a flexible park that offers visitors freedom and space, said Nate Cormier, director of landscape architecture for AECOM.

"A Downtown resident should not have to leave town to host a birthday party or sit by a fire," Cormier added.

Patio Plan: The design from Brooks + Scarpa features long grass striations that ebb and flow over hardscape, which covers much of the public space. Rather than a restaurant, the firm proposes a special events building on the northwest corner with two main interior rooms, a conference center and a large indoor-outdoor "patio." The structure is covered with ribbon-like arches of concrete with grass growing on top.

"The revenue opportunity for a restaurant is not as good as for an event space. We think it could double revenue and better fund arts programming, security and maintenance," said Brooks + Scarpa Managing Principal Angela Brooks.

The undulating surface of the park provides natural "benches" and other spaces for people to sit, with a large mound of buffalo grass toward Broadway and a boulder-and-water garden near Spring Street.

Hide and Seek Forest: The ambitious plan from former Sci-Arc Director Eric Owen Moss and his team takes the flat First and Broadway parcel and creates a hilly landmass. Scattered around the site are round cutouts that create intimate areas for people to gather. One large slope would hold the "hide and seek forest," which features a grove of large wood poles and trees. An amphitheater is carved out of the hillside.

"This is carefully designed and precise but raucous, rough," Moss said. "The sensibility is a park in progress, not 'walk here, don't go there, grass there, no grass here.' It's more like you have to make your own way."

Toward First Street there would be a restaurant managed by Bill Chait (Broken Spanish, Redbird), which connects to a public pavilion shaped like an upside-down "U." People would take the stairs or an elevator to a main floor overhead. The entire structure would be wrapped in a translucent material.

The Floating Restaurant: As with AECOM, the design from Mia Lehrer + Associates features an open central plaza surrounded by pockets of greenery, with the restaurant tucked into the northwest corner of the parcel.

Unlike AECOM, ML+A ditches grass for hardscape in the central plaza, with an emphasis on built-in seating. The design includes a small rock-paved path along Spring Street as an intimate area away from the central plaza. Most dramatic of all would be the "floating" restaurant with a carved-out, shaded amphitheater at the base. The main dining room would be upstairs and a smaller cafe would sit on the backside of the amphitheater.

"We are not trying to duplicate the lawn right next door," noted ML+A Principal Jeff Hutchins.

Around the restaurant would be outdoor seating with shade from large, flower-like installations.

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Reprinted with permission from L.A. Downtown News,

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