Janus Face of L.A.’s Public Space

radical flatness < > micro topography
public private partnership < > public
softscape < > hardscape
lack of program < > excess of program
majority of funds to be secured < > funds secured
renewal < > new


In 2008 Mia Lehrer & Associates designed Vista Hermosa, Los Angeles’s first urban park in more than 100 years. This summer, the firm’s winning entry for the First and Broadway Civic Park (FAB Park) together with another winning park scheme by Agence Ter + Team for Pershing Square Renew embody a radical transformation of the contemporary city. Both projects are located Downtown, a once thriving 9-to-5 commuter hub whose lesser-known jewelry, fashion, and theater districts are rapidly being replaced with dense residential enclaves replete with commercial amenities and civic spaces.

First and Broadway Civic Park is situated on a 2-acre vacant lot adjacent to City Hall and nearby Grand Park (designed by the local firm Rios Clementi Hale). Mia Lehrer & Associates in collaboration with OMA, IDEO, and a long list of other consultants defeated Brooks + Scarpa, AECOM and Eric Owen Moss in an invited competition sponsored by the Bureau of Engineering, the Mayor’s Office, the 14th Council District, and the Department of Parks and Recreation. The rectangular site is a curious mixture of natural and artificial ecologies bisected by a generously paved diagonal promenade that connects City Hall in the southeast to the new Federal Courthouse in the northwest. The northern corner consists largely of building (a two-story restaurant, with kitchen garden on the roof), while the southern corner is reminiscent of a natural landscape with a babbling brook and a meadow screened by oak and sycamore trees. A distinguishing feature of the project is the Claes Oldenburg-like shade/solar canopies clustered across the site. The project budget is $28 million.


Agence Ter + Team’s winning proposal is for the redesign of Mexican Ricardo Legorreta and Laurie Olin’s 1994 iteration of Pershing Square. The international design competition was sponsored by the non-profit organization, Pershing Square Renew, Inc., a public and private partnership, which includes Councilman José Huizar and real estate developer MacFarlane Partners. Over 80 teams were narrowed down to 4 final entrants comprising of local design teams, SWA and Morphosis, wHY and Civitas, as well as New York-based James Corner Field Operations. Agence Ter + Team’s park-plaza hybrid proposal flattens the 5-acre site with a loosely defined series of bands that feature intimate gardens, a great lawn, and a “smart canopy.” At the southern edge hardscape will accommodate a host of activities such as markets, food trucks, and local festivals. The overall park space is linked to the immediate urban fabric allowing for flexibility in program that will inevitably change as the users and city itself continue to evolve. $50 million must be raised to realize the project.


The two parks, although aesthetically different, share common points when addressing the socio-cultural and geographic specificity of Los Angeles. Both designs focus on native vegetation and take into account that Los Angeles is sunny over 80% of the year, requiring ample shade while also taking advantage of solar energy. Additionally, each project includes novel approaches to storm water management and strategies that will offset maintenance costs using private revenue generated from the amenities on-site.

Most importantly, even before the FAB Park and renewed Pershing Square will be constructed, Downtown Los Angles can celebrate the fact that the notion of civic and public life in the city are reinvented on a daily basis. Public transportation is thriving; the summer initiation of the Metro Bike Share offers a promising future for a city addicted to the automobile. Meanwhile existing parks, including Pershing Square, are being appropriated with ephemeral art installations such as the Liquid Shard by LA-based artist Partick Shearn working with the AA Visiting School not to mention the ubiquitous augmented reality, communal pilgrimage with smart phones, Pokémon GO.



There is a paradigm shift in Los Angeles’ public space, integrating the most contemporary social and cultural life with nature and the urban fabric. The greatest challenge, of course, will be to make sure that the city remains fundamentally democratic, accessible to all Angelenos: not merely playgrounds for aspirational newcomers who will undoubtedly pay for this increasingly privatized public realm. The City of Angels must remain a radical urban laboratory, one in which ecological and social justice are constant variables.

Published on August 18, 2016

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