Putting on my old battered hat as an architecture critic, which I was for a decade for the L.A. Times, my focus this week is downtown Los Angeles. If the ageless renown Frank Gehry can emerge as the designer of the latest addition to the hill, certainly I can, as an abiding commentator.
As I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere, Angelenos with a memory might recall the once grand residential topped hill was lobotomized a half century ago as an urban renewal project, with the hope of becoming a mixed-use district featuring the city’s cultural attractions.
Beginning with the sprawling Music Center, distinguished by the neo-classsic trio Chandler, Ahmanhson and Mark Taper theatres, built somewhat haphazardly over the years has been MOCA and Broad museums, the Colburn school and the Disney Concert Hall.
Despite providing photo ops for tourists, and designed by the preening Gehry, the glistening, curvaceous concert hall, frankly, has not as promised activated the area. Though promoted as L.A. ‘s Champs Elysees, the districts’ principal street, Grand Avenue, is not very grand.
But there is hope. At long last after much failed planning attempts, it appears a viable design has emerged for the critical central site across from the concert hall, known as parcels Q and w-2. and labeled Grand.
And grand, if ambitious, it will be, a $1 billion stacked conceit by Gehry featuring a 39 story residential tower, of condos and apartments. and a 20 story luxury hotel , with the base of the usual high end restaurants, retail and entertainment And yes, some of the apartments will designated as affordable.
Frankly, they appear boxy and functional in the renderings, though the project-friendly facades should lend it animation and interest, so says Gehry, who after decades has produced a design that makes both financial and urbane sense. That’s at least according to the developer, Related Companies ,in partnership with the China Communications Construction Group.
Most critically for the public is the frontage of the project, and the pedestrian plaza, facing a not distinctive or welcome entrance to the concert hall. To be sure, the hall works as an iconic work of sculpture, but not particularly well as architecture, providing a space and place for people to meet and mingle.
Gehry has explained that his original plan for the concert hall indicated a very public entrance, the building to serve as a “ living room for the city.”
I incidentally cited this is my original review recommending Gehry for the project. But it sadly was not in the final design, which Gehry subsequently claimed was compromised by the client.
It seems there has been a host of his other projects included in this blame game, which over the years have made one wary of Gehry’s presentations. Architects do have a way of saying one thing, what a client or the media want or likes to hear, and then designing another.
So while hoping the Grand as designed by Gehry will indeed revitalize Bunker Hill and that L.A. at last will get a grand boulevard, we at present have to be reserved and hold back judgment.