Case Study

Pershing Square, Los Angeles, California, USA: a revamped urban square (1950-2, 1994)

Pershing Square (named in 1918 in honour of World War I General John Pershing) has a long history dating back to its designation as a formal Spanish plaza in 1866. It has gone through a number of redesigns since then at the hands of a variety of architects, landscape architects and gardeners: Fred Eaton's (in the 1890s), John Parkinson's (1911), Frank Shearer's (1928), Stiles Clements' (1950-1) and in 1994 those of Ricardo Legoretta and Laurie Olin. It is the last mentioned proposal that is of interest here. The history of the square's transformations shows that urban spaces in cities are surprisingly enduring despite the changes in a city's fortunes.

The 1951 building of the underground parking garage led to the square being a patch of grass with trees in planter boxes on its edges. The decision made by the city government to build a car park was predicated on the belief that it would decongest the area and lead to a revival of the city's theatre district. Downtown Los Angeles today is remarkably uncongested by world standards but this state is due to the buildings in the area being largely abandoned above ground floor level - something that is beginning to change. The garage failed to recharge the theatre district and the entrances to the parking garage tended to cut the park off from its surroundings.

By the late 1980s, the square has become a place for the homeless, indigent and drug addicts to 'hang-out' in (see Figure 5.11). It was so despised that the Biltmore Hotel had turned its back on the square by establishing an entrance on its side away from the square. The square was decrepit and the furnishings vandalized. The surroundings, while housing a noticeable number of middle-class people, were populated heavily

Figure 5.11 A behavioural map of Pershing Square, Los Angeles in 1988.

by inhabitants of single-room occupancy units (SROs). The two groups inhabited two different worlds and the park was no seam. The former inhabited private spaces and the latter public. What then to do with the square? The Pershing Square Management Association commissioned the Jerde Partnership to conduct an evaluation of the park in 1984. This study initiated the process that led to the park we see today.

The redevelopment of the square in 1994 cost $US14.5 million. The Center City Management Association representing property owners and the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) of Los Angeles financed it. The goal was to have an open public space of broad appeal. It was to be a place ofmeeting, have a positive image and be an oasis for casual leisure activities. Special events and temporary facilities (e.g. an ice rink in winter, a bandstand in the summer) were to be able to be accommodated. The park level, because of the parking garage below, was unfortunately a metre above that of the surrounding streets but the park did have a promising set of enclosing buildings that give the square some character. Most of these buildings date back to the 1920s with the building of the Subway Terminal Building, the Title Guarantee and Trust Building, the Biltmore Hotel and the Philharmonic Auditorium. The Public Library is only a block away. They provided the basis for making a fine square but it has not happened.

The Center City Management Association, other civic associations, the CRA of Los Angeles, the City's Department of Parks and Recreation and the Cultural Affairs Commission organized an international competition for the redesign of the square in 1986. It attracted 242 entries from 17 countries with the winning entry being produced by Sculpture In The Environment (SITE), a New York based architectural firm headed by James Wines and Michelle Stone. It was designed in collaboration with landscape architects EDAW, Inc. with architects Charles Kober Associates and engineers Delton Hampton and Associates. The predicted cost of building their design, a 'metaphorical carpet', was $12.5 million but $20 million was thought to be more realistic by many observers. That price plus the expectation of cost overruns was simply too high to be considered feasible.

The SITE scheme (see Figure 5.12a) was based on a 13'6' grid (the column spacing of the garage below). The surface of the park was designed to be undulating and

planted with tropical trees in order to create mini-environments that would attract people. The design was, however, an independent object that 'turned the park on its surroundings'. Construction was supposed to begin in 1988 but the surrounding property owners protested. They would have had to make up much of the shortfall between the public funds available ($6 million from the Los Angeles Redevelopment Authority and other contributions from the Department of Recreation and Parks, and the Board ofPublic Works) and the expected construction cost.

The design that was implemented was a product of the collaboration of architect Ricardo Legoretta, landscape architect Laurie Olin and artist Barbara McCarren (see Figures 5.12b-c and 5.13). Maguire Thomas Partners, the leading property developers in Central Los Angeles, hired them. One of the design goals was to have a park that represented both the Latino and Anglo populations of the city. The design went through several iterations but the final one the team produced was never fully implemented. Legoretta aspired to create a zócalo, the heart of many a Mexican city, but it is difficult see the connection in the design.

An orange grove marks the centre of the park as a reminder of the importance of orange farming in Los Angeles County. At the southern end of the park is a sculpted court with a fountain, pool and a reminder, in the form of a jagged line cutting across the park, of the fault line on which Los Angeles is located. The park also contains a 'Mayan' style amphitheatre, benches in which images of Los Angeles are embedded, works of art and mementoes of the past (e.g. a canon). A Star Walk paving pattern resembles a constellation visible in the winter and the summer sun. Despite these varied components, the park is a still lifeless place. The former inhabitants have been chased away by the police but users to replace them are few and those that are there tend to be similar to the ones who were there before the changes took

Figure 5.13 Pershing Square, Los Angeles in 2004. (a) Pershing Square in context,

(b) Pershing Square with the Biltmore Hotel in the background and (c) a view of the square from the northwest corner.

Figure 5.13 Pershing Square, Los Angeles in 2004. (a) Pershing Square in context,

(b) Pershing Square with the Biltmore Hotel in the background and (c) a view of the square from the northwest corner.

place. Perhaps the idea of a square is out of place in the contemporary social and cultural climate of Southern California. It is more likely that the surrounding uses do not generate the variety of people who would be square users. Only the poor are habitués.

The events in the Square do attract people even though questions have been raised about how the park is managed by the Los Angeles Parks Department. The benches in Pershing Square do provide a place for the homeless to gather. At lunchtime workers from the surrounding buildings take lunch there and the square is a popular place for rallies. It, however, consists of a number of poorly integrated fragments. Time will tell whether the mixture of elements will hold up well. Overcoming the presence of the underground garage has proven to be a continuing concern. Having a plaza above the surroundings ground level presents a difficult design problem. Maybe having too many panhandlers for the middle class to tolerate cannot be overcome by design although the redesign of Bryant Park by Olin seems to have been successful in revitalizing a previously notorious open space. Perhaps the revitalization of central Los Angeles that is now (in 2004) beginning to take place will make the park a more congenial place without any design changes.

Major references

Boles, Daralice D. (1986). SITE selected for Pershing

Square. Progressive Architecture 67 (10): 36. Hinkle, Ricardo (1999). Panning Pershing (the flaws and shortcomings of Pershing Square). Landscape Architecture 89 (6): 9. Loukaitou-Sideris, Anastasia and Tridib Banerjee (1998). Urban Design Downtown: Poetics and Politics of Form. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 153-60. McCarren, Barbara (1999). And in this corner (designing the landscape for the Pershing Square project). Landscape Architecture 89 (6): 9 + .

Homeowners Guide To Landscaping

Homeowners Guide To Landscaping

How would you like to save a ton of money and increase the value of your home by as much as thirty percent! If your homes landscape is designed properly it will be a source of enjoyment for your entire family, it will enhance your community and add to the resale value of your property. Landscape design involves much more than placing trees, shrubs and other plants on the property. It is an art which deals with conscious arrangement or organization of outdoor space for human satisfaction and enjoyment.

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