City of water: architects challenged to reboot Los Angeles

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City of water: architects challenged to reboot Los Angeles
Glass towers: PAR Shelter’s plan for the Hollywood Hills

As the latest forecasts predict a “Godzilla El Nino” for southern California this winter, water, as always, is on the drought-stricken territory’s mind. The coming season is shaping up to be even wetter than the record-breaking winter of 1997, when rainfall was double the average. With such predictions come concerns that the Devil’s Gate Dam in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains might give way, causing flooding in communities along the Arroyo Seco, a tributary to the Los Angeles river, which was designed to carry storm runoff out to sea.

Yes, LA has a river. It’s not as romantic as the Seine, nor as historic as the Thames, but is instead a slab of concrete with a trickle of treated wastewater from factories further north. Instead of turning its back on the river, as it did when the US Army Corp of Engineers cemented it over in the 1930s, the city is embracing it. In 2013, the Corp guaranteed $1bn to revitalize an 11-mile stretch from downtown to the San Fernando Valley. Architect Frank Gehry recently revealed that he has been quietly working with the city on plans for a unified aesthetic along the river connecting parkland, bike paths and nature trails.

Two blocks from the river in the downtown’s arts district, the A+D Museum is presenting a new exhibition, Shelter: Rethinking How We Live in Los Angeles, through 6 November. Its galleries offer six distinct architectural visions focusing on the Miracle Mile section of Wilshire Boulevard (the path of a new subway line), as well as Elysian Valley, known also by its more folksy name, Frogtown, a strip of land between the I-5 and the river.

Of the three artists who focused on Miracle Mile, the PAR and MAD design firms offer glass towers that would hover over Peter Zumthor’s redesigned LACMA (estimated opening: 2023), while wHY has come up with an ingenious infrastructure plan lining Wilshire with retail and affordable micro-living spaces. Of the three artists who focused on the river, Bureau Spectacular has presented Five Normal Houses, stylish high-end structures inspired by conventional architectural tropes, but only design firms LA-Mas and LOHA address the river and the changes already reverberating through its communities. []