Four Los Angeles landscape architecture projects were highlighted during the 2017 ASLA Annual Meeting’s Women in Landscape Architecture Walk, organized by Stephanie Psomas, ASLA, of Pamela Burton & Company, and the local host chapter, ASLA SoCal. Nearly 80 participants braved the early start time on the final day of the meeting and were rewarded with the rare treat of watching light break over the historic and modern cityscape of downtown Los Angeles.
1: Biddy Mason Park
The crowd of began gathering at the centrally located Biddy Mason Park. This L-shaped pocket park is distinctly urban and makes up the interior space of nearly an entire city block. Despite being immediately adjacent to the popular local and tourist stop of Grand Central Market, the park entrance is subtly marked and the space is quiet.
The North-South axis of the park includes a timeline wall containing historical text and artifact imprints. The content leads a reader through the story of the notable Los Angeles historical figure and park namesake Biddy Mason. A serpentine pattern of trees winds through the center of the narrow space, providing shade and encouraging visitors to slow down and interact with the content on the wall.
The East-West oriented portion of the park is dominated by a monumental sculpture with industrial character reminiscent of stone quarry drills or skyscrapers. Commissioned by the City of Los Angeles in 1989, the Eino sculpture, titled “Water Columns,” mimics the pattern of the urban skyline.
2: Grand Park
Walking North along Broadway from Biddy Mason Park to Grand Park provides a linear tour of several other notable Los Angeles landmarks. Exemplary historic architecture such as the Million Dollar Theater and the Bradbury Building (of Blade Runner fame) mix with recently completed projects, including the award-winning SOM and Studio-MLA designed Los Angeles Federal Courthouse.
Arriving at Grand Park, the technical challenge of rapid topographic change stands out as a notable feature, along with the exemplary textural display created by the lively plant palette. The park is a tribute to the international character of Los Angeles and features moveable site furniture powder coated a vibrant pink.
The landscape architecture team at Rios Clementi Hale Studios successfully negotiated the grade change with a series of impressive yet unobtrusive ramps and stairs in a light natural concrete finish. The plant materials are drawn from an international palette and educational signage notes the diverse “Floristic Kingdoms” present throughout the park.
Walking West with the rising grade, visitors encounter the massive, tiered Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain and a broad gathering space with a cafe and restrooms. Early in the day, the space was cool and dominated by sounds of water from the fountain, and a few members of the walking tour walked out into the shallow water-play portion of the fountain pool.
3: Walt Disney Concert Hall Garden
Frank Gehry’s iconic Walt Disney Concert Hall lies at a geographic high point in downtown Los Angeles. Transiting from Grand Park past the arts complex which includes the Los Angeles Music Center, the tour arrived at the Northeast corner of the Concert Hall. The structure itself dynamically reflects the cityscape around it and is sculptural in its approach to light.
Another unexpected feature of the building is the way it embraces the pedestrian. As the tour proceeded up and around the back of the Concert Hall, walkers were unexpectedly embraced in a lush courtyard scaled carefully to create an intimate sense of privacy. Whimsical plants and trees surround a small clearing with a large mosaic sculpture of a water lily, dedicated to Lillian Disney.
4: Bunker Hill Steps to Maguire Gardens at Los Angeles Public Library
Walkers on this year’s tour had the pleasant experience of descending from the city’s high point to the historic Los Angeles Public Library via the Bunker Hill Steps, commonly called (perhaps only among Landscape Architects?) the Halprin Steps. Designed by the late Lawrence Halprin and completed in 1990, the steps have become an iconic urban amenity which link distinctly separate areas of downtown via creative treatment of topography. In this spirit, the steps call to mind our previous stop at Grand Park, another piece of iconic landscape architecture which negotiates the linkage of dynamic urban energies via challenging topography.
The Maguire Gardens at the Los Angeles Public Library is an oasis, especially for our intrepid tour group on a warm Monday morning in bustling downtown Los Angeles. Graceful Italianate fountains and columnar cypress complement the Art Deco architecture and unique ornamentation of the Library building. Following a group photo opportunity, walkers made their way back to the Los Angeles Convention Center for the final day of meeting sessions.
On behalf of the Women in Landscape Architecture Professional Practice Network (PPN) and spoken personally from an impressed tour attendee, thank you to our hosts from the ASLA SoCal chapter for leading a wonderful tour. We’ll look forward to the tour next year in Philadelphia!
by Alison Kelly, ASLA, LEED® AP ND, Women in Landscape Architecture Professional Practice Network (WILA PPN) Co-Chair