civic center’s brutalist park

March 13, 2009

The 16 acres between Los Angeles City Hall and the Music center are set to be turned into a giant park (a la Millenium Park in Chicago) and the latest redesign to the plans have been unveiled. While the guys over at Rios Clementi Hale Studios see a public space that bridges the government buildings with the city’s cultural center, all that I see is a concrete monstrosity that reeks of bureaucracy. Having a free reign on a space like this is the perfect opportunity to physically, visually and metaphorically connect arts and politics within downtown, but the newest design continues to lack innovation. In typical Southern California bullshit fashion, the place is so perfectly planned with designated “event spaces” and “pedestrian walkways” that none of that will ever actually happen there. People don’t want to be led through a public space in a way that makes us feel corralled into certain activities; the most successful parks are ones that provide an arena for us to mold into our needs. If Pershing Square and Long Beach’s Lincoln Park have taught us nothing, it’s that we don’t need more concrete landscapes interspersed with bound patches of green. We spend our lives in an endless stream of streets and parking lots and they want to make our sites of escape concrete too!? No one is going to be jogging down 30 foot wide walkways just because they’re lined with “native, drought-resistant trees.”

When I first heard of a prospective re-building of the space, I envisioned New York’s Central Park or San Francisco’s Golden Gate Parkparks (if you can believe it), with grass and trees and jogging paths that aren’t likened to streets. What has been shown so far looks like unusable plazas with segregated quadrants that don’t eliminate much of the current street traffic and underground parking, building on top of an already in-place failed city planning mechanism that perpetuates the rigid, bureaucratic influences that permeate the city’s architecture.

I’m disappointed that despite stating their attempt to bridge the cultural and political centers of the city, the design itself is a statement of governmental overload. The concrete steps and The Court of Flags (and that oh-so-lovable brutalistic lack of regard for the human scale) are physical testaments inscribed in the park’s very design that show our need for order and social control. Where is the influence of the free-flow of art or the incorporation of the cultural community’s creative message? If any of this design was to represent the culture surrounding the nearby Music Center, then it needs to take architectural clues from such places and, at the very least, throw a curved line in there or something that say anything besides “government rigidity wuz here.”

Oh, wait. That is apparently taken care of by the suggestion to pump classical music to the upper part of the park. You know, because pretending that upper Civic Center “park” is a fucking area at Disneyland by playing muzak through rock speakers really screams “Downtown Los Angeles culture.”

Rios Clemente Hale did an amazing job incorporating art and public space with Santa Monica’s city parks so I know they’re not incapable (even though the Nokia Theater Plaza makes everyone feel line a blinded ant)–please bring some of that shit to downtown!


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