Grand Park

Designers: Rios Clementi Hale Studios | City: Los Angeles, CA | Project Type: revitalization, community, cultural center
Date Visited: 11.27.12

Locations: 210 N Grand Ave Los Angeles, CA 90012
Size: 12 acre
Cost: $56 million
Official Opening Date: July 26, 2012

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For a city that is notorious for its low park to people ratio, Los Angeles is attempting to turn that around, starting at the heart of its urban center with its newest major green space, Grand Park. A $56 million revitalization project, Grand Park stretches 12-acres from the top of Bunker Hill to the base of City Hall, the design of which was led by the landscape architecture firm Rios Clementi Hale Studios (RCH Studios).

It’s been said that people don’t use parks in downtown Los Angeles, but the opening of Grand Park has attracted large crowds from all parts of the city. Lucas Rivera, the park’s director, accredits the attraction of the park as well as its future growth to RCH Studios’ flexible design. The linear park was designed to be able to hold a wide array of programmed activity, from film screenings to farmers markets.

Master Plan. Image credit: grandpark.lacounty.gov

From RCH Studio’s Grand Park description:

“Over its length, the site is divided by two city streets and a challenging 90-foot grade change. Our design makes a series of grand park gestures to tie the four-block site together, and create a connected, unified park. We used Grand Park’s significant grade changes as an asset, rising to the challenge of softening Bunker Hill’s natural incline with pedestrian-friendly and ADA-accessible ramps and broad steps. The new “J-Ramps” extend existing below-grade ramps to the north and south to create a series of central terraces leading down into the park from Grand Avenue with a great view of the restored fountain. The terraces are adaptable to an array of uses, including al fresco dining, event seating, meeting enclaves, and general gathering places. The historic Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain has been restored and expanded to increase its sustainability as well as its viability as a dynamic water feature for park users.”

Park model. Image credit: grandpark.lacounty.gov

Other than the grade change mediated by terraced park blocks, there were two features of the park that stood out the most to me: the bright pink site furniture and the great diversity of plant life. The terraces of Grand Park are divided into four main areas: Fountain Plaza, Performance Lawn, Community Terrace and Event Lawn. The most eye-catching element that spans across various areas of the 12-acre park, however, are the hot pink moveable tables and chairs dotting the landscape. These bright, eye-catching pops of color contrast sharply against green lawn. The furniture is an exciting and fitting way to call well-deserved attention to the long-needed downtown urban space.

Another feature of the park I really enjoyed was its emphasis on diversity, which is a reflection upon Los Angeles’ identity as a culturally rich city. Starting with its multilingual signage stating ‘GRAND PARK the park for everyone’, the plant palette was selected to represent the various regions around the world from which Los Angeles draws its rich immigrant population.

From the Floristic Kingdoms Interpretative Sign:

The Floristic Gardens of Grand Park pay tribute to the many people who have settled in Los Angeles, bringing their customs, foods and celebrations, as well as plants native to their homelands. Many of these plants have adapted easily to the temperate climate of Southern California.

Botanists divide the world into six floristic kingdoms—geographical areas that are characterized by a relatively uniform composition of plants that are unique to their native habitat. The Floristic Gardens within the park feature trees and plants from different regions within the floristic kingdoms. Our garden markers describe the geographical origins and botanical characteristics of the featured tree for each garden.

The Floristic Gardens of Grand Park provide a setting to celebrate our great County of Los Angeles and the many diverse cultures that have come to define it.

An article from The Dirt rehashed (original link unavailable) The Los Angeles Times’ architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne’s review in Grand Park in September, which questioned the location of the park and whether Grand Park could be construed as a sign of gentrification and play area for the wealthy. Although my time at Grand Park was brief, the location appears to work very well, based on the high number of people present despite the morning shower and overcast sky. Admittedly, it was a weekday afternoon; Grand Park would likely take on a different view on weekends and at night. Still, the signage for park programming and the overall welcoming and safe feel of the park seemed promising as a place that would attract families after work and on weekends.

And though there was a Starbucks anchoring one side of the park with a fair scattering of laptop users throughout the park, I felt as though I saw a wide demographic represented as I walked the four-block site from top to bottom. I think that Grand Park is a fantastic addition to downtown Los Angeles and I think that had I come a year early, before it was built, my perception of downtown Los Angeles would be a much darker one; I interpret presence is a indicator for greater change to come.

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