Semi-finalists Selected for Pershing Square Renew

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Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles is getting a makeover – and Rem Koolhaas’ firm OMA, Morphosis, Mia Lehrer, Rios Clementi Hale, wHY Architecture, Peter Walker and James Corner Field Operations are among ten semi-finalists announced today.

Pershing square
Pershing Square circa 2005, designed by Ricardo Legorreta. Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles is getting a makeover  and Rem Koolhaas’ firm OMA, Morphosis, Mia Lehrer, Rios Clementi Hale, wHY Architecture, Peter Walker and James Corner Field Operations are among ten semi-finalists announced today.

(Listen to a discussion about the past, present and future Pershing Square on today’s DnA, with Councilman Jose Huizar, Pershing Square Renew executive director Eduardo Santana, Brian Glodney of Gensler and writer Wade Graham.)

Or course this is not the first makeover for Pershing Square.

It has had several since its birth in 1866. Along the way it became a formal, symmetrical park, designed by John Parkinson. Then a parking garage was put underneath it in the 1950s, and it was paved over. The most recent redesign was in the early ’90s, by Mexican architect Riccardo Legoretta. Its purple bell tower, yellow structures, fountain and a concert stage unfortunately have proven more off-putting than welcoming.

As landscape designer and essayist Wade Graham points out: “What’s really wrong with this park is it is disconnected from the city grid and from the sidewalks. There are walls all the way around it. There are on-ramps, exit-ramps and in-ramps, ramps of various kinds all around it to get cars in and out of the garage. There’s fast traffic. There’s no connection when you’re on the sidewalk; you look in and you can’t see into the park because there’s a kind of a maze of walls when you’re inside the park. It feels unsafe. You don’t have a perspective. You can’t see the sidewalk and they can’t see you.”

The hardscape of the park has proven unwelcoming.

So a group of local businesspeople, community leaders and architecture firm Gensler Los Angeles, whose office is near the park, got together and set up a group called Pershing Square Renew, helmed by Councilman Jose Huizar.

They secured $1 million from the Department of Recreation and Parks for immediate improvements and $1 million in seed capital from neighboring MacFarlane Partners for future improvements.They embarked on a process of public hearings and then invited multidisciplinary design teams to submit their interest. From an initial list of 54 teams, ten semi-finalists were announced today. They include James Corner Field Operations, designer of New York City’s High Line and Santa Monica’s Tongva Park; Mia Lehrer Associates, which redesigned the Natural History Museum’s gardens among many projects; Rios Clementi Hale Studios, designers of downtown’s Grand Park; Morphosis, architects of the recently completed Emerson College campus in Hollywood and downtown’s Caltrans building, in partnership with SWA Group, a global landscape architecture firm whose stateside projects include the California Academy of the Sciences.

Those ten finalists will go forward and develop a “vision narrative” for Pershing Square that will be assessed in public meetings and by a private jury that includes Michael Woo, Wayne Ratkovitch, landscape architect Janet Rosenberg and Janet Marie Smith, SVP, Planning and Development, Los Angeles Dodgers. The ten teams will submit their approach and framework for re-designing the square in December. Four finalists will be picked to present to a jury and to the public in March of 2016, with a winner announced later that month.

Pershing Square Renew executive director Eduardo Santana emphasized on this week’s episode of DnA that the goal for the teams is to think less about the approval of their design peers and winning design awards and instead to focus on winning “the hearts of Los Angeles. . . We need them to be supremely interested in the experiences their design inspires and the memories this space creates.”

But if a redesign is to succeed, it has to address the problem created by the parking underneath. Is there any chance it can be removed altogether? According to Councilman Jose Huizar,”It’s a possibility although Rec and Parks has made it clear to us that it’s a huge revenue generator for them. And in order for us to pay for the new design we’re going to be looking everywhere for revenue sources. So if we could redesign in such a way that you still have a garage but it doesn’t impede upon the use that we have. I’d love to see something where if possible we could keep the garage but at the same time not have it be an obstruction.”

Full list of semi-finalists:

Agence TerParis, France
Snohetta, Oslo, Norway
James Corner Field Operations, New York City
W Architecture, New York City
PWP Landscape Architecture, San Francisco
Mia Lehrer Associates, Los Angeles, with !Melk, New York City
Petersen Studio + BNIM, Los Angeles
Rios Clementi Hale, Los Angeles, with OMA, New York City
SWA, Los Angeles, and Morphosis
wHY Architecture, Culver City, CA

The Pershing Square Renew Jury consists of:

Donna Bojarsky, Founder and President, Future of Cities: Leading in LA
José Huizar – Councilmember, 14th District
Mary McCue, Founder, MJM Management Group
Rick Poulos, Principal, NBBJ
Wayne Ratkovich, President and CEO, The Ratkovich Co.
Janet Rosenberg, Founding Principal, Janet Rosenberg & Studio
Michael Shull, General Manager, City of LA Department of Recreation and Parks
Janet Marie Smith, SVP, Planning and Development, Los Angeles Dodgers
Michael Woo, Dean, Cal Poly Pomona, School of Environmental Design
Will Wright, Downtown Resident, Director of Government and Public Affairs, AIA

For more detailed information about the design competition, visit