SWA’s Summer Student Program challenges students to reconfigure established systems of infrastructure and landscape, adapting regional developments within a preexisting cultural environment. In its fifth year, the program has dealt mostly with California’s diverse terrain, and now turns its focus to the bedraggled yet beloved Los Angeles River. Seven students from universities worldwide join SWA for four weeks of on-site practice, followed by five weeks of internship in an SWA studio.
The Los Angeles River presents a unique challenge as a confluence of ecological, jurisdictional and cultural concerns. In an arc echoing the coastline, the 51-mile long concrete channel stretches from the San Fernando Valley, north of the Santa Monica Mountains, to its ending mouth in Long Beach. In its current state, it is hardly a destination among Angelenos -- only recently were its waters opened to recreational use, for the first time since the riverbed was paved with concrete in the 1930s for flood control. But there are many nodes and stretches along the river that are highly visible and highly trafficked, and the whole stretch begs for development.
SWA’s Student Program joined the fray of L.A. city officials and the Army Corps of Engineers to generate musings on site-specific development projects for the river. Efforts to make the river more of a magnetic boulevard and less of a repugnant waste-zone have really taken hold in the last few years, including designs for comprehensive bike paths, bike-in film screenings, iconic bridges, business developments and functional art installations. SWA’s Student Program joined the fray of L.A. city officials and the Army Corps of Engineers to generate musings on site-specific development projects for the river. Their plans then received feedback from a panel of judges that included landscape architect professors from USC, the Deputy Chief of Urban Projects & Watershed Planning Division, and representatives from the Department of Public Works and advocacy group, Friends of the L.A. River.
The river could become a kind of Pygmalion story for tourists and locals alike. Development ideas are churning up a lot of excitement, with hints that they could play a heavy role in L.A.’s bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics. The river plays a complex role in L.A.’s image -- as a physical boundary, a recreational destination, a residential backyard -- and as nearby projects in Union Station and Boyle Heights draw more attention nearby, the river could become a kind of Pygmalion story for tourists and locals alike. Ying-Yu Hung, Managing Principal for SWA’s Los Angeles location, believes that the river could be to L.A. what the High Line is to Manhattan, using landscape and ecology to form a “green network of ecological vibrancy”.
The students’ first task was to choose a location from fourteen pre-determined sites, selected by SWA and the City of Los Angeles for their relative lack of attention in previous planning efforts. The river’s 30+ miles that run through Los Angeles are in no way uniform -- its terrain is as diverse as the 20 different neighborhoods it cuts through, supporting vegetation and wildlife that had to be incorporated into the regional plan. This gives each student the chance to develop an idiosyncratic project specific to the surrounding landscape, and taken together, the seven plans would neatly express the diversity along the L.A. river corridor.
After being immersed in the landscape, meeting with the Army Corps of Engineers and performing research on the area, the students chose their site and began designing their installation and its presentation to the review board. The following is a selection of their work:
Let the Show Begin, Marta Gual-Ricart, University of California, Berkeley.
The Crown Coach Site can be the point where ‘landlocked’ residential and industrial neighborhoods get to ‘touch’ the river. The design allows for ecological habitats, water filtration by phytoremediation treatments and the prevention of disastrous flood events…and has the potential to be an incubator for CleanTech Businesses, which could then spread along Santa Fe Avenue as a new ‘motor’ for industry in the city.
Topo-Infrastructure for Health, Stephanie Kopplin, University of Texas, Austin.
For the local community, the establishment of ecologically-oriented parkland would increase recreational opportunities for park-poor communities. At the scale of the river system, the creation of an educational storm water nursery could serve as a source and central maintenance site for other parkland and open space along the River. In both instances, the site could become a catalyst for the maintenance of both community health, and ecological infrastructure[...]
Layered into the design were proposals to collect, treat, and store the runoff of the subwatershed (which includes the parking lot of the Dodger’s stadium) to provide irrigation for the nursery, to establish an over/under the rail bridge to the eastern bank via connection to an ‘open-space island,’ and to link various activity circuits for walking, running, and cycling.
Stairway to the Hill, Esther Korteweg, Van Hall Larenstein, the Netherlands
Amphibious houses are a modern way to deal with climate change in the Netherlands (offering) a new method of land use by the L.A. River. When the water level rises the house will float and move along a guiding pile, keeping it in its location… safe and able to adapt to variable water levels.
A Potential Fashion Park, BinBin Ma, Harvard GSD.
The existing urban grid has resulted in the degradation of LA River and isolation from common people. The new design challenges the existing urban grid by employing a new 3D grid to accommodate ‘fashion art’ development with a new concentration along the LA River canopy area, and closely link the river channel with the canopy that gathers people from surrounding places.
With the appropriate modification of river channel and bringing in vegetation in the river channel, the LA River could still be read as dramatic open space for gathering, but with better environmental quality. The once abandoned LA River can now become the fashion art civic center for fashion arts and surrounding residents.
Ecological Infrastructure, Ian Mackay, Ohio State University
Ground nesting birds that are attracted to the riparian corridor are in danger of having their nests washed away in the torrential flows of winter[...]
The west bank abuts the neighborhood of Elysian Valley where stairways and terraces that access the river were proposed. The west bank can thus be considered the “people’s bank.” The east bank, on the other hand, is almost cut off from Cypress Park by the Metrolink Facility site. Access to this bank, which includes the wedge habitats would remain less available. Pathways would run alongside the wedges and be used by only those who truly wish to be there—like birdwatchers. Linking the two banks and soaring above the rich soft bottom ecology that divides them, the bridges bring it all together: people, birds, and the LA River.
Performative Punk Playground, Rachel Vassar, University of Virginia
Performative Punk Playground responds to the physical and cultural conditions of the site (creating) highly urbanized landscape, views of/from the bridges that form site boundaries, creative institutions and businesses, and outdoor spaces for recreating – to create a venue for artistic expression, experimentation, recreation, and celebration. At the watershed scale, the project re-establishes a dialogue between the river channel and the urban fabric, bringing some of what each does best to the other.
Los Angeles Central Park, Chunlan Zeng, University of Pennsylvania.
The LA River is an opportunity to become a place that the diverse populations can all enjoy… passing through three major areas; commercial space, open space, and water front. Through different activities and events, moving up or down, the LA River is finally revealed and celebrated at the end of their journey.
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