LA Cornfield Competition

Heather Ring

the boards are all posted online now. (has that been said?)
no more speculation: here they are (as pdfs)

field ops
1 2 3

1 2
(this "day in the park" is awesome. i love that they gave the itinerary of a deer.)

4 (kind of interesting to compare to mla's "day in the park" ...)

Oct 21, 06 11:58 am

oh thank you heather for posting those. I did not realize they had FINALLY made the full boards available online, since last I looked they had only the three 3D renderings .... I tried again to get photos of the boards today and it was not very successful. they were on display at the chinatown library under less than ideal conditions, perched precariously on tables almost back-to-back.

and of course I couldn't prowl around taking pictures of them without getting drawn into conversations with total strangers who were looking at them too, some of whom had *quite a lot* to say. pretty cool, but made me late for the next stop on my busy day.

Oct 21, 06 9:54 pm

Ok, up to this point, I've been full of spit and hot air regarding the project teams. Thanks Heather for posting the links!

First- didn't know that elysian park hosts a population of deer. Coyote, yes, but bambi?????? And where are the skate boarders, gang bangers, taggers, homeless, and the insane? do they get to spend a day in the park?

Graphic style aside, there are distinct stylistic tendencies of Ha and MoFo that can be traced through many of their other projects. Ha love those lozenge shaped berms like they've droped onto the site next to the river- those are his signature (along with spiraling paths which are m.i.a.). fO has the sexy geometery of paths (that seem to respond best to the site conditions) along with the layers of plantings/terraces. The liniarity of the gardens and sports feilds provides for a very dense and urban experience - especially when most movement through the park will be perpendicular to the long axis. The plantings proposted by the MoFo park also provide the best buffering of the southern edge.

That said, MLA seems the least confident and sure of what marks she's making on the ground. Her rounded (olmsteadian? please!!!) paths create the simplist circulation patterns that have the least interaction with the site or the surrounding context - go walk in figure eights till you get dizzy! The MLA plan also produces the least convincing link to Elysian Park.

looking towards the next steps- the Ha scheme seems the most adaptive towards further development. The edges of the different zones seem flexible towards shifting around- less pure geometry that will break (like fO's hard linear edge). There is enough variations and open spaces left in the plan to allow community input towards the final concept. fO's geometric feilds and lines of programs seems the most fixed in what the park can accept- how can you fit anything else into the site? MLA's tentativenes feels like a bowl of jello quivering on the site- there is no overarching order to inform the placement of program items beyond the historic traces of the rail yard. Cornfields ain't no Duisburg Nord with a robust post-industrial infrastructure- evoking the trainyards is a one-liner that can't carry an entire park.

yes, MLA has proposed the most 'historicist' park, but it is still half-assed. If she wants to bring the traces of all historic occurances of the park, why focus on the shortest lived - the rail yard? why not bring in the gabrilino cultivation and villages back? why not the spanish gardens and law of the indies? Why not recreated (a la williamsburg) or transport historic structures from around the city onto the site? the again, why not provide a tutorial on the development of park types- start with the garden of eden, recreate the hanging gardens of babylon, a few persian hunting enclosure, jump to a chinese garden, recreate the alhambra, versaille, hampstead heath, the village green, boston public garden, central park, and la villette?

The again there seems to be little etymology of the name either 'cornfields' (where is iowa?) or 'los angeles historic park'.

Oct 22, 06 12:49 pm

hargreaves ... gum drops and oversized rail plaza thing plus a giagantoid lawn = boring and predictable to me. if you're looking for cheesy historicism you can find here in the cultural gardens.

mofo has a real mesemerizing plan graphic but at the scale of cornfields one long straight thing seems like a copout. they've built a giant sports complex. i like the feel of such things, but why not some more interest...of course we know why.

mla has more intricacy in their plan than i think it's given credit here. there's too much meadow and grass and tree areas, but the strands are actually quite elegant, such as at the visitor center and the topography with the prow and visitor center embedded are cool. i think someone walking around MLA's park (if it could be built to this plan!) would eat it up. i think people actually like curving paths...

as far as connectivity to elysian park, all that structural mumbo jumbo is just a bit delusional. how often is it really worth our resources to connect open space with more open space by building massive landbridges... unless you're really gonna connect to isolated and significant habitats? i'd rather see 5 pedestrian bridges on all sides of elsysian park and the lariver. maybe there should be a gondola to the top of radio hill??

Oct 22, 06 1:20 pm

steven: the "hispanic/dog owner comment" was my opinion and did not appear in any competioion proposal. it is a reflection of the idea that public space in other cities is part of the total public conscience, whereas in LA it is significantly less so.

jkaliski: i'm native. to respond to my comment with, "go to a park" is a "facile" rebuttal.

The project proposals were engaging. This is a great thread. reconciling ideas and budgets is difficult. Lanscaping a desert like Los Angeles is always a curious notion.

Oct 22, 06 4:01 pm

we need more desert landscapes in the LA basin... not meditereanian lushness of imported exotic trees and flowers. Bird of Paradise has become our national flower! I'd rather have a subtle black sage (Salvia mellifera or another member of the coastal scrub gracing the park, then palms and bannana trees.

I was just speculating that the Bristle Cone Pine (Pinus aristata would be a great species for green roofs since it loves very dry conditions with poor soils - wouldn't work so great in LA (zone 9/10) since it prefers zones 4-7 up in the mountains of the basin and range... but maybe? Anybody with a green thumb want to try an experiment?

Oct 22, 06 5:25 pm

Marlin, You must be one of the few natives living in Los Angeles! I would be interested in learning more about your definition of desert. The basin at least was described as quite wet in times past. Certainly early descriptions describe a river and wetlands and it can get quite wet here at times, though certainly not as wet as Seattle. With regard to parks, I still think you should get out more - the parks I am familiar with are all very heavily used.

Oct 22, 06 6:49 pm

by most workable definitions of desert, los angeles is not a desert. semi-desert is one label I've heard used. some prefer to call it a mediterranean climate, which it is. it's that combination of lengthy dry season alternating with a rainy season that can come on like gangbusters that makes it so interesting. they didn't channelize the river just for exercise, they did it because it got urbanized right up to its banks and then whoops, turns out it floods like a thousand freight trains from time to time, and more so when you've paved all around it. awkward place to have put a city, but it's not as if they had other choices in the days before the aqueduct.

we urbanized in a big hurry here. everyone was in a big rush to get rich and it sure didn't seem like we needed to build ourselves parks as a respite from the city. look! mountains! beaches! all right there! I see a few people posting here still with that attitude - what are you whining about los angeles, you with your year-round farmer's markets and roses in January, you got the beaches! and the mountains!

we do, but we've paved over just about everything else that was pavable, and look where we are - the most park poor major city in the country. one of the most gorgeous climates anywhere, and it's sheer hell to be outside in vast stretches of this city. if it wasn't a desert before, we've done a good job of approximating one.

treekiller, I envision a green roof of chaparral species, think it could be done? chaparral soils are thin, rocky, nutrient poor, etc. if I owned a roof I would be in a better position to experiment. if they can do green roofs in spain, we can surely do them here.

Oct 22, 06 7:56 pm

Definition of desert : A biome with an average annual rainfall of 10 inches or less and sparse vegetation, typically having thin, dry, and crumbly soil. A desert has an aridity index greater than 4.0.(from

Los Angeles' average rainfall is approximately 15" with a high of up to 30" in wet years (look at the NOAA website).

With regard to older descriptions of the LA River this is from the description of Blake Gumprecht's book, The Los Angeles River: Its Life, Death and Possible Rebirth (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999):

"Three centuries ago, the Los Angeles River meandered through marshes and forests of willow and sycamore. Trout spawned in its waters and grizzly bears roamed its shores. The bountiful environment the river helped create supported one of the largest concentrations of Indians in North America. Today, the river is made almost entirely of concrete. Chain-link fence and barbed wire line its course. Shopping carts and trash litter its channel. Little water flows in the river most of the year, and nearly all that does is treated sewage and oily street runoff. On much of its course, the river looks more like a deserted freeway than a river.

"The river's contemporary image belies its former character and its importance to the development of Southern California. Los Angeles would not exist were it not for the river, and the river was crucial to its growth. Recognizing its past and future potential, a potent movement has developed to revitalize its course. The Los Angeles River offers the first comprehensive account of a river that helped give birth to one of the world's great cities, significantly shaped its history, and promises to play a key role in its future."

My question is, is it really visionary to imagine that it must remain as a concrete channel? Or is this a capitulation to completely discredited Army Corps of Engineering mid-20th Century engineering tropes. Los Angeles was located where it was located precisely because of the river. It was turned into a concrete channel because of its propensity to flood. Much of downtown east of Main Street lies within flood planes and would revert to wetlands without control. Say what you will for the idea of putting a five story garage into and/or next to the Cornfields but fundamentally it is choosing to place a parking garage in a floodplain over a former wetland.

FYI Allan Loomis, a contributer to this site, did some wonderful research on all of this years ago at SCI-Arc. ( Look at it the front pages; it was very green and wet and lots of water flowed through, albeit, more at wet season times of the year.

With regard to Olmstead, as his work progressed it became more and more about eco-infrastructure in the modern sense even as it was certainly more passive in its emphasis than today's recreational interests demand. Nevertheless he did plan for a full range of outdoor activities and my sense is that people go to parks for a respite from the strains of daily urban life in much the same way that they did one hundred years ago.

What does all this mean with regard to the Cornfields? Only that many people have been thinking about this for a long time and my guess is that the scheme and the team that manages to pay respect to the facts on the ground in the clearest way will win.This competition in essence was not held in a vacuum. I have not plowed through all the boards to form my own opinion, but am fascinated in reading all of yours, though I do think that a bit more respect should be paid to the enourmous effort that it takes to be selected and produce one of the schemes. I would not be so quick to dismiss the intelligence or the efforts of any of the team's based upon hype or the regular participation, or not, of some of the firms in academic discourses amongst a small number of institutions.

Oct 22, 06 10:47 pm

100% LA.

JKaliski: LA is a desert. It benefits from being directly south of the only east-west running mountain range in all of California. Discussing this through the lens of technical definition is dull. Like nit said, "semi-desert is one label I've heard used." Pardon my brevity. Equally dull is telling me to go to parks, an argumentative stance you described earlier as "facile". As your daughter would say, "no offense." But like you said later, "I have not plowed through all the boards to form my own opinion," even though you went to great lenghts to express it on page 1.

albeit a bit Banana-ist (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything), keep up the insightful commentary.

Oct 23, 06 1:47 am

Here's a bibliography of the LA River for further readings on this topic.

Davis, Margaret; Rivers In The Desert: William Mulholland And The Inventing Of Los Angeles. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1993.

Fogelson, Robert; The Fragmented Metropolis – Los Angeles, 1850-1930. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967.

***Gumprecht, Blake; The Los Angeles River: Its Life, Death, and Possible Rebirth. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.

Hall, Clarence A., et al- editors; The History of Water: Eastern Sierra Nevada, Owens Valley, White-Inyo Mountains. White Mountain Research Station Symposium, Volume 4. Los Angeles: University of California 1992

Hoffman, Abraham; Vision Or Villainy: Origins Of The Owens Valley-Los Angeles Water Controversy. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1981.

**Hundley, Norris; The Great Thirst – California and Water: A History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.

Kahrl, William L.; Water And Power: The Controversy Over Los Angeles' Water Supply In The Owens Valley. Berkeley: University Of California Press, 1982.

Kreissman, Bernard; California, An Environmental Atlas & Guide. Davis, CA: Bear Klaw Press, 1991.

Mayer, Robert; Los Angeles: A Chronological & Documentary History, 1542-1976. Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana Publications, 1978.

Mulholland, Catherine; William Mulholland And The Rise Of Los Angeles. Berkeley: University Of California Press, 2000.

Mulholland, William; Complete Report on Construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. Los Angeles, Department of Publics Service of the City of Los Angeles, 1916.

***Orsi, Jared; Hazardous Metropolis: Flooding And Urban Ecology In Los Angeles. Berkeley: University Of California Press, 2004.

Ostrom, Vincent; Water & Politics: a Study of Water Policies and Administration in the Development of Los Angeles. Los Angeles: Haynes Foundation, 1953.

**Reisner, Marc; Cadillac Desert. New York: Viking, 1986.
Scott, Allen & Edward Soja, editors.; The City: Los Angeles And Urban Theory At The End Of The Twentieth Century. Berkeley: University Of California Press, 1996.

Wood, R. Coke; The Owens Valley and the Los Angeles Water Controversy - Owens Valley as I Knew It. Stockton CA: University of the Pacific, 1973

***best reads***

Oct 23, 06 10:48 am

Marlin- I do not want this to be personal- I certainly would not call your person much less your arguments dull, but I did use facile for a reason, and the reason was not related to you as a person. You can always have the last word in your response; the power of the blogosphere.

There is a tendency for all of us to use terms and make definitive statements that distort our ability to see things clearly for what they are, not what popular opinion or myth tells us they are. It is a popular idea that Los Angeles is a desert that should not be in its current location due to lack of water. This ideas forms many people's notions as to viable futures and forms for this city. While there are certainly more people here than the natural system can support (Mike Davis suggests an ability to support 500,000 to 600,000 people based upon natural water resources; lack of water was the case in Rome as well 2000 years ago and Rome, if not the empire is still there), LA is not a desert by any definition that is commonly used. The mountains and proximity to the ocean do cause air to rise and drop moisture and that is also part of the reason LA is not a desert. History's commentators also offer abundent descriptions of the wetness of the LA Basin. For me these are important facts to clarify when considering the array of opinions that ultilately frame selection of designers and designs.

As far as LA parkland, there are such abundent facts associated with the scant quantity and over use of parks in LA that it bears little comment until people, whether people that live in the city or people that design, assume broad generalizations about parks, park use, and open space that would lead to the formulation of ideas for parks . Yes, I am doubtful, though not completely closed off to the notion, that building a garage and a baseball stadium over open space that was dearly obtained and historically critical to the LA water basin is good public policy regardless of the sophistication of the design (and I expressed this doubt to Thom some weeks ago). I think these latter designer's and their team have to prove the viability and cultural correctness of their notions and their design is an attempt to do this. But my my main interest here is not to formulate a definitive opinion about the best design but to learn more from everybody what the actual situation on the ground is. Hopefully this conversationwould lead in some small way to a richer discussuion of the merits and constraints of each scheme.

I would maintain that one of the factors that help in an assessment of the approach that each team took is the team's willingness to consider ecosystem potential. In this regard at least, I think it useful to consider that LA in downtown, along the length of the river, in the vicinity of the Cornfields, is not a desert.

Oct 23, 06 12:16 pm

the desert comment was initially a throwaway comment. Landscaping in a dry, arid, climate like LA is interesting to me. This was the depth of the comment as i had originally used it. I'm still surprised that my reference to this hot, seasonless metropolis as a desert inspired such a flood of rebuttal.

we sustain ourselves by diverting enourmous quantities of water from other states.

Oct 23, 06 1:27 pm


Oct 23, 06 1:29 pm


Oct 23, 06 2:20 pm

well, marlin, you can call it desert, semi-desert, or the ninth circle of hell, just as you choose, but you seem pretty anxious to convince everyone that los angeles, the river, etc. is a certain way.

you've got an army of straw men on the march here:

...that the river is a dry, dirty ditch; that nobody (or nobody much) engages public space here; that nobody cares about history here; that a stadium would be the best proposed 'significant attractor' to the cornfields site and that none of the program elements already specified for the park would attract anybody (except perhaps for the HALF of the population that is hispanic,) that this city is a desert (and therefore - what? shouldn't have parks? shouldn't have planting?)

well, slap my fanny and call me a nitpicker, but I just don't follow your logic.

Oct 23, 06 11:02 pm
Robert Garcia The City Project

I applaud the comment by jkaliski -- "I do think that a bit more respect should be paid to the enourmous effort that it takes to be selected and produce one of the schemes. I would not be so quick to dismiss the intelligence or the efforts of any of the team's based upon hype or the regular participation, or not, of some of the firms in academic discourses amongst a small number of institutions." His or her comments are generally thoughtful and interesting.

The level of other discourse on this blog unfortunately can be astounding, descending to personal attacks and inbred comments about classmates and other professional ties. The derisive comments about Mia Lehrer, a woman and Latina, seem particularly inappropriate.

I would have thought there would be a richer, fact based discussion regarding the values at stake in creating the Los Angeles State Historic Park -- What are the needs of the people surrounding the site? How can the Park serve those needs? How can the design and design team serve those needs? What can the CA Department of Parks and Recreation do to serve those needs? What are the obstacles, and ways around those obtacles?

I would be grateful for citations regarding the claims made about Hispanics and park use in Los Angeles and Chicago -- are those statements evidence based? We have done extensive research about how different cultures value parks, but I can recall nothing along those lines.

The following and similar comments about beaches are also interesting -- in light of ongoing efforts to privatize public beaches, the lack of transit to the beach for those who cannot drive there, and the history of discriminatory beach access -- beaches, like parks, were off limits to people of color for much of the 20th century -- "the beaches are the most democratic place in LA with the greatest demographic range - even 'exclusive' wet sand below the high tide line in Malibu." Is there some support for that statement? Take a look at

Oct 24, 06 2:44 am

Hi all - Jan Dyer here. Hi Ann - It was good to see you at the presentation! While I am not a part of any of the design teams I work for a landscape architectural firm in Los Angeles and due to more reasons than you want to know I am very passionate about the Los Angeles River and it's potential revitalization. I was capitvated by all three presentations and while of course I have my favorite that is irrelevant as are all of your opinons....While all of the designs had grand "big ideas" as they teach at UCLA (Ann you can vouch for that!!) I felt there was only once concept that could withstand the test of time. We are all faced with, on a daily basis, post modern architecture, the addition of columns or corbels where they do not belong, but in someone's concept this is a grand idea.We can look to Europe and European architecture and landscape architecture as something that withstands the test of time... A classic design that is not trendy and when looked at 50-100 years from now will not be dated to a particular year or "style." That is what needs to be achieved in this design - classic design to withstand the test of time.I know you all feel the reference to Olmstead is overdone, but my friends it worked and it withstood the test of time, not only in NY but in Boston and even here in Los Angeles in Palos Verdes. So in the analysis here by you all are we way more self absorbed or self righteous?? Are you looking at the overall good and lasting legacy of the project or just a moment in time, a trendy design, to be dated and quickly out of date...While all three had intrinsically viable components there was one design that stood the test of time... Mia Lehrer's design was something that you could walk through today, in 2006 or in 100 years in 2106. FO was out in left field (no pun intended....) and left themselves open for critique and criticism.. While ultimately their solution might be the best, it was not in keeping with the master plan and fell short on the ears that were there in that room during the presentation. Hargreaves was interesting but seemed to be a cookie cutter of all Hargreaves projects and while it had potential, the area of the grand "plaza" if you put some scale to the plan was about 14 acres. We all know what Pershing Square looks like and that is an unbelievablly unfriendly place to be in - just think about the character of the space... I think we need to get off of the trendy bandwagon and start looking at what makes a place a destination, human scale, friendly, organic etc. What generates life in a space?? People... And how do you draw people?? You make it human scale, friendly, comfortable... a place that draws the community from near and far. So what we need here is not trendy and out of the box, we need a classic, timeless park with design elements that pass the test of time... In my mind Mia and team hit the nail on the head - ecologically correct ( who was that who posted about not being ecologically correct - that is all she has done for 20 plus years - there are bioswales and photovoltaics all over the place - get over it) and it has a timeliess, albeit not trendy design with graceful "s" curves you could die for to meander you through the space. We need to be thinking timeless not timewasted on a park of this stature... Sorry to be so lengthy on my first post...

Oct 24, 06 2:47 am

OOPS - should have done spell check first - sorry - Jan

Oct 24, 06 2:50 am

OOPS - should have done spell check first - sorry - Jan

Oct 24, 06 2:50 am

And by the way how does one mistakenly measure success in terms of how outlandish a concept is proposed rather than based on functionality and form. What happened to function and form?? Has that gone by the wayside???

Oct 24, 06 2:58 am
"The level of other discourse on this blog unfortunately can be astounding, descending to personal attacks and inbred comments about classmates and other professional ties. The derisive comments about Mia Lehrer, a woman and Latina, seem particularly inappropriate."

stop blaming the forum and stop being groupies.

nobody is using the term "inbred" except the person who is complaining about the level of discourse.

Oct 24, 06 5:19 am

[i]...the area of the grand "plaza" if you put some scale to the plan was about 14 acres. We all know what Pershing Square looks like and that is an unbelievablly unfriendly place to be in - just think about the character of the space...[i]

i don't know what pershing square looks like, and i wouldn't assume that hargreaves' 14 acres would mimic it. i'll have to speak as one of the converted here: i questioned our 'great lawn' in louisville for the same reasons of scale and use.

guess what! i was so completely wrong. the great lawn has indeed become louisville's front yard, its welcome mat. it's a place where a concert can happen and there is still room for a soccer game and two ultimate frisbee games. and, with the adjacent spaces of different character, you can hang back off the lawn and watch, you can walk your dog, a different event can be going on entirely.

i'd warn against assuming that you know what 14 acres means by comparing it to something you don't like. look at the design implications of that 14 acres in the context of the larger scheme.

Oct 24, 06 7:22 am

RG- If I was critiquing Mia on a personal/racial/sexist level, I would have compared her beauty to Mary Margaret's. But no, that is not my language or thoughts behind my disappointment with her skills as a Landscape Architect were aimed at.

As a professional landscape architect/urban designer with a passion for the Los Angeles River and the entire watershed of Los Angeles (from the Owens Valley, the Colorado River, to the Sacramento River), I have been attempting to reconcile MLA's lackluster performance on the Los Angeles River Revitalization Masterplan, with similar projects around the world. Maybe I should blame the parochial interests in Los Angeles for never letting go of their agendas for the sake of the bigger picture (or is this just a phenomina in San Diego?)

My disclosure of ties to Ha or Mo-fO, was an attempt to make a journalistic full disclosure so that I could objectively make comments and not just root for people I know. Yes, I know people in MLA's office too.

Jan- lots of good thoughts and comments- welcome to the discussion/archinect. For lots of reasons, I don't think that Olmstead is the appropriate model for a 21st century urban park in los angeles. (Anne Winston Spirn has a great essay about him that I just read in [i]Uncommon Ground[i] edited by William Cronon). Yes, I grew up in boston, in one of his garden suburbs too... but we use parks differently today (and will in the future). A pastoral greensward with curvilinear paths don't provide the layering of programatic uses that the LASHP will be be asked to perform. Not sure if any of the schemes may provide for the intensity of uses or address the urban conditions/context of the site. even the two 'day at the park' scenarios are rather sparse with presenting the amount of potential visitors (though Ha's diagram is more evocative by tracing their routes).

Importing english pastoral ideals (which were interpretations of Chinese gardens) to Los Angeles seems an academic project with no potential. What about basing a design on the conditions, constraints, history, and place of the site? Of that MLA did trace the erased RR tracks and while fO engages a bigger issue of Elysian Park. Yes, the Ha scheme is a cut and paste adaptation of their other parks. 14 acres is a large lawn to not have any shade in the hot soCal sun, but then the other schemes have equally large shadeless expanses....

Oct 24, 06 10:35 am

hi Jan! wow, everyone is finding their way here! are we turning up on Google or something?

first of all, although there have been plenty of ad hominem attacks and snark going on here, a lot of it fairly ill-informed, I don't see any evidence that anyone is criticizing any of the designers based on gender or ethnicity. it would be nice if everyone based their criticisms solely on the details of the designs, but of course this IS a small world where a lot of people know other people, and personalities go into the mix too.

as for which designs are "classic" and "timeless," personally I don't think there is such a thing, not even in nature, let alone human design. Olmsted's designs were a product of a specific historic moment; many of their elements have gone on being useful, while others haven't or have been subject to alteration.

And Central Park, far from being a timeless monument, has had a fairly dramatic history, and has gone through several significant periods of neglect and abuse. in recent decades it took a monumental effort by a pubic-private partnership to pull it back from the brink of doom, it was not so long ago that it was a symbol of everything that was hellish about cities in the fiscal crisis years. it functions beautifully today, but it takes a LOT of intensive management and widespread investment by multiple constituencies to keep it going.

not that any of the above necessarily argues for or against an 'olmstedian' design, but I think the point could be made that there are many, many examples of designs that were of their time and yet go on having vital relationships with their users. a certain degree of adaptability helps, and investment (both financial and otherwise) in the place by its users.

Oct 24, 06 11:23 am

and right now I feel compelled to add: yes, I've been guilty of snark too, in my latest response to marlin.

so, marlin, this is my open message to you: you've said a lot of stuff in the course of this discussion that comes off as fairly dismissive, generalizations that aren't supportable, even some things that some might find offensive. and yet you've also stated that you enjoy the discussion, hearing everyone's opinions, etc.

so I do wonder, do you really mean all that you've said, or are you just trying to stir (stuff) up?

if your point is that people shouldn't be sentimental or unrealistic about various realities here in Los Angeles, I couldn't agree with you more, even if I don't suppose we'd exactly agree on all those realities. there is undoubtably a danger of over-earnestness when we discuss these matters.

but, you seem to be unwilling to acknowledge that the current situation might change. the river might just be altered, both from an engineering and a design standpoint. there are efforts under way to do just that. new parks might be created, and not just this one. given that we're in a dry climate, and we have this problematic civic relationship with parkland/open space, and all the rest of it, what are we going to do about it? do we have anything constructive to offer? which 'gestures' are the right ones?

I guess what I'm trying to say is, I don't really believe you *are* as cynical as a lot of your remarks sound.

Oct 25, 06 2:19 am

it's nice to see jkaliski using Rome as a positive precedent. Since Romans basically invented the civil engineering that made it possible to drain all its wetlands and swampland with a massive sewer system to allow "Rome" as we know it to exist at all.
it's amazing how a radical intervention can allow opportunity for beauty to blossom. or maybe Rome would have been better had they just proposed some pleasant landscaping and 'curvy' paths?
no, it was ROME.
just like it's LA.
come on. this park isn't by a granola farm in oregon, it's by the 8th most populated city on earth. really. the olmstedian pastoral model was last relevant in the 1920's. is there seriously still thoughts that this model makes any sense at all in the 21st century?

Oct 25, 06 2:25 am
is there seriously still thoughts that this model makes any sense at all in the 21st century?

maybe not in l.a. don't know.

but for some people in some places: yes!

Oct 25, 06 7:20 am

nit: writing long winded responses takes time. I'll see if I can do this without diverting too much from your open comment. I'm not good at including emoticons, so I urge you to hear the voice delivering this post as one from by a modest guy with a genuine smile on his face.

"... that people shouldn't be sentimental or unrealistic about various
realities here in Los Angeles" Yeah, I'd agree this is my point. Let's start with a few premises, and then we can work from there:
The fate of the LA river and the Cornfield Proposals are individual subjects, so when i talk about the river in a way that may seem derisive, it in no way reflects my genuine appreciation for the Cornfield proposals.

For me to say that Hispanics seem to engage open space in Los Angeles with great frequency and activity shouldn't be misconstrued as racist, or otherwise need to be backed up by statistical data. It's an observation stemming from a lifelong residency in Los Angeles. Hispanic culture is festive, to say the least, and for me to say this does not necessarily make the converse my opinion: that white people don't engage public space. A good example may be Pan-Pacific park on 3rd street in West Hollywood: it sits at the base of Park La Brea, a predominantly white, middle and upper class, housing project, and on any given weekend, the park is populated by Hispanics engaged in pickup games of soccer with incredible explosions of balloon colors and piñata candy celebrating a birthday for a young Hispanic child. The same is true for the public park at the corner of Robertson Blvd and Olympic Blvd at the edge of Beverly Hills, where most often a soccer game is underway initiated by Hispanics whose clothes and contractor trucks suggest that they are not residents of the nearby muiltbazillion-dollar houses. What does this say about the nearby residents and their desire to engage public space? Without statistical data, i can't say for certain. Are there other people in the park as well? Certainly. But if a particular culture engages public space in Los Angeles more so than any other, the behaviors of their engagement seem like a good place to start in terms of developing public space. Ergo MLA’s and FO’s proposals I enjoyed very much. For the sake of brevity, it's worth quickly acknowledging that there are examples of other public spaces that are engaged primarily by citizens of other classes and cultures: Liemert Park in South Central, Balboa Park in Reseda.

Calling LA a desert: Jkaliski misconstrued this as derisive. I never used the term in a way that should have led you to conclude this. This is my home, this Mediterranean desert Los Angeles. I find landscape design in arid climes fascinating as a result. LA is a funny place: there's no burst of fall color and no seasonal change. One day the leaves turn brown, and the next day they're being swept out of the gutter by a street cleaner. My love is a Magnolia blossom.

That the river is a dry, dirty ditch: Do I really have to argue to support this claim? . One possible rebuttal may point out those areas of Frogtown that are not concrete-bottomed, or the efforts of FOLAR to landscape the fringes and walkway paths, but otherwise a ditch is what it is. Another rebuttal might be that at some time in the distant past it was a watershed not yet paved over by the Army Corps. Your question, though, is about whether or not I think this can change in favor of some picturesque vitality and life. I don't think it needs to. I think a lot of the sentimentalism can be attributed to the idea that its current condition as a ditch starkly contrasts pastoral visions of the future stemming from the title "river", which always seemed to me to be a goofy misnomer. Call it a channel. Unlike "rivers" in other cities, the LA river is neither a border condition nor an active waterway thoroughfare. However, the freeway infrastructure inherits both of these qualities. The “other side of the tracks” in LA always seemed to me to manifest as “the other side of the freeway,” and the 10 freeway along Midcity is the most visible example. Unique proposals for competitions tend to pop out of the minds of natives instead of non-natives: FO's proposal to open Chavez Ravine up as public space in favor of a fiscally self-sustaining attractor like a ballpark placed at the Cornfields; Gehry and COA's notion of a linear Downtown district along the Wilshire Blvd corridor, Craig Hodgetts' proposal for the Artspark competition in the Sepulveda Basin. Why these things tend to be so radically different is worth considering. Again, any time you choose to abandon a brief, it is a slap in the face of the organizations that took the time and effort to put it together, while simultaneously these slaps can raise questions about alternative options for land use.

Historic parks in LA: I don’t know. Whose history do we acknowledge and at the expense of who else? Whose eradication is worse? There are already some parks that acknowledge the history of Los Angeles by being built from old infrastructure: the Nike Missile Station atop Mulholland Drive (named after the city’s most famous water czar,) was restored and planned by the LA Conservancy, and provides hiking and biking trails with infographics stations telling the story of LA as a defense installation during the Red Scare era: Angelinos can learn about the deactivated missile batteries beneath the Sepulveda Basin. At the base of the hill leading up to Jerde’s (?) successful civic open space attractor of CityWalk, is the historic park Campo de Cahuenga, where Mexican commander Ardres Pico surrendered to General John Fremont (an army topographer who coined other fun misnomers, “the great basin” and the “Golden Gate), thus giving birth to the American state of California. Stories can be written about both of these installations that make them sore points in someone’s history, nevermind that the Presidio (Nike station) and the Campo are the two dominant secular infrastructural typologies imported by the Spanish. The aforementioned is an architectural history, and California’s botanical history is just as colored: America’s “amber waves of grain” in part references the Slender Wild Oat, brought over accidentally on the hooves of Spanish horses and quietly and irrepressibly destroyed the state’s thriving wild grass species. This is an example of a fun story of subjugation that goes unacknowledged by the cornfield competition proposals. Another piece of Angelino botanical history concerns California’s Mendel, Luther Burbank, after whom the Angelino subcity of Burbank is named. This guy cross-pollinated the heck out of every species he could find, developing new species of Plums, Prunes, and Potatoes. Should the cornfield historic park offer up a location that pays tribute to bioengineering and the fruits of Burbank’s developments? Maybe. I think this stuff’s rad, but again, whose history do we acknowledge, and how? California’s plant life consistently mocks conventional notions of abundance and scale. As part of a historic narrative, Where are these plant types in the cornfield proposals? This again, asks, “how exactly do you tell a story?”

I don’t have the right answer to anything. Right is like Truth, and both are evasive. As a native, I have another unique and uncanny idea: focus the development of public space along the freeway edges. I like the river the way it is. As a teenager, I spent hours and hours frolicking along its retaining walls with drunk graffiti writers. I like that it is this meandering perspective occasionally popping up along every condensed view of the city experienced from any freeway, and can cheekily remind the city that it’s tied together with threads of its own absurdity. To restore it to a traditional river might actually create a border condition that further segregates Los Angeles. For me, I like that the LA river in its current state can make any Angelino life instantaneously extraordinary, like when an extreme kayaker has to be fished out of a storm rush by the National Guard copters, and the rescue footage is played over and over on local news. Or that any of us can grab our ’39 Mercury choptop and nostalgize the drag race scene in Grease. Or that a graffiti writer has an art gallery visible from the entire city, and the sloped banks are echoing the fame endowed him by other graffiti writers when he wins an afternoon-long graffiti battle.

This city, the “river”, is fucking weird, and I love it.

I love the cornfield proposals, mainly because I couldn’t conjure them up myself. The Hargreaves scheme is sorely lacking in benches and seating, and the drumlins are a bit hokey, but whatever: it’s better than I could do. Thanks for redacting your last comment towards me, nit. I hope I covered all the points of your concern.

Oct 25, 06 5:10 pm

i love this thread.

Oct 25, 06 5:31 pm

Marlin- only a native angeleno can know about some of those places- great comment.

But LA is a city of outsiders, of immigrants and emmigrants. So the power of Mo-fO's scheme is in the tradition of outsiders reinventing LA. Even Mia is an migrant (don't know if her partner Ester is native). There are very few native Landscape Architects in LA that I ever met... Maybe Mark Rios, but he wasn't invited- though would have been a better local choice.

Oct 25, 06 5:51 pm

so glad that there is a discussion about landscape architecture/urban design in LA. As previously stated, it is much needed. Thank you for jumpstarting and discussing these projects from an inside perspective.

IMO, the MO-FO scheme is the most historical scheme. True, I appreciate that they bucked the ridiculous-to-achieve design/program wish list of the competition and am very glad not to have to read an embarrassing text/program that dots every possible i in the competition outline, but the whole design seems very Hausman-late 19th Paris-rigid. And it is in bed with some developer who stands to gain a lot. There is nothing organic in their proposal; everything is structured, serves a purpose and has its place. It works well as a graphic but if I imagine the place, it feels very elitist. It feels like the cornfield area is the new border between the haves and have-a-lot-lesses and everyone should know their place. Nothing like a Duisberg Nord.

The HA scheme is fine but lacks a grander design gesture. It would probably be a nice place since HA does good, solid work that actually can energize an urban area. Something that FO has not achieved to date, right?

The MLA scheme seems to suffer from too many cooks. The broader gestures--the strands and the peeled-up ground to create building underneath and berm above--are really nice. The Thomas Kinkade renderings, the pirate plank (what is that??), the dizzying uberprogram is cluttering the nice design (which btw was designed by David Fletcher who is one of the guys behind the winning Strangler Fig MAK center competition--hmm, which design is more radical given the context??)

someone said they wanted a Duisberg Nord, which is not a Robert Smithson Notes from Passiac type minimal landscape, and I agree that would be fantastic (just dry up that LA Riverbed and make it a skate park) or a West8 post-Pop silliness or even a lawsuit-waiting-to-happen Gustafson, but is the US capable of appreciating it? There is no LA/UD school in the US that supports this kind of discussion. Please all of you, start alternative Landscape Arch/Urban Design schools in your town a la SCI-Arc 1972 and keep the interest and debate going.

Oct 25, 06 5:55 pm

all the projects are the same (similar) static proposals with mastery of form making and etc. white birds in chinese cages. or white elefants in the cornfields. all with a touch of romance and green love. relying on rendering program dynamism.

i like marlin's project of freeway / combo that has a real possibility of connecting this city through parks and pedestrians.
his idea is dynamic and it has a futuristic possibilities. not just an exercise in the better park designing confined to the cornfields area.
why do we always have to bust conc. of the la river for our renderings?
when it rains it all goes into la river. it is like a big raging brown drainage water when it rains heavily in two days in a row. these projects are way too expensive.

big jump is already done, i believe by just establishing the cornfield which the city should built on it, instead of spending another big money on some spectacular.
that program is an overkill. it is not an idea/vision program it is a rearrengement/design program. too bad. i don't think anybody is criticing the 21st century but eloborating further on the la citta capitalista.

if mofo were gonna break the rules, they should have a really radically different approach.
sorry, i don't think relocating the dodger stadium down the hill and carving some plots for developers is hardly a visionary idea worthy of breaking the states guidelines.

Oct 25, 06 7:18 pm

Parasitelily- welcome and great first post. Alternate LA schools- huh? I know of a few alternate non-accredited programs that are more horticultural/environmental in pedagogy.The again, penn tries to push it's students towards crazy pie-in-the-sky ideas more then any of the other schools out there. So do we really need another grad school to fight over the few students who are entering our profession? There is a shortage of LAs entering practice per the ASLA. Creating an alternate school is one way to cultivate fresh talent! I like the idea of going for a sci-LArch attitude- sign me up to teach!

Orhan - mofo has shown that they will break the rules- but is there approach strong enough to blossom into a full blown scheme that does the site proud? there is nothing that will prevent the selected team from tossing out the initial scheme with the rainwater flowing down the fovick.

wasn't there am early 90's project to create an architectural cloud over the 101 freeway near where the cathedral now is? maybe it's time to bring back that idea. Then there was the student filming a devil frolicking along the 10 that shut down traffic for a while- maybe playing next to the freeway isn't the best idea.

Oct 25, 06 7:36 pm

i'd push this blog to continue talking about what does public space mean in los angeles? is the need greater as density in korea town rivals that of new york? what about the uncounted illegal immigrants who live in crowded apartments near the cornfields site?

there are huge economic disparities in los angeles, as well as socio-economic and racial segregation - although there is more racial mixing than people would think. as an la native, i don't meet as many mixed heritage people any where else as i do in la. given the socio-economic and racial aspects of los angeles the olmsteadian - democratic park idea still holds weight. not necessarily his pastoral style, but his meaty idea that a park can be a leveling field. this is particularly interesting to me in the la context where most "public space" is couched in capitalism - third street promenade, pasadena old town and shopping malls of course. the beach is the closest thing we have to a unifying open space, but it does have this protected feeling that it's the backyard of the people wealthy enough to live near the beach.

so my rant, is primarily to prod us to think about what is public space in la, and why is it needed? maybe that discussion will lead to better comments at public forums for this project and a clearer guage by which to choose the best team.

someone said that the jury will pick the best design team, not necessarily the best concept design. having said that, we have to admit that we aren't privy to the other half of their competition work - their rfp books.

designer personalities are fun to talk about - who can resist to notice that rem always wears prada - we are a small community, but as the populace, let's dream and question and hopefully push the designer forward when we go to these public comment forums.

fyi - i worked at mla. while the environment could be stressful, i had a great experience. the firm is earnestly interested in discussing ideas and learning and moving the profession forward. so la natives, let your blogosphere ideas spill into the real world - i know that jan goes to all the la river meetings - go jan!

also i'd like to clarify that mla is not the only landscape arch firm on the la river master plan. it's a large team made up of civitas, wenk & associates, tetra tech and mla.

Oct 26, 06 2:59 pm

Dean Treekiller, you've got the job. I hear there is a former cornfield in downtown LA that won't be used for a while. . .SCI-LARC?

Just please don't hire Mark how-to-run-a-LA-program-into-the-ground Rios. (seriously, how do you start with 20+ students and five years later have only 1 and still get a decent salary?)

Clover, absolutely. I lean away from cynicism and toward idealism when it comes to the projects and the Cornfield competition and yearn for more public space and interaction in this town. But that doesn't mean that I don't get upset about the lack of presence of this profession in the greater design field. Competitions like these and the discussions that follow (on all levels) help gather momentum internally while externally educating the public about the field and show that LAs can do more than place a tree.

Oct 27, 06 9:40 am

I was wondering what happened to USC...

The good news for landscape in Los Angeles is that ucla extension is on the ascendence- now if they would only get LAAB accreditation. Maybe the origin myth of sci-larch will be a group of rebel ucla-exers lead by nitpicker, breaking away and moving into a werehouse in... Azusa to be near the monopolistic/omnipresent monrovia nursery, or a great post-industrial spaces down in San Pedro.

Oct 27, 06 10:48 am

Too bad they had to give this up for developer's collective wet dreams and their designer pawns.
How big is this bonanza? Thats what i'd like somebody to post about, if any.
Don't give me the City needs more park crap because i know adjacent elysian park is hardly full over the years.

more pictures of mo better park idea

Oct 30, 06 7:15 pm

fraction of the cost, mind you.

Oct 30, 06 7:17 pm

Is there a bring back the Cornfields campaign anywhere?

Oct 30, 06 7:20 pm

Further beef.

Even wall to wall park designers will be made to compromise big time once the process starts.
That’s why i said before; Mayne-Fo (yet another name tagging?) plan was ahead of everybody, I said that in my first reaction to these presentations here.
Because that team already plotted the private development in forms of pro sports venture (big one for that; dodgers), and some would be, ah so silica condos, with people sun tanning at the poolside, which would have been the Los Angeles dodgers pit, before the project.
Buy and sell buy and sell, worked on that one; they made everybody happy but specially the investors, who are to surface soon after the award, imho.

Mia Lehrer whose artistry is vivid in my mind, remembering her small project in the mists of a nice backyard, a chain link outdoor shower in a NYT Magazine with a special ms. Iovane line, "essence of ease", ten years ago or so. She is good, no doubt.
But she will be sure made to scale down the Olmsted Park Walk and plot out for… umm. Well, let’s say it... Maybe a Dodgers stadium? In collaboration with…Frank Gehry? Hahaha…Never say never. This thing is still in Chinese laundry.
Sorry, i didn’t really look further into the third proposal because i have no interest in it for my purposes. Lehrer’s project is a better sample to represent the ‘get the project first and deal with the developers and public later’ side of the physical plan argument.

Today, i saw these photos of the Cornfield in the Flickr which i linked in an above post. I was stunned by the beauty of that field and realized that it already had the qualities of a nature site, a living museum, and I loved the way it off set the development around it. Also, it had flexibility and humbleness of a farmland about it that I am sure many residents of this mechanical city would appreciate dearly.

Obviously, our almost national veggie is too un-profitable in this venture.

This kind of speedy moves, forwarding hastily put together floor plans, pushing to move on to the next phase next phase (twice please), teaming up and morever, behind the curtains alliances and other city, state corridor nods, and fantastic Malibu dinners? Where are the ‘makers’? I know they are there…
Something is overkilled here…
Who aggrees with me?

Oct 30, 06 8:56 pm
FREEWAY PARK for Hollywood


24 acres at $200/sf to build a park over the hollywood freeway- wow! that's the most exciting idea that the LA city council/CRA has thought about in many years. Go to the meeting tonight - wish I could make it.

Hope they go for a competition and don't just chose a politically connected local firm...

whatcha think?

Nov 1, 06 10:20 am

tree: i'm speechless...

Nov 1, 06 12:12 pm

public money better spent with this one.
i knew marlin's mind was more brilliant than of those cornfield killers. (no relation to treekiller).

Nov 1, 06 1:18 pm

O- those people are called farmers, not lumberjacks.

Nov 1, 06 4:54 pm

First let me say I am a proud graduate of ML+A, the firm is committed to excellence. The works is intense; the Partners are passionate about what they do.

I am working elsewhere and I have come to realize that pressure, in good design forms comes with the territory. I am pleased for share the firms accomplishments with my students.

I went to look at the boards, the ML+A team has a great project.

Thoughtful response to community issues.

Promenades - Paseos linking Spring and Broadway. Wonderful bridges and connections to Elysian Elysian, Solano and across the River. The River project and the park wetlands are wonderfully integrated to the design.

The Meadow areas are seductive people places, Is it daring? Yes, it is.

Creating a picturesque landscape is daring.

The bridges and buildings are great places to enjoy city site. The site plan has movement, the lifted edges allow for program.

This is a Park a vision for a Park, not buildings. A Park.

Lets make it happen in Los Angeles.

Nov 3, 06 2:19 am

the freeway park is awesome. awesome awesome awesome. all my friends (99.9% of which are not in this industry) are talking about it and hve been passing information on like crazy.

the community loves it so far, have we heard of any NIMBY's rearing their heads yet?

Orhan - the cornfields was defined as a temporary *art* piece. i believe the artist considered it to be a living sculpture, and not a park. others may have more specific info to back this up (or disprove?) but I'm under the impression that it's considered art.

Nov 3, 06 5:27 pm

sure it is very artistic. i believe it could be sustainable and repeatable. perhaps free tomatoes for the angelinos? watermelons anybody?

i am also in favor of hollywood proposal. but i also see it as a whole different issue.

do you remember frank o. gehry's temporary contemporary? still the best museum space in los angeles.

Nov 3, 06 5:45 pm

i'm looking forward to this thread morphing into a joint information/discussion source on the cornfield project and the freeway park project!

Siggy: any links or information or gossip or meeting minutes reviews, don't hesitate to share!

Nov 3, 06 5:46 pm

marlin - so far just the news articles, found some things through the hollywood chamber's website and newsletter. the names are there, i figure it's just a matter of getting to them and doing some, um, networking. they 'have' their engineering firm (parsons...85% sure on that) however this firm is also responsible for the big dig and thus the big dig ceiling collapse.

perhaps we should move to another thread in order not to hijack this one, b/c i'm sure there is more cornfield love to come. ;)

orhan - there is the fallen fruit website for community fruit "shareage" While a city-sponsored watermelon and tomato field would be, quite simply, amazing, i'm not sure it is using the space to its full potential...i'd rather have a place to go running or reading than go to eat a cherry tomato. ha!

Nov 3, 06 8:10 pm

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