The four final designs for Pershing Square range from urban tech-scape to flexible garden park.
Pershing Square is near the heart of downtown Los Angeles, and while it’s colorful and open, like the city it serves, the park is frequently empty, even dismal. Given its centrality, there’s no good reason why Pershing Square isn’t a vital part of L.A. life. Instead, it’s reviled by some and ignored by most.
The park suffers from some of the same issues that plague other Postmodernist parks. Although it is more than 150 years old, Pershing Square was last revised in 1994 by Ricardo Legorreta and Laurie Olin, who put an emphasis on hardscape and colorful, totemic sculptures. The pop still works; hardscape modern plazas, though, are no longer in vogue.
Pershing Square’s many features remind visitors of its varied purposes over the years. Too many, really: Orange trees planted in the park recall the Wolfskill orange grove that stood nearby in the 19th century. Parts of the park designed by artist Barbara McCarren include a terrazzo tile “fault line” that echoes not only the city’s seismic history but also Ask the Dust, a 1939 novel about Depression-era L.A. by John Fante. Pershing Square boasts a World War I memorial, plus a statue of Beethoven thrown in for good measure.
Part of the problem with Pershing Square is by design: It’s elevated and removed from the fabric of downtown by steps and walls. But job No. 1 for the architects and designers looking to revise Pershing Square is to give it an identity. Pershing Square Renew, a nonprofit public–private partnership, has assigned the task to four finalist design teams.
All four teams aim to tear down those walls and reintegrate Pershing Square with the ground plane of the city. And every plan turns the plaza into a park. Here are looks at each of the finalist designs that show how the plans differ.
Agence TER and Team
SALT Landscape Architects, one of the lead partners working with Agence TER Landscape Urbanists on the team’s Pershing Square proposal, is based in Los Angeles. (Agence TER, the only international firm in the competition, is headquartered in Paris.) The team’s plan is large, featuring branding by Pentagram, wayfinding by Still Room, and art by Leo Villareal—a murderer’s row of designers. The Agence TER scheme imagines Pershing Square as the heart of L.A., with a focus on shade, nature, and flexible spaces that aren’t overprescribed.
James Corner Field Operations with Frederick Fisher and Partners
The “DTLA” proposal by James Corner Field Operations and L.A.’s Frederick Fisher and Partners tries to reconcile two competing aspects of Pershing Square: Is it an urban square or a central park? The plan is to turn it into both—something along the lines of Chicago’s Millennium Park, New York’s Bryant Park, San Francisco’s Union Square, or London’s Trafalgar Square, according to the proposal. The mix of zany twisting pathways with geometric park spaces draws on three different historic plans for Pershing Square: the Eaton Plan (1886), the Parkinson Plan (1910), and the Legorreta and Olin Plan (1994). Eateries and market stalls are significant features.
SWA with Morphosis
It’s no surprise that the plan by SWA and Morphosis is the most futuristic and architectural of the bunch. (It’s also the only truly homegrown scheme: Both firms are based in the area.) This vision of Pershing Square includes facilities for tech-oriented education and a solar-powered, hydroponic farming tower, according to the team’s proposal. The plan also calls for more traditional uses, such as a central lawn, a children’s playscape, and dining and concessions.
wHY + Civitas
Another lead firm based in Los Angeles, wHY proposes “Pershing Green,” a plan that centers on a grassy mall, along with features dedicated to people-watching (“Pershing’s Perch”), shade (“The Scramble”), and gardens (“Pershing Gardens”). The park’s main structures include a raised walkway (“The Browse”) and a shading structure and theater (“The Grapevine”). Those gardens will also gather the park’s existing historic sculptures.
The jury will select one design team to proceed in May.