Design finalists unveil their concepts for the reinvented Pershing Square, LA

A concept graphic of a public park with buildings in the backdrop.
The four design finalists proposing to rejuvenate Los Angeles' 130-year-old Pershing Square Park unveiled their concepts via a public forum last week. Pictured: the proposal from wHY + Civitas
(Image credit: TBC)

Pershing Square, the 130-year-old public park across the street from the famed Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, has been in need of a revamp since its last, lackluster overhaul in the early 1990s. The square is situated in the heart of downtown, which is experiencing its third re-boot as a viable area in which to live, work and play.

Those three factors – live, work and play, or ‘re-imagining the heart of LA’ – were front-and-centre last week as four design finalists were unveiled for what is being dubbed the Pershing Square Renew.

The public forum – which included a paper ballot where attendees could vote on their favourite design before leaving – was organized by 14th District LA councilman José Huizar, and included speeches by Fred Kent, the president of Project for Public Spaces, and Alex Lightman, a futurist, author and investment guru, as well as several entrepreneurial downtown residents, pioneers of traditional urban-living. LA was – to quote the comedian Mort Sahl – ‘a hundred suburbs looking for a city’. Downtown was where people went to work, but the place turned back into a ghost town around 5pm – or, at least, that is how the story went until recently.

The most recent resuscitation of downtown LA seems to be taking, after earlier attempts in the 1990s and early 2000s produced pockets of progress, but without enough real change to re-ignite the area as a whole. It should be noted that there are still enclaves of vice and squalor. Along the much-talked-about corridor off Broadway and 9th, near the United Artists Theatre – which was rechristened as the Theatre at the Ace Hotel two years back – there are New York-centric luxury retail shops like OAK, Tanner Goods and Acne Studios. But just two or three blocks south of this intersection, you’ll also find LA’s skid row, one of the last shantytowns left in any major American city. Tech companies and real estate investors (as opposed to traditional retail and nightlife) are the driving force for the current reigniting of downtown LA’s progress toward re-urbanisation.

Geographically, Pershing Square – a public space – is a clean palette from which to re-invent a public park that could galvanise all of the city’s residents, not just the privileged, as with Trafalgar Square in London, Millennium Park in Chicago or Bryant Park in New York.

The four design finalists – Agence Ter and Team, James Corner Field Operations with Frederick Fisher & Partners, SWA/Morphosis and wHY + Civitas – presented their visions of the future to an enthusiastic and welcoming crowd. One key takeaway was that downtown Los Angeles is potentially the one hub in LA County where one day, you won’t need to drive, but instead be able to commute on foot, bike or public transportation.

In a county where 77 per cent of ‘urban spaces’ are roads and parking lots, the Pershing Square Renew initiative is a breath of fresh air. Los Angeles is a city once again on the rise, as the quality of life here, these days, is better than it has ever been. Regardless of who wins the design competition, the future of downtown LA is much brighter with a re-envisioned Pershing Square. 

A concept drawing of a park with trees, walking space and buildings in the backdrop.

wHY + Civitas' design approach (pictured) connects Los Angeles with parks, healthy places for socialising, exercising, playing, learning and relaxing. For Pershing Square, the teams envisioned an exemplary model for how to transform this public piece of LA into the heart of the city

(Image credit: TBC)

Aerial view of the public space featuring a park area with plenty of trees and buildings surrounding the area.

Gerdo Aquino of SWA joined forces with LA-based architecture firm Morphosis, led by Thom Mayne, on a concept that placed sustainability and flexible programming at the heart of its design

(Image credit: TBC)

A close-up graphic of the public space with grass, trees and buildings.

Their proposal (pictured) pitches the square as fulfilling different roles during the day and night. It needs to be a safe public space, a local spot with dining and art to meet and mingle, a place to play and a mobility hub

(Image credit: TBC)

Ariel drawing of the public space with four triangular areas within the rectangular park area.

James Corner Field Operations collaborated with LA-based architect Frederick Fisher & Partners to re-create the green garden oasis (pictured) that characterised the original square

(Image credit: TBC)

Aerial graphic of the public space with its four triangular spaces in the rectangular park. The walkway runs through from corner to corner and there is a water space in the central area.

Providing spaces for everyday strolling, relaxation and play, as well as for special events, markets, festivals, arts and performance, the aim is to create an iconic open space specific to Downtown Los Angeles that captures both its historical significance as well as its future potential as a cultural centrepiece

(Image credit: TBC)

An urban plan of the area with buildings surrounding the rectangular public park space.

Agence Ter (pictured) partnered with local landscape architecture firm SALT Landscape Architects to generate a a series of distinctive public spaces covered by a 'smart canopy'

(Image credit: TBC)

A concept drawing of the public space from the ground level, looking across the park with buildings in the backdrop.

The concept was guided by using the landscape as a basis for designing the city 

(Image credit: TBC)


For more information, visit the Pershing Square Renew website

Images courtesy of the architecture firms and Pershing Square Renew