Land use planning begins with topography and history
What is the intrinsic nature of the land? Where are its natural features: its heights, valleys, views, winds, and water courses ? How has the land been used in the past: What are its historic paths of travel, meeting places, and land uses, and how have they changed over time ?
The Arts District of Downtown Los Angeles is in the heart of the valley of the Los Angeles River, between hills to the east (Boyle Heights) and to the west (Bunker and Courthouse Hills). Its irregular street pattern was created by the gravity‐fed zanjas, or irrigation ditches, that watered fields prone to seasonal flooding.
In later years, the river was constrained in a concrete channel, permanent warehouse and manufacturing buildings were constructed, and major railroad alignments created a prominent north‐south pattern of streets and buildings.
Further, Alameda is unquestionably the most important north‐south street in the Arts District, connecting Union Station with South LA and the Port of Los Angeles. Sixth Street is arguably the most important east ‐west street, as it will connect over the new $450‐million Sixth Street Viaduct with Whittier Boulevard and East LA. Therefore, Sixth & Alameda is the most important street intersection in the Arts District. As such, it deserves special prominence and architectural treatment. This prominence has been recognized in Metro’s decision to locate an underground light rail station one block from the project site.
After noting the unique significance of this site, Herzog & de Meuron began to explore the surrounding context. As highly contemporary architects, they did not want to propose an historicist, imitative, or faux historic structure. Instead, they sought to identify the underlying, almost genetic, characteristics that define the Arts District: what they call ‘’Typologies.”
They found four unique Typologies:
First, they identified the charismatic low‐rise, former warehouse buildings, often with brick facades, and typically dating from the early 1900s. These buildings give the Arts District much of its unity and charm. They include bow‐truss, brick‐surfaced buildings, with roof lines running north-south, on both sides of the project site. These buildings are typically about 40 feet high.
Next, the design team focused on larger, often long and narrow, mid‐rise former warehouse and manufacturing buildings that stand out in the neighborhood and surround the site. These include the Toy Factory Lofts, Biscuit Lofts, The Row (formerly Alameda Square), and the ETO door factory immediately east of the site. These buildings are large and utilitarian, typically about 130 to 150 feet high.
The third Typology is the small, intimate passageways, sometimes called “secret spaces,” between the former industrial buildings. These alleyways, often former rail alignments, shelter the District’s most special social spaces, including Daily Dose coffee, Bar Mateo, and Bestia restaurant. These “secret spaces” tend to be long, narrow, shaded, and lined with ‘unexpected’ local retail and food selections.
The fourth Typology is the presence of the Downtown skyline. To a surprising degree, the 50-story and taller buildings of the Financial District, that now identify the Los Angeles skyline, are visible, even from ground level, in the Arts District. This proximity –and its intriguing distance ‐and the views of the Downtown skyline, are salient characteristics of the neighborhood.
Working with these Typologies, Herzog & de Meuron evolved the architectural concept of the "Fabric", "Table", "Fingers", and "Skyline".
Table, Fabric, & Fingers
The entire property is defined by a horizontal “Table” at elevation 40 feet, respecting the height of surrounding buildings, with two or three levels of retail and other uses sheltered underneath within the “Fabric”. The property has been dealt with as distinctly different from a typical real estate subdivision, which would divide this large site into discrete blocks with individual buildings. Instead, the Fabric and Table create a comprehensive urban environment that is, at once, evocative of the meandering, sheltered bazaars of the Middle East and the fundamental horizontality of Los Angeles, which is perhaps best exemplified architecturally by the Water and Power building.
This provides opportunities for unique creative expressions in its ground‐floor retail spaces ‐ it is expected to include grocery, food hall, film, entertainment, and commercial businesses — with flexibility for change and self‐expression. In a sense, it is an ‘urban shelving system’ that can accommodate evolving creativity and talent. Below the Table, the Fabric will also include arts development, arts production, live/work, and arts exhibition spaces, a school for neighborhood children, and lobbies of two hotels. All parking is below grade, consistent with the expressed wishes of the community.
Above the Table are a series of “Fingers”: buildings housing apartments and creative office space. These buildings reflect — but do not mimic — the mid‐rise building Typology noted above. They are highly efficient, vaguely industrial in character, and they fit appropriately within the context of surrounding structures such as The Row , ETO Door, and the Biscuit and Toy Factory Lofts.
An unquestionably striking feature of the concept is the two 50‐story residential towers that comprise the “Skyline”. These highly‐articulated towers respond to the shapes and scale of the Downtown skyline. They also mark the intersection of Sixth and Alameda as the prominent place where an extension of Whittier Boulevard meets an extension of Wilshire Boulevard ‐ where east meets west ‐and where they both cross Alameda and connect with Union Station.
The architects have deliberately concentrated the densest part of the concept along Alameda for three primary reasons: it is closest to the future light rail station on Alameda; it begins to establish Alameda as an urban boulevard that can be continued north and south; and it preserves the integrity of the remainder of the property as a mid‐rise environment in the Arts District. The towers also provide maximum shade to the development in summer months and maximum sunlight in winter.
The buildings are Type I, concrete‐frame, fire‐resistant, and durable, again in accordance with Arts District community preferences. Further, the unfinished look is expressly intended to encourage murals and other evolutionary art responses, and to provide an infrastructure for creative expression.
As with all recent projects proposed by the design team, 6AM will incorporate innovations to improve the efficiency of water use, including storm water management and energy consumption. The durability of Type I construction demonstrates sustainability advantages, as will active and passive utility management and recycling systems.
Sixth & Alameda provides a robust palette of community benefits…
- Adherence to the development goals of the Arts District: Authenticity, Type 1 construction, andunderground parking
- A pedestrian‐oriented plan which integrates soft landscaping
- Architectural excellence which reflects a progressive vision of the character of the Arts District
- Integration of art throughout
- Arts Opportunity Space, able to act as a venue for exhibitions
- Public open space
- Artist in Residence (AIR) units
- Municipal fees and taxes
- Progressive labor policies: PLA, local hiring and contracting