Metropolis—a large mixed-use development on the southwestern edge of downtown Los Angeles—has for decades been the poster child for the area’s grand plans and, in the end, frustrated ambitions. A Postmodern plan by Michael Graves in the 1990s was one of several proposals that never made it to fruition. IDS, the site’s previous owner, also tried and failed to build there. But now the situation appears to be different, as Downtown’s momentum builds at a striking rate and huge projects start getting built.
In mid February, Shanghai-based developer Greenland and Gensler architects broke ground on the first phase of the $1 billion project, which includes a 19-story hotel and a 38-story residential tower. The buildings, highly visible from their location next to the 110 Freeway, will contain retail podiums and parking decks, atop which will sit open spaces. Phase two of the project, which has not yet been submitted for approvals, would include two taller towers.
As with its Ritz Carlton and JW Marriott at nearby LA Live, Gensler’s major architectural move appears to be staggering and giving dimensionality to the building’s skin to break down the mass and create visual movement. On top, while the buildings will have flat tops (per the city’s soon-to-change fire regulations), the architects will angle the perimeter parapets to create a less flat profile. Coinciding with these angles, at least one upper corner of the taller building will slice outward as it rises.
“You want it to say it’s a residence, but be modern and timeless,” said Gensler Managing Principal Rob Jernigan. His firm came on board in October and has already submitted 50 percent of its structural documents for phase one. They’re now in design development, and its renderings are still conceptual.
This phase of the project had already received entitlements from a past proposal, but still the shoring and excavation permits to begin construction were granted very quickly. Some would say at a Chinese pace. Greenland joined the project back in July (and didn’t officially buy the land until last month), so things were able to wrap up in about half a year.
“We’ve heard a lot about the frustration of developers about the slow pace of our development process,” said Huizar, who noted that some have walked away due to such delays. “We want to make it as smooth as possible.” He added: “When you have a billion dollar project pending you want to move fast.”
“Nothing has ever moved this quickly in this city,” reiterated Jernigan. Gensler was able to take advantage of the city’s relatively recent parallel design and permitting processes, in which firms can apply for permits while still in the middle of the design process.
The project is one of several new undertakings in downtown LA sponsored by foreign companies. Another $1 billion project is the 73-story Wilshire Grand, set to be the city’s tallest tower, which is being developed by Korean Company Hanjin International. That undertaking poured its entire concrete base last weekend.
“We don’t look at it as foreign investment. We look at it as investment,” said Huizar. “Wherever the money is coming from we welcome it. Downtown has been neglected for decades and this is going to help us get moving.”