A park, not a building, was named the grand-prize winner at the Los Angeles Business Council’s 39th annual Los Angeles Architectural Awards on May 28, signifying a shift from praising spindly sky-grazing towers to humble community assets, which seemed to be the unifying factor for most of the recognized projects. The 9.5-acre Vista Hermosa Park, designed by Mia Lehrer + Associates and ERW Design, developed by Los Angeles Engineering for the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, includes watershed features, terraced lawns, synthetic athletic fields, and a playground. It’s also the first new park to be built in downtown since 1895.
The park topped other notable awardees like the Moore, Ruble, Yudell-designed Santa Monica Civic Center Parking Structure, and LOHA’s multi-family Formosa 1140. Belzberg Architect’s two awards went to the single-family Brentwood House and their 20th Street Offices in Santa Monica. Kanner Architects also had two nods: the 26th Street Low-Income Housing in Santa Monica, and United Oil Company Rapid 3, a stunning new gas station in Baldwin Hills. The industrial sustainability award went to HLW International for their Warner Bros. Studios Stage 23 in Burbank, while Mia Lehrer + Associates received a second nod in the civic sustainability category for the TreePeople community center, with AECOM and Marmol Radziner and Associates. Preservation work, like the restoration of the Mark Taper Forum by Rios Clementi Hale Studios and unbulit projects like Peter Tolkin’s Pasadena Bike Transit Center and Gensler’s innovative cabins for a Boy Scout camp on Catalina Island were also acknowledged.
This civic-over-slickness sentiment was proposed early on to the 450 architects, developers, and clients in attendance by emcee Frances Anderton, who presided gracefully over the ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in a lipstick-red, laser-cut gown. It was echoed, somewhat surprisingly, in the keynote delivered by SCI-Arc director Eric Owen Moss. On the eve of his installation premiering at the school, If not now, when?, he gave a hopeful presentation on LA’s future as a role model for intelligent urbanism, complete with witty subtitles like "Brother Can You Spare a (Para)digm?" Moss, of course, managed to work several of his own upcoming projects into the images as well, but one, which felt most in-line with the afternoon’s theme, seemed to particularly delight the crowd: An office park proposed for West LA, its offices buried beneath the rolling grassy hills of an actual park, like homes for hobbits.
Even without the presence of no-show Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the afternoon got progressively more political as the bigger awards were presented. When Los Angeles Community College District’s executive director of facilities and planning, Larry Eisenberg, took the stage to accept the Community Impact Award for the district’s impressive $6 billion district-wide green initiatives, he used his mic time to bash California lawmakers for not devoting adequate attention or funding to education. He was then joined onstage by the dozens of architects who have worked with the district—40 firms were named—visualizing this remarkable collaboration with some of the city’s greatest architects and one of the nation’s largest green building initiatives, which was launched in 2001, two years before LEED even existed.
Immediately following her firm’s victory for Vista Hermosa Park, Mia Lehrer gave an impassioned plea for architects to devote more attention to open space and sustainable practices. "We have no choice anymore," she said. "Hopefully this will be the last green awards." Lehrer also stressed the importance of thoroughly understanding the communities that architects are working in, noting that Vista Hermosa residents warned the team that three different gangs were operating within the park’s footprint, and needed to be carefully considered in the park’s design. Now, she said, residents have told her they see the gang members jogging or playing sports in the park.
The depth and overall excellence of the winning projects across the board is exceptionally interesting for an almost four-decades-old design awards show that was inherited by the LABC eight years ago. Since then, organizers and juries from diverse backgrounds have focused on making it a team-focused award that looked at the unique three-way collaboration between architects, developers, and owners. "We’re filling a gap," when compared to other shows that strictly award architectural process, said LABC president Mary Leslie. "What matters to us is sustainability, magnitude, and civic impact." What’s interesting, however, is that many of the same projects are sure to be lauded again at AIA Los Angeles’ awards in a few weeks. If civic-mindedness is now synonymous with cutting-edge design in Los Angeles, let’s hope that it’s as Eric Owen Moss put it: "We’ve Only Just Begun."
View a slideshow of all 29 winners here.
Correction: An earlier version of this article said the awards were in their 49th year. AN regrets the error.