Going Dutch in the Land of Gehry

Going Dutch in the Land of Gehry

Rem Koolhaas and his Rotterdam-based firm OMA have defeated two teams made up of local powerhouse architects to win a one million square foot mixed-use development project in Downtown Santa Monica on Arizona between 4th and 5th Streets. OMA’s winning proposal, which is being called the Plaza at Santa Monica, was part of a package submitted in response to an RFP issued by the City of Santa Monica earlier in the year. A selection committee made up of officials from several city departments chose the scheme.

This will be OMA’s first ever project at this scale in Los Angeles. They have tried to break into Los Angeles on three other occasions with proposals for LACMA, downtown’s Broad Museum, and Universal Studios in the San Fernando Valley. This time, the City of Santa Monica granted them their wish.


The other two teams, all with deep local portfolios, included Brooks + Scarpa with Robert A.M. Stern and BIG with Koning Eizenberg, Rios Clementi Hale, and RTKL.

OMA is design lead in a joint venture between Metropolitan Pacific Capital, Clarett West Development, and DLJ Real Estate Capital Partners. Local architects Van Tillberg, Banvard & Soderbergh (VTBS) will be the firm carrying the project through as the local office. Landscape design will be by OLIN, known for the gardens at Getty Center and whose founder, Laurie Olin recently won the National Medal of Arts.

OMA and VTBS’s design is comprised of block-length bars that step up and back from Arizona Avenue, canting one way and then the other to create a cascading effect with accessible roof terraces and, as the proposal states, a number of “exchange opportunities for indoor and outdoor program continuity.” These four elevated terraces, which include gardens, cafés and other public amenities, overlook a public plaza with a central water feature that will be transformed into a public ice skating rink in winter.

Pocket parks lining the Fourth and Fifth Street edges will provide open spaces and mark entrances to the over 400,000 square feet of commercial space, which includes retail, office, live/work, an open-air market, and a four-story, 225-room boutique hotel to top it all off at twelve stories. Parking, always a critical issue in Santa Monica, is extensive and tucked away underground. The design places a great deal of emphasis on “indoor/outdoor culture” and highlights so many outdoor spaces and amenities that it appears OLIN will be guaranteed the opportunity to make a big impact.


With this proposal, Santa Monica is being promised green roofs—let’s see if they actually materialize—and an ambitious LEED Gold rating. The design also calls for multi-modal transportation infrastructure, including a bike path, bike facilities, and a bike share station. The design team also anticipated the arrival of light rail, making provisions for a gondola station that could directly tie the project into the planned Expo light rail station at 4th Street and Colorado. By maintaining a significant 20,000 square feet of public space along Arizona Avenue the architects tried to reach out to the 3rd Street Promenade to the west. Though the bar forms are block-length they do not appear monolithic and engage the surrounding city with shifting scales, and perforated metal screens with dancing openings and vertical fins.

According to the public report issued on July 10, Santa Monica’s selection panel, comprised of city staff from the departments of Planning and Community Development, Community and Cultural Services, Public Works, and Housing and Economic Development, selected the OMA team’s proposal because they felt it was the “most compelling.” Key factors were the thoughtfulness of the design approach on all sides of the property, how it integrated with the overall city, its highly flexible interior space as well as how it activates all areas of the site. They also appreciated how the tiered design maximized public space and view opportunities and how it could potentially allow for adaptation in the future.


The selection committee’s recommendation contains just one caveat: they would like to see the team and the Santa Monica City Council formally “pursue affordable housing as an element of the project.” The scheme did include a provision for the possible inclusion of affordable or workforce housing.

Sarah Johnson, Principal Analyst for the City of Santa Monica’s Housing & Economic Development department and project manager for this redevelopment project, says the City Council is scheduled to take action on the formal recommendation on August 27. Due to the significance of the site and the high-level of public interest the city is soliciting public feedback on the proposal prior to the August 27 meeting.

At that meeting the selection committee will formally recommend that the Council enter into “exclusive negotiations” with the winning team and then begin an extensive phase of community outreach on the project’s design and open space programming. It is anticipated that a development agreement would likely occur sometime in 2014.