Roundabouts are all the rage in Europe, but Americans have been slow to adopt this particular form of street design. Despite Los Angeles’s car-centric culture, the glitzy city is no exception, but that might start to change following the success of Riverside Roundabout, a stormwater-retaining traffic island at the intersection of Riverside Bridge, San Fernando Road, and Figueroa Street.
The city’s first roundabout definitely brings the spectacle. Greenmeme, a studio working at the intersection of art and architecture, brought nine eye-catching granite sculptures to the site and created a resilient, varied landscape.
The egg-shaped pods, ranging from 8 to 12 feet tall, each feature a face from a randomly-chosen local resident. Designers used 3-D scanners to capture the faces of the selected volunteers, and the sculptures bear the likenesses on either side, displaying 18 individuals in total. The sculptures were carved in slices by fabricator Coldspring using a CNC mill, with three sculptures carved from one block of granite. The end result, Faces of Elysian Valley, joins a proud tradition of face-based decorative art.
The remaining granite offcuts were used to form a sculptural barricade around the center of the island and protect the “eggs” from traffic. Elongated faces have been stretched into the granite ring as well, creating a perspective trick that reveals undistorted visages as drivers circle the roundabout.
Greenmeme worked with Ourston Roundabout Engineering to determine the sculptures’ size constraints, as the team needed to preserve sightlines across the island for drivers without distracting them.
In designing the traffic island’s topography, Greenmeme sought to channel stormwater away from the street and adjacent bridge. The landscaped areas have been planted with native plants, and a 25,000-gallon cistern is buried underneath the roundabout, which uses captured rainwater to irrigate the green spaces and feed a water feature. Everything is powered by sun-tracking solar voltaics, including the lights used to illuminate the sculptures at night. The entire roundabout is ringed with permeable green pavers for drivers who need to pull off, and overall the landscape can handle and treat up to 500,000 gallons at a time (a once-every-ten-years rainfall event).
Riverside Roundabout and Faces of Elysian Valley opened to the public in February of 2017.