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Frank Gehry-designed Children’s Institute breaks ground in Watts

Gehry for Gratis

Frank Gehry-designed Children’s Institute breaks ground in Watts

The Children's Institute campus is now under construction on the intersection of E. 102nd Street and Success Avenue in Watts. (Courtesy Children's Institute)

The Children’s Institute, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization dedicated to transforming the lives of children exposed to adversity and poverty, broke ground on their new 20,000-square-foot Watts campus in South L.A. on January 30. The project was designed by Frank Gehry, who offered to work on the project pro bono. “It is our intent that the building will be comforting and welcoming,” Gehry stated in a press release. “I hope this building will serve and inspire children and families for generations to come.”

Physical model of a boxy, stepped community center
The project was designed pro bono and will be built on a $20 million budget. (Courtesy Children’s Institute)

The project’s boxy geometry, dynamic intersections, and use of corrugated metal recall the architect’s earlier work throughout Los Angeles—such as the Norton Residence and Gemini G.E.L.—many of which were also designed and built on tight budgets. A formally separate lobby with a diamond-shaped skylight will usher visitors into an atrium-like space that will receive generous natural light from wraparound clerestory windows.

The two-story building will house spaces for therapeutic programs and a variety of free amenities for children and families, including individual and group counseling as well as parenting workshops. The Watts Gang Task Force, which has developed a unique model of relationship-based policing to broker peace in the South Los Angeles gang community for over a decade, will also be based on the campus. “We want to be a true partner to the community,” said Martine Singer, president and CEO of the Children’s Institute, in a Youtube video promoting the new campus. “Having the community safety partnership as well as the Watts Gang Task Force in our building is not only a symbol of that but a real manifestation of what a partnership is.”

The project has an estimated budget of $20 million and has been supported through private donations and partnerships with the Los Angeles Development Fund, Genesis L.A., and Wells Fargo to secure New Markets Tax Credit funding for the project. The site, on the corner of East 102nd Street and Success Avenue, was previously owned by the Children’s Institute and had formerly served as the organization’s main parking lot.

The new campus is currently under construction and is expected to be finished by late 2021.