Agence Ter and Pershing Square Renew, a community organization led by Councilman José Huizar and Executive Director Eduardo Santana, unveiled their vision for the future of Pershing Square at the park itself.
Built around the concept of “radical openness, the design would lower the park to a point just above street level to improve visibility and essentially transform the space into an open area.
“As the design team, Agence Ter, executes its detailed feasibility design analysis, a picture is starting to emerge about what’s possible at Pershing Square,'” Councilman José Huizar said. “In the coming months, we will continue to focus in on this essential first-phase of design so we can work toward a final design concept that will allow us to begin transforming this important and historic plaza into a vibrant, open and accessible green space that serves the DTLA community and all Angelenos.”
There’s no grand opening date yet, although the design team hopes to deliver the finalized design and a cost estimate, by Spring 2018. Consultant Debra Gerod with Gruen Associates said that she hopes the renovation will be done by 2028, in preparation for the Olympics.
Agence Ter’s redesign would add along Hill Street and Olive Street, and one end of the park would used for events, markets and food trucks. A cafe space is set aside for one corner of the park, at Hill and Sixth.
One proposed feature of the revamped park, would be titled “The Great Lawn.” It is described by the developer as an expanse of grass dominating the center of Pershing Square.
The Great Lawn, which will be flanked by an active shading structure along Hill Street and several gardens with shady trees along Olive Street, is meant to be used for everything from picnics and film screenings to quick shortcuts across the Square.
Planning for the lawn, and for shading structures which Agence Ter Founder Henri Bava said were essential, didn’t come easy. According to Hamer, the parking structure caused issues when it was found to be built at an incline. This meant that planting depth had to be added for trees along Olive Street, where the parking structure came close to the surface.
Hamer also readily admitted that water conservation methods were still being explored, and that the park would use both underground cisterns for reclaimed water and drought-tolerant grass. Pershing Square’s monuments, which Hamer described as an essential part of the park’s character, were still being surveyed for future positioning.
But some saw even bigger issues with the design.
“Not everybody who goes to the park is there to sit on the lawn,” local resident Brigham Yen said.
Many in the crowd raised the objection that the Agence Ter design would eliminate the ability to cut through the park from one corner of the block to the other. Yen, who lives just three blocks west of Pershing Square on South Flower Street, said that open park lawns are rarely used for picnicking, and would instead make foot traffic confusing and convoluted. Yen also wondered whether the lawn would become closed off whenever it was watered, due to mud and puddles.
Gerod said that designers are working to reinforce the grass to prevent mud from accumulating. She also said that the redesign would actually improve transit through the area, by adding bike parking in the subterranean structure.
Local historian Kim Cooper said that there’s many hurdles to go before the redesign gains wide acceptance.
“I don’t appreciate that these people from France are coming in and saying ‘Ah yes, we’ll have a Great Lawn,'” Cooper said. “The real question is, ‘Will this park have meaning to Angelenos?'”
According to Pershing Square Renew consultant Josh Kamensky, the design team is led by Paris-based Agence Ter, but the majority of the team is local and includes Los Angeles designers from Gruen Associates, SALT Landscape architects, Deborah Murphy Urban Design and Planning, Rachel Allen Architecture and more.
Cooper said that it didn’t matter who the designer was, because only one design could truly satisfy Downtown’s need for a meaningful public space. The original Pershing Square design by John Parkinson in 1910 boasted plenty of shade, seating and a central fountain at the intersection of two promenades cutting diagonally across the block.
This design, which Cooper tried to reboot through a series of petitions, was among the most popular of the options among the general public, Cooper said.
But Gerod made it clear that all criticism would be taken into consideration, and the designers would try to incorporate as much of it as possible.
“So many Angelenos have already begun to create new meaning in this space,” Santana said. “More than one thousand downtown stakeholders expressed what they wanted to see in a renewed Pershing Square through our outreach process and our design competition.
This article has been updated to reflect that only the design leader is from France.