A river is not usually the province of an architect. Cities grow around rivers, and buildings are built near rivers, but rarely is the river itself the subject of a design problem. Ever since news broke that Frank Gehry is leading a master plan effort for the Los Angeles River, there has been a marked increase in discussion of the river, though rarely with much historical background. Joseph Giovannini tries to correct this omission with his recent piece in the Los Angeles Review of Books, laying the groundwork from when the Army Corps of Engineers decided to line the river in concrete in the late 1930s to prevent flooding, and introducing all of the major players who have been working more recently to return the river to a more natural state.
Giovannini’s story centers on two main characters: poet, teacher, and founder of Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR), Lewis MacAdams, who has been working to build momentum for river restoration for 30 years; and LA River newcomer, architect Frank Gehry. Though he is perhaps too kind to Gehry (has anyone else ever described Frank Gehry as “avuncular?”), and he arguably glosses over the numerous and vocal criticisms of Gehry’s involvement in the river–including from MacAdams–Giovannini builds a compelling case for why the LA River is a uniquely architectural problem, and why Frank Gehry is uniquely suited to address it.
Read Giovannini’s full story here.