Surrounded on all sides by "business blocks of architectural beauty and metropolitan dimensions," the intersecting planes of Pershing Square in Los Angeles provide a modernist retreat for many Angelinos in the downtown area. While to some, the square's large stucco tower and aqueduct-like water feature serve as a cultural landmark, the park has drawn negative press due to its lack of green space and abundance of drug-related activity. John Moody purposefully concentrates on the perception, memory, and identity of the space in his documentary Redemption Square—winner of the Best Urban Design Film 2017 at the New Urbanism Film Festival. Using the voice of strangers, residents and those who used to call it home, Moody guides you from the park’s formation in 1866 to its impending renewal: a “radically flat” redesign courtesy of Agence Ter and Gruen Associates.
LA's Pershing Square Is Preparing for a Redesign—And Some Worry They Are Losing a Valuable Civic Space
The recently announced competition to redesign Pershing Square, Los Angeles’ oldest park, will be at least the sixth iteration of the space in the heart of the city’s rapidly changing downtown. Occupying a full city block, what is now Pershing Square (named for the World War I general) was part of the 1781 Spanish land grant to the City of Los Angeles, and was officially dedicated as a park, originally called La Plaza Abaja, in 1866. The current iteration, designed by Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta and landscape architect Laurie Olin, with art installations by Barbara McCarren, opened in 1994. Just over twenty years later, the brightly-colored, geometric stucco structures, and the hardscape-heavy layout have faced extensive criticism–one local website is fond of calling it the city’s “most hated park”–but Legorreta and Olin’s design makes a bold statement for urban public space in Los Angeles, unmatched by any other park in the city.
The Cultural Landscape Foundation recently launched its newest documentary as part of the ongoing Oral History series, this time focusing on the ideas and career of Laurie Olin, a recipient of the National Medal of the Arts and one of the greatest landscape architects of our time. Olin's influential work as a practitioner, educator and author over the past forty years has helped to guide the future of landscape architecture and shape urban life around the world.