Los Angeles, CA
Part of the three-stage master plan for the Los Angeles Police Department Headquarters (2009), spearheaded by an AECOM/Roth + Sheppard joint venture in the city’s redeveloping Downtown, the Main Street Parking + Motor Transport Division is the kind of ancillary project that could sever a neighborhood by virtue of its sheer mass and typically unattractive aesthetic. Anticipating local concerns, the city’s Bureau of Engineering charged John Friedman Alice Kimm Architects (JFAK) to devise a scheme that would both fulfill its need for a secure, rational building as well as illuminate the fragile urban revival.
The historic core of Downtown L.A. is on the upswing. Neglected commercial properties and prewar buildings abandoned during the latter half of the 20th century are being converted into residential lofts and art galleries, and St. Vibiana, the city’s former cathedral, which was damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, has been restored and renovated into an elegant event space. Needless to say, the community was less than welcoming when they got wind of the LAPD’s plans to build a vehicular parking and maintenance facility on Main Street, the burgeoning Gallery Row, adjacent to the revamped church.
Taking their cues from the area’s cultural vibe, JFAK employed a whimsical combination of materiality, color, transparency, and light to minimize the impact of the 300,000-square-foot, five-story concrete structure. And although the architects incorporated an 800-car employee garage in addition to a mechanics shop, car wash, and refueling station for official vehicles, the program is subliminal.
This is largely because of the glowing 300-foot-long screen that JFAK applied to camouflage the upper parking levels along the length of the Main Street elevation. According to design partner John Friedman, “We wanted to design the facade like a piece of public art or sculpture to acknowledge the high density of galleries here.”
Factory-painted, with a leaf graphic in two shades of green, this scrimlike facade comprises eight-foot-wide stainless steel mesh panels draped and folded down over the building and across the canopy. Light filters through its perforations and reflects off the shimmering metal surface. The visual effect is transparent or diffuse, depending on the time of day or perspective of the viewer, says Friedman. To enliven the dynamic canvas in the evening, he and his team simply edged the canopy with metal halide floodlights, one centered on each panel, so that the image becomes the main event.
Visible from Frank Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall, JFAK’s humble building for the LAPD is luminous yet subtle, converting skeptics. Rather than the eyesore they feared, it is a vibrant lantern for a recharged Downtown L.A.
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