Tag Archives: downtown

PHOTO ESSAY | Downtown Los Angeles

There are few cities in the world more perplexing than Los Angeles. The reasons are many. The Outlaw Urbanist will take a closer look at some of those reasons in a multi-part, photo essay series. Today, we begin with Downtown L.A., which uniquely combines fascination and frustration for any architect, urban designer, and planner with a good conscience.

Downtown L.A. could be incredible urbanism. In fact, it should be incredible urbanism. Instead, it comes across as lazy. Downtown L.A. is alive but not necessarily well. It has ‘good bones’ including some stunning pre-World War II buildings. However, Downtown L.A. desperately needs large doses of TLDC (tender, loving design care), which appears somewhat lacking at the moment.

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View along S. Broadway in Downtown L.A. (Photo: Mark David Major).

There were actually a LOT of people in Downtown L.A. on a sunny, warm Sunday afternoon, especially to the south in the Jewelry District. The street level of many buildings has been converted into small, retail units. However, it is haphazardly done for the most part. On one hand, it is good to see the people and retail units. On the other hand, it is such low rent quality that it deters from the innate advantages of the building space above. There are a lot of historic buildings in Downtown L.A. BEGGING for rehabilitation. A few renovations are progressing but not nearly enough. It is deeply frustrating. A lot of the new buildings are design disasters that most often successfully promulgate blank walls in downtown.

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Pre-World War II building in the process of renovation (Photo: Mark David Major).
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Conversion of ground level entry space into small, low quality retail units at the historic Palace Theater building in Downtown L.A. (Photo: Mark David Major).

Given the history and money surrounding the film industry in Los Angeles, you would think residents and the city would take more care in rehabilitating the plenitude of old historic movie theaters but most often it appears to have been mindlessly done (e.g. Palace Theater above and Los Angeles Theater below) on a ‘cash in’ basis only.

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Conversion of ground level entry space into small, low quality retail units at the historic Los Angeles Theater building in Downtown L.A. (Photo: Mark David Major).
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Internal street arcade in the Jewelry District of Downtown L.A. (Photo: Mark David Major).

The gorgeous Bradbury Building (below) in Downtown L.A. was designed by Sumner Hunt and designated an architectural landmark in 1977. Its interior and rooftop were the settings for the climatic scenes of Ridley Scott’s science fiction classic Blade Runner (1982).

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Bradbury Building designed by Sumner Hunt in Downtown L.A. (Photo: Mark David Major).

The government sector to the north in Downtown L.A. effectively demonstrates the danger of single-use districts. Whereas the Jewelry District was populated and lively on a Sunday afternoon, the government sector was deader than a graveyard, except for the cars racing through the area.

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Distant view of the Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank Gehry in Downtown L.A. (Photo: Mark David Major).
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View of Los Angeles City Hall in Downtown L.A. (Photo: Mark David Major).

Los Angeles City Hall (above) was the exterior for the Daily Planet in the old Adventures of Superman series from the 1950s. The O.J. Simpson criminal trial occurred in the building to the left in 1994-95.

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Hall of Justice in Downtown L.A. (Photo: Mark David Major).

The Modernist building where the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning is housed in the government sector has a plaza attached to it, working hard at being as empty as the day it first opened, no doubt. The ironic symbolism seems appropriate.

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Modernist plaza attached to the Administration building containing the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning in Downtown L.A. (Photo: Mark David Major).
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PHOTO ESSAY | Downtown Springfield IL

God bless, historic downtown Springfield, Illinois… they are trying, they really are. Unfortunately, for every smart decision to promote vibrant urbanism, you can find another decision (or indecision) holding things back. The most important and destructive is the continual adherence to a one-way traffic system that has only one purpose: moving vehicles as quickly as possible through downtown. It is especially mind-boggling considering the large numbers of people (including school groups) visiting the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Historic downtown Springfield is vibrant urbanism waiting to happen, trapped in its cage so automobiles can pass through quickly while only paying the minimal, necessary attention to pedestrians.

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Historic Union Station and Union Station Plaza in downtown Springfield, Illinois (Photograph: Mark David Major).
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Historic Union Square (to left) and Museum Parking Garage (to right) along East Madison Street in downtown Springfield, Illinois (Photograph: Mark David Major).

Another questionable design choice: locating a ‘dead’ facade parking garage across the street from beautiful, historic Union Station (now an accessory structure to the Lincoln Museum), thus creating an urban void absent of any active frontages. The parking garage was obviously built for the convenience of people visiting the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum located one block away but does nothing for the street life along this one-way, ‘rat run’ segment of East Madison Street. The street trees seem like an apologetic, after-the-fact attempt to hide this failure of urban design and planning from citizens and visitors alike.

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Historic Union Station and Union Station Plaza from the corner of Sixth Street and East Jefferson Street in downtown Springfield (Photograph: Mark David Major).

In the above photograph, you can see how much street width is dedicated to moving cars through the one-way street system in downtown Springfield and the amount of pavement pedestrians have to overcome to cross a street even though there is plenty of room for landscaped medians, enhanced pedestrian crosswalks, and on-street parking with a 20-25 mph speed limit to efficiently move (instead of stop-and-start) the traffic… perhaps, even the elimination of some stop lights using the design principles of shared space.

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Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library (foreground) and Museum (background) at East Jefferson Street (center) and Sixth Street in downtown Springfield, Illinois (Photograph: Mark David Major).

The HOK design of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is O.K. (not great, not awful, hardly objectionable) though the 2nd floor structural crossover of East Jefferson Street wouldn’t be necessary at all with traffic calming, generally in historic downtown Springfield and, specifically, on this segment of East Jefferson Street so people could pass freely from one ground level entrance to the other using the street without having to wait for the crosswalk lights to change.

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View east along East Adams Street from Sixth Street in downtown Springfield, Illinois. The high-rise Modernist building in the background was originally constructed in 1973 as Forum 30 but is now the Wyndham Springfield City Centre Hotel (Photograph: Mark David Major).
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View south down Sixth Street from the pedestrianized segment of East Adams Street in front of the Old State Capitol in downtown Springfield, Illinois. The historic Lincoln-Herndon Law Office building is located to the right (Photograph: Mark David Major).
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View northwest across Old State Capitol grounds from the pedestrianized segment of East Adams Street with the historic Myers Brothers Building in the background in downtown Springfield, Illinois (Photograph: Mark David Major).
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View east down the pedestrianized segment of East Adams Street with Old State Capitol to the left in downtown Springfield, Illinois (Photograph: Mark David Major).
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View west down East Adams Street from the the pedestrianized segment of that street and 5th Street in downtown Springfield, Illinois (Photograph: Mark David Major).
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View east down the pedestrianized segment of East Adams Street with historic shop frontages located to the right including the Feed Store and the National Museum of the Korean War in downtown Springfield, Illinois (Photograph: Mark David Major).
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View south down Sixth Street from East Adams Street showing the retention of historic buildings (including Lincoln-Herndon Law Office to the right) and the flow of vehicles down this one-way traffic corridor. Off-street parking is allowed along this segment of Sixth Street in downtown Springfield, Illinois (Photograph: Mark David Major).
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View west down the pedestrianized segment of East Adams Street with historic shop frontages located to the left such as the Feed Store and the National Museum of the Korean War and the Old State Capitol to the right in downtown Springfield, Illinois (Photograph: Mark David Major).
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Historic Lincoln-Herndon Law Office building at the corner of Sixth Street and East Adams Street in downtown Springfield, Illinois (Photograph: Mark David Major).
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