Imagine a massive green community running through the heart of Los Angeles where research labs and small businesses exist side-by-side with design-focused companies manufacturing everything from sustainable fashion to electric cars. Where parks take precedence over parking lots, and plentiful housing, shops and restaurants allow employees to live just a short bike ride away from work. That's the kind of future for Los Angeles's downtown that organizers hope will be envisioned by the new Cleantech Corridor competition, to be launched during the Green District panel at Dwell on Design.
Like many large American cities, L.A. has acres of outdated industrial landscape flanking its inner-city development. The Cleantech Corridor was originally announced in September 2008 by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's office, Cleantech LA and the Community Redevelopment Agency as a way to re-invigorate these areas, but also to unite their disparate districts into a thriving mixed-use center that would draw in new technology and manufacturing. At the heart of it will be the forthcoming Cleantech Manufacturing Center, a 20-acre site that will act as a catalyst for the region.
It's a diverse area, architecturally, says Sam Lubell, California editor of The Architect's Newspaper, who recently launched a photo project on the area. "There are beautiful old buildings and a number of red brick warehouses, with some fantastic infrastructure and these W.P.A.-era bridges," he says. "To the south there are these gargantuan industrial structures that are really awe-inspiring."
But the corridor itself includes more than just aging industry. The corridor stretches from Los Angeles State Historic Park (also known as the Cornfield) in the north, past Union Station's transit hub, through an established Arts District. It spans both sides of the Los Angeles River, including at least a dozen bridges, and will be instrumental in the river's revitalization. It will also be home to the new California High Speed rail route when it comes to Union Station. Getting the all these factors to work in cooperation with the corridor's new green personality will require wading through a vast sea of zoning and working with an army of stakeholders ranging from environmentalists to public agencies to local artists. "How do you maintain compatible uses so that you don't turn everything into a factory?" says Peter Zellner, principal of the architecture firm ZELLNERPLUS and cultural studies coordinator at the Southern California Institute of Architecture.
That's where Zellner's and Lubell's roles at SCI-Arc and The Architect's Newspaper come in. After a successful partnership on a competition in 2009 named A New Infrastructure, which asked architects to envision the future of transit for Southern California, the two organizations are again partnering on a competition which will ask architects and designers to create a road map for the Cleantech Corridor.
The competition fits perfectly with the mission of Zellner's Future Initiatives program at SCI-Arc, which uses architecture as a lens to study urban conditions. "We're interested in how architects understand and intervene in large-scale urban life," he says, acting as an educational and curatorial presence in the community to conduct public discussions through workshops and competitions. Plus there's the more obvious connection: SCI-Arc itself is a major stakeholder in the neighborhood, namely as the physical heart of the Arts District where its many students and faculty have taken up residence in the nearby lofts and studios.
At the Dwell on Design panel, Lubell and Zellner will discuss the elements that need to be in place for a successful green district. Although a lot of cities are planning similar developments, there are not many up and running, and certainly none at this scale, says Lubell. One inspirational project he points to is the David Brower Center in Berkeley, California, designed by Daniel Solomon as a 50,000-square-foot space home to businesses, non-profits and arts organizations with an environmental and social focus. Its eclectic mix of uses and tenants, its architecturally-stunning sustainable campus, and the way that it has created outreach into the local community is what makes the Brower Center a truly successful urban technology hub.
Lubell and Zellner hope the competition will create a future for the Cleantech Corridor that similarly nurtures diversity while acknowledging place. That may mean exploring different ways to describe the area itself. The Urban Land Institute, which released a study on the area last month, started working to knit together some of the area's existing uses by proposing to rename the Cleantech Corridor the Industrial Arts District. This would hopefully nod to the established artist activity but address this desired move towards more manufacturing and technology-based companies. That's in-line with the advice Lubell gives to those entering the competition: Architects should get to know the area and its many stakeholders and realize there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. "Try to integrate not just architecture, but urban planning and sustainability," says Lubell. "Be sensitive to who's already there."
That challenge will prove to be what makes the Cleantech Corridor unique to L.A.'s urban landscape, and what makes it so interesting, says Zellner. "This will be more integrated, multi-use, multi-modal—more like a real city. You can make things and live above where you make things, and you can design things and eat next to where you design things." For L.A.'s design community, the name of the Cleantech Corridor might not matter as much as what they'll soon be calling it: Home.
Sam Lubell and Peter Zellner, along with Romel Pascual and Eric Owen Moss, will appear on the Green District panel on the Sustainability Stage at Dwell on Design on Saturday, June 26 in Los Angeles. Register now at dwellondesign.com.