In November 2019, Los Angeles’s chief design officer Christopher Hawthorne teased a design contest to update a swath of the city’s some 223,000 streetlights. "For one winning design team," he told Dwell’s chief editor William Hanley, "it will be an opportunity to really make a mark across the entire city."
What Hawthorne didn’t anticipate from the L.A. Lights the Way contest was that out of 110 international entries, the winning team would, serendipitously, come from L.A. "It validated our decision to hold a competition, because this is not the kind of proposal or office that we would have found through the usual process," he said to Los Angeles Times last week.
Project Room, an L.A.–area collective comprised of artists, curators, architects, and designers, was announced the winner on Thursday by a panel of six experts in the fields of architecture, city planning, public works, and design. The panel’s rubric? According to Norma Isahakian, the recently retired executive director of the city’s Bureau of Street Lighting, they wanted something iconic, and something that would unify the city’s districts in anticipation of the 2028 Summer Olympics.
The proposal by Project Room—dubbed Superbloom—has a timeless feel: Classic in appearance, its modest elegance nods to the past while its functionality pushes forward. Each light is a bouquet of swooping, hunter-green poles that can be arranged and rearranged, and planted to suit each of the city’s diverse districts.
A cluster in Venice, say, could provide beach-goers with shade, and a seat to brush off sandy toes; in Downtown, a banner could be slung from an additional pole to promote an upcoming MOCA exhibit. Pieces are added, and subtracted, as needed.
"As a system, rather than a singular pole, the bouquet can absorb future services," says Project Room. "The streetlight expresses its purposes as simply as possible, and yet remains open to change and to the future."
On-board tech, too, keeps it agile, poised for L.A.’s evolution as a smart city. Changing LED lighting at the top of the conical poles provides ambiance for sidewalks, or can announce an emergency. Sensors act as dimmers, air quality and traffic monitors relay real-time updates, and EV chargers add to the city’s network of stations.
"We are definitely trying to lay the groundwork for when the city starts to fold more technology into its infrastructure," says Project Room collaborator Sandy Yum, an L.A. native. At the design’s core is flexibility, resilience, and a readiness for what’s to come.
Hawthorne has put not a small amount of thought into Los Angeles’s civic landscape, and the ways to harness forces that can shape it. With collaboration by Mayor Eric Garcetti, and the Bureau of Street Lighting, the results of the contest are just one example of how a city can leverage good design for a better future.
"The design does more than brighten public spaces," says Garcetti. "It brings smarter design to our neighborhoods, helps us combat climate change, and promotes equity across our city."
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