Agence Ter's design for Pershing Square brings "radical flatness" back to the park.
Agence Ter's design for Pershing Square brings "radical flatness" back to the park.

A New Pershing Square

The oldest park in the city of Los Angeles will soon be getting a new look.

Pershing Square Renew was conceived in 2013 as a collaboration between city government, the LA community, and business leaders to revitalize and reimagine the park that sits in the center of Downtown LA. The international design competition was announced in the summer of 2015.

Last week, French architecture firm Agence Ter's plan, “The Dynamic Heart of Los Angeles,” was announced as the winning design.

Annenberg Professor François Bar worked with the Agence Ter team to create a video for a live presentation of their design. All four finalists presented their visions for the park at an event held on April 28. (Finalist presentations can be viewed at the Pershing Square Renew website.)

“I was asked by Kelly Shannon, the head of USC’s Landscape Architecture program, who had been on the team since the beginning, to help them craft the video that would describe the proposal as part of their final submission,” said Bar.

Bar and Shannon both have faculty appointments with USC’s Spatial Sciences Institute, a department in the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences that focuses on the importance of understanding “connections between place and space."

Bar worked on the video with two USC Ph.D. students, Nicholas Busalacchi from Annenberg and Karl Baumann from the School of Cinematic Arts.

Agence Ter’s concept for the park revolves around public life. They envision a space that is “transparent, democratic, and accessible,” returning the park to a “radical” flatness and openness that puts the entire park on street level and allows people to access it from every side. 

Though they describe their vision as one that’s inspired by the recent revival and rethinking of DTLA, they’re also taking cues from the past. In their presentation, the team showed a photo of Pershing Square in the 1920’s, when the park was on the same level as the sidewalk and street and offered plenty of shade from trees.

Agence Ter's smart canopy will be used for shade, lighting, energy, and gardening.
Agence Ter's smart canopy will be used for shade, lighting, energy, and gardening.

In addition to natural elements, Agence Ter’s design also includes a restaurant, a visitor’s kiosk, and a “smart canopy” that drew oohs from the crowd during the presentation. The canopy, which runs along Hill Street, would not only collect solar energy, provide nighttime lighting, and offer shade during the day, but its pergolas create a vertical wine garden.

Overall, the Agence Ter said that their design reflects democracy, inclusiveness, and sustainability.

The redesign of Pershing Square fits with Bar’s other work and research. This past year, Bar, along with architect Ann Pendleton-Julian and Annenberg Ph.D. students Busalacchi and Sonia Jawaid Shaikh did their own work on what Downtown LA might look like in the future.

“At the Annenberg Innovation Lab this past year, [we] used World Building techniques to envision possible futures for DTLA,” Bar said.

Through a series of workshops, Bar and his colleagues got input from LA residents on what they want from Downtown LA. They’ll be presenting the project at the ICA (International Communication Association) conference in June in Fukuoka, Japan.

Bar isn't the only Annenberg connection to the Pershing Square Renew teams.

Professor Josh Kun served as Cultural Advisor for one of the other finalists, the wHY with Civitas team.

In their presentation, the wHY/Civitas team showed a design for a green space in the middle of the city that balances nature with people.

The design is complex and changeable, allowing Angelenos to use the space in diverse ways. From an open field, a theater green, and a dog park, to a playground, a test kitchen, and gardens, wHY/Civitas envisions park-goers as connected to each other even when they’re doing different things.

wHY with Civitas proposed a diverse green space in the middle of the city.
wHY with Civitas proposed a diverse green space in the middle of the city.

In their presentation, wHY/Civitas said the new model of public space is based on the creation of community through sharing. 

It’s nearly impossible to think of Kun as a writer and a scholar without thinking of Los Angeles, so his role in reimagining a park in the center of the city is unsurprising. Two of Kun’s recent books cover the history of restaurants in LA (To Live and Dine in LA) and the way music has helped to create the twin visions of California and Los Angeles (Songs in the Key of Los Angeles).

The wHY/Civitas presentation quoted Kun as saying, “LA is an ongoing process. We’re dynamic.”

Now that the Agence Ter design has been chosen, the team will move forward with their plan. Bar hopes to continue collaborating on the project, seeing work like Pershing Square Renew as his responsibility as a member of both the USC community and the larger Los Angeles community.

“I think it is essential for us at USC to be actively engaged in the transformation of the city that surrounds us, to honor the city’s history and leverage its diversity,” Bar said. “Many of my projects think of the city as a communication platform for imagination, food justice, or innovation, which can support productive collaborations among all its citizens.”