Gehry to produce masterplan for ugly Los Angeles River, but not everyone is happy

The firm of famous architect Frank Gehry, Frank Gehry Partners, has been chosen to produce a masterplan for the neglected Los Angeles River, but the appointment has sparked controversy.

For too long, the Los Angeles region has been stuck in a concrete landscape, where the Los Angeles River has been viewed merely as a flood-control channel– LA River Corp.

The mostly concreted river bed runs 82km through highly urban Los Angeles County, acting predominantly as a channel for stormwater, and local authorities want to make it integrate better with its surroundings.

The Los Angeles River Revitalization Corporation (LA River Corp.) the non-profit body who appointed Gehry, calls the river one of Southern California’s "most underutilized open spaces".

"For too long, the Los Angeles region has been stuck in a concrete landscape, where the Los Angeles River has been viewed merely as a flood-control channel," the corporation says.

Like 86-year-old Gehry himself, however, his firm’s appointment as river masterplanner is proving controversial.

The LA River Corp. appears to have wanted to keep his involvement secret for the time being, and it was revealed by newspaper The Los Angeles Times on Friday 7 August.

The River Corp., created by the City of Los Angeles in 2009 to improve the river corridor, then released a statement saying Los Angeles based Gehry and his team had already spent nine months studying river-related plans and compiling their own data about flood control, water flow, public health and other issues relating to the river.

The Times later revealed details of a letter sent to the corporation from another organisation, Friends of the Los Angeles River (FOLAR), refusing to endorse Gehry’s appointment because FOLAR opposed a top-down planning approach that shunned public input – an approach that, it said, had led to the state of the river bed today: an ugly channel for run-off.

FOLAR also feared the Gehry plan would hamper its campaign to secure funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In its statement, however, the LA River Corp. sought to address FOLAR’s objection by saying the project "will have a tremendous amount of public input from the diverse talent and ideas of people across the region."

Without going into detail the corporation suggested Gehry’s plan would be based on storing and treating stormwater instead of just channelling it out to sea, which could cut the amount of water imported to the region.

The Times’s architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne argued that the choice of Gehry made "zero sense" because of his firm’s relative lack of experience with master plans.

Gehry has designed the famous Bilbao Guggenheim in Spain and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles.

No stranger to controversy, he raised eyebrows last year by saying that 98% of everything designed and built today was ‘pure sh*t‘ – an assertion he later retracted.

The City of Los Angeles created a plan for the revitalisation of the area in 2007, which Gehry will update.

Water, meanwhile, has been rising on the political agenda in California because of droughts.

Image: The Los Angeles River (Downtowngal/Wikimedia Commons)

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