Change doesn’t always come easily to a landmark: witness the lively and sometimes contentious discussion about the current design for Town Square, presented to the City Council last week, reported (and commented upon) in these pages [Santa Monica Mirror June 17-23, 2011 edition, “$46.1 Mil Park Moves Forward” on page A1].
However, I’d like to take this opportunity to clarify some of the underlying issues to this conversation – in the hope of suggesting that a design solution is close at hand.
First of all, the Civic Center Specific Plan is quite clear about the purpose of Town Square, calling out for an open, civic space, a “democratic space” in the tradition of a forum. Palisades Garden Walk, by contrast, is identified as a park, distinct in character and purpose.
And unlike the six-acre site of Palisades Garden Walk – physically a blank slate (with the exception of several stands of mature trees) – the one-acre City Hall site is a cultural landscape richly layered in history and meaning. Its many designed features, from the configuration of the open space, the pattern of walkways, the central garden and historic planting beds — all combine to create a classical, symmetrical setting for Santa Monica’s most important civic building. An understanding of these features, and of the essential nature of this civic space, are therefore critical prerequisites for the next iteration Town Square’s design.
Some in our community might regard these conditions as constraints. But I would like to offer another perspective: where constraints offer opportunities for creative, progressive solutions. All great design involves a response to existing conditions — and I would contend that the ball is now in the court of the design team: to offer a creative, sustainable and informed design that respects the historic landscape, fulfills the civic purpose of the space, and inspires our community. I am confident that James Corner Field Operations can deliver. The new Town Square can at once be compatible with our landmark City Hall, meet community needs and aspirations, and integrate appropriate gestures to its new neighbor across Main Street.
-Margaret Bach (Landmarks Commissioner), Santa Monica