Architecture has been in the news in Santa Monica, but not in a good way. Now, in the midst of all the noise of development, comes another project. Located on Arizona Ave between 4th and 5th Streets. And this time the client is the City of Santa Monica.
After a selective process the City partnered with John Warfel of Pacific Metropolitan Capital to lead the project development and the architecture firm OMA, (Office of Metropolitan Architecture) led by Rem Koolhaas to design the project.
Koolhaas is an architect on a quest for making meaningful architecture representing the culture and ethos of time and place. Koolhaas is as well known for his thinking and writing about architecture, cities, and how people use buildings and public spaces as he is for his design work. U.S. projects include the Seattle Public Library and the Milstein Hall at Cornell University.
With the defeat of the Hines proposed project, warning shot has been fired, not for the first time, across the bow of large-scale development in Santa Monica. Criticism is mainly focused on scale and density but often accompanied with comments that the architecture was boring, dull, not fun, not Santa Monica.
On May 15 about 75 Santa Monicans came together at the Main Library for a presentation of concept designs of the Arizona Ave, 4th St., 5th St. project. Currently named the Plaza at Santa Monica.
Shohei Shigematsu, the OMA partner representing the firm at the Santa Monica meeting, introduced the firm and talked about the way OMA thought about the project. “We embraced the culture and the climate of Santa Monica and we focused on the public realm. The concept is one of a series of open, hinged bars. This allows us to follow the California tradition of bringing the outside in and the inside out.”
The project proposal is for a public building that includes commercial and retail areas, affordable housing (working with Community Corps), a children’s museum, plazas and parks, public events, terraces, a hotel, residences and the ice rink.
Shigematsu said, “Transportation and parking are major concerns in Santa Monica. We will design to make this a fun and easy place to walk. The sidewalks will be wide and have good street furniture. It is also designed for transit connections, for bike users and has a strong Transportation Demand Management program (TDM – a program which mandates measures to reduce parking and traffic to the site, especially at peak travel times.) Parking lots will be day lit with skylights.”
OMA added to the transit connections by showing a playful option for bringing back the historic gondolas to connect the Plaza to the Pier and beach.
Two versions of the project were presented. One at 148’ in height and one at 84’ in height. Both used the hinged bar concept, allowing each roof to be used as an outdoor public space.
People attending the meeting commented on the openness of the design and the use of natural light and air, some preferred the 148’ design saying it was more open; Residocracy spokesman Armen Melkonians said Santa Monica residents would not accept a project higher than the 84’ allowed by zoning.
Shigematsu, in a follow up interview, said about architecture, “Iconicism comes from use and memory and represents shared culture. Iconic space is something that develops over time, when a place feels special. That understanding of iconicism is why we looked at other public spaces in Santa Monica and worked to understand what it is that makes places special to the people of Santa Monica.
“So we purposefully designed a building with the intent that it respond specifically to the climate and to the people of Santa Monica. There is a Children’s Museum on the ground level. It gives a cultural heart to a commercial periphery. The design is specific to Santa Monica weather. We designed for inside/outside proximity. The hinged bars of the concept design are in response to Santa Monica and the breezes, the air and the sun, and the idea of life lived indoors and outdoors.
“Santa Monica is a City that promotes sustainability and this building will achieve a LEED Gold status through energy efficiency, cooling and natural ventilation, the use of recycled water, a screen to reduce solar gain, use of recycled materials, bike stations, and water on the roof for fun, for beauty and for cooling.
“OMA was given certain parameters of design and a building program and we designed within those parameters. Our first concept plan was for a 148’ building. We were then asked to rethink the project at 84’. It was a necessary step to make the project into 84’ but it is more difficult. We are the ones who translate people’s desires and we do our best to deliver the best translation. I am not just talking about height; I am also talking about architecture and the fundamentals of design.
“This design, from ground to sky, is a continuation of public domain. We have an image of the building as theater where people will come together and we really believe in that image.”
The concept design proposed by OMA, expresses the culture and values of the City: open to the sun and air on every level, yoga on a roof terrace, the ice rink in winter, fountains in summer, open air cafes, year round programming of public events, food markets, museum events, film screenings and maybe even gondolas. Add sustainability, affordablehousing and a welcome for bicycle riders and you know it’s Santa Monica.
Now comes the public conversation about height, scale and density. And height, scale and density are dependent on program – how many housing units, what size hotel, how much commercial space, how much public space.
From that discussion will come a decision by the Council; one which needs to be based on an open and transparent public conversation. The conversation continues at the June 10 Council meeting.
What Say You?