06/05/17 Is LA Ready for Vertical Urbanism?
On May 9, the USC American Academy in China, in partnership with ChinaWeek 2017, held its forum Vertical Urbanism: Is LA Ready for Vertical Urbanism? The forum was introduced by Qingyun Ma, Dean of the USC School of Architecture, and moderated by Clifford Pearson, director of the USC American Academy in China and Paul Tang, founding AAC director and principal of Verse Design. The forum brought together well-known local architects and their Asian developer partners who are working together on some of the largest projects currently under construction in Downtown LA: Metropolis, Oceanwide Plaza, and Wilshire Grand. Opening the forum, Pearson, set the stage by introducing the AAC as a “platform” for enabling connections between academia, the business world, different disciplines, as well as arts and culture. Dean Qingyun Ma introduced the forum’s presenters by stating that these projects exhibit “people-based globalization.” The partnerships between these Asian developers (two from China and one from Korea) and local architects are about sharing know-how and technology to create something enduring and beautiful. This, he said, is also what the AAC mission is about, creating more meaningful interactions and collaborations that can have an impact here and overseas. The first project, Wilshire Grand, was presented by USC alumna Tammy Jow, project director at AC Martin and Chris Park, senior vice president of Korean-based Hanjin International Corporation. Owned by Korean Air, Wilshire Grand is the result of a long-standing collaboration between Hanjin and AC Martin—both Jow and Park noted that they have been flying constantly to Korea for meetings on the project. Metropolis, a partnership between Greenland USA (the US-based arm of China’s Greenland Group) and Gensler, was presented as a new model of vertical urbanism for LA. The project is currently being built on what was formerly the largest vacant site in Downtown LA. Winston Yan, chief technical officer and VP of Greenland USA, said the project is an “East-West endeavor to make LA more livable.” Robert Jernigan, regional managing principal at Gensler noted how the project, as well as the others presented, show how suburbanism has been “played out” in LA and that now the city has to grow vertically. The final project, Oceanwide Plaza, a collaboration between China Oceanwide Holdings and CallisonRTKL, features a mixed-use, multi-tower scheme with a dramatic cantilevered swimming pool and retail podium just across from Staples Center. The project was presented by USC grad Tina Hovsepian, design director, China Oceanwide Holdings and Mark Nay, USC School of Architecture alumnus and senior associate VP for CallisonRTKL. All three are having a huge impact on Downtown LA and represent the most dynamic and fast-paced wave of building since the 1920s. In the concluding panel, presenters discussed how all three projects demonstrate a way of living in Downtown LA that has been increasingly popular in recent years—transforming the city from dominantly office space to a greater mix of housing, office, and amenities. All include high-end hotels and condo offerings. For the city it was important to add more hotel rooms to match demand tied to conventions and events. “LA is different than it was fifteen years ago,” said Nay. Paul Tang noted how the new verticality represents a “paradigm shift” and that the Asian developers, with their experience in their own home cities, understand how to identify and capitalize on this. Tammy Jow noted how the developers are “forward-thinking and very aware of the potential.” Another key attribute is their ability to ride out the vicissitudes of the market over the long term. This enables them to carry such huge projects forward and take an extremely long view.