Grand Park’s landscape architecture and architecture by Rios Clementi Hale Studios creates a distinctive, interconnected, and inviting space for residents and visitors of Los Angeles County. The design is inspired by the diversity of the people of the region, both explicitly and implicitly, in the variety of its lawns, terraces, plazas, and gardens. Although Grand Park is a significant marker of the county, it is not meant to be a static monument, but rather act as the “front- and backyards” for the community. It is a public garden that reclaims a key urban site to celebrate the Los Angeles County of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Grand Park is a distinctive space designed to “feel” like Los Angeles, with its lush and diverse vegetation echoing the region’s numerous backyard gardens, as well as open lawns, gardens, bright-magenta furniture, and shady spaces to see and be seen.
Many overt and subtle elements of Grand Park emerge from the overall structure of the plan, which alludes to the Goode Projection—a composite map projection used for world maps—and its curving lines known as “meridians.” This idea is manifested in the gently curving meridian paths that join the north and south promenades, and conceptually extend—via cross streets—into downtown areas, including Chinatown to the north and the city’s historic core to the south. This feature of the layout signals the dispersed geography of Los Angeles County and the rich diversity of its population. Also emphasizing world cultures are the floristic gardens and the environmental graphics program (designed by Sussman/Prejza & Company) that includes entry totems welcoming visitors in 25 languages that are found on Los Angeles County voter registration materials.
Different activities occur in Grand Park’s four public spaces, or “blocks.” In Blocks One and Two, visitors will find the Fountain Plaza with the regal, restored Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain and interactive water features (by Fluidity Design Consultants); new buildings, which house the park office and public restrooms; Olive Court, a plaza that marks the historic alignment of Olive Street with olive trees and Mediterranean plantings, as well as historic speaker poles and benches; and the Performance Lawn with broad expanses of grass and a small stage. This shady lawn area incorporates several existing Jacaranda trees and is surrounded by various gardens containing plants from North America, Australia, and Southeast Asia.
In Blocks Three and Four, visitors will find the Community Terrace, a large central plaza surrounded by gardens from each of the world’s six Floristic Kingdoms; small lawn areas for picnics and lounging; a Flag Garden; the Broadway Terraces, providing ADA access down to the street level, as well as informal stepped-seating areas; the Event Lawn, an open, flexible area for large public gatherings and marketplace; and even a dog run. Wide steps—along with ADA-accessible ramps, switchback paths, and the landscape architect’s reworked grades—mitigate Bunker Hill’s 90 feet of grade change throughout the length of the park.
The floristic gardens, a crucial element of the design, beautify the park in concert with nearly 150 of the site’s existing mature trees, 50 of which were removed during construction and returned to the park and re-planted. The diverse plant palette stems from the organization of the world’s six Floristic Kingdoms—South African, Boreal, Australian, Neotropical, Paleotropical, and Antarctic. While these regions have occurred due to specific environmental factors, Los Angeles provides a climate of easy adaptation for the various plant communities of the world to come together. This great global pageant of plants also pays tribute to Los Angeles’ wonderfully diverse population. Intermingled with native plantings, species from the various regions are organized into gardens that are distributed along the length of the park. Garden markers (designed by Sussman/Prejza & Company) resemble oversized garden stakes and indicate the region, describe the climate, and talk about the specific characteristics of a featured plant within each garden. Magenta site furnishings throughout the park invite visitors to linger, enjoying its vibrant display. The vibrant color was chosen to act as a year-round “bloom” that complements the seasonal colors of the gardens.
One of the greatest improvements that immediately engages the public is the new terraced entry to the park from Grand Avenue. Once both physically and visually inaccessible due to the large circular parking ramps providing access to the garage below, the park now flows naturally from Grand Avenue’s sidewalk to the Fountain Plaza nearly 30 feet below. The Fountain Overlook offers a view of the restored fountain, new splash pad interactive water feature (by Fluidity Design Consultants), and the surrounding plaza. Gardens in this area include plantings from the Boreal floristic kingdom, such as the Albizia julibrissin (Persian Silk Tree). A new park building on the south side includes public restrooms under a sloping roof, while another building on the north side accommodates the park office, public elevator, and support spaces.
Moving east and traversing the Olive Court—a plaza space that marks the historic termination of Olive Street with Olive trees and Mediterranean plantings, as well as historic speaker poles and benches—one finds the Performance Lawn. This shady lawn area incorporates several existing Jacaranda trees and is surrounded by various floristic gardens containing plants from North America, Australia, and Southeast Asia, such as Cercidium “Desert Museum” (Palo Verde), Melaleuca nesophila (Pink Melaleuca), and Bauhinia blakeana (Hong Kong Orchid tree).
Crossing Hill Street to the Community Terrace, visitors first cross the Metro Plaza with its trains below connecting the park to various neighborhoods near and far. Beyond, a large central plaza—once the location for the Court of Flags—is surrounded by gardens from each of the world’s six Floristic Kingdoms. A long table to the north is an inviting setting for banquets and brown-bag lunches. Small lawn areas provide locations for picnics and lounging with City Hall as a backdrop. To the east, the Court of Flags has been re-organized into a new Flag Garden overlooking the Event Lawn and City Hall. The Broadway Terraces provide ADA access down to the street level, along with informal stepped-seating areas for relaxing and viewing events at the Event Lawn.
Across Broadway and facing City Hall is a broad expanse of grass that comprises the Event Lawn, a space conceived for large public gatherings and performances. The large lawn spans the distance between the north and south promenades, creating connections to both the much-anticipated dog run on the north and the multi-use marketplace on the south. A small park building near Spring Street provides a covered outdoor space, as well as a green room (for performers) and public restrooms. The Marketplace provides a space for farmers’ markets as well as staging for large events. Floristic Gardens in this area include plantings from the Antarctic, Neotropical, and Paleotropical Kingdoms: Metrosideros excelsa (New Zealand Christmas tree), Tabebuia impetiginosa (Pink Trumpet tree), and Phoenix reclinata (Senegal Date Palm).
Grand Park was designed to be environmentally sensitive in several respects. A series of filtration planters and dispersement lawns will filter more than five million gallons of water annually before they reach city storm drains; the water management plan does so even though three of the park’s four city blocks are built over parking structures. Large expanses of grass feature the hybrid Bermuda species, which was selected for its durability and drought resistance. Drought-resistant plantings minimize water use and are irrigated primarily via sub-surface water-efficient drip tubing that delivers water directly to the root zones. In the lawn areas, rotor heads with stream nozzles provide water-efficient spray irrigation with minimal water loss. Moisture sensors and auto shut-off valves provide additional monitoring for the irrigation system designed to meet state water requirements per Ordinance AB 1881, which has been adopted by the City and County of Los Angeles. In addition, the historic fountain’s restoration and modernization reduces water depths and features efficient jets, boosting the landmark’s sustainability.
Grand Park is filled with trees and plants that frame its relationship to its context and to Los Angeles County as a whole. Animated with pedestrian traffic and the dynamic water play of the fountain, the result is a vibrant urban park that celebrates the city and its inhabitants, expressing civic values of the 21st century.