06/27/2013 05:54 pm ET Updated Aug 27, 2013

Lehrer Architects Collaborates With Los Angeles City On Amazing Spring Street Park Design

Joni Mitchell would approve.

As we officially opened Spring Street Park on June 17, the song "Big Yellow Taxi" came to mind. We were reversing the ironic progress chronicled by Joni Mitchell as she sings "They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot." In our case, we were demolishing the parking lot and putting up a park.

In 2010, my architecture firm was selected to partner with the City of Los Angeles' Bureau of Engineering, Department of Public Works in an experimental public/private partnership.

Lehrer Architects was asked to provide design leadership for the landscape architects of the City's Bureau of Engineering. We delivered a bold design with an agile approach to urban public use development. The City brought landscape expertise to the design and implementation for a low maintenance, durable valued urban park.

Spring Street is the sixteenth park to be opened through the 50 Parks Initiative, which Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa launched in August 2012. The 50 Parks Initiative takes underutilized properties, many left blighted from the housing crisis, and turns them into neighborhood parks in areas that badly need them. Each park includes safe and environmentally sustainable features that minimize park maintenance and maximize community impact.

The primary design challenge of the Spring Street Park project was to reclaim two parking lots (emblematic of the 50-year degradation of the Historic Financial Center in Los Angeles) and transform the 0.7 acre, L-shaped lot into the centerpiece of the new passionate, nascent, important mixed-use residential heart of old/new downtown Los Angeles.

A secondary challenge was seeking approval for a bold, transformative design, with disparate public, private and governmental stakeholders to reach consensus for the benefit of the community.


Spring Street Park

Standing in the park, surrounded by neighboring residents during the official opening with the Mayor, it was clear that the public/private partnership was a success. The completed Spring Street Park site embodies the idea of "thrivability" evident in the best placemaking and sustainable practices of minimum lawns, low maintenance and low water planting -- which captures and cleanses all site water before returning it to the storm drain. All for a modest construction budget of $ 1.45 million.

Located in a renewed and emerging historic context, Spring Street Park is designed to acknowledge and respond to the street, and the surrounding residential buildings with their new big residential windows and balconies to create a recreational destination for the full range of community. The 64 bespoke Spring Street Bench Chairs, designed by Lehrer Architects, populate the Park when people aren't there, and are used to create places for one, for two, for several, or for the hundreds to see art displayed and performed during the monthly Downtown Art Walk. The aluminum seat backs perform constant lightplay with sun's reflection, creating shadows as light filters through perforated aluminum bamboo patterns.

A bold diagonal (but almost true east-west) red concrete path cuts the longest path through the Park connecting a vibrant Spring Street to an in-the-future vibrant alley.

In this modernist plan, the elliptical great lawn is used succinctly as a classical urban room, on the sunniest part of the site. It is surrounded by an ellipse of vined green-screen columns (many are lights). The ellipse is largely surrounded by a newly planted bamboo hedge, which will grow up to 30'. The entrances to the Park are highlighted with aluminum scrims reiterating the bamboo ellipse.

A continuous narrow paved path designed for children on bicycles, adults with strollers and leisure pedestrians circumnavigates the Park. A fountain, located at the street end of the great lawn, adds visual and acoustic interest enjoyed from the street and the Park.

With Spring Street Park, we helped restore a vital component to urban living for the residents of downtown Los Angeles. I suppose we should continue to thank Joni Mitchell for she did help us understand that "Don't it always seem to go / That you don't know what you've got / Till it's gone."