Last month Maguire Thomas Partners and their design team unveiled their scheme for the new town of Playa Vista which will be sited on the old Hughes aircraft estate. The design team is made up of five firms: Duany and Plater-Zyberk, Moore Ruble Yudell, de Bretteville and Polyzoides, Hannah/Olin, and Ricardo Legorretta.
The renderings and plan suggest a town whose formal structure is made by overlaying several urban scales: large sectors, smaller neighborhoods, and their centers. Using both early American traditional towns, such as Savannah and Charleston, and Los Angeles urban fragments as models, Playa Vista will be a dense, gridded town designed in modules based on a 5-minute walking distance. While there are to be two dominant centers, a commercial center at the base of the bluffs to the south and a marina center to the north, the town’s most distinctive character will thus be its small neighborhoods. The residential areas will be modeled after Los Angeles courtyard housing, but will also feature other attached unit types such as the quadplex, duplex, large villa, row house, and terrace house. Corner detail (designated for pubs, small markets, etc.) will be placed in each small neighborhood. These clusters will also feature a small park, often containing an institutional building such as a library, a small theater, or a post office.
While this gridded morphology will account for the look of most of the town, Playa Vista will take advantage of its seaside location with a marina and with the renovation of Ballona Creek. The marina’s two islands will be covered with row house and continuous public walks not unlike Naples in Long Beach. The Corps of Engineers’ concrete basin (ironically still called Ballona Creek) will be planted heavily to create public esplanades on its two banks.
Like Duany and Plater-Zyberk’s town of Seaside in Florida, the entire town will be governed by both an Urban Code and an Architectural Code. The necessity of coding comes not only from the designers’ desire for aesthetic control, but also from the difficult political climate for such a project. The preservation of the wetlands as a habitat for a species of endangered birds, the protection of the views from the bluffs (as well as of them), and control traffic in the area were some of the major concerns of the residents of adjacent communities. Maguire Thomas was told by local politicians that unless they responded to these issues, no project would survive the approval processes. In fact, it was their mandate to make the design process accommodate community participation to ensure the recognition of these concerns.
So far, the Playa Vista project appears to be a success in the eyes of the nearby residents. Moreover, it could be the seed of a solution for some of the problems of the rest of the basin. One of the most important goals of the Playa Vista design is to create a pedestrian community, not only for those who live there, but also for those who work there. Commuter traffic into the town would be reduced by encouraging car-pooling and by providing commuters with places to eat and shop within walking distance at lunch hour and after work. In addition, a large amount of affordable housing will be built in order to house many of those who do both live and work there.
Perhaps most significantly, though, by creating a dense town instead of a sprawling suburban community, much of the adjacent natural landscape will be preserved. In a city like Los Angeles, where homes are being built far beyond Riverside for commuters into the city, traffic and air quality are not the only problems. The countryside around the city is quickly vanishing. Without reconsideration of the single family house ideal in Southern California, the major attractions of our beautiful landscape and clean air will become completely lost.