It’s hard to imagine the beautiful public park, adjacent to Central Library in downtown Los Angeles, with its fountains, pools and overlooks, public art and generous lawns, restaurant and outdoor dining terrace…as a former parking lot, however, that’s what it once was. Had it not been for public advocacy and the foresight of developer Robert Maguire, this beautiful public space would not be what it is today.
In this blog, the last of our four-part series on Lawrence Halprin’s Los Angeles works, we focus on the most notable, the Central Library. We’ll discuss elements that went into its creation and the collaborative efforts of the creative team.
During the ‘70s it was evident that the library - constructed in 1928 - was not adequate for contemporary use and some truly dreadful ideas emerged. The library’s 40th anniversary year report recommended the demolition of the building and replacing it with a facility twice its size. Luckily this didn’t come to pass. Instead, after a long period of public advocacy, developer Maguire Thomas was brought in and formed a team to create the gardens we know today.
Associate architects Campbell & Campbell collaborated with Halprin on the design for the two-and-one half-acre Maguire Garden. Although Halprin had a long-standing relationship with Campbell & Campbell, the parties did not always see eye to eye. When Regula Campbell suggested to Halprin that this Art Deco garden needed an axis, Halprin didn’t initially spark to the idea. Douglas Campbell explained that their disagreements often had to do with Halprin being a true modernist, who believed that modern design demanded dynamic asymmetry. Campbell & Campbell prevailed in re-establishing the three pools of the original central axis, re-envisioned Bertram Goodhue’s original Egyptian design and thematic concept for the library, “The Light of Learning.”
The articulation of the paving and walls extends the original vocabulary of the architecture into the garden. The planting consists of Italian Cypress and evergreens that create layers, in varying hues and textures, to complement the massing of the building. The forecourt is planted with olives and lined with low walls to provide shaded places for casual gatherings, market festivals and a setting for the outdoor café.
Douglas Campbell said, “Maguire was a tremendous risk taker—he was 'all in.' When they were going to build the parking garage underneath the library, he sunk everything down, which is very expensive to do. Somebody visiting the project wouldn’t know that there was a parking garage underneath.” Maguire was insistent on the highest quality and standards, and that the facilities would be well-maintained.
The postmodern design we see today is a hybrid of Halprin’s ideas and the Campbells’ ideas. The final design creates a lively civic setting for the iconic Egyptian Revival library building. Our recent day tour and symposium, Landscape As Catalyst: Lawrence Halprin’s Legacy and Los Angeles, illuminated some of the fascinating history of this garden and also focused on its need for continuing care. Stay tuned for continued details!
The Landscape Architecture of Lawrence Halprin - L.A. exhibition runs through December 31, 2017 at the A+D Museum.