Architect Frank Gehry and the LA River Revitalization

A surprise announcement regarding the revitalization of the Los Angeles River came recently, world famous architect Frank Gehry is working with city officials to draft a new plan to bring life back to the 51 miles of waterway flowing through LA.

Frank Gehry is best known for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain as well as the Walt Disney Concert Hall right here in Los Angeles. Gehry calls LA home, so was happy to volunteer his time for the project.

Mayor Eric Garcetti and the LA Revitalization Corp. had originally planned to make the announcement later this month, but the Los Angeles Times discovered his involvement and disclosed it early.

The Los Angeles River begins in Canoga Park, where Bell Creek and Arroyo Calabasas meet. It flows, in a concrete flood control channel, through the Sepulveda basin, Van Nuys, Sherman Oaks and Studio City. It runs parallel to Route 134 past Burbank and North Hollywood, then into Griffith Park. It continues to weave its way through Los Angeles, mostly enclosed in a concrete channel, until it finds the ocean in Long Beach.

The concrete channels were built after a the catastrophic floods of 1938, which caused widespread damage to the city and killed 115 people. The aim was to prevent further flooding and get control of a river that could be unpredictable during the winter rains.

The revitalization project aims to return the river to a more natural state, including parkland open to the public. The project has $1.4 billion in federal funding, Gehry’s involvement is expected to build on the Army Corps of Engineers restoration project, enhancing transportation and adding economic development.

Gehry had a condition for taking on the project; it must be approached as a water reclamation project. Surprisingly, Gehry does not want to eliminate the concrete walls surrounding the river, which for many are an eyesore which takes away from the plan for a natural space.

“I don’t see tearing out the concrete,” Gehry said. “It’s an architectural feature, and I can see ways of incorporating it into what we’re doing.”

Gehry is assembling a team of the best and brightest, already on board are engineers at Geosyntec as well as Olin landscape architect Richard Roark. They will be joined by Henk Ovink, the Special Envoy for International Water Affairs in the Netherlands.

Not everyone is happy with the announcement, the Friends of the Los Angeles River have expressed their opposition to the addition of Gehry to the project, citing concerns that it may put the current funding in jeopardy.

Lewis McAdams, the group's leader, is disappointed that decisions are being made without public involvement, pointing out that this is how the river ended up enclosed by concrete in the first place.

While Gehry’s addition to the project will likely remain controversial, it does have advantages. His fame will be an important factor in fundraising for the revitalization project, as well as bringing international attention to it. He is also bringing state of the art technology and a top rated team to work on the project.