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Future Fugly: Wilshire Grand Development at 7th & Figueroa, Downtown

Future Fugly: Wilshire Grand Development at 7th & Figueroa, Downtown
A.C. Martin Partners, Thomas Properties Group

Feast your eyes on the future. By 2015, the bustling, glowing corner of 7th & Figueroa downtown will have replaced the just-shuttered Wilshire Grand hotel with this concoction of stores, ads and vague glowing glass volumes.

Wilshire Grand's development team -- made up of Thomas Properties Group and Korean Airlines with their subsidiary, Hanjin International Corp. -- is not only planning for the street-level hotel and retail complex seen above, but also two towers (one 45 stories, the other 65) in a billion dollar deal that's being praised for creating jobs and simultaneously ridiculed for its gaudy over-excess.

The future Wilshire Grand development has been described with tepid rebuke as "Blade Runner-esque" and "Las Vegas-like," while other critics have held back very few punches, dubbing it a "sleazy Vegas electronic nightmare," "cheap and unimpactful" and "a monstrosity." Councilman Ed Reyes, on the other hand, calls the multiple stories-tall digital media walls "art" and believes "it adds more culture" to L.A.'s downtown streets. The towers will have similar LED media skins with ads pulsating across their first 10 stories (but not on the freeway-facing sides as to cause pile-ups on the 110 freeway, boosters continuously assure).

The schizophrenic pastiche offered above includes standard glass-clad, mall-ish sidewalk storefronts, a fuzzy green doorway (presumably planted with actual growing living things) and a louver-enclosed escalator shaft -- awhirl in softly transparent layers upon layers of mellow golden light. And what the hell is going on up top with the hundred foot-long, structurally-unsupported blue comb-over? Did every intern in the office get a pop at this one?

Rest assured Angeleno, this is likely not what the eventual street corner will look like. A.C. Martin (the architect for the conceptual phase of the project) is sure to take a couple more passes at it. Perspectives such as these usually get tossed out to residents for us to chew on while the important, behind the scenes action goes on amongst politicos, investors, bankers, real estate attorneys and planning agencies.

What's unnerving about the proposal shown here is not only what its anxious, overly Photoshopped execution is gingerly trying to cover up, but what its careless hodgepodge hints at: that the building itself and its relationship to the street, to the public at-large and to the rest of downtown is going to be an afterthought. Again.

L.A. Live -- despite its similar Blade Runner-esque sensory overload (and the heaps of criticism it garnered upon completion in 2007) -- does support a public plaza where the blinding media screens are held up high on helixical towers above the crowds. And there are crowds. Rios Clementi Hale Studios -- who highlighted areas for public interaction between the stores and venues -- thoughtfully designed the plaza at L.A. Live, and now folks actually seem to enjoy hanging out there. (Cross fingers, RCH studios might be consulting on Wilshire Grand as well.) Unfortunately, from the look of the future 7th & Fig digs, the architect's and developer's garbage pail of crumpled ideas have all come trudging back to life in a Frankenstein-ish scene, but really it's just the same old mall.

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