Los Angeles County chooses light rail

ED. Design of L.A. stations are superb – if only Vancouver could have hired architects with vision and imagination.

L.A. Times

By Christopher Hawthorne ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

Mariachi Plaza Station (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times) This stop was designed by architect William Villalobos and artist Alejandro de la Loza.

Sunday’s opening of eight new Metro stations on a path from downtown to East L.A. lays down tracks toward an exciting future.

It’s the latest light-rail line in Los Angeles County, running six miles from downtown L.A. through Boyle Heights and into East Los Angeles. When it opens to the public on Sunday, the Gold Line will run from Pasadena to East L.A. The Eastside extension cost $898 million to build. Construction began in 2004.

Little Tokyo/Arts District Station (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times) This is the first stop on the extension from Union Station.

After Villalobos and AECOM handled the preliminary architecture of the new stations, each one was then handed off for final design to a separate architect-artist team. The standout designs are the two at the eastern end of the extension.

The Atlantic Station, by AECOM architects Todd Osborne and Russell McCarley and the artist group Adobe L.A., pairs a series of sail-like canopies with colored-cement benches and a lacquered, floridly painted robot sculpture at its western entrance.

The East L.A. Civic Center station, by Villalobos with artist Clement Hanami, suggests a row of blooming poppies and adds a burst of bright color to its stretch of 3rd Street.

Each of the two underground stations, meanwhile — the cerulean-blue Soto Station by architect Aziz Kohan and artist Nobuho Nagasawa, and Mariachi Plaza Station by architect William Villalobos and artist Alejandro de la Loza — is a tri-level design that adds a sizable new public plaza at street level. The visible coordination between art, architecture and signage at the stations — and even the perforated-metal bicycle lockers built at or near a number of the them — is a direct result of Metro’s decision several years ago to create its own design studio, which now has a staff of more than 20.

The Gold Line extension's opening gives the feeling that things are looking up for mass transit in L.A. Here's a look back up toward the street from the underground track at one of the two new subterranean stops. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Mariachi Plaza Station (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times) The colorful street-level entrance pops out in Boyle Heights.

Among the above-ground stops in particular, less is definitely more: The stations that work best tend to be the ones that promote a fluid, easy connection between sidewalk and platform.

The real significance of the stations’ debut on Sunday flows, instead, from the fact that with every substantial extension of the rail and subway network — and this is a major one, with a price tag of $898 million, a large chunk of it to pay for 1.8 miles of underground tunneling — another piece of the future Los Angeles comes startlingly into focus. More transit means more pedestrians, more people who pay attention to the shape and design of the city up close. That, in turn, means a growing constituency for shared space in Los Angeles and new interest in our long-neglected streetscapes and public sphere.

To put it another way: Transit and the life of the street are inextricably intertwined, and a boost to one is almost always a boost to the other.

At the same time, as trains trace new paths across the city, some of the divisions that for generations have made Los Angeles a balkanized collection of neighborhoods may begin to wobble or fall away.

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