Broken Dreams on Grand Blvd in Los Angeles
Mixed-use complex from Gehry Partners related companies and China Harbor Engineering Company Ltd. – A 45-story residential tower called The Grand by Gehry, and one 25-story, 205-room hotel run by the upscale Conrad Hotel atop a high-rise. The retail podium is a billion-dollar, beige endeavor that not only fails to fit in with Grand Avenue, but is also an eyesore that detracts from the value of Gehry’s former masterpiece. “In the history of art, late works are disasters,” the German philosopher Theodor Adorno once wrote, as an assessment of failed projects and, interestingly, those in which in the ruins of past successes lies a new genius. The Grand by Gehry is boxed and not edited with his signature.
Perhaps if the project had begun in the mid-2000s, just after the masterplan was completed, it might have had a chance. But according to architect Tensho Takemori, a partner at Gehry Partners, work began in 2004, then was stopped, restarted, and redesigned at least once before moving full speed ahead in 2017. It received an occupancy permit for the towers in June 2022. But areas Retail is still under construction. It’s been nearly two decades of recession and pandemic, and although the design has endured, it has failed to do much for the city as a whole.
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In a gesture toward urbanism, a groove of sorts runs between the two towers, connecting Grand Avenue to Olive Avenue below; A semi-public pedestrian path travels through the lower level parking lots of the hotel, mall and residences. Let’s call it Gehry Gulch, a trail for those who don’t want to walk along steep pavement. Along the Grand, there is a small green space planted with grass and six olive trees and shaded by the residential tower. But to suggest that this snippet of manicured, censored landscape is civil is either delusional or cynical. Grand L.A.’s website touts its commitment to public spaces in the form of $57 million it contributed to nearby Grand Park, but did not mention that the money was for development rights.
Remarkably tall, the glass-and-precast residential skyscraper steps back like an alternate ziggurat, each block jostling slightly out of alignment. On a tour of the building, Takemori suggested that the move was out of respect for the somewhat low-key scale of Grand Avenue, a way of adjusting the difference between the commercial skyscrapers of Bunker Hill and the street’s cultural outcropping. This argument does not hide the fact that the model likely illustrates zoning setbacks and the need to provide lots of corner apartments.
Rents for The Grand by Gehry’s 436 units — 89 of which are designated for low- to moderate-income renters — start at $2,750 for a studio. The Rockwell Group has designed an impressive collection of luxurious amenities for residents and consists of approximately 27,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor shared space. However, the best views are outside: From the floor-to-ceiling apartment windows to the poolside seating on the balcony level, Disney Hall at Gehry has never looked better.