The Children’s Institute unveils its Frank Gehry-designed campus in Watts

The Children’s Institute unveils its Frank Gehry-designed campus in Watts

There’s no shortage of Frank Gehry-designed projects being undertaken in and around the 93-year-old architect’s Los Angeles home. Among them: a hotel and residential cultural campus near the beach on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica, the planned Los Angeles Riverside redevelopment, a major expansion of the Colburn School in downtown Los Angeles, and the large twin-tower project (located across from the expansion of the Colburn), a mixed-use apartment complex on the former Sunset Strip site of the iconic, long-demolished Garden of Allah hotel in West Hollywood.

However, it is Gehry’s upcoming project in Los Angeles that, while more modest in scale and less headline-grabbing in nature than the others, is expected to have the most significant impact.

Scheduled to open later this summer with a community celebration on June 25, is a new campus designed by Gehry Partners for the Children’s Institute (CII). Founded in 1906 by Minnie Barton, Los Angeles’ first female probation officer, this nonprofit organization provides services and support to children and families in the Los Angeles area as they heal from traumatic experiences. (It goes without saying that in this day and age, the services provided by CII are more important than ever). Located in the Watts neighborhood of South Los Angeles, the 20,000-square-foot campus is the first purpose-built home for the 116-year-old CII and its fifth software installation facility, joining the Otis Booth campus in downtown Los Angeles, Mid-Wilshire Campus , the Head Start office at the Figueroa Center, and its Long Beach Center.

An aerial view of a Frank Gehry-designed community center in Los Angeles
An aerial view of the Watts Children’s Institute campus. Simon Rodia Watts Towers are located nearby. (Courtesy Oltmans Construction Company/The Children’s Institute)
Corrugated metal clad parts of the facade. (Aultmans Construction Company, provided by The Children’s Institute)

Located across from Ted Watkins Memorial Park (and not too far from the neighborhood’s famous sculptural towers) at East 102nd Street and Success Avenue, CII’s $25.79 million Watts Campus project began in February 2020, with Gehry undertaking the project pro bono. “Our goal is for the building to be comfortable and welcoming,” Gehry said at the time. “I hope this building will serve and inspire children and families for generations to come.”

Joining Gehry and Gehry Partners on the project design team are landscape architecture firm Elysian Landscapes and architect Chait & Company.

In a press release announcing the upcoming opening of the new Watts campus, CII described the project as “a lasting investment and commitment to the Watts community, an architectural landmark, and a critical resource for families.” The nonprofit has had a strong presence in Watts since 2007, offering services — workshops, counseling and more aimed at “transforming lives impacted by racist policies and limited opportunities” — from seven locations through partnerships with families and community service organizations. The new campus will centralize its disparate operations throughout the community.

“In addition to our annual programmatic support, the new campus symbolizes our ongoing commitment to the community, providing a critical resource that will enable us to continue to grow to support the children and families of Watts. We are thrilled to increase our investment in the future of this neighborhood,” Children’s Institute President and CEO Martine Singer said in a statement. Extraordinary in such a public way.” “This beautiful building, designed by Frank with great care, generosity and understanding, will enable us to be a true partner to the community.”

The central atrium on the Watts campus of the soon-to-be-opened Children’s Institute. (Courtesy Oltmans Construction Company/The Children’s Institute)
(Courtesy Oltmans Construction Company/The Children’s Institute)

With its boxy form composed of “simple interlocking volumes” and generous use of corrugated metal cladding, the design of the two-story facility harkens back to Gehry’s formative work in Los Angeles, including modestly budgeted projects like the Norton Residence and Gemini GEL as previously reported by L.A. Its headquarters that Contributor Shane Rayner Roth, “A formally separate atrium with a diamond-shaped skylight will lead visitors into an atrium-like space that will receive generous natural light from wraparound roof windows.”

As envisioned by CII, the new campus will serve double duty as a multi-faceted community center and treatment center, and as such, flexible public spaces play a large role in the design, enabling the nonprofit to easily host community events, neighborhood council meetings, and other gatherings of varying sizes. Transparency and accessibility were also key considerations, creating a building that “fits appropriately into the surrounding neighborhood” and feels “accessible and usable by the community.” To that end, the façade was partitioned “to relate to the adjacent single-family residences while also reflecting the scale of the programs contained within,” CII noted.

As for programs within the new campus, the new Watts campus will host a myriad of therapeutic programs and free services, including socialization for young children, individual and group counseling, youth development activities, parenting workshops, workforce development/employment support, And the Fatherhood Project sessions, according to the Times of India website. CII. Also physically present on campus will be the Watts Gang Task Force and the LAPD Community Safety Partnership. “We are fortunate to have this valuable new community space as we continue to work to create safe and peaceful neighborhoods,” Donnie Joubert, vice president of the Watts Gang Task Force, said of what he described as “the 15-year-old organization” and its first-ever home base.

(Courtesy Oltmans Construction Company/The Children’s Institute)

In addition, the campus is providing office space for 150 CII staff, in a move that will “enable teams to manage multiple programs and further enhance programmatic reach.”

“The design of a building can tell a child we love you,” Frank Gehry said. “An upbeat building, one that is open and friendly to the community, sends a strong message of support and care. I hope this building will serve and inspire children, families and this great organization for generations to come, and teach them that people care about them.”

The June 25 community celebration at CII’s new Watts campus will include an official ribbon-cutting ceremony, live music, food trucks and remarks from Gehry, CII leadership and others.

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