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Arts and Entertainment

Photos: The Distinctive New Park That Will Soon Frame City Hall

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Just months after the final Pershing Square design was announced, plans for another high-profile downtown park have been chosen, this one at First and Broadway. Things, it seems, are finally looking up in our notoriously park-poor city center. City Councilman José Huizar announced Thursday that landscape firm Mia Lehrer + Associates had been chosen from four finalists to design the City Hall-adjacent FAB Park. First and Broadway—get it?.

ML+A's design for FAB Park (which also features Rem Koolhaus' Office of Metropolitan Architecture as design architect and input from IDEO design think tank) is unique in its emphasis on urban nature—sections of the park will be landscaped to feel a million miles away from the bustling adjacent streets. The 1.9-acre site will also have a large central plaza area for art and cultural activities, and a two-story restaurant building with rooftop vegetable garden.

One could argue that no contemporary Angeleno has done more to shape Los Angeles' current physical environment than Mia Lehrer. The Salvadoran-born landscape architect counts the Silver Lake Reservoir meadow and pedestrian path, the Hollywood Roosevelt pool, the Natural History Museum gardens and the Annenberg Community Beach House among her many, varied credits, and her firm is currently helming the Hollywood Park redesign. Lehrer was an early advocate for the Los Angeles River and has been deeply involved in its revitalization, including creating the city's 2007 L.A. River Master Plan. But her mark extends far beyond the spaces her firm has designed; her drought-tolerant ethos and emphasis on respecting the California landscape have influenced other projects around the city for decades.

Perhaps the best way to describe the winning design is in contrast to neighboring Grand Park, which spans three city blocks and opened to much acclaim in 2012. The 12-acre Grand Park offers a host of cultural programming and lovely slice of green amidst the crowded city; it undoubtedly serves its purpose, and serves it well. But it feels more like a place you pass through than a destination, with no real sense of place, and little semblance of nature.

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Counter the lawns of Grand Park with the planned outer edge of FAB Park, which will feature a thick grove of mature California Oak and Sycamore trees. The towering trees will offer not just shade but also a touch of wilderness, especially alongside the planned wash and meadow. If you have your doubts about whether landscaping can really create a sense of remove in the middle of the city, just visit ML+A's Vista Hermosa Park, which somehow manages to feel like the Santa Monica Mountains despite being carved out of the high-density cityscape just west of downtown.

FAB Park's planned Ellsworth Kelly-esque sculptural canopy structures, which are in the form of abstracted California poppies, create a distinctive visual identity, as do the undulating ribbon of low seat walls framing informal "park rooms." Together, these iconic elements, along with the California-native plant palette, will create an unmistakable sense of place. FAB Park will be a destination and, by the looks of it, a memorable one.

The comparison is in no way meant as a knock against Grand Park, which is exactly as it should be. And that's why the planned design for FAB Park is so powerful—because the two parks will abut one another and, in a sense, create a larger adjoining setting, comprised of and offering two very different styles of place.

What else should you know about FAB Park? Well, the plans puts a heavy premium on sustainability, with "net-zero" efficiency in water and energy use, achieved by incorporating park-wide features such as solar collection and on-site stormwater filtration/infiltration.

Extensive site demolition on the lot, to remove what was left of a 13-story 1931 office building damaged during the 1971 Sylmar Earthquake, was completed in 2014, a year after the city purchased the nearly two-acre site from the state.

The L.A. Timesreports that the city has upped the total budget for the park to to $28 million, including site work and a contingency fund, most of which will come from Quimby funds.