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Urban Revitalization in Long Beach, California by Gwynne Pugh Urban Studio
December 22nd, 2015 by Sanjay Gangal
Article source: Gwynne Pugh Urban Studio
In any major city, there are certain areas that become, or have always been, rough around the edges, driving residents away and contributing to a sense of urban decay. Whether through neglect, a shift in demographics, a change in the local economy, or other market forces, these areas become not just an eyesore, but a blight on the neighborhood. And so it was with a section of town in East Long Beach, California, which had deteriorated to the point of being a place that most residents of the city actively avoided.
In stepped the team at Gwynne Pugh Urban Studio (GP-US), which was chosen to help reinvigorate a key half city block at the corner of Long Beach Boulevard and Anaheim Street. Through a Community Development Block Grant – a federally funded program aimed at aiding community development – the site was chosen by the City of Long Beach as an area in need of revitalization. The site in question encompassed four adjacent and neglected storefronts across from the Metro light rail line stop.
It has always been a guiding principle of GP-US founder Gwynne Pugh that architecture should be appropriate to its surroundings and not exist in isolation. This was particularly true in the case of the project in Long Beach, as the neighborhood in question – just like the City in which it sits – has a culture and heritage all its own. Not just any design would work in the working-class, predominantly Latino neighborhood.
To this end, GP-US’s overall design aimed to create a unifying vision that makes a strong statement and strengthens the commercial area, while keeping in mind the existing structures’ current state, as well as the project’s tight budgetary and time constraints. It was the aim of the GP-US team to reactivate the street, transforming it into a place where residents want to spend time. The design included new paint and repair, as well as other unifying elements like metal canopies, storefronts, and signage to liven up the façades at the pedestrian level.
Public art was incorporated with a mural painted by Los Angeles artist Hector “Shandu” Calderon, whose roots were founded in graffiti-art. The finished mural, with its vibrant shapes and colors, fits perfectly into the neighborhood and ended up being an important anchor for the project. The mural enlivened the area and brought authenticity to the pedestrian level with a vibrant and dynamic piece of art.
An additional piece of art within the project came in the form of a light sculpture on the Long Beach Boulevard side, adding a component that’s both aesthetically pleasing and practical. The vertically-oriented tower, which was designed by GP-US and will be brought to life by Andrew Hernandez of A-Industrial Design-Build, acts as a transition between facades.
One of the many challenges on the project was working with four different store owners and 12 individual tenants, each with his or her own vision and ideas for how the neighborhood could best be served. For instance, prior to the project the tenants used harsh roll down gates for night security. To alleviate safety concerns, transparent gates were installed on all interior storefronts, as well as up and down LED lighting in the canopies, making the sidewalk secure at night and friendly to pedestrians. Organizing canopy elements are made of Galvalume metal for durability and easy maintenance. Other challenges were relocating all the storefronts and working with grade changes at entrances to comply with current ADA requirements, as well as refinishing interiors to connect and match flooring, walls, and ceilings. Local firm EGG Office designed the new signage for the stores, which helps give the facades a cohesive look.
Another part of the process involved GP-US communicating its design ideas to city officials – something the firm has a lot of experience in doing. Conceptual renderings were created and complex design ideas were distilled into simple, easy-to-understand text so that officials could make the best possible decision on behalf of the City.
GP-US is nationally known for innovative and sustainable design, and has a proven track record for creating energetic and lively environments. The GP-US team has unique skills in both small and large-scale civic interventions that have resulted in thriving community centers. The light rail line that stops across the street from the facades in Long Beach is a main artery to downtown Los Angeles and provides a steady flow of pedestrian traffic amidst the mix of retail, restaurants, and housing. All of the elements are in place for the neighborhood to become a friendly, walkable environment, and now – thanks to GP-US – that is becoming a reality.
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