Gehry's plan for the LA River still in research phase

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Plans to restore and revitalize the Los Angeles River have had a history of snags and hiccups, so it’s somewhat fitting that Friday’s scheduled media update of Frank Gehry’s vision for the river was slightly derailed.

The famed 86-year-old architect was unable to appear, due to continuing recovery from elective back surgery.

Also notably absent from the media briefing was any solid information about what the changes to the river might be. Instead, the information session, led by Tensho Takemori and Anand Devarajan, both partners in Gehry’s firm, focused on the ongoing research being done on the river and its use.

“Really, what we’ve done in the last 10 months is spend time researching a lot of the existing work that’s been done. We don’t have a design yet. There aren’t any pretty final pictures yet,” said Takemori.

Instead, the project leads showed graphics explaining the many considerations that will go into renovating the 51-mile riverbed.

Gehry's participation in the project was met with trepidation from some groups already involved with river revitalization efforts when it was announced earlier this month. Some were concerned that his project would supplant existing plans already in the works.

Omar Brownson, executive director of the Los Angeles River Revitalization Project, said the effort so far has been limited to research.

“There have been lots of conversations about master plans and whatnot. We’re not doing a master plan. The first phase of work is really a study, from which will come some recommendations about how to think about all 51 miles of the river,” Brownson said.

One of the efforts begun during the past 10 months has been the creation of a three-dimensional map of the river, which Takemori said his firm anticipates making available to the public once it’s completed. He said so far 70 percent of the river has been imaged, with the two soft-bottom portions in the Sepulveda Basin and Elysian Valley still to be done.

Brownson said the next phase of the project will be a more comprehensive study of the hydrology of the river and how ecosystem services, recreation and other factors could fit into possible plans. After that study is completed, concepts for portions along the river will begin to be tested. He said that the three-to-six month study is expected to begin before the end of the year.

So far, he said, Gehry’s firm has worked on a pro bono basis. That, however, appears to be coming to an end. Takemori said future work will be so intensive, it will require a dedicated staff.

“I think at this point, this is as much before we have to really kind of dedicate a team to do it, and that requires a little bit of funding to go to that next step,” he said.

Brownson said that funding is being sought from a combination of private partners and public agencies. He said he was not at liberty to reveal the identities of the private partners.

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