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Santa Monica Approves Field Operations With Dramatic Early Morning Vote

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Santa Monica's upcoming Palisades Garden Walk and Town Square parks are hot properties--they'll be close to the Expo Line and six design teams (including El Gehry) battled it out for the commission. Blazing hot landscape architecture firm Field Operations, led by James Corner (late of New York's High Line), was selected unanimously in February by a panel of experts including landscape architect Ken Smith, Dean of the USC architecture school Qingyun Ma, dean of the USC architecture school, and Marc Fisher of UCSB. A staff item presented to the City Council said the names of the judges were publicized during the request for qualifications "in order to communicate that the City had included peer professionals in their fields and sought an innovative and accomplished team of design consultants," and that Field Operations was chosen because it "offers an understanding of the connectivity of the park to its surroundings, its major circulation elements, and local horticultural imperatives, along with a focus on designing a signature civic park." The City Council was expected to sign off on the selection with a $3.2 million contract, no problem. But a well-informed and very relieved tipster writes in that it almost didn't happen at the Council's meeting last night. Take it away, tipster:

"Santa Monica's City Council came very close to missing greatness today (at a quarter to one in the morning!) when Councilperson Terry O'Day waited for a long 45 seconds after the Clerk called his name in the roll call vote before adding his vote to the other 3 yes votes for the selection of James Corner and Field Operations as the designers of the Palisades Park and Town Square. Since Councilperson Bloom was absent, O'Day broke the tie vote...

"James Corner fresh from the triumph of the High Line Park is famous not only for the quality of their design, but also of their talent for involving the public in the design of their work. The City Council that night was selecting a designer, but not a design. That is exactly what they should be doing since the park will now come out of the collaboration of the public, council, commissions and the public, and be designed through an interactive process...Thank god that for once in this world, a decision was actually being made in the cause of landscape architecture and architecture and not politics...

"[Councilmember Bobby] Shriver was hell bent on undoing this process by having all the six finalists come back and present what he called a Dog and Pony show. At the 40 minutes a pop he claimed that would be an entire CC meeting just for presentations let alone comments...I think it was very telling that Will Wright, the representative of the Los Angeles AIA chapter was there til past the midnight hour, and on behalf of the profession (remember NONE of the AIA LA Chapter members got this commission and the AIA nonetheless supports the process and the selection). Thank God the SAMO CC did the right thing and came closer to creating what will be one of America's greatest parks that will be part of an extraordinary set of developments around the Civic Center.

"As [Councilmember] Kevin McKeown noted, given the string of parks that Corner is designing he may indeed be America's next Frederick Law Olmsted, Its interesting to note that America may actually have been less parochial in the 19th century when cities all over the country were happy to have Olmsted design parks because they wanted the best. Some members of the SM CC seemed pissed off that a local son like Frank Gehry was not getting the commission, even though you have to wonder why someone would hire an architect, rather than a landscape architect for a park."

Now that the contract is safely approved, Field operations and Santa Monica staff "will initiate an extensive community engagement process for the new parks."
· NYC's High Line Designer Headed to Santa Monica [Curbed LA]