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First Look at Frank Gehry's Pro Bono Design For a Campus For Kids in Watts

World-renowned starchitect Frank Gehry has been staying close to home in Los Angeles recently with a wide variety of big-deal projects that pull him out of his museum-and-concert-hall comfort zone: an extensive infrastructure overhaul in the master plan for the LA River, a high-end mixed-use project in the 8150 Sunset complex on the Hollywood/West Hollywood border, and a pro bono design for the headquarters of a children's nonprofit located in the heart of low-income Watts. Gehry unveiled his model this past weekend for that last one, the new headquarters of Children's Institute, Inc., which was founded in 1906 as the Big Sister League and now offers services to kids and families dealing with violence and poverty; it's been in leased spaces in the neighborhood for eight years now.

The Children's Institute Watts Campus will sit near Central Avenue and East 103rd Street (where CII now has an interim space) in a series of two-story buildings at a scale that'll help it fit into its surroundings, but still laced together with signature shiny Gehry roofs. Parking will mostly be underneath the buildings and there will be gardens along the edges. The campus will have space "for individual and group counseling, community meeting space, indoor and outdoor areas for afterschool activities, early childhood education and childcare, areas dedicated to youth development programs such as art and computer training, as well as expanded space for family support services and classes," according to a CII press release.

The LA Times reported over the weekend that Gehry ended up on the project via Gelila Assefa Puck, a fashion designer who is married to Wolfgang Puck and on the board of CII. The nonprofit had never considered that they might be able to hire a starchitect, but Gehry said the decision to take on the design was "a no-brainer." (He's overseeing the campus, but his son Sam Gehry and Precious Aiyeloja are leading the design process.)

For Watts and CII, this is a chance to have a world-class campus in a place not just not used to beautiful buildings, but still scarred 50 years after the Watts Riots. As Carolina Miranda points out at the LAT, median household income in the neighborhood is only about $25,000; Watts has the lowest life expectancy in California. CII says that "The new Watts campus will be a beacon of hope in the surrounding landscape, providing a safe, welcoming community hub for children and families." CII has raised about half the money it needs to start work and is hoping to break ground in by 2018.

· A Bold Vision for the Future in Watts: Children's Institute, Inc. & Architect Frank Gehry Unveil Design of New Watts Campus [PRNewswire]
· Frank Gehry Will Design Campus For At-Risk Children in Watts [Curbed LA]
· Watts made its mark on Frank Gehry, now the architect is returning the favor [LAT]