Jordan Downs Freedom Plaza
Art-infused inspirational water feature represents ‘neighborhood voice’ at 115,000 square-foot retail center in South Los Angeles
Watts, a neighborhood in South Los Angeles, California, is home to one of the largest urban-renewal projects in the United States – the revitalization of public-housing development Jordan Downs into a modern and beautiful mixed-use project.
In addition to the 700 new homes redeveloped for this project by the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) is a new 115,000 square-foot retail center called Freedom Plaza, developed by Primestor Development Inc., which features Instill – an inspirational water feature designed and constructed by OTL. The plaza’s fountains highlight the artistic talents of OTL’s director of creative design Chris Roy, who personally crafted a series of typography and drawings based on phrases and images significant to Watts residents and etched them into the fountains’ natural stone columns, fabricated by Southwest Boulder.
The water feature serves as the “voice of the neighborhood” of Watts and satisfies a City of Los Angeles requirement that owners of private development fee projects fund public art through the Private Arts Development Fee Program, which requires 1% of the cost of the project to be set aside for an art component. This program infuses beauty and culture into central gathering spaces, which in turn elevates these spaces for stakeholders and the local community.
OTL, along with project architect Nadel Architecture + Planning, project landscape architect Fong Hart Schneider-Partners, and general contractor VCC, was tasked with helping to fulfill the City’s art ordinance while expressing the sentiments of the people of Watts, a town that is undergoing a renaissance after years of urban blight.
A great deal of coordination was required to accomplish this task. Although the City was initially hesitant to count the water feature as public art, the stakeholders spent time writing grants to qualify the fountain as art, noting that the handsome dark-grey polished basalt columns and the unique etchings so relevant to the local community elevate the project to a true work of art.
OTL coordinated with Primestor to gather words and phrases from local residents to incorporate into the fountains. The City was especially happy to include the people of Watts and give the project a true neighborhood voice. Chris created and used specialty fonts for the etched phrases that further distinguished Instill from any other piece of art.
In addition, the OTL team worked with the local health department to ensure all that stakeholders agreed the project would not be deemed interactive, even though the fountain basins are flush with adjacent hardscape grades, a detail which required close coordination and integration between OTL, the landscape architect and general contractor. The fountain’s filtration and sanitation system keeps the water safe and clean.
In bringing Instill to life at Freedom Plaza, OTL was instrumental in introducing modern touches and artistic beauty to an area that was greatly in need of revitalization. The water feature is synergistic with the art theme that is infused throughout the retail center, including intriguing decorative metal scrims and two hand-painted murals.
Along with enhancing the center’s aesthetic appeal, Instill serves as a singular piece of placemaking and meaningful representation of the people of Watts, as well as an inspiration to everyone who sees it.
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