There Is A There There

Photos: Courtesy of Land Images

One thing visitors immediately perceive when arriving at the newly completed Sepulveda Basin Park and Sports Complex in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley is, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, “There is a there there.”

What creates this immediate impact at the 65-acre, $9 million public facility, where half the space is dedicated to athletic activities, is a two-building complex highlighted by waving rows of utility poles flanking the entry point between the two buildings.

“Working with Land Images, the master planner of the park, our vision was to configure a small, utilitarian building to serve as a ceremonial entry portal, and create a sense of arrival,” notes Wade Killefer, design principal of Killefer Flammang Architects (KFA).

“In numerous cases, parks just occupy large parcels of land and don’t really exhibit a clear sense of place,” explains Killefer, whose firm has designed numerous recreational projects, including Santa Monica Airport Park, Woodley Lakes Golf Clubhouse, Santa Monica Swim Center, Challenger Boys and Girls Club, and JAMS Boys and Girls Club.

Innovative Design

The two small Sepulveda buildings are constructed of glazed concrete block with steel-channel roof-framing elements that connect with the 40-foot long poles extending from the roof. Interestingly, the innovative poles also serve as a branding device, and are used throughout the park to provide lighting. The field house contains office space, restrooms, and storage areas.

“Our design concept,” Killefer says, “was inspired by famed sculptor Richard Serra, a master in employing massive forms to signify a procession through space. The ‘procession’ in the park pursues a course starting at an urban locale and continues through the lush tree-filled parkland, with the gentle undulation of the poles enhancing the sylvan experience for visitors.”

Initial Planning

“Initial planning of the sprawling project started in 2006,” recalls Tom Lockett, principal of Land Images.

The Department of Recreation and Parks first conducted public meetings to determine what should be done with the site, leased by the City of Los Angeles from the Army Corps of Engineers.

“In the wake of those meetings,” Lockett says, “it was determined that besides the park, the athletic facilities should include four softball fields, a soccer field, miscellaneous ‘passive’ park amenities, and a parking lot.” The natural grass and lighted softball fields are built to tournament standards, while the competitive soccer field, also lighted, is surfaced with artificial turf for economical maintenance.

The design was accomplished in two phases: the first, including the formal sports components, the building, and parking; the second, encompassing more passive park functions, such as picnicking and informal sports.

“One of the key planning elements called for locating the amenities close to the project’s North/South and East/West axes,” explains Lockett.

The site is bordered on the south by the Los Angeles River, the Metrolink Line on the north and west, and Balboa Boulevard on the east.

“The design objective, established by the City of Los Angeles and Land Images at the outset, was to specify the various components in a very legible order, utilizing crossing axes as an organizing system,” Lockett says.

The East/West axis terminates in the ceremonial pedestrian entrance at Balboa Boulevard, which is the main street carrying traffic to the park. The North/South axis serves as the primary entrance from the parking lot, thereby accommodating a large majority of park users.

To implement this strategy, Land Images organized the fields along the crossing axes, which were generously sized to accommodate grand allees of trees, beneath which seating,

picnicking, and event watching is enabled. The axes also incorporate a centralized structure, which contains a battery of drinking fountains that have a similar form and materials as the building.

The building/portal is located at the north end of the crossing axis at a midpoint of the parking lot. “This creates a symmetry which carries throughout the organized portion of the site, consisting of the formal fields. The more informal portion of the site takes on a more natural form, with meandering pathways, mounded lawns, and more informal groupings of trees and plantings, Lockett says. “Located at the terminus of this axis, where the parking lot meets the park and serves the field house, in addition to its obvious function, it serves as a dramatic entry portal through which users pass on their way to the various park features.”

Drainage Solutions

In dealing with the issue of drainage, both phases of the park are designed to be filtered through bioswales in the parking lot, and then re-introduced to the water table using depressed detention basins located in the phase-two portion of the project. Both basins have been transformed into large grassy meadows for informal play, except when they are inundated with storm water.

The park irrigation systems are designed and installed to currently operate from a potable water source with the potential to be connected to a reclaimed water service at a future date. When this occurs, the domestic water for the soccer field overwatering system, the building, and all drinking fountains will remain on the potable supply, and the landscape irrigation will be separately sourced from the reclaimed supply.

“In evaluating a project as big as this one,” Lockett concludes, “it is a professional pleasure to say that over a seven-year period under the direction and oversight provided by Ms. Cathie Santo Domingo, who served as project manager for the City Department of Engineering, there was not one blunder. She was truly an inspiration to the staff people as well as the many consultants who worked on this project.”

Wade Killefer , FAIA, is design principal of Killefer Flammang Architects, headquartered in Santa Monica, Calif. Reach him at .

Thomas A. Lockett , FASLA, Landscape Architect, has been the owner and principal partner in Land Images, Landscape Architects in Los Angeles, Calif., since 1977. He is a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects and a member of the Teaching Faculty in the Landscape Architecture Department at UCLA Extension Reach him at .


How To Create Unity And Cohesion

Among the principal approaches of design that Land Images followed in creating Sepulveda Basin Park and Sports Complex:

1. Incorporate all of the separate elements and functional requirements of the project into a comprehensively integrated whole.

2. Make sure that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and exhibits unity throughout.

3. Duplicate materials in various applications.

4. Develop a clear, legible organizing system (such as the prioritized crossing axes) that choreographs the sequence of the various park elements.

5. Establish a clearly visible hierarchy between those elements that bring emphasis to the organizing system, and create a “sense of place.”

The park is not just a random collection of user areas, but rather a place where all of those elements contribute to the total experience.