By Design: Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, Los Angeles
A California design team creates a symbol of hope at Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook.
The place: Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, Los Angeles
The backstory: This hilltop, formerly drilled for oil, had been graded for the construction of new houses. Then it was rescued for a park. The challenge? Restoring its original contours, establishing a balance between recreational use and natural systems, and designing a visitor centre. What emerged were three brilliantly simple linked structures of polished concrete, designed by husband-and-wife team Ricardo Rabines and Taal Safdie of San Diego architecture firm Safdie Rabines Architects. The first building houses an exhibit space, a small theatre and meeting rooms; the second contains bathrooms, a catering kitchen and other event-supporting spaces; and the third is an outdoor pavilion that seamlessly spills out into an amphitheatre perfect for special events. These structures don’t sit on top of the hill, but curve into its side. In a practical and aesthetically appealing way, they function as retaining walls.
The beauty: It starts with one of those cinematic L.A. drives, up a road that twists and climbs. The views from the top sweep the city in all its grit and glory: east past downtown’s skyscrapers to the mountains, west to the Pacific and Catalina Island, north to the Hollywood Hills. Everything’s there: mobile phone towers, leafy neighbourhoods, freeways, industrial sites; there’s a working oilfield nearby, but another park on the next hill.
As a portal to all this, the visitors centre is appropriately subtle. It is architecture intimately united with, and expressive of, the hill upon which it sits.
In addition to exploring the visitor centre with its story of the site and its environs, visitors can hike trails around this 511-foot (156-metre) peak and explore the native plants that have been sensitively incorporated into the landscape.
Fun fact: The Baldwin Hills are named for Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin (1828–1909), who struck it rich with a number of mining investments and then acquired 63,000 acres of Southern California real estate.
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