World renowned architect Frank Gehry will bring his imaginative designs to a children's organization in Watts, the poor and crime-ridden Los Angeles neighborhood where deadly riots broke out 50 years ago.
Gehry unveiled a pro-bono design to replace a converted hospital building for Children's Institute Inc. on Saturday. The new campus will feature boxy, two-story forms united by shining metal roofs and Gehry's signature angles.
"It's simple, it's direct, it has a nice humanity about it," Gehry told the Los Angeles Times.
The project will cost an estimated $35 million. Children's Institute has identified about half the money needed to cover the building's cost and hopes to break ground in 2018, said CII chief operating officer Nina Revoyr.
"Sometimes there's this sense of why is Frank Gehry doing a building in Watts," Revoyr said. "Low-income communities need magic and beauty just as much as wealthy ones — perhaps even more so. Why do we even need to ask?"
Gehry is a Pritzker Prize-winning architect whose works include the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles. He became familiar with Watts after taking boxing classes there 46 years ago.
"I think he would be profoundly upset if he died and were remembered as an architect of rich people's houses and fancy buildings," Paul Goldberger, author of a new biography on the architect, told The Times. "His whole life he has cared for the well-being of society."
The new building will include play areas and therapy rooms for children and adolescents as well as community spaces. The organization's leaders hope the building will become a positive cultural symbol in a neighborhood that has struggled.
"Having something like Gehry's building, seeing something so beautiful ... that really can give you a sense of self," said Jacqueline Atkins, who grew up in Watts and is the institute's regional vice president of programs. "My family doesn't live here anymore, but they're overwhelmed by the idea of a structure of this magnitude coming to Watts."