2013 USC Los Angeles River Bow Tie Section Studio
USC Landscape Architecture 542B, 6 units | Spring 2013 Semester

Students visiting the Bowtie site and conducting site surveys.


Site Location
Bow Tie Parcel, Los Angeles River

Special Thanks to:
Charles S. Dywer, Alison Lind,  Erin Jones of Amy Corps of Engineers Los Angeles Office

Los Angeles River Project Office | City of Los Angeles | Department of Public Works | Bureau of Engineering

Studio Background
The Army Corps is currently developing a strategic plan (ARBOR study) to modify the river channel in the Glendale Narrows area (the vegetated section of the river between approximately Griffith Park and the 110 freeway). This a landmark study for the river and is the most likely avenue to obtain the massive federal funding necessary to modify the river.  

Generally speaking, the Army Corps mandate and the ways in which this project could be funded, allow for the restoration of the river as an animal habitat, but not an urban “revitalization”. Program is limited to basic passive recreation, such as a top of bank bike path and bird watching, as if it was a natural feature (e.g. Everglades). Any designed elements should be austere and necessary for maintenance, flood protection, and habitat. In other words in the current funding and policy environment a “High Line” design approach to the LA River is unlikely.

As part of the study the Army Corps and their consultants are developing viable typical sections for a modified River channel. These sections reflect concerns for cost, habitat creation, and flood protection. These initial sections were provided to the studio as reference material. In general, one section proposes a set of vegetated terraces and the other proposes a permanent geo-textile matt. Students were also provided with a schematic plan for modifications along the Bow Tie site (which is currently owned by CA State Park). 

Studio Objective
The studio seeks to design within these constraints. Students must more or less justify their designs based on the Army Corps mandate and concerns (flood protection, habitat, maintenance, and cost) while at the same time create an attractive design that provides multiple values, including creating designs that may support “shadow” programs – informal programs that while not allowable in the current policy framework are likely to occur regardless (as they do now) and may be supported by the city or Corps in the future.

Studio Structure
To facilitate this exploration the studio was structured in the following way:

  • Each student was asked to create two to three typical sections (based on the ones provided by the Army Corps). Limited typical sections applied over long expanses would presumably greatly reduce the cost of implementation. 
  • Between each section they must design transitions. In order to create a hydraulically viable design it is necessary that the profile and “roughness” of the river changes gradually.
  • They must intercept and treat the urban water coming out of three stormwater outfalls that flow into the river at the site. They must accommodate for high volume wet-weather flows and highly polluted, lower volume dry-weather flows. 
  • They must provide at least one vehicular access ramp, which is necessary for maintenance and safety in the river channel. They cannot otherwise generally provide direct access to the river water. 
  • They must provide a maintenance road at the top of bank and they cannot (generally) provide pedestrian circulation below the half-way mark on the river channel.
  • All of these elements were to be integrated and treated as design opportunities. 

Based on this, students were required to create a master plan for the entire Bow Tie site and adjacent river channel and then focus on the detailed design of an area with two typical sections and a transition between them. 

Final Review Jury
Hadley Arnold (Aridlands), Peter Arnold (Aridlands), Linda Taalman (TaalmanKoch), Ira Artz (Tetratech), Charles Dywer (Army Corps), Brian Whelan (Army Corps), Takako Tajima, Frank Escher (Escher GuneWardena), Ben Feldman (Mia Lehrer & Associates), Kate Harvey (Osborn Architecture), Jennifer Samsom (LA Revitalization Corporation), Travis Langcore (USC), Megan Whalen (LA BOE)


Student Work Samples

Click for large image and info.