Architectural Awards in the Second District

Martin Luther King, Jr. Transit Center in Compton.

What do a former YMCA, the Natural History Museum, a transit center, an elementary school and an elderly care facility have in common? They are the five projects in the Second District singled out by the Los Angeles Business Council for architectural awards.

The award ceremony, which has been held for 43 years, has historically honored visionary architects and outstanding projects that enhance the complex urban landscape of Los Angeles County. The Second District, an expansive stretch of the county that reaches from Koreatown in the north to Marina del Rey to the west to East Rancho Dominguez to the east and Carson to the south, garnered significant attention for several projects that pushed the envelope on design and sustainable building innovations.

Of particular interest was the Julius Shulman Emerging Talent prize, which was awarded to three students from Woodbury University, Michael Sotona, Gabriela Colmenares and Jennifer Pope, for their design of the a Continuing Care Retirement Community at the MLK Medical Campus in Willowbrook. Their design specifically incorporated the idea of a community, of connecting a good neighborhood feel to the sense of wellness, for the care facility.

Although their winning design was mainly an academic exercise, the campus also has been a prime focus of several firms for the improvement of the Willowbrook community. The Second District recently completed two major studies outlining the potential: an Urban Land Institute design session in June 2009 and master plan completed in mid-2012 by Gensler.

“These master plans arrived at the important conclusion that land use programs for community health campuses extend far beyond hospitals and outpatient clinics alone,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who presented the award to the students. “As a result, we define “health” to include a broad range of uses including education, nutrition, fitness, employment, housing and retail. In effect, a truly healthy community keeps people out of hospitals, although good hospitals must always be available.”

28th Street YMCA - Photo courtesy of Eric Staudenmaier. (

The other winners also incorporated a sense of community into their designs. The 28th Street Apartments, formerly the site of a YMCA and newly designed by Koning Eizenberg Architecture Inc., received the housing multi-family award for their work. Originally designed by African-American architect Frank R. Williams as a sports and recreation venue, the 1928 Spanish Revival-style building was added to the city, state and federal historic registers several years ago and its façade remains much as it was when the building first opened. But today, the building fills a different need: affordable housing. The rehabilitation of the building created 48 studio apartments and includes supportive services for tenants, which will include youth transitioning out of foster care and special needs adults.

The night’s other winners were singled out for their environmentally conscious designs. Playa Vista Elementary School, designed by Osborn Architects, won an award for green building.

The East Rancho Dominguez library, which holds a LEED Platinum designation and is the work of Carde Ten Architects, received the L.A. County Sustainability Award for its eco-friendly construction including the use of solar panels, installation of water efficient facilities, drought resistant landscaping and its pedestrian friendly setting. Continuing the “green” momentum, the Museum of Natural History won best landscape architecture for its use of native and drought tolerant vegetation to beautify the pathways leading in north campus gardens. The firm, Mia Lehrer + Associates, known for their work on other public sites like the Annenberg Community Beach House, designed the meandering decomposed granite pathways in a park-like setting that is visitor friendly.

And then there is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Transit Center in Compton, designed by BASE Architecture. The transit center serves more than 4,000 commuters every day. The architects were able to co-locate several transit spaces together to free up city-owned property for mixed use development.

“These awards represent the very best in design,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “But they exemplify something bigger. Memorable architecture is not just about creating buildings, but about creating destinations and identities for communities. And that is what is happening in the Second District.”

For more architectural sites that define the Second District community, click here.