How SoFi Stadium’s panorama designer is reworking L.A.

Think about the Los Angeles which may exist if it weren’t encased in a concrete crust: Contours of soppy earth moderately than inflexible asphalt. Aromas that evoke the natural qualities of sage moderately than acrid smog. An city forest of shady sycamores as a substitute of spindly utility poles.

Over a profession that has spanned greater than 4 many years, panorama designer Mia Lehrer has hammered away at these arduous surfaces and, in numerous locations, changed them with extra hospitable landscapes. On a hillside overlooking downtown, for instance, on the web site of a former oil subject that was as soon as studded with oil wells, Vista Hermosa Pure Park now emerges from the dense city grid like a riot of unsettled panorama.

To the south, in Exposition Park, Lehrer and her group at Studio-MLA, the L.A.-based panorama design agency she based, ripped out a car parking zone on the north facet of the Pure Historical past Museum and reworked the location right into a 3½-acre backyard that features as a residing pure historical past lab. Stocked with greater than 400 crops (70% of them native), its options mimic Southern California’s hydrological phenomena, together with a pond and a dry stream. Winding paths of decomposed granite descend into the backyard, the place loosely organized vertical slabs of argillite rock — a “residing wall” — create pockets for vegetation to develop and animals to inhabit. What was as soon as a carpark now feels prehistoric.

A view of a path covered in decomposed granite shows vertical rock walls bursting with plants.

Studio-MLA’s design for the Pure Historical past Museum, accomplished in 2012, turned a car parking zone right into a backyard that additionally tells a narrative about water.

(Tom Lamb / Studio-MLA)

Studio-MLA has of late change into L.A.’s go-to panorama design agency. It’s labored on landscapes for Dodger Stadium, Banc of California Stadium, the Annenberg Group Seaside Home and Beverly Gardens Park — along with a bevy of business, company and residential developments. At the moment on the drawing boards is panorama work for the under-construction Lucas Museum of Narrative Artwork. Lehrer’s studio has additionally reworked schoolyards — traditionally designed as huge expanses of pitiless asphalt — into greener areas. And for many years Lehrer has labored, in official and unofficial capacities, to reimagine the concrete-embalmed Los Angeles River. This she has finished by way of casual charettes, in live performance with authorities businesses, and thru realized plans which have introduced slivers of parkland and stretches of motorcycle lanes to the arduous edges of the river. She and her studio had been vital members of the group that developed the 2007 Los Angeles River Revitalization Grasp Plan.

“It’s about initiatives that create locations and areas which might be significant to communities,” says Lehrer, sitting over a cup of espresso in her cavernous studio, an previous warehouse on the banks of that very river that lies inside earshot of the grumble of freight trains.

With the arrival of Tremendous Bowl LVI, one among Studio-MLA’s most distinguished initiatives is now coming into view: its meticulous panorama design for the behemoth $5-billion SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, together with its adjoining Lake Park.

It’s a mission that Lehrer and her group have been germinating, in a technique or one other, for 14 years, when experiences first emerged that the previous Hollywood Park racetrack would shut down and be become a mixed-use growth. That, a minimum of, was the plan till 2015, when the Inglewood Metropolis Council voted to approve a soccer stadium on the web site, which might be shared by the Rams and the Chargers. Hastily Studio-MLA discovered itself designing not only a park and a few tidy landscaping round some homes and a shopping mall, however an intricate array of park and hardscape components for a large new sports activities and leisure venue that was nothing like something Los Angeles or the NFL had laid eyes on.

A lake surrounded by park sits before the curling form of SoFi Stadium's roof.

Studio-MLA labored on the panorama design for SoFi Stadium and its adjoining Lake Park, seen at nightfall.

(Craig Collins / Studio-MLA)

“There was a way of ambition for one thing totally different,” Lehrer says of the mission.

First, although, there was a flash of panic. When Lehrer realized she’d be engaged on a stadium, she says her first response was: “Oh, my God! A soccer stadium. What does that imply? How can we do that?”

Studio-MLA figured it out — after which some — turning what might have been a blistering expanse of concrete into one thing that’s rather more pastoral.

Not like numerous different stadium initiatives, this one concerned the panorama group from the get-go, which implies that panorama at SoFi isn’t a tragic afterthought however integral to the stadium’s sinuous structure by the worldwide agency HKS, in addition to the venue’s environs.

“We labored with architects from the start phases of ideation,” Lehrer says. “That distinguishes it from different stadiums.”

Sometimes, says Studio-MLA affiliate principal Kush Parekh, “the perimeter of a stadium is designed to only get folks in or out. Right here you stroll by way of a park.” The mission’s magnitude has been such that Parekh joined Studio-MLA proper because the Hollywood Park mission was starting to take off and has lived and breathed it ever since.

SoFi Stadium's undulating roofline can be seen behind a desert garden with rocks, cacti, aloes and other succulents.

A view of the northern fringe of SoFi stadium, exhibiting panorama typical of desert climes, equivalent to cactuses, palms and aloe.

(Craig Collins / Studio-MLA)

Below the studio’s purview had been 12 acres of public inexperienced area surrounding a six-acre lake, in addition to myriad panorama components across the stadium. Mini-botanical gardens — full with didactics that designate what each plant is and the place it comes from — hug the southeastern fringe of the lake. Across the stadium, plazas are flecked with jagged fingers of backyard lined with benches that present game-day spectators a spot to relaxation, in addition to spots to hang around at instances when the stadium is quiet.

Maybe most ingenious are the open-air “canyons” — terraced ranges stitched collectively by stairways and escalators — that take viewers right down to subject degree and a few of the premium seating. Since SoFi sits on the flight path to LAX, the stadium needed to be dug into the earth, with a taking part in subject that sits 100 ft under grade. The descent might have been a sullen bulwark of metal and cement. As a substitute, HKS and Studio-MLA, working in live performance, carved vertical canyons across the perimeter of the stadium and stuffed them with terraced gardens that burst with plantings.

An overhead view shows zigzagging garden terraces pierced by an undulating fence and a staircase.

An overhead view of one of many canyon areas at SoFi Stadium, planted with vegetation typical of the Mediterranean biome, with a deal with California.

(Craig Collins / Studio-MLA)

Lehrer says that a few of the conceptual design work she did for the Los Angeles River helped inform the design. “If you wish to create a park alongside the river and also you wished to get folks down, you’d must create steps,” she says. “What does that appear to be? How are you going to get down comfortably and plant alongside the best way and create a park?”

All of that considering is on view at SoFi, the place three canyons — on the northern, western and jap edges — perform as essentially the most swish entrance to any stadium I’ve been to.

The plant palette all through the event attracts solely from Mediterranean zones world wide: California, South Africa, Chile, Australia and the areas that hug the Mediterranean Sea (southern Europe and northern Africa).

In and across the stadium, the main focus is on California, together with California sycamores, coast dwell oaks, blue hesper palms and island snapdragons. Every SoFi canyon is landscaped to replicate a unique biogeographic zone from the state. On the sunny north finish is a desert backyard. On the steeper, shadier canyon on the jap facet, plantings replicate higher and decrease montane areas. Towards the west, which is extra open and faces Lake Park, in addition to the Pacific Ocean within the distance, the vegetation is impressed by low-elevation chaparral and riparian ecosystems.

Woven into this are touches of caprice. A passenger drop-off level on the jap facet includes a visitors island stuffed with Seussian tree aloes surrounded by an association of charcoal-colored slate that resembles the scales of a Mesozoic beast. On the western facet, spectators coming into by way of American Airways Plaza wind their manner by way of a panorama studded with bulbous Australian bottle timber.

Steps and an escalator descend through terraced gardens filled with trees.

The terraced gardens that lead into SoFi Stadium — recognized informally because the “canyons” — give the strategy into the constructing a bucolic really feel.

(Craig Collins / Studio-MLA)

And there’s the lake, the centerpiece of Lake Park, which is open to most people when occasions just like the Tremendous Bowl aren’t taking place.

The lake isn’t merely an ornamental piece. It takes storm runoff and reclaimed water and filters it by way of a sequence of wetland areas, in addition to mechanical programs. That water is then used to irrigate the park. (Additionally engaged on the design of this characteristic, amongst others, had been a battery of companies specializing in engineering and hydrology, together with Tempo Engineering, Fluidity Design Consultants and David Evans and Associates.)

Like every city lake, its aesthetic qualities present a respite from the city panorama that surrounds it. Stand at its southern edge within the late afternoon when the sunshine glows and it’s as if the curl of the stadium’s roof is rippling into the water like a wave at low tide.

“The park is on the coronary heart of the event,” says Parekh, noting that in case you take a look at the broader web site from overhead, it’s the lake that occupies the middle of the property, not the stadium. “The park is the guts.”

Mia Lehrer, in a bright coat, and Kush Parekh, dressed in black, stand before a graffiti covered wall

Studio-MLA founder Mia Lehrer and Kush Parekh, an affiliate principal who led the studio’s work on SoFi Stadium.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Occasions)

Born Mia Guttfreund in San Salvador, Lehrer is the daughter of German Jewish refugees who fled to Latin America across the time of the Nazi purges of Kristallnacht. Neither of her mother and father had highschool levels, however her father, armed with a vigorous work ethic and can-do spirit, discovered success within the export enterprise. She credit her curiosity and her appreciation for nature — he was a hummingbird fanatic — to him.

Within the late Seventies, as El Salvador slipped towards civil warfare, Lehrer’s father urged her to depart the nation and full her undergraduate research within the U.S. She went to Tufts College exterior of Boston, the place she had each intention of changing into an city planner. However in the future, whereas attending a lecture on the Harvard Graduate Faculty of Design, she stumbled into an exhibition of Frederick Regulation Olmsted’s panorama drawings for New York Metropolis’s Central Park and was greatly surprised. “One drawing was the vegetation, one other was the waterways, one other was the particular options, the grading,” she remembers. “It was lovely.”

She positioned a staffer affiliated with the design college and requested, “What do I’ve to do to do this?”

The reply: panorama structure.

Kush Parekh and Mia Lehrer walk the railroad tracks outside their studio

Kush Parekh and Mia Lehrer stroll the railroad tracks exterior Studio-MLA.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Occasions)

As quickly as she accomplished her diploma at Tufts, she utilized to the panorama design program at Harvard, the place she studied beneath figures equivalent to Peter Walker (who later designed the panorama for the Nationwide September 11 Memorial and Museum) and marinated within the work of thinkers equivalent to Ian McHarg, creator of the influential 1969 guide “Design With Nature,” a piece that helped deliver a vital environmental consciousness to city design.

Lehrer additionally grew to become acquainted with vital Harvard alumnae, equivalent to Canadian panorama architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, who grew to become an vital sounding board and mentor. Oberlander, who died final summer time on the age of 99, was a lady in a subject that, for a lot of the twentieth century, was dominated by males. “She got here down to go to my initiatives,” Lehrer says. “It was so vital to me as a result of she was so supportive. I might inform her my trials and tribulations.”

At Harvard, Lehrer additionally met her husband: architect Michael Lehrer, who additionally runs a namesake follow in Los Angeles. The spiffy design of Studio-MLA’s capacious warehouse workplaces will be credited to his group.

Mia Lehrer at her desk in an office lined with landscape design schematics.

Mia Lehrer in her agency’s studio.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Occasions)

After commencement, the couple relocated to Southern California — first, to Orange County, then to Los Angeles, the place Michael was from. For years, Mia ran a non-public studio out of her residence targeted on residential panorama design, engaged on initiatives for a who’s who of leisure business figures equivalent to Robert Zemeckis, Jamie Lee Curtis, Dustin Hoffman and producer Joel Silver.

However by the late Nineteen Eighties, quite a lot of elements had been pushing her towards the general public sphere. This included her ongoing curiosity in environmental points — one thing that may very well be a troublesome promote for personal purchasers intent on creating fantasy worlds. And there was activist work round her kids’s elementary college in Los Feliz, the place she helped plant timber and inexperienced courtyard areas. This was adopted by tree planting initiatives across the neighborhood — efforts that linked her with Andy Lipkis, the founding father of TreePeople.

Lipkis is a “cross pollinator,” she says. “He would curate conversations that concerned folks from the county and the Metropolitan Water District and the Division of Water and Energy,” in addition to engineers, activists and folks from the movie business. It was by way of these conversations that she grew to become buddies with poet and Buddies of the Los Angeles River founder Lewis MacAdams, who was an abiding drive in reimagining the L.A. River.

The classes led her to make the general public realm an expert focus moderately than a sidebar to her personal work. “The ability that I had was in speaking design and design concepts and serving to folks personal the decision-making course of,” she says. This kicked off many years of exercise for Lehrer across the river, together with her work on the 2007 grasp plan.

Throughout this era, Lehrer went from working in her casual residence workplace to establishing an expert studio, Mia Lehrer Associates, in 1995. That has since developed into Studio-MLA. Her agency now employs 45-plus folks and features a small satellite tv for pc workplace in San Francisco.

A rendering shows the LA River's embankment's layered into tree lined steps that descend towards the water

A rendering by Studio-MLA from 2007 reimagines the concrete embankments of the L.A. River as a versatile area that might perform as open parkland but in addition serve varied hydrological features.


After we converse on a Friday morning, Lehrer unlocks the gate to the again of her studio and leads me and Occasions photographer Jay L. Clendenin onto the railroad tracks that sit between her studio and the river. She scans the panorama earlier than us for previous railroad spikes and rail clips that she’s going to deposit within the sliver of a graffiti-saturated backyard that abuts her studio. She factors out the methods during which the river’s embankments may very well be reimagined: with garden-covered steps or with a cantilever boardwalk.

At some extent at which many designers would maybe be resting on their laurels, Lehrer continues to be considering energetically about all the different websites the place she wish to intervene — together with the L.A. River.

In 2015, Frank Gehry started engaged on a follow-up grasp plan with the L.A. River Revitalization Corp., a nonprofit group that was created to handle renewal efforts. It was moderately shocking information provided that Gehry is neither a panorama architect, nor does he have in depth expertise with hydrology initiatives.

I ask Lehrer, who just isn’t concerned within the present planning, how she feels about it. She demurs on commenting about Gehry’s plan straight however says she is pleased with the work she has finished to make this second attainable.

“Plans result in plans,” she says. “That [2007] plan allowed planting tips to get adopted. It recognized websites that had been publicly owned that may very well be become parks and areas the place you wanted bridges to attach communities.”

“Our paperwork made it a actuality,” she says. “We have now a river. We have to repair it.”

Gehry or no Gehry, Mia Lehrer is set to maintain chipping away on the concrete.

A closeup of a woman's hands holding rusted railroad spikes

Mia Lehrer gathers railroad anchors and spikes on the prepare tracks subsequent to her Los Angeles studio.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Occasions)

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