During the course of his 40-plus–year career in landscape architecture, Rob Pressman, principal at TGP, left his imprint on five continents, including archeologically sensitive sites in Israel, before establishing his current practice in Burbank, Calif.
Since founding TGP, in 1994, Pressman has adapted to working in high-density properties, along with an increasing emphasis on mixed-use projects and the transformation of transitional neighborhoods, all dominant trends today in greater Los Angeles.
“More than ever, developers are appreciating the value of landscape amenities,” says Pressman, who also notes that such elements are the first to get cut when budgets are tightened. However, as densities continue to rise, multifamily developers are finding that consumers are increasingly demanding generous site amenities. “With higher densities and smaller units, there’s more incentive for residents to look for outdoor areas where they can socialize,” says Pressman.
Although pools and spas are de rigueur in upscale residential developments, Pressman notes that these relatively passive amenities require sizable investments—both financially and spatially—yet don’t accommodate great numbers of people. “Conversely, some of the amenities that make a community look hip, cool, and attractive aren’t very expensive,” he says, citing outdoor pool and ping pong tables, bocce ball courts, and fire pits, which are particularly popular with the younger demographic.
Three of TGP’s recent projects, in particular, illustrate how developers can use landscaping to attract, and retain, residents in today’s popular mixed-use, high-density genre.
Artsy Mixed Use
The Arts District in L.A. was once a large swath of crumbling warehouses and factories that has suddenly become über-trendy and cool, much like Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. Some of the city’s most fashionable bistros and boutiques are relocating to the area, and millennials working in creative industries and technology start-ups are snapping up apartments or lofts there.
One such property, the Garey Building, developed by Lowe Enterprises, is located on a 2.9-acre site formerly occupied by a toy warehouse in the Arts District. Working with project architect Togawa Smith Martin, TGP sought to bring a human scale to a pair of five-story buildings housing 320 market-rate apartments and 15,800 square feet of commercial space appropriate for lively cafés and artsy retailers.
The development’s two main structures flank a two-block–long, 50-foot–wide street that Pressman has reimagined as a pedestrian paseo, demonstrating the viability of pedestrian promenades in downtown L.A. TGP lined both sides of the paseo (which continues to provide access for emergency vehicles) with Corten steel planters whose zigzagging and undulating profiles bring complexity and energy to the linear architecture. Plantings of bay laurel, California sycamore, and New Zealand Christmas trees complemented by a variety of ornamental grasses and succulents add further interest to the space.
In addition to the paseo, ample recreational spaces for Garey’s residents are provided on the podium and rooftop levels. TGP created four distinct common areas within the available courtyards: a Zenlike garden with fountain, fire pits, and seating niches; an artificial turf–clad space for tossing a Frisbee or frolicking with kids; the requisite pool-and-spa area; and a rooftop deck with striking views of downtown. “In addition to barbecuing and dining [areas], the rooftop features an artificial turf–covered area for sunbathing or yoga in the daytime [that’s] versatile enough for watching outdoor movies at night,” adds Pressman.
The Garey Building, with vintage materials applied to its modern architecture, and open space that encourages social interaction, reflects the spirit of the entire Arts District: a diverse, inclusive neighborhood in which to celebrate a newfound urban attitude in L.A. The city, once the poster child of urban sprawl, now appreciates the energy of a vibrant downtown!
Something else that car-crazed Los Angeles isn’t well known for is public transit, but a multibillion-dollar transit-oriented development in town is now paying dividends as high-density living environments are popping up at transit hubs across Southern California. The aptly named Access, a mixed-use development with 115 residential units and 44,000 square feet of commercial space designed by Togawa Smith Martin, is located in rapidly gentrifying Culver City, adjacent to a station along the new Metro Expo Line that connects downtown L.A. and Santa Monica.
Continuing a long tradition of public art in Culver City, a condition of approval was to create a publicly accessible, two-level open space anchored by a signature piece of art at the corner of the site, a major intersection in the city. TGP collaborated with Merge Conceptual Design on the creation of a curvilinear, naturalistic “park” centered around “Cloud,” an interactive, mirror-finished, stainless steel sculpture conceived by Merge that emits fog and creates its own playfully engaging microclimate.
“It was a challenge to accommodate the city’s wishes for a two-level corner gathering space, particularly finding a way to make it inviting to ascend to the upper level,” says Pressman. This space, owned by project developer Greystar, has already proven successful in attracting the public and recently hosted the Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre, which incorporated the ecologically inspired sculpture in an improvisational, site-specific performance surrounded by the audience, which looked on from the upper deck and park level of the plaza.
For Access’ market-rate residences, TGP created a resort-style deck that accommodates a swimming pool and spa with several private cabanas, outdoor grills and dining, and a double-sided fireplace that separates the pool from a lounge area with a distinctly different ambience. “We were able to accommodate people who love the pool while also allocating an inviting space for other kinds of social activities outside the pool enclosure,” says Pressman of this innovative design solution.
The property’s relatively youthful tenants—it’s located close to motion picture studios and, thanks to the Metro, is convenient to high-tech campuses in Santa Monica—are seeking this kind of lifestyle. Access succeeds in meeting the expectations of Culver City planners as the first of four “catalyst projects” at this significant intersection, to spark development along the new transit line.
Located in Carson, a diverse community 15 miles south of downtown L.A., is Veo, an ambitious project providing 152 residences—for-sale stacked flats, townhomes, and single-family detached homes—on a gated, 9.5-acre site. Here, TGP collaborated with architects at KTGY to overcome the challenge of knitting together those disparate types of housing units into a cohesive community through innovative landscape architecture.
The team provided pedestrian connectivity throughout the community with meandering pedestrian pathways and paseos off a heavily landscaped central axis that connects the community’s generous amenities. At the north end is a multifaceted rec center with a clubhouse, pool, and cabanas; outdoor grilling/dining area; and fire pit, while a playground anchors the south end of the axis. “Our goal was to try to connect the various spaces as much as possible using plant materials to soften the architecture,” says Pressman.
A dry creek on the property not only serves as a stormwater catchment basin, but doubles as an aesthetically engaging design element, as well. Fountains and native landscaping—including a series of palms for continuity—complement the appeal of the site. Developed by CityView and Community Dynamics, the community’s resortlike feel physically and perceptually insulates the development from busy commercial thoroughfares.
“Creating an amenity-rich environment was critical for residents lacking their own private yards,” explains Pressman, who says the site plan presented significant challenges in accommodating that lifestyle. The landscaping solutions for Veo helped the project earn a gold-level Best in American Living award from the National Association of Home Builders, and its residential units sold out in record time.