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AltaSea at the Port of Los Angeles: Using Our Common Past to Build the Future

Image © Gensler

Very rarely does one gain the opportunity to design a project whose mission is so critical to future generations and the planet on which we live. In addition, it is also good fortune to lead a project that also challenges one to devise fresh approaches to the idea of context, whether it is the local community of San Pedro and its history with the waterfront or the profound relationship of humanity and the ocean at large. But AltaSea at the Port of Los Angeles is such a project.

AltaSea at the Port of Los Angeles is a public-private partnership dedicated to unlocking the potential of the ocean to generate innovative solutions to global challenges of human and environmental sustainability. Already an important connector in the community through its myriad partnerships, AltaSea brings people together to expand scientific-based understanding of the ocean, incubate and sustain ocean-related businesses and pioneer new ocean-related education programs.

Built at the Port of Los Angeles’ historic City Dock No. 1 with access to the deep ocean, AltaSea is a net-positive energy use campus, and as such will work to balance the energy consumption of the Port within which it resides. The buildings’ form and spaces are designed for visitors and users to experience the coming together of land and sea. Rejuvenation is woven into the design of each part of the overall campus: the tower’s renewable energy models, the rooftop solar fields and the renovation of the dock’s historic structures all speak to this purpose of AltaSea.

Along its 35 acre-campus, historic buildings and new architecture are woven together via public parks and plazas, and they’re connected to the San Pedro and the district’s growing waterfront. The design features hubs for scientific exploration at Warehouse 57, public education and exhibition spaces at Berth 56, and businesses comprised of new and renovated buildings at Warehouses 58-60, linked by a new network of public spaces.

The design for the campus of AltaSea centers around five distinct parts:

Image © Gensler

1. LA Waterfront Promenade

Altasea creates a vital link in the chain of public works projects activating the waterfront along San Pedro’s neighborhoods and the Port of LA. The campus buildings are knit together by public plazas, parks and walkways from east to west and north to south inviting visitors to walk, bike and run through the campus, or stop and explore it more deeply. Central to this is the creation of Linear Park, which will run parallel between Signal Street and Warehouses 57-60. This will be an education park where much of the seawater supply infrastructure that is the lifeblood of AltaSea will be made visible along its length for visitors to learn about the various stages of its filtration, use, and reuse before it is naturally cleansed and circulated back into the ocean. Wharf Plaza, where sea-going research vessels will dock, and an Education Pavilion will punctuate Linear Park and lend it pace and scale.

Image © Gensler

2. Berth 56: Engagement Center

The new Engagement Center is intended to be the design centerpiece of the campus and will introduce the public to AltaSea’s mission. It will house public education and exhibition programming, allowing school children and students to explore the sciences of the ocean.

The building’s design is inspired by the movement of the ocean to land and the landforms that result from this ocean energy. As such, the architecture addresses The Port’s East Channel as a landscape, enabling visitors to experience the blending of architecture and water through specifically choreographed moments as they move through the building. These moments are intended to re-energize the spirit through the various ways the building’s design reframes the ocean and the horizon beyond.

Image © Gensler

3. Warehouse 57: Science Hub

The adaptive reuse of the historic Warehouse 57 provides the AltaSea campus with a state-of-the-art Science Hub for oceanographic and marine biology programs. The building contains over 60,000 square feet of classroom and lab space, flanked by an elevated public promenade with overlook-galleries along the entirety of the 500-foot long building. The space convenes and supports the world’s best marine scientists as they conduct breakthrough research and discover solutions to environmental problems. Once a warehouse where the processing of goods transitioned from sea to land, now the building’s purpose has evolved to be a place where the ocean and people arrive to solve the problems of the earth.

4. Warehouses 58-60: Research and Business Hub

The Research and Business Hub at AltaSea is housed in 180,000 square feet of adaptive reuse space throughout Warehouses’ 58-60. These spaces will nurture new and existing businesses that commercialize scientific breakthroughs and emerging technologies to create ocean-related products that advance our society’s harmony with nature while also creating services and local jobs.

5. The Viewing Structure

The Viewing Structure, which is proposed for a future phase of construction, is designed to be a learning beacon that allows visitors to access an overlook of the entire campus, the Port of Los Angeles and the surrounding community of San Pedro. The legacy of lighthouses in San Pedro will find its next iteration here, but instead of emitting energy, this structure will harvest and employ advanced forms of energy generation. It will also include equipment that studies the climate and reports back on the energy-use and generation of the campus as a whole. As a beacon for the campus, it will mark the place where our new future will begin.

Image © Gensler

AltaSea is one of the most meaningful projects one could hope to be involved with, as it involves a re-examination of our most fundamental resource – the ocean - for the betterment of all humankind. It not only intends to establish a place where we can create a more harmonious relationship with the ocean and its resources, it is also designed to stir the emotions we all feel when confronted with its silent power. This is a common past we can all use to build our future – one of hope and aspiration.

Li Wen, AIA, is a design principal at Gensler with over 27 years of experience. He is responsible for leading the design on many of the firm’s corporate and civic/cultural projects, including MGM Place in Beverly Hills, the Playa Jefferson Creative Office Campus, and the LAPD Memorial to Fallen Officers. Li also is a leader on the team responsible for research and special projects coming out of the Los Angeles office. Contact him at li_wen@gensler.com

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