Oct 13, 2014
BY: and
THEME: Sustainability

Recipe for Design Success: River Walk Along the Los Angeles River

Every year, Perkins+Will’s Design Leadership Council (DLC) holds a firmwide competition soliciting responses from our emerging talent to a topical design problem in a rapid-fire, two day charrette. This year, the DLC asked respondents to design a ‘House of Retention’ along the Los Angeles River, a home for the Arid Lands Institute. Check out the entire brief and all the responses at dlc.perkinswill.com. Here are a few stories from those selected by the jury. We first asked this year’s winners to comment on their design, ‘Water Towers.’ Now the second prize winners share their story. 

Recipe for a Weekend Design Charrette Submission:


  • Two rolls of trace
  • Four computers
  • Eight cups of coffee
  • Sixteen bruises
  • A few hours sleep (not too many)
  • Two brothers


  • Google
  • Doodle

Yes, we are architects. And yes, we are brothers.

After putting the above ‘ingredients’ together, we managed to finish our submission for this year’s DLC Competition (and win second prize). Self-contained in our mother’s basement where not even a hint of sunlight gets through, we lost our grasp of time. Circadian rhythms off, it was a wild (design-filled) weekend. One of us had just gotten off a 14-hour flight Friday evening at the start of the charrette, while the other had just come off a project deadline.

The authors’ mother’s basement provided the perfect light-free place to crank out a design within the limited 48 hour window.

After assembling Friday night, a heated conversation ensued.  We locked down our game plan and design process, which was broken down into two phases: Googling and Doodling.

Step 1: Googling

Heading into this project, neither of us had an expertise in water sustainability nor knowledge about the Los Angeles River. So just like what every other Millennial would do, we did some Googling.

A lot of it.

In particular, the information on the master plan of the LA River Revitalization organization caught our interest. We were intrigued by some of the design proposals along the river bank, and inspired by the revitalization efforts of the locals who feel deprived of natural spaces. That’s when we decided to set out with the goal of connecting the river back to the people.

Step 2: Doodling

A series of doodles can produce a sketch, eventually leading to the design of ‘River Walk.’

A lot of site issues were presented in this project; we wanted to tackle as much of it as possible with the simplest moves. As we doodled from scheme to scheme, we landed on the two big moves that resolved the most issues:

  • Bring people up and over on an accessible ‘green’ roof, while providing an educational nature walk. People will see the natural process of water filtration through exposed layers of earth, as the city drainage water gets filtered back into the river.
  • Take people down and under the train tracks into the river, where the river bank has been redesigned for more outdoor activities. Having building programs reside underneath the elevated park also gives researchers easy access to the water.

The design addresses issue related to both water filtration as well as connecting Angelenos back to their river. (Click to enlarge)

We saw many vacant lots along the LA River, and viewed this as an opportunity for a network of natural water filtration systems on those sites that could bring people together in a cohesive revitalization effort.

Check out Danny and Alan’s proposal, and all of the entries for the competition, on the DLC website

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