This grand stairway linked downtown Los Angeles to the newly developed Bunker Hill neighborhood. Reminiscent of Rome’s Spanish Steps, the project emulates a city street with retail shops and cafes on terraced landings. Running like a spine down the middle of the stairway is a ravine, with water cascading downward to a small basin at Fifth Street.
Unfortunately, recent renovations to the landscape at Bunker Hills Steps put the Halprin design at high risk. The ravine, which once featured rustic protruding rocks, a unique design vocabulary that Halprin created following extensive study, has been replaced with smooth scored stone that resembles glazed brick when wet. Water still flows down the ravine, but Halprin’s idea of abstracting nature has been permanently lost. This recent work illustrates the threat that these works of landscape architecture are subject to without informed stewardship.
Furthermore, the role of Bunker Hills Steps in connecting a newly rehabilitated professional corridor in Downtown Los Angeles is no longer evident. Cumulative changes to the Network have resulted in the loss of connectivity between the spaces. Although from a high elevation a visual connection can be made to the Library and Maguire Gardens, Bunker Hill steps now reads as an individual urban landscape rather than part of a Network. Cohesive signage and interpretation between all four landscapes would increase visibility of the original design intent, particularly at Bunker Hill Steps.
Alan Ward, FASLA
Ward, a principal at Sasaki in Boston, Massachusetts, is a planner, designer, author, and photographer. His photographs have appeared in more than 200 books and magazines and have been in numerous exhibitions, including the award-winning exhibition Built Landscapes: Gardens of the Northeast. His most recent exhibition Luminous Landscapes, debuted at the National Building Museum in 2016. Ward’s recent landscape design work includes the rehabilitation of the landscape at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.