Police Stations, Civic Architecture, and Story Ideas

Is excellent individual design what public buildings should aspire to, or is there still a place for civic architecture?
by | December 8, 2009

Hollenbeck

Controversial comment: I love Los Angeles. One of the things I like best about America's second city (sorry Chicago...) is its contemporary architecture and design scene. Some here at GOVERNING (Chris Swope) scoff when I describe the wonders of Disney Hall or the excitement of visiting Eric Owen Moss's Stealth building in Culver City. But I tend to swoon. However, a recent conversation with L.A. design boffin Frances Anderton has had me rethinking my enthusiasm for all things cutting edge.

Anderton is the host of DnA, a wonderful half-hour radio show that explores the world of design and architecture. (It's available as a podcast here.) She recently invited me onto her program to discuss how new, architecturally cutting edge police stations such as Hollenbeck Station in East L.A. compare to the division stations of the past (many of which I wrote about in my recent book, "L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City.")

I'm a big fan of the new Hollenbeck station. It's clearly and indisputably a vast improvement on urban forts such as Central Division station. But as I was preparing for my interview with Frances, I found myself wondering if something had been lost in the rush to embrace the avant garde. Compare Hollenbeck to, say, the old Northeast station in Highland Park. The first is the creation of an architect. It's hip. It's edgy. It could be anywhere (in L.A.). Don't get me wrong: Hollenbeck is sensitively sited to create an attractive urban plaza (complete with free Wi-Fi). But it's a different beast than the old the Highland Park station -- a building that exudes authority and reads to every passerby, "police."

That's the question my conversation with Frances got me thinking about: Is excellent individual design what public buildings should aspire to, or is there still a place for civic architecture? Take a look at the photos above and share your thoughts.

Photo of LAPD's Hollenbeck Station during construction (circa February 2009) by JonDoeForty1, via Creative Commons license

John Buntin
John Buntin  |  staff writer
jbuntin@governing.com  | 

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