“What a beautiful maintenance facility!” said no one ever.
But Division 13 (D13) isn’t your average bus maintenance and operations facility. Beauty, whether being used as an adjective to refer to our built environment or otherwise, is inherently subjective and its use is easily debatable. Beauty can describe physical appearance and it can also be about the meaning and the process behind a project. LA Metro and the D13 design team at RNL sought to design something different when the project was first conceived. The facility was not only meant to be physically attractive, but it was also to represent something different, that appeals to the senses on a larger scale.
The use of color, scale, landscape and massing all contribute to the beauty of D13, but one element stands out above the others is the public art integration. The lantern, as it is referred to, is subtle and almost hidden during the day, but at night becomes a focal point. The dynamic art piece is the product of an extremely collaborative effort by RNL, Metro Art, 3form and artist Christine Ulke. The artwork consists of hand drawings of a sycamore tree that were scanned, enlarged and printed onto a interlayer of composite translucent 3form panels. Titled El Aliso de Los Angeles, the piece commemorates a 400 year old tree which stood near the site and was cut down due to encroaching industrialization. The massive tree was at the center of Yaanga, one of the largest settlements of the native Tongva people in the LA basin.
It can be seen as an urban scale lantern, but more importantly as a commentary on the control of nature imposed by the built environment. Beauty is sometimes in the details (or the materials), but it can also be in the statement made by a public agency in partnership with artists and architects. D13 may not appeal to everyone or evoke feelings of beauty for many, but the process and the story can be appreciated by even the most cynical of critics.
Will Todd, AIA, LEED AP BD+C
RNL Associate, Project Architect