Sunday, August 16, 2009


The picture above is the proposed Westgate development area on the former eastern site of the old Ambassador College, currently under construction. This project highlights the loss of character and scale in new development in Pasadena that has been allowed under a new staff-driven "Central District Specific Plan" that superceded the old city standards that gave Pasadena its quality, class and scale, grounded in the Bennett Report and reinforced by the Gray Book. This project was assembled at maximum density, no open space, with strenuous objections from the neighboring residents, who asked the City to take a stand to preserve the City's character and scale, to no avail.

It compares with the infamous block layout and juxtaposition, shown here, of Pruitt-Igoe, Yamasaki's first independent commission that was notoriously dynamited into oblivion in 1972. Look at the contrast to the existing neighborhoods and the massive scale jump. This kind of development, with large horizontal massing packed onto a site, is what created the dysfunctional exterior spaces and lack of coherence in the project.There is no penetration of the public space into the project, hence the vulnerability of a block that does not belong to anyone.

Pasadena is experiencing an invasive style that began, apparently, with the Ross Dress for Less store on Lake Street. These are multi-colored stucco boxes with "hats" trying to disguise the fact that boxed-out density in multifamily housing is nothing more than a revenue vehicle. Massive blocks of condos and apartments are being shoehorned onto commercial lots, some of them retaining fragments of existing outstanding early modern commercial buildings. These are being marketed as being pedestrian-friendly "smart growth" when in fact they have no expression on the street, just massive walls without setbacks for blocks. Not a place I'd want to walk around in; the building scale is just blown out of proportion. I see no indications of a commitment to sustainable or green public spaces at the edges, just wall-to-wall building mass. This is not consistent with the Green City approach that asks for open space and unpaved areas with overhangs and sheltered spaces.

Pictures below illustrate the problem of scale and form that are apparent even in the early stages. The construction is typical cheap wood-frame stucco box, very little detailing, typical of many projects already around town, such as the Stuart and Trio. None of the quality (steel frame), character, scale and detailing that went into the Paseo Colorado residences are evident here.