As the first design excellence via Design-Build effort undertaken by the County of Los Angeles, the Stoneview Nature Center is a unique story of community, engagement and healing. At its most basic level, the project provides for the development of a highly sustainable, 3,600 square foot nature center and transformation of a five-acre brownfield site in the Baldwin Hills neighborhood of Culver City, California.
A new archetype of “Community Center,” the project embodies its central themes of environmental education, healthy communities, and habitat restoration. The program includes edible gardens, an outdoor demonstration kitchen, a “learning lobby,” multi-purpose rooms, a yoga deck, outdoor classrooms, and a composting yard.
The design and construction of this Nature Center offer a multi-layered opportunity for remediation and restoration with its site and the relationship with its neighbors and residents of Los Angeles County. During the competition, the diverse talents of architect, contractor, civic artist (LA County Arts Commission), landscape architect, and interpretive designer came together to form a schematic level design.
The design connects visitor with site—historically and environmentally— so that the individual may understand our collective responsibility in creating a sustainable future. Former oil drilling sites and an existing subsurface gas line become opportunities to educate visitors about the effect of industry on the environment, and how we can restore the land to a healthier, productive state.
The landscape is a collection of gathering spaces along an outer walking trail that connects the Nature Center building to the park space. The gardens—ranging in size, configuration, and plant theme—offer a variety of options for activities and demonstrations focused on history, healthy living, and sustainability. Abundant fruit and vegetable gardens are juxtaposed with this illustrated history of the site, and are the successful result of a collaborative, creative effort to bring new life to contaminated land.
The building itself comprises two low, residential-scaled forms at the north-western end of the site, engaging the landscape with porches and communal spaces. The architecture opens to a series of themed gardens and is set against panoramic views of Los Angeles.
The open-air “Community Porch” is flexible, multi-functional, and expressive of the Southern California lifestyle. The outdoor demonstration kitchen, set within the expansive Communal Table, and the outdoor blackboards offer visitors learning opportunities and the ability to get creative with fruit from the edible gardens.
Interpretive design integrated with the building and landscape illuminates the history of the site—denoting, for instance, underground methane exhaust pipes and the site’s history of oil drilling.
The “Learning Lobby” links primary outdoors spaces: the “Observation Deck” with views to Downtown LA, and the “Community Porch” at the entrance to the park. Inside, one can view the interactive calendar and harvest maps, borrow tools to harvest fruit, or peruse the recipe library.
The Civic Artists’ works across the site—like the fruit-themed wallpaper in the “Learning Lobby”—use fruit, California history, and visitor-provided social content to support the architecture, landscape design, and interpretive program. According to the artists, “fruit is non-polarizing, symbolizing abundance and embodying the qualities of healthy lifestyles, sustainability, and world culture.”