With the recent passing of Pritzker Prize-winning architect Arata Isozaki, we took a moment to explore some of the iconic architecture that defines Downtown Los Angeles. The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Isozaki’s first commission in the United States (pictured above), was completed in 1986, decades before his 2019 award at age 87. And it is just one of several buildings designed by Pritzker Prize awardees, all located within a half-mile of each other in DTLA. One block north on Grand Avenue finds a pair of buildings by renowned California architect and Pritzker recipient, Frank Gehry: The Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Grand LA. Gehry also designed MOCA’s second location nearby: the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA.
One block north on Temple Street stands Pritzker-winner Rafael Moneo’s groundbreakingly contemporary Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, home of the Los Angeles Archdiocese—the single largest diocese in the United States, with 5 million members. And just a few blocks east on Main Street looms the futuristic and environmentally-friendly Caltrans District 7 Headquarters, by 2005 prize recipient Thom Mayne.
But it’s not just these Pritzker Prize winners – Downtown has an illustrious history as a home of great architecture. Contemporary jewels like The Broad Museum by Diller Scofidio + Renfro coexist with classic masterpieces dating back to the 19th Century: the quintessential Bradbury Building is the city’s oldest landmarked building; beautiful Union Station combines Art Deco and Mission Revival styles; City Hall is the tallest base-isolated structure in the world; and the Herald Examiner Building, designed for William Randolph Hearst by Julia Morgan. Morgan, the first woman architect licensed in California, designed more than 700 buildings in California during a long and prolific career.
Adaptive reuse of older architecture has been a critical element of Downtown’s renaissance over the last two decades, with former office buildings converted to contemporary lofts, and iconic movie palaces reimagined as concert venues and stores like the instant classic Apple Tower Theater. Gensler’s radical plan to convert an old corporate bank office into a state-of-the-art creative workplace, framed as “Hacking the Highrise,” marked an important turning point for the architecture industry, inspiring a wave of top firms to relocate to DTLA from around the county. This kind of “reimagining” is particularly relevant today as Downtown LA and city centers around the country consider the future of office work.
Central to DTLA’s identity, architecture has become an increasing focus for the Downtown Center BID as well. For DTLA RE.Imagined – a showcase of architectural visions of the future of Downtown’s streetscapes and public spaces – the DCBID partnered with award-winning creative thinkers, designers, and architects from CRTKL & Bureau Spectacular to uncover untapped possibilities on the streets of DTLA and re-envision them through a series of bold ideas and creative projects.
Grand Ave Augmented, another recent project by the DCBID, uses augmented reality technology to transform the physical realm with digital content. Highlights include futuristic architectural structures by noted Downtown architect Jimenez Lai and AR enhancements of some of Downtown’s quintessential buildings and public spaces, demonstrating innovative uses of AR for architecture, design, and urbanism.
Downtown LA is a great destination for viewing the best architecture the city has to offer. We always recommend an in-person visit, but to preview from the comfort of your couch, use the DCBID’s new DTLA Virtual platform to explore highlights of Downtown’s architecture, including a curated tour of the buildings mentioned in this article. So, whether it’s online or IRL, we invite you to meet us in DTLA!