US Building of the Week

Algin Sutton Pool

Lehrer Architects LA
26. July 2021
Photo courtesy of Lehrer Architects LA

The Algin Sutton Pool opened to the public last month in Los Angeles's underserved Vermont Vista neighborhood. The design by Lehrer Architects LA reimagines the existing Palladian building through the addition of dynamic forms and colorful surfaces. The architects answered some questions about the project.

Project: Algin Sutton Pool, 2020
Location: Los Angeles, California, USA
Client: City of Los Angeles
Architect: Lehrer Architects LA
  • Design Principal: Michael Lehrer, FAIA
  • Design Partner: Nerin Kadribegovic, AIA IIDA
  • Project Managers: Erik Alden, AIA; Edan Kadribegovic, AIA INT ASS
  • Project Architects: Alex Clark, Ben Lehrer
Civil/Structural Engineer: VCA Engineers
MEP/FP Engineer: Donald F. Dickerson and Associates
Landscape Architect: Studio MLA
Lighting Designer: KGM Lighting
Aquatic Designer: Jones & Madhavan
Contractor: USS Cal Builders
Photo: Google Earth
What were the circumstances of receiving the commission for this project?

Lehrer Architects is on the City of Los Angeles, Bureau of Engineering list of pre-approved architects. There are 21 architectural firms on the list, with many of them well known and respected. The architects on the list respond to Request for Proposals (RFP) and compete for various commissions. Algin Sutton Pool was received through a response to such an RFP.

Photo courtesy of Lehrer Architects LA
Please provide an overview of the project.

Many years in the making, Algin Sutton Park is renewed and renews itself as a symbol of a thriving community. It is a place of play and rest and water and sun and shade, a public pool club that nurtures pride and well-being.

Good cities need good monuments to celebrate their inherent wondrousness. This project is about how to make communities thrive in place. It began with a beloved park, vibrant playfields, and a no-longer-viable pool and building with adjacent unused and unsafe areas.

Public pools have a long history of segregation and discrimination, making the placement of a fine, uplifting, first-class pool complex within an underserved neighborhood an act of social justice. Lehrer Architects LA’s central, monumental canopy represents an architectural commitment to community, comfort, shade, and joyful excitement; it is really commitment to the simple power of place.

Photo courtesy of Lehrer Architects LA

The pool complex, anchored on the centerline of the gabled building and new grand canopy, serves as the focal point from which all site features emanate outward, including the pool, yellow promenade, the splash pad, and 88th Place, its most visible, and long-ignored and run-down neighborhood entry. Its avionic shape riffs on both the 1930s pool house gabled roof and the two plane-filled flight paths (one to the north and one to the south) into LAX. 

Algin Sutton Pool represents as a commitment by civic leadership use design elevate the surrounding, often underserved community. Its dynamic site placement of pool & bathhouse allows the public multiple places to rest on benches that are shaded by a monumental canopy. The mirrored splash pad provides a sense of glee that is aligned with the processional entrance, passing through new bosques and landscape, connecting to the rest of the existing park.

The place is for people and families of all ages and swim persuasions from competitive swimmers to wading children. The architecture draws parents to swim with their children, thereby radically discouraging gangs to stay away out of shame of safe adult supervision.

Photo courtesy of Lehrer Architects LA
What are the main ideas and inspirations influencing the design of the project?

The design begins with a reading of the site, its architecture and program, and its context. The pool building is sort of a Palladian villa-lite, circa 1920s. Its main feature is the central gable and its two gabled outstretched wings. The gable is centered on adjacent 88th Place, and the original pool was between the two, on-axis. We decided to honor this great community by providing a new heart, completing the axial set piece of 88th Place, riffing on the street and the building’s gable by creating a modestly monumental gable canopy to be seen from the entire park and down 88th Place.

The original pool was centered on the building and the street; intuitively making sense, but really separating the complex from the community by dint of it being gated and secured. So the architects moved the new pool north, and twisted it a tad to geometrically liberate the building; created a new plaza open space on the newly revitalized street axis; and provided a gracious shaded plaza and urban place. The shift north reduced indefensible open space, put eyes on it and the adjacent, formerly isolated cul-de-sac.

Photo courtesy of Lehrer Architects LA
How does the design respond to the unique qualities of the existing building?

The original Palladian building is notable for its strong bilateral symmetry and its three gables, with the primary central gable — simple and straightforward. The site and architectural design of the pool, the plaza, the yellow promenade, and the splash pad area are all orchestrated to leverage the simple, but very recognizable primal civic building. The pool and yellow promenade are skewed clockwise; the splash pad, counterclockwise. The plaza reinforces the geometry of the building and the street (the cardinal city grid).

The monumental canopy begins as an extruded form the the building gable. It lifts as it moves easterly toward the street to be fully seen. It is split and lifts higher facing westerly to been seen from the park at the west; it becomes a veil hovering over and reiterating the building’s gable. It is chamfered facing southerly to receive the splash pad play area and stretch and twist the gable of the building.

Photo courtesy of Lehrer Architects LA
How did the project change between the initial design stage and its completion?

Two site options were presented at the beginning:

  1. Centered pool: more obvious, less intense land use, intuitive in its symmetry;
  2. Shifted pool: more urban, leveraging program and placement to create useful, defensible recreational space).

All agreed on Option 2. It was more complex, a game changer, but had so much more value. The engaged site was much larger and more expansive. Improvements to the building were not in the original program or budget. In construction, a fire damaged the locker rooms, so the building received a modest, but effective renovation.

Photo courtesy of Lehrer Architects LA
Was the project influenced by any trends in energy-conservation, construction, or design?

There are state-of-the-art pool heating systems and splash pad water features that conserve and celebrate active water use. The large monumental canopy for shade and comfort is really about making/helping communities thrive in place, particularly in contradistinction to gentrifying them. This visible place, is also really a public pool club, open all year long — a game-changing contribution to its neighborhood.

Regarding some gang issues, bringing parents and grandparents with their children and grandchildren to the pool, the splash pad and the pool seems to have a chilling affect on gang activity. Don’t want to misbehave or disappoint grandma and grandpa!

Email interview conducted by John Hill.

Photo courtesy of Lehrer Architects LA
Visualization: Lehrer Architects LA
Visualization: Lehrer Architects LA
Visualization: Lehrer Architects LA

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