Federal Center

Historical Background

The architectural firm of Welton Becket, now Ellerbe Becket, prepared the Master Plan for the Los Angeles Federal Center and later designed the three buildings--the Los Angeles Metropolitan Detention Center, the 21 story Edward R. Roybal Federal Building, and the VA Outpatient Center--that make up the complex.

From the beginning of their involvement, Ellerbe Becket expected an art program would be part of the project. Funds were available through a General Services Administration requirement that one-half percent of the construction costs of the Edward R. Roybal Building be earmarked for public art. The architects suggested sites at the complex where the art could be installed, recommended to the GSA that they select the artists early to ensure their participation in the design team and supported giving the artists a free rein so they could do their best work.

With a $653,000 budget, the GSA planned to commission three works that as an ensemble would reflect the city's cultural diversity, would create a feeling of place, would have strong social considerations and would draw visitors from the nearby Geffen Contemporary Museum. In 1986, the GSA requested the National Endowment for the Arts to convene an art advisory panel to nominate the artists. This panel, composed of art professionals in Los Angeles and a representative from the architectural firm, met for two days in early 1987, reviewed the work of approximately 600 artists, and recommended Tom Otterness, Edward Ruscha, Joel Shapiro, Alexis Smith, Jonathan Borofsky and James Turrell. The Public Buildings Service Art-in-Architecture Design Review Panel of the GSA, selected Shapiro and Otterness from the list in July, 1987.

Nancy Holt, the third artist, was selected in late 1987 after the GSA requested a water component be included in the plaza. Subsequently, the GSA eliminated the water element and shifted the site for Holt's work from the floor of the plaza to the plaza's Temple Street entrance. Because of these changes, Holt's design became incompatible with the site and was unacceptable to both the art advisory panel and the GSA. The art advisory panel then recommended Jonathan Borofsky, Peter Shelton or Alexis Smith to be the third artist. From this list, the GSA's Design Review Panel selected Borofsky in June, 1989.

The text has been provided courtesy of Michael Several, Los Angeles, January 1998.

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