When the L.A. freeway system was built in the 1940s and 1950s, the city saw the massive new roads as a magical solution for bad traffic. That clearly didn’t end up being the case, and the freeways also had the unintended consequences of splitting up neighborhoods and creating more poverty. In some other cities, aging freeways are being torn up and turned into surface streets or even parks. But what happens when a place like L.A. isn’t quite ready to give up existing infrastructure?
One somewhat improbable idea: Build another layer of the city over the roads, reconnecting neighborhoods by making it easier to walk. The Skyvillage design concept, proposed by a student at USC School of Architecture, is a skyscraper that would bridge over the 101-110 interchange near downtown L.A.
"It’s a really common problem for freeways to segregate communities instead of bringing people together," says Ziwei Song, who developed the design as part of a studio class and recently won an honorable mention in the 2014 eVolo Skyscraper Competition. "Around the interchange, we found that there are four distinct cultures. If the freeway wasn’t there, it would be more united. That’s why we wanted to build something that could bring people from one side to the other."
As the freeways stack up at the interchange, they also create a lot of wasted space—about 27 acres of land that can’t easily be used. This skyscraper, inspired by the shape of trees, would build on that space with several towers connected by branching floors. People could enter at the base of one tower, go upstairs, and cross to another neighborhood—from downtown to Chinatown, for example, or Echo Park to Temple Beaudry.
It’s not intended only to act as a bridge; the building itself is designed as a walkable neighborhood, so people living inside or nearby wouldn’t have to get in a car for everyday errands. Along with housing, offices, and a school, Song envisions restaurants, gyms, music clubs, shopping, and a park inside the skyscraper. "It’s a place for people from different social groups to interact," she says.
The vertical towers supporting the building would be filled with air-filtering plants that are intended—at least in theory—to absorb some of the pollution from the nearby freeways.
While the giant skyscraper is just a concept, Song says it would be feasible to build. She plans to continue thinking about the design. "I think it's a really interesting task," she says. "Maybe it can develop into other forms."