LA Live

Times Square West

L.A. Live’s high-energy “content plaza” adds a new spark to Los Angeles’ up-and-coming downtown.

Things are looking up for Los Angeles’ long-maligned downtown, and the L.A. Live retail/entertainment district is the newest spark in the revitalization efforts.

The $2.5 billion project—opening in three phases between 2007 and 2010—encompasses 5.6 million sq. ft. on 27 acres adjacent to the Staples Center and the Los Angeles Convention Center. Already built are a live concert/event venue (Nokia Theatre), the one-acre Nokia Plaza, ESPN headquarters and broadcast facilities, restaurants, the Grammy Museum (opening in December 2008), bowling lanes, and office space. The final phase will include two luxury hotels, residences, a movieplex, and meeting space.

But its heart and soul is the one-acre content plaza, where 80-ft.-tall multimedia towers, synchronized LED screens, digital signage, and lights and sounds create the Times Square of the West Coast—with a unique spin, says Lisa Herzlich, senior vice president and managing director for L.A. Live.

“When you think of LA, you’ll think of the Hollywood sign and the lights at L.A. Live,” says Herzlich. But unlike Times Square, L.A. Lives’ signage real estate—including 20,000 sq. ft. of LED displays—will be controlled by one entity and synchronized to strengthen sponsors’ brand presence or event ambience.

“We have the ability to broadcast one message across a 360-degree plaza environment,” says Herzlich. “It’s a powerful tool.”

Rewriting the book

Ten years ago, Los Angeles’ sign ordinances wouldn’t have allowed L.A. Live. AEG Worldwide worked closely with the city, as well as local business groups and neighborhood associations, over a period of several years to negotiate revisions to the codes.

“Traditional city sign codes eliminate many of the things that would be critical to a high-energy entertainment zone,” says Katie Sprague, vice president of environmental graphics and brand strategy for RTKL, which developed the project’s master plan and master sign plan. “We managed to convince them that there was some promise to the concept of creating a West Coast version of Times Square.”

RTKL divided the project into three districts, varying in intensity of lighting and activity, from high energy in the core of the center to more subdued in the areas adjacent to residential neighborhoods. Their master sign plan identified types of signs by project areas, and also developed vertical zones to guide the amounts and types of signage by building height and viewing distances.

Making it real

At least 17 architects and design consultants have helped shape L.A. Live, but it fell to CommArts (Boulder) to envision the signage and branding elements and help AEG fashion a sponsorship program attractive to major advertisers.

CommArts had worked with AEG on the Staples Center signage and branding, and used that project as a model for the L.A. Live efforts. “They saw the power of making the signage and electronic displays more integral to the architecture and developing a sponsorship program that would make that investment possible,” says Richard Foy, CommArts partner.

Architectural plans for many of the buildings were well under way—without specific plans for integrating displays or creating the overall sense of place AEG had envisioned. “Everyone was interpreting their own little piece, not thinking about the big picture,” notes Gary Kushner, CommArts vice president and project manager. “Our job was to stitch it all together and make it a true platform for communicating ideas. That was the content plaza.”

CommArts developed a 3D project model that became the basis for subsequent rendering work. They inserted individual sign types and metrics (height, width, type, viewing angles), leveraging site lines and creating focal points that could be seen from the plaza and primary view corridors. Then they took the analysis a step further by projecting the estimated costs and revenue potential of the specific signs. “Our role was to visualize their concept and give them the economic tools to sell it to sponsors,” says Foy.

The result is a 360-degree multimedia “canyon” formed by the Nokia Theatre, hotels, restaurants and clubs, and the ESPN headquarters. Large LED and static signage elements are integral to the buildings (including rooftop signage, intended for media coverage and for airplanes headed to LAX).

Welcoming plaza

For the public plaza, Rios Clementi Hale Studios (Los Angeles) was charged with designing a space that would be welcoming, functional, and always ready for its closeup. “The idea was that it could host a farmers’ market one day and a live concert, with all the attendant media feeds and equipment, the next,” say Frank Clementi, principal.

To provide the state-of-the-art media infrastructure needed for events like concerts, movie premiers, and awards ceremonies, the firm designed six 80-ft.-tall media towers, which march like sentries through the plaza space. They are iconic visual landmarks but highly functional, integrating the infrastructure for electronic displays, projection, sound, lighting, recording, and media coverage. Each also incorporates stationary signage and pairs of 10- by 16-ft. Mitsubishi LED displays.

Magic of the mix

What plays on those screens (ultimately 22 hours per day) fits into four content “buckets.” The content mix is still evolving, says Herzlich, but the bulk is generated by sponsors specifically for L.A. Live. “This is not the place for price-point advertising, obviously,” she explains. “Our sponsors are very sophisticated and they know you can’t just take your 60-second commercial or your slides and put them up here. They have bought into the vision of L.A. Live 100 percent and they understand the target markets.”

L.A. Live’s strength, of course, is the synchronization of branding across multiple LED screens. The media platform is also ideal for promoting events, such as movie premiers, live events (including Hollywood’s beloved awards presentations), and automobile shows.

Other content components include third-party spot advertising; sports, entertainment, and events footage from the Staples Center (home to five major league sports teams including the Lakers); and public art in the form of short films and work by University of Southern California cinema arts and fashion students.

AEG’s in-house production department coordinates and synchronizes media across the various displays and formats, and calibrates energy levels at various times of the day. “It’s like a DJ programming music in a club,” says Todd Howk, AEG’s director of creative services. “Our job is to weave all the program elements together in a way that’s entertaining. Rhythm is the key.”

--By Pat Matson Knapp, segdDESIGN No. 22, 2008



Location:  Los Angeles

Client:  AEG Worldwide

Architecture and Design:  ELS (Nokia Theatre); RTKL (ESPN Building, AEG Building, Olympic East parking, Master planning); CommArts (signage and branding consultants); Rios Clementi Hale Studios (Nokia Plaza); Gallagher & Associates (Grammy Museum); Gensler (Club Nokia, Olympic West Parking, Regal Cinemas); TRM (ESPN Zone)

Images:  Courtesy L.A. Live and CommArts

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