Destination Crenshaw: Immortalizing Black LA along Crenshaw Boulevard

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The 2022 SEGD Wayfinding + Placemaking Symposium will feature a keynote address with Perkins&Will leaders titled “Remembrance Design: living history into built expression.” Register now to hear Zena Howard, FAIA Principal, Global Cultural and Civic Practice Chair, and Kenneth Luker, AIA, Design Principal, share how they use the power of design to engage disenfranchised communities, unite disparate parties, buttress against displacement, and infuse cultural meaning into projects from national icons to urban landscapes.  

Destination Crenshaw is many things. It’s been called a “reparative development project,” a “public art and environmental revitalization project,” and “an open air people’s museum.” All are fair representations and, most of all, it can be described as a joyful celebration of Black Los Angeles. The initiative will transform a 1.3-mile-long segment along Crenshaw Boulevard in South Los Angeles into an enduring hub for Black arts and culture.  

The community was guided by design firm Perkins&Will through a robust series of engagement sessions , that resulted in a vision for public spaces that honor and celebrate African American contributions to world culture throughout the thriving urban landscape. Perkins&Will principal and Cultural and Civic Practice Chair, Zena Howard, FAIA, NOMA, told the Journal of The American Institute of Architects, “Destination Crenshaw has been entirely driven by the community and honors not just the neighborhood as a creative hub, but also Black LA’s impact on popular culture and social change. Our role as architects is to translate—through design—the very real, very significant voices and energy of Black LA.”  

The extensive design includes 10 pocket parks, hundreds of newly planted trees, and an array of permanent and rotating art installations. 100-plus commissioned public artworks will be scattered throughout Crenshaw Boulevard, including works from renowned artists with local ties. Artists Melvin Edwards, Maren Hassinger, Artis Lane, Alison Saar, Brenna Youngblood and others, have already signed onto the project. One commission includes Car Culture by Charles Dickson, an influential figure in the Black LA art scene whose detailed carvings reflect the African Diaspora. Additionally, Kehinde Wiley, an LA native, will extend his Rumors of War series with a large-scale sculpture featuring a young Senegalese woman. 

The project is committed to social and economic resiliency. New pocket parks will offer visitors places to gather, rest, and connect. They will be hubs for healing, protest, and celebration. Destination Crenshaw is also committed to environmental sustainability, with the goal to “reforest the boulevard” with more than 800 new tree plantings and over 30,000 square feet of sustainable landscaping. The project has fostered local construction careers, with a 70 percent local construction hiring requirement.  

Destination Crenshaw’s unifying design is driven by the overarching theme: “Grow Where You’re Planted.” The idea is rooted in African Giant Star Grass, which was used by slave traders as bedding in their ships because it thrives in foreign lands and inhospitable conditions. Today, it is a relevant metaphor for the history and present of the African American people, who have continuously demonstrated resilience in the face of violence and racism. The unifying design concept connects the project’s many design components, including architecture, art, landscape, interpretation, and the LA Metro Rail. 

While these developments reflect positive transformation for the community, the project’s origin is rooted in near tragedy. In 2009, the LA Metro Rail announced an extension to connect the Los Angeles International Airport to central Los Angeles. The above-ground rail system would run alongside Crenshaw Boulevard, disrupting the Black community against the community’s will. In addition to adding a busy above-ground train line that would divide the area in half, the project would eliminate 300 business parking spaces and 400 trees. The community knew it would disrupt Crenshaw’s vigorous culture, and activists embarked on this large-scale project to make lemonade from lemons.  

Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson shared some of the history of the project with the Los Angeles Sentinel. He stated, “Nipsey Hussle named the project. He talked about the train being important and being able to capture the eyeballs, the ears, the hearts and the pocketbooks of those that come through. He was the one who said in a meeting, ‘This train was built in a way that Crenshaw would be a pass through. We need to make Crenshaw the destination. Later that day, Nipsey tweeted out ‘Destination Crenshaw’ and today we have the $120 Million outdoor people’s museum that will be along Crenshaw Blvd.”  

When it opens in late 2022, the re-envisioned stretch of Crenshaw Boulevard will forever immortalize a “cultural stamp of Blackness on Crenshaw Boulevard – a stamp akin to those in Chinatown, Mariachi Plaza, Koreatown and other ethnic enclaves.” 


Join us for the 2022 SEGD Wayfinding + Placemaking Symposium to hear Perkins&Will’s design leaders on the Destination Crenshaw project discuss how the built environment is an expression of human understanding and our collective values. Register now to participate. 

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