Theses Master's

A Seismic Retrofit To Rehabilitate The Long Beach Civic Center

Montgomery, Talene

At the core of this thesis is a challenge to expand preservation criteria to include the integrity of the urban design concept. The ever-greater scales and complex assemblages of modern and contemporary architecture have implications not only for surface quality and streetfront appearance, but for massing and urban relationships. The thesis seeks to make a case for the preservation of urban design intent through an investigation of the American civic center complex. The civic center type, by its very nature as a group of public buildings surrounding (or surrounded by) an open space or plaza, provides an opportunity to question the preservation values surrounding the urban complex. Postwar civic centers, in particular, are historically significant for their plaza-based partis, which offer generous, if insulated, public spaces in American downtowns, often built as responses to postwar urban decay. Today, many of these complexes are maligned for being desolate, underused and poorly maintained. In order to test a strategy of preservation-by-design for the rehabilitation of the urban civic center complex, this thesis takes the now-threatened Long Beach Civic Center as a case study. The city of Long Beach, California is moving forward with a plan to raze its 1977 Civic Center complex, designed by a consortium of local firms in the early 1970s: Hugh Gibbs & Donald Gibbs; Killingsworth, Brady & Associates; Frank Homolka and Associates; and Kenneth S. Wing and Associates. City officials cite seismic deficiency and an inflated retrofit budget as grounds for the appropriateness of a total rebuild of the complex today. This thesis argues for the preservation of the existing City Hall and Main Library buildings by way of a retrofit. ‘Retrofit’ is interpreted here not only as a technical means of updating the existing structures to meet seismic requirements, but implies a social and urban ‘retrofit’ of the complex as well. Built at a moment when Long Beach’s downtown was itself in dire need of a retrofit, the City Hall and Main Library complex represent a civic effort to revitalize the city. This preservation design proposal will attempt to make the case that it is possible to preserve the urban design features of the civic complex using creative design solutions to address both the city’s expanded programmatic requirements and the potential seismic vulnerability of its structures, while maintaining the character-defining urban features of the original 1977 complex.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Otero-Pailos, Jorge
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
September 17, 2014