On the Line, Skanska’s Stephen Villavaso

Expo Line Phase 2, the Presidential Honoree Interview
Skanska’s Stephen Villavaso talks LA

We didn’t know that Stephen Villavaso was co-founder and former chairman of CicLAVia when we ran the 2016 Presidential Honoree Q&A by him. We were interviewing Villavaso in conjunction with Expo Line Phase 2, the project that produced this year’s Building Team of the Year. As a senior project engineer at Skansa, Villavaso was Design/Build Manager on the project. But as it turns out, Villavaso has been a part of CicLAvia—like Expo Line, a city changer—since it’s inception.

Like Alvin Huang, AIA, who we interviewed last week, Villavaso is a de facto citizen of Los Angeles, who believes in our metropolis and has a deep understanding for design’s role in it. His perspective of LA is fascinating, as well, of course, as his thoughts about transportation. You can find them below. (You’ll find Stephen, in person, at the 2016 Design Awards.)

AIA|LA: Dream Commission: What current site in Los Angeles would you reconceive to serve our future, and how or why?
Stephen Villavaso: The Bonaventure Hotel is already a great place but it is underutilized by the local community. It primarily serves the visitors of Los Angeles with all of its indoor and outdoor quasi-public spaces, shops and eateries. The local downtown working and residential populations sparsely scatter across the property during lunchtime and evening hours, yet these spaces could support significantly more activity.

I want to call it “revitalization” but I wonder if there was ever a period of greater vitality than what the Bonaventure sees today. One of my favorite evenings in downtown Los Angeles was in 2008 when we watched a film projected on the south facing side of the building from the lawn on the 4th floor deck. The interior space has been described as “hyperreal” and said to make the inhabitants feel diminished and disoriented. Reflecting on my initial visits to the Bonaventure, I tend to agree with these descriptions; but I have found that over time, the negative perceptions dissipate. After familiarizing yourself with the space by utilizing the shops as the primary landmarks, one can begin to appreciate the various complex shapes of cast in place concrete and the distant views and distorted sounds that the cavernous interior offers.

(Honor Expo Line Phase 2, Building Team of the Year, at the 2016 AIA|LA Design Awards)

AIA|LA: What Los Angeles building, site, place or idea should never be changed?
SV: Ernest E. Debs Regional Park (Debs Park) is a park located in the hills along the Arroyo in northeast Los Angeles. It is vegetated primarily by native plants and provides dwellings to many birds and animals. The park contains many miles of hiking trails with lots of elevation change and views of the surrounding city, and the mountains beyond. There is a small pond near the top of the park surrounded by a grove of pine trees which houses many fish and water fowl.
AIA|LA: What project of yours, or detail of your work, you hope most influences Los Angeles.
SV: Los Angeles spreads out across an enormous landscape. Through my work in transportation, I hope to provide the people of our region with more enjoyable, safe, efficient and sustainable travel alternatives to cover these distances.

I appreciate the benefits of idealized work/live proximity but recognize the challenges people face when making decisions about housing and job locations. Besides work/live, Los Angeles offers endless recreation and exploration opportunities drawing people out to traverse the expanse.

I’m a staunch believer in multi-modal networks as the solution and I am proud of the progress that LA Metro continues to make with the voter based tax initiatives that make it all possible. I also welcome the ever-changing landscape that technology presents us with and look forward to major shifts in the way we think about parking specifically and the impact that this may have on land use in general.
AIA|LA: What book, website, blog or Instagram feed about Los Angeles should we all be reading or following?
SV: Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir (1996) by D.J. Waldie: It’s a classic and the book’s structure is atypical. Also, it’s actually about Lakewood, California which is its own city in Los Angeles County. To me the relevance is in the history and structure of the local urban development of the 1950’s which has made such a monumental and lasting impact on the shape and expression of Los Angeles the region. There are many personal moments that Waldie shares in a way to conjure an image of the past that offers insights into the makeup of our surroundings well beyond the city limits of Lakewood proper.
AIA|LA: Where is your favorite place to go in LA?
SV:  Anytime CicLAvia opens up the streets for people to use on feet, bike or skate, that place instantly becomes my favorite place to go in LA. I may be slightly biased since I’ve been a part of making CicLAvia happen from the very beginning, when we founded the effort in 2008. However, I tend to think that I would feel this way even if I hadn’t been involved at all. For each of the places where CicLAvia has opened the streets, I have developed a sense of appreciation and connectedness to these places and the people who I met on those days.

Building Team of the Year
The Team Responsible for Expo Line Phase 2:

Exposition Construction Authority
Kroner Environmental Services, Inc.
Miyamoto International, Inc.
RAW International
Skanska-Rados Joint Venture
Togo Systems, Inc
WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff  
Last updated: 29-Sep-2016 02:19 PM
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