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L.A. Live

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Picture of Ritz-Carlton from West Road Photograph of Coke advertisement on the Ritz-Carlton Picture of reflections in Nokia Theatre windows Picture of Nokia Plaza Picture of three screens at L.A. Live

L.A. Live is a $2.5 billion, 11-hectare futuristic entertainment complex next to the Staples Center sports arena and the Los Angeles Convention Center. It first opened in 2007. It has two theatres, a cinema, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Grammy Museum, a collection of expensive restaurants, and the 54-story Ritz-Carlton tower containing luxury condominiums and two hotels.

The Finnish company Nokia bought the naming rights for the centerpiece of the complex in 2004, when they still dominated the mobile phone market. Microsoft bought Nokia’s moribund phone business in 2013, but the renaming of Nokia’s L.A. Live venues took nearly three years. With over 7,000 seats, the Microsoft Theatre (originally the Nokia Theatre) is a major venue for big-name concerts, and for such television extravaganzas as the Emmys, ESPYs, and American Music Awards. The adjacent Novo by Microsoft (originally Club Nokia) is an “intimate” space with a mere 2,300 seats.

L.A. Live is built around a large outdoor space, not surprisingly called Microsoft Square (originally Nokia Plaza). During special events at the Microsoft Theatre, the plaza is where the red carpets are rolled out. Cameras beam images of celebrities to giant screens stationed throughout the plaza for all to admire.

When the stars are shining elsewhere, Microsoft Square is a shrine to advertising. The big screens show continual loops of synchronized commercials, to complement the advertising signs and banners that festoon every available space. Even the Ritz-Carlton tower is a giant electronic billboard.

Although L.A. Live is quite an interesting place to visit and to photograph, I felt vaguely uneasy walking around it. The futuristic architecture permeated with advertising reminded me too much of Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s 1982 dystopian science fiction film.

Set in Los Angeles in 2019, Blade Runner portrays a fully urbanized society ruled by Asian multinational corporations. Most animal species are extinct, and police surveillance is everywhere. Climate change— a concept that in 1982 had not yet entered public consciousness— has condemned formerly-sunny Southern California to constant rain. And buildings are animated billboards that illuminate the murk with continual commercials touting consumer goods and urging migration to off-world colonies.

Whether intentionally or unconsciously, Blade Runner clearly must have influenced the designers of L.A. Live. But I’m not sure they fully succeeded at brightening and sanitizing the film’s grim vision of corporate power and oppressively pervasive advertising into a voguish backdrop for upscale entertainment.


Downtown Los Angeles

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