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Dickinson native tapped to design downtown LA skyscraper

Dickinson, N.D., native Douglas Hanson has been tapped to design one of the tallest buildings in downtown LA. (Submitted photo)

DICKINSON, N.D. — Growing up on the prairie, where some of the tallest buildings are grain elevators, Dickinson native Douglas Hanson dreamed of something bigger.

His designs for what will be one of the tallest buildings in downtown Los Angeles are in the reviewing stages with the city — the second building he has designed that will influence the skyline.

“I have one 30-story building that was finished about three, four years ago that’s near the Staples Center,” Hanson said. “That was my first high-rise in downtown LA.”

The 34-story, mixed-use building is planned to replace a one-story commercial building at Broadway and Fourth Street in Los Angeles’ historic downtown district.

“Downtown LA’s an interesting place because there’s a lot of new buildings from the ’70s, and then there’s an old neighborhood, Broadway, which is where all of the theaters are,” Hanson said. “A lot of the banks used to be here, and then they all moved to the west side in the ’70s and they kind of abandoned downtown.”

It was Hanson’s reputation with skyscrapers that drew developers to his firm, said Hamid Behdad, president of the Central City Development Group, the development advisers on the project.

“The design of high-rise buildings is not for every architect,” Behdad said. “What he designs, it not only looks good, but is doable.”

Another firm was originally hired to design the building, but the city of Los Angeles rejected its plans, Behdad said.

The building is part of a downtown revitalization project.

“We didn’t want to make it look old. I’m not into that,” Hanson said. “We still had to find the guidelines that reference old buildings, but look like they’re from the 21st century.”

Hanson grew up in Dickinson and graduated from Dickinson High School in 1976, going on to North Dakota State University.

After working for a few years, he entered the graduate program at the University of Colorado in Denver and took a job in Chicago.

“I kind of just drove there overnight and arrived,” Hanson said. “I thought Denver was big after Dickinson, but once I got to Chicago, I thought, ‘Wow, this is like a real city.’ “

He worked for a large architecture firm in Chicago, spending most of his time working overseas in London and Barcelona, Spain.

Hanson also worked on the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. There he met Frank Gehry, who eventually persuaded him to move to Los Angeles.

“I have always been enamoured with places bigger in the world,” Hanson said of his childhood in North Dakota. “People doing more, doing more and interesting things. More complexity and just kept looking for that.”

His wife is from Chicago, and his sons were born in Los Angeles. He still has a ranch near Minot that he likes to visit, although his family doesn’t quite understand the prairie the way he does.

“I just really appreciate the open space and endless roads and the prairie, just the beauty of the prairie,” Hanson said. “I like the energy of that nature.”

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