The suburban office building is an exercise in formula. It’s built with standardized floor plates, hall sizes, and floor heights, and generally fits into a simple square or rectangular envelope that is manageable for any developer. Bland and predictable for those working or living nearby, the suburban office building is modernism co-opted by the corporation to deadening effect.
A new project designed by AECOM—not exactly a subversive firm with its thousands of employees and fairly typical corporate resume—works within that standardization, but makes subtle changes creating something intriguingly new. Here, a combination of interesting moves stand out all the more against its more generic elements, giving a boost to its location in a faceless office park in downtown Glendale that would make any lover of urban space cringe.
The exterior of the building has a cube-shaped envelope with a flat profile and a mullion-less mirrored glass curtain wall, much like offices we’ve seen from Arlington to Anaheim. But within this sheer envelope the firm carved holes into the typical scheme, both literally and figuratively. Raising the envelope above and over the entry, they created a sleek port cochere and supported it with dramatic chevron-shaped columns that give the heavy structure a feeling of lightness and minimize the sense of an imposing block. The glass facade also steps back from the exterior envelope (made of surprisingly thin, fiber-reinforced concrete), playing with expectations of weight and solidity and again making the typical form feel much lighter. It establishes that neat balance of different, but still familiar.
In back, the firm carved out a roof deck with a floating canopy, all painted lime green to make it conspicuous and fun. At night the building stands out even more thanks to its thin, dramatic bands of greenish LED lighting; the thin strips further demarcate the strategic cuts in the facade. As the back of the building touches the ground, a loggia connects it to a new paved courtyard and to the complex’s other buildings, helping create a new urban space where there was basically nothing.
Inside the building is not avant-garde, but subtle touches make it feel quite modern. A lime green surface over the elevator bank, for instance, shimmers and provides texture and depth, an effect created by covering a gradient pattern with translucent glass over a mirrored surface. Stainless steel panels wrap around the entry desk, while frameless, linear LED lights shoot through the ceiling. Floor-to- ceiling glass makes the space an extension of its exterior. A similar palette is repeated on the roof deck, where lines of LEDs and lime green metallic panels work together with an extraordinary view.
The office spaces, meanwhile, are open and unencumbered, at least for now.But while the building is effective and progressive, it hasn’t struck a chord in Glendale. It was completed late last year, but as of our printing the developer, Bob Goodwin, has yet to lease any space. The firm is now trying to sell the building.
This fine project is among several recent architecturally successful LA buildings to be left out in the cold by the market. Big name architecture firms built luxury offices, condos, and retail centers at the height of the real estate boom only to run into a dead market once they were complete. The culprit, stresses Goodwin, is not that people are scared of good architecture. They’re scared of the prices that come with such architecture. Clearly it’s time for developers and architects to figure out a way to produce great architecture at prices that make more sense.