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In Construction> Pterodactyl
Advances in digital design made this decade-old design by Eric Owen Moss feasible for construction.
Courtesy Eric Owen Moss Architects

Over the years, Eric Owen Moss and his clients Frederick and Laurie Samitaur Smith have amassed a collection of buildings at Culver City’s Hayden Tract that each seem impossible to build. But they have taken that concept to the extreme with their latest, Pterodactyl, which, for a while anyway, literally was impossible.

Located adjacent to Moss’s Stealth Building, near the northern border of the development, the project was first initiated in 2000. But its highly three dimensional plans were so complex that the team could not get a contractor to give them a reasonable bid. Finally the building got the green light in 2012, and is set for completion this fall. “This is the hardest building we’ve ever done,” said Raul Garcia, project architect at the firm. The building will be the headquarters for media tech company Omelet.


The first version of the steel framed building, sited on top of an existing parking garage, was drawn in 3D Autocad. For the current iteration, architects at Moss’s office had to start from scratch, transferring the original ideas into Gehry Technologies’s BIM-enabled Digital Project. “The project couldn’t be done without this new technology,” explained project director Dolan Daggett.

When you look at the 3D models you get a little seasick from all the movement. The front of the building seems to be sliding off of its frame, a fear that many of us get when we look at hillside construction in this city. But in reality the structure is divided into clear components, all working together to hold it together.


First is the primary structure, the east-west steel beams connected to the columns of the parking garage under the building. Second are the frames, north-south facing off-kilter parts that will be partially exposed when the building is done. Third is the secondary steel, which “connects the dots” between the frames, as Daggett put it. Fourth are the steel tube mullions, largely attached to the secondary steel, holding the copious laminated glass in place via aluminum extrusions. Teams are also putting in place a metal panel cladding system, clipped to the building’s sheathing. “It looks arbitrary, but it’s fully organized and very rigorous,” said Daggett.


The building’s first floor consists of a giant, open planned office space, while the second floor contains private offices, team offices, and breakout areas. The western flank contains a 14-foot cantilever, suspended off of long steel beams imbedded into the westernmost column line of the garage.

Inside, the building’s idiosyncrasies are many. A suspended stair bends down as it descends; frames jut through offices; skylights take on jagged profiles; work pods step down, cantilevering from the rest of the building; walls contort. “The intent is to create a variety of spatial qualities,” said Daggett. “Different sizes and shapes that can be occupied with a lot of variety so the tenant can custom tailor their operation.”

The partial exposure of the structure inside and out makes construction more challenging for the building crews, since they cannot cover it with walls and other barriers. “The difference of complexity is off the charts,” explained Daggett. “The measurements better be pretty close, because you can’t hide anything. One can try to understand how the building was made, as opposed to the entire system being imbedded in a wall.”

Sam Lubell