Los Angeles, California
Nasty Gal, an edgy online fashion retailer based in downtown Los Angeles, is one of the fastest growing e-commerce sites in the country. When it recently moved to LA from San Francisco, its founders weren’t looking for a space that would be—like much of the fashion world— fleetingly trendy. They wanted an office full of inherent character that could smoothly house its varied departments and programs under one roof.
It found what it was looking for in the Pacific Mutual Building, a 1908 gem that is the oldest structure on Pershing Square. However, this selection was not without major challenges. Not only had the building, now known as PacMutual, undergone several renovations over the years that had left its original form unrecognizable, it had also received two major additions, leaving it a warren of hallways, bridges, and ramps longing for uniformity.
Bestor Architecture and Loescher Meachem Architects (LMA), technical architect and workplace consultant, stepped in, determined to make sense of these agglomerations. What they created is an open, multi-story, 30,000-square-foot space fitted with conference rooms, meeting spaces, breakout zones, and creative studios that capture the brand’s identity, but more importantly call out its location’s unique history.
The team, working with Steiner Construction, basically removed all the renovations made over the last century, exposing original clerestories, skylights, fittings, doors, and windows. They also pulled out mechanical equipment, and removed drop ceilings, plaster walls, and double-loaded corridors. Brick walls were blasted just lightly enough to maintain their original surfaces.
“We took it back as far as we needed to expose some of the originality of the building,” said LMA principal John Meachem. “It was more archaeology than architecture,” added creative director Jenny Myers.
To cope with the maze of rooms, the firm pulled out even more walls and shifted spaces to make the “flow of the traffic cohesive,” said Meachem. They still took advantage of some of the spatial divisions, separating close to ten departments into what Meachem calls “neighborhoods.”
Where possible—particularly in the oldest volume contained in the original PacMutual building—they opened things up, unifying work zones around the mezzanine and atrium (which employees refer to as “the cathedral”) and creating a central spine around which everything revolves. Original concrete trusses are exposed and painted white to garner attention. Up and down suspended lighting illuminates work spaces and ceiling details. Elsewhere pendant lights create more intimate environments. One such space, known as “the hub,” contains kitchen and hangout facilities and blackboards on which leaders can post messages.
Collaboration is promoted throughout, although smaller meeting spaces provide privacy when necessary. Private offices are kept to a minimum and maintain transparency via full-height glass. The use of vintage furniture gives the offices additional warmth, while Vitra benching workstations provide a consistent, clean, and modular collaborative workspace.
The mostly white material palette, and the expression of existing stone, wood, and metal, makes for a simple, understated interior.
“We didn’t want the new architecture to get in the way of what was there,” said Meachem. “We tried to touch the original walls as little as possible.”
There are a few exceptions—injecting the brand’s contemporary aesthetic into the equation—like the newly timber-clad reception area.
The offices are meant to grow and stay relevant for years. They now accommodate 150 people, and could grow about 50 percent more. It is a surprisingly long-term plan for a company that changes its lines every season.