With the recent completion of a Gensler-led renovation to the building’s lobby and uppermost floors, the addition of a terrifying glass slide by M. Ludvik Engineering, and the opening of 71Above, a smart restaurant and cocktail bar designed by Los Angeles–based Tag Front, L.A. suddenly has reason to reconsider what might be one of the city’s most easily overlooked landmarks: the U.S. Bank Tower.
The 1,018-foot stepped skyscraper at the heart of the city’s central business district was built in 1989 and designed by Henry N. Cobb of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. Its 73 stories culminate in a flat-topped, multilevel penthouse suite formerly occupied by a boardroom. In recent years, the tower has struggled with high vacancy rates and the dramatic renovation comes as the building’s new owners, Overseas Union Enterprise Limited (OUE) aims to reinstate the building in the public’s mind.
Central to that effort is the Tag Front–led design for 71Above, located in the uppermost floor of that ex-board room. The overhaul has transformed a prototypical office building into a contemporary and noteworthy spot and modernized the spiky, crenelated cap sitting atop what is now—with the recent topping-out of the Wilshire Grand tower—L.A.’s second-tallest building. As a result, 71Above has been added to the city’s collection of remarkable spaces; there all can enjoy the tower’s panoramic views.
Tag Front described the project’s guiding principles as encompassing “the existing nature of the building, [the space’s] footprint, and the client’s desire for the dining and lounge areas to wrap around the entire building.” The space features wraparound atmospheric vistas thanks to special high-tech glass developed by SageGlass that very slightly changes opacity as the sun moves across the sky, minimizing heat and glare within the space and removing the need for view-blocking draperies.
The self-shading windows are framed by expanses of thin wood-panel piers suspended from the facade. These piers lurch forward at the molding line, pivot out over the dining room, and accentuate each aperture. In some areas, the panels conceal collapsible partitions that can be pulled out to make private dining rooms. Along a central area, the same wood paneling is used to frame the restaurant’s wine collection.
The ceiling spanning between these two areas, however, is a testament to the union of geometric articulation and functionality. Here, Tag Front installed a ceiling configuration, developed by architectural-products manufacturer Arktura specifically for the project, that consists of a hexagonally shaped grid of woven baffles made of recycled plastic that dampen sound. This arrangement complements the city stretching out just over the precipice, mimicking what, from nearly a thousand feet above, looks like an orderly, gridded urban expanse.
According to Tag Front, the design team focused on the spatial and acoustical qualities of the ceiling from the beginning of the project. “After going through five or six different types of solutions and modeling each one [using 3-D software], we finally decided on the hexagonal, cellular baffle ceiling,” Tag Front explained. “We felt that due to its nature, the hexagonal cells were able to adapt to the complex, circular, and faceted geometries of the building in a much more interesting way, filling most of the space with their detailed, ornate nature and at the same time leaving strategic voids where the hexagonal brass chandeliers were suspended below them.”
Tag Front explained that Arktura had been experimenting with repeated acoustical baffle modules suspended from thin-gauge wire to create a flexible, unobtrusive, and highly functional ceiling made of recycled materials. “We came across a miniature mock-up version of one and pushed them and the client to make it into an oversize version and a suspension system that also allowed the cells to move up and down vertically along with the cellular horizontal movement,” the architects said. “Everything evolved from that moment.”
In the end, the team of designers, fabricators, and carpenters came together to create a space that is relatively novel for the city: one of the few observation-deck-level restaurants not perched on a mountainside.
Structural Engineering Services
Nabih Youssef Associates