Los Angeles–based Omgivning, though only nine years old, is already well known when it comes to adaptively reusing some of L.A.’s most historic structures. The firm’s name—taken from the Swedish word for “ambiance”—was started by Karin Liljegren in 2009 after she spent 15 years specializing in adaptive reuse projects, including the revitalization of Downtown L.A.’s Old Bank District, at Killefer Flammang Architects. Liljegren’s office grew out of a desire to “help people connect to something” in their built environment, as she explains it, a concept the designers use to push the limits of adaptive reuse. The office has worked on over 250 projects, everything from two-million-square-foot behemoths to tiny coffee shops, and it currently has a slate of impressive designs in the pipeline that will help reshape how Angelenos live and work in their city.
Broadway Trade Center
Omgivning is currently working on a 1.1-million-square-foot restoration of the Broadway Trade Center in Downtown Los Angeles. The five-story Beaux Arts–style structure—designed in 1908 by Alfred Rosenheim as a department store—has been underutilized since the 1970s. Omgivning is repurposing the building into a mixed-use complex that will contain storefronts and a food hall along the ground with 400,000 square feet of creative office spaces on the levels above. The architects will also add a series of rooftop structures to the complex, housing a private social club, a 100,000-square-foot hotel, and two roof decks. Though the project will contain two separate rooftop pools, designs are being carried out in a somewhat open-ended fashion in anticipation of potential market shifts that could require the complex to be reorganized in the future.
The office is also working to reconfigure one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks: the Sears, Roebuck & Company Mail Order Building designed by George C. Nimmons, in Boyle Heights. The art deco megastructure contains 1.8 million square feet of interior space and is made up of eight separate structures all contained under one roof. For the project, Omgivning is carving nine light courts into the ten-story building to bring in daylight and accentuate each of the building’s discrete sections. The light courts will create massive indoor atria while also allowing for the restoration of the original facades along each of these exposures. The massive development will act as a “city unto itself,” Liljegren explains, adding that the scale of the project is such that it can support a wide array of uses, like restaurants, 100,000 square feet of retail, 200,000 square feet of creative offices, 1,030 residential units, and a 130,000-square-foot rooftop.
Omgivning’s recently completed Broadway Lofts project brings 58 live-work units to an adaptively reused six-story historic office building in Downtown L.A. The complex is packed with multilevel lofts that are connected via new light wells, similar to but at a much smaller scale than the light wells planned for the Sears building. The wells, spanned by new glass bridges and highlighted with floor-to-ceiling window assemblies populated by colored glass, bring interior views and daylight to each of the units. The arrangement allows for each of the 650-square-foot units to receive daylight from two directions.
Don Francisco’s Coffee
The office also works at the small scale, as evidenced by the tropically inspired designs for the 4,500-square-foot Don Francisco’s Coffee storefront in the historic Spring Arcade Building in Downtown L.A. The white-walled Cuban-themed cafe features wooden midcentury modern furniture, decorative tilework, and gold-topped tables strewn about a long, narrow space. The soaring volume is divided up by concrete structural columns, while a pair of arched doorways frame a separate study room lined with tropical plants.