For over a decade, the Los Angeles offices of multinational engineering firm Arup were housed within a standalone 38,000-square-foot space in Playa Vista, an affluent yet sleepy neighborhood in West L.A. As the years passed, several factors drew the firm closer to the East side of town.
“When we moved to Playa Vista,” explained Arup principal and Los Angeles Group Leader Jim Quiter, “many of our clients were on the Westside. Over the years, many of them have moved downtown. It’s also sort of the center of our industry.” In response to the locations of their client base, as well as the growth of their own workforce and a desire to be close to the city’s public transportation system, Arup traded in its Playa Vista space this Spring for the 18th, 19th and 20th floors of the 73-story Wilshire Grand in Downtown Los Angeles. Encompassing 66,000 square feet, nearly twice the amount of its former space, Arup’s move reflected the biggest lease in Southern California of 2018.
But Arup decided to make much more of the move than a simple expansion. Designed in collaboration with Bestor Architecture, SmithGroup, and Mata Construction, the new space is full of features to create the optimal working environment for its roughly 290 employees while leaving plenty of room for immersive demonstrations to educate visiting clients about their projects.
With all of the working spaces situated along the perimeter of each floor in an open-plan style, every desk receives more than ample sunlight throughout the majority of the working day. The west facade receives so much sunlight that Arup developed, designed, and installed a custom ‘interior light shelf’—a drywall device suspended from the ceiling designed to shield workstations from direct sunlight by diffusing it throughout the entire space from above. This and other alterations to the space make electric illumination unnecessary for at least half of the day, as well as drastically reducing the need for air-conditioning.
Following a vote among Arup staff members, flexible workstations were developed with an emphasis on ergonomics and personal preference. While every employee has their own personal sit-stand desk, they also have the option of taking their work to the diner-like booths near the core, the smaller, café-like tables near the windows, or even the “living rooms” that occupy a sizable space on each floor. Gender-neutral bathrooms, a fully-equipped Nursing Mothers Room, and a wellness room also go a long way to make Arup’s employees feel taken care of. Additionally, Bestor Architecture designed three unique wallpapers to wrap each elevator core, which were abstractly inspired by the oceans, forests, and deserts of California.
Perhaps the office’s most impressive feature is its SoundLab, a fully immersive audio and visual environment sealed off from the rest of the office in a structurally independent box. The walls of the room are embedded with sophisticated audio equipment which can provide accurate simulations of existing or speculative spaces to help engineers and their clients make educated design decisions. A seven-minute demonstration reveals that it can be used to design, for instance, a system for reducing noise in a NYC subway station, a sound buffering wall between a playground and a train track, and even an entire architecture pavilion with an emphasis on sound art.
An open house was held on October 1 to celebrate the new space, which included even more design simulation tools, including a Motion Platform, an augmented reality station and a series of virtual reality presentations using Oculus Go headsets.