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Lights! Camera! Gondola!

Warner Brothers proposes gondola to Hollywood Sign from San Fernando Valley
In the latest escalation of Los Angeles’s Hollywood Sign wars, Warner Brothers has announced something of a truce: a plan to build a $100 million gondola system that would connect the entertainment company’s studio backlot in Burbank, California with the iconic sign.  The plan was announced via The Los Angeles Times earlier this week and comes as Los Angeles works to assuage concerns of the wealthy homeowners who live near and around access points to the sign. Those homeowners complain that increased public desire to visit and see the landmark has created gridlock and unsafe conditions in their neighborhoods as tourists peer out from their cars and stop in the middle of the street to take photos of and selfies with the sign. Though world famous as an iconic symbol of L.A., the Hollywood sign has never functioned as a traditional monument that people can freely visit. Instead, intrepid hikers and explorers must traverse a series of canyon trails, including the Beachwood Canyon access point, which the city closed in 2017, to get close to the sign. The super-adventurous have long illicitly hiked to the site of the sign itself, where the 40-foot-tall letters are simply and unceremoniously affixed to the hillside with poured concrete footings. But in recent years, as athleisure activities and Instagram have taken off, interest in visiting and seeing the sign has blossomed, presenting headaches for neighbors and questions of safety for visitors alike.  After a recent trail closure, local city councilperson David Ryu commissioned a study aimed at finding ways to increase public access to the sign without impacting neighborhood residents. The wide-ranging recommendations included punitive measures like planting new trees and shrubbery to obscure views of the sign from the circuitous Mulholland Drive as well as visionary fixes, like potentially building a gondola system and visitors center along south-facing slopes of the Hollywood Hills. The most outlandish recommendation called for erecting a replica sign on the opposing side of the mountain that faces the San Fernando Valley. Warner Brothers’ plan represents a strange hybrid of the latter approaches. The company has large studio and production facilities in the San Fernando Valley that are a tourist draw in their own right. The proposed plan—an architect or design team has not been announced—would essentially expand those facilities to include access to the Hollywood sign by spanning over nearby Griffith Park and other adjoining hillsides. The scheme is in the very early phases of planning and study and will require many agency and local approvals, but the studio has offered to pay for the gondola, so at least funding is secured. Chris Baumgart, chair of the Hollywood Sign Trust said via email, “The Warner Brothers proposal is just one of many solutions that added together will help ease the burden of over-tourism faced by the neighborhoods.” Baumgart added, “There is no one solution to the complexities of this issue. The scope of the Warner Brother’s project will have a long road of vetting with community groups and local governments involved. The Environmental Impact Report for construction in an open space is just one of the challenges that will have to be navigated if this intriguing idea is to come to fruition.” The gondola proposal comes weeks after Aerial Rapid Transit Technologies, LLC announced its own plan to construct a gondola system that would take passengers from the Los Angeles Union Station to Dodger Stadium. That $150 million proposal is also under development, has support from L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, and is projecting a 2022 opening date.  A timeline for the Hollywood Sign gondola has not been announced. 
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Full Metal Jacket

Neil M. Denari Architects releases revised renderings for West Hollywood hotel
Neil M. Denari Architects (NMDA) has unveiled new renderings for its 1040 La Brea hotel project in West Hollywood, California. The latest images come as the project team attempts to move through the design review process and were made in response to design critiques leveled at a previous review session.  The fundamentals of the project remain the same. The 110-foot-tall building will contain 90 hotel units and eight apartments, with a collection of retail spaces and a new porte cochere occupying the ground floor along an alleyway. The nine-story “L”-shaped block features softly-curved geometries, including along its faceted corners and set-back faces. The structure’s four-story podium is topped by an amenity deck that is overlooked by the hotel rooms and apartments.  Design changes include condensing and moving automobile access for the project away from busy La Brea and into the alley in order to improve the pedestrian experience along the street. The building has also changed color. The previous project was wrapped in nearly-black metal panels; These elements have been lightened in the new renderings. The mass of the building has also changed, with the latest version showing a series of inset loggia spaces overlooking the alley. Wehoville reports that Gwynne Pugh, a contract design consultant for the city of West Hollywood and principal at Gwynne Pugh Urban Studio, gave the revised proposal high marks in a report he presented in review of the project. Pugh’s report reads: “This is a very elegant and sophisticated building well-thought-out. The issues of previous concern have largely been addressed.” The project is up for review once again on Thursday evening. A timeline for the construction of the project has not been announced. 
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Handel On It

Handel Architects to bring $1 billion twin tower development to Hollywood
Handel Architects and developer MP Los Angeles have unveiled renderings for a $1 billion twin tower complex slated for downtown Hollywood.  An earlier proposal for the site was dogged by concerns over the location of a possible earthquake fault underneath the site, an issue that has been since resolved after intensive geological and environmental review, including peer reviewed study by third party experts and extensive geological testing, according to the developers.  The project aims to bring two curving, glass-clad 46- and 35-story towers, a pair of mid-rise apartment structures, and a collection of pedestrian walkways and plazas to two adjacent sites surrounding the iconic, Louis Naidorf-designed Capitol Records building. The project sites are currently occupied by surface parking lots.  Urbanize.LA reports that the 1,005-unit development will also bring the largest number of affordable dwelling units of any development in the history of the city. The project’s 133 deed-restricted affordable housing units will housed within a pair of 11-story apartment blocks and will be targeted for low-income and very-low income seniors. The affordable housing component is a product of the city’s new inclusionary zoning ordinance and resulted from the developer’s lengthy environmental and community reviews, according to a project website.  Renderings for the so-called Hollywood Center project depict a sprawling complex punctuated by sculptural towers whose forms echo those of the Capitol Records building. The towers and gridded apartment buildings are depicted as being connected by broad pedestrian areas and terraced landscaped planters filled with trees in the renderings. James Corner Field Operations has been tapped to design the project’s outdoor areas.  The now-relieved seismic concerns at the Hollywood Center project preceded real structural problems for another Handel-designed tower complex located in San Francisco. There, the 58-story Millennium Tower as been listing increasingly to one side over the last few years to growing worry of residents and neighbors alike. Problems with the Millennium Tower are due, experts believe, to faulty design of the tower’s friction-bearing pile foundation systems.  The Hollywood Center towers join a growing cluster of high-rise developments slated for the Hollywood area, including the LARGE Architecture-designed 1755 Argyle apartments, the Crossroads Hollywood project by SOM and RCH Studios, the recently-completed Columbia Square development, also by RCH Studios, and the long-stalled Palladium Residences complex by Natoma Architects.  The Hollywood Center project is expected to begin construction in 2022. 
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Double Feature

Could L.A. get a second Hollywood sign?
A newly-released report aimed at finding ways to increase public access to Los Angeles’s Hollywood sign without impacting surrounding residential neighborhoods has made a few surprising recommendations, including the potential of erecting a duplicate sign on the opposite slope of the Hollywood Hills favoring the San Fernando Valley. The report, released earlier this week, was drafted by consultants Dixon Resources Unlimited at the behest of Los Angeles City Council District 4, amid complaints from local residents who would like to see public access to the site restricted. Homeowners in the areas surrounding the sign have complained of higher rates of traffic over recent years, as the sign’s popularity has boomed in the fitness-crazed Instagram age. The sign itself is not formally recognized as a public space, but many people access the grounds via a network of public hiking trails throughout Griffith Park. The sign—visible from across the region and perhaps best seen in sequence, coming in and out of view from twisty Mulholland Drive—is widely photographed from within surrounding neighborhoods, creating traffic and endangering pedestrians. In 2017, the city closed the popular Beachwood Canyon trailhead that leads to the sign, due to neighborhood outcry. Although vehicular access has been maintained to the trailhead, hikers and sign watchers traveling on foot are now instructed to use alternative entrances to the park. Still, however, demand to reach the site is ever-increasing and the City is searching for potential solutions that benefit both sides. The report recommends 29 potential fixes. Many of the proposed solutions involve instituting common sense improvements like additional wayfinding and pedestrian-friendly designs. Other potential solutions, like increasing parking fines and blocking views of the sign from residential streets using new plantings, are directly aimed at making it more difficult to see or access the sign at all. Several suggestions, however, stand out as more highly visible initiatives that would represent substantial investments in public infrastructure while also re-tooling the Hollywood sign’s significance in the city’s urban imaginary as a physical place rather than simply something to observe from afar. Among the larger-scale potential solutions in the report, perhaps most radical is the notion of creating a second Hollywood sign along the northern slope of the Hollywood Hills overlooking the San Fernando Valley. The duplicate sign, the report contends, could “spread out the impact of photo-seekers to both sides of the park.” The report also suggests the potential of adding more than one replica, as well as several ideas for creating a visitor center, viewing platform, transportation terminal, and even a network of gondolas to reach the sign. For now, the recommendations will be taken under consideration; a timeline for the final selection of actionable concepts and their implementation has not been released.
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Common Views

Renderings revealed for LOHA’s faceted 30-unit condominium complex in West Hollywood
Architects Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects (LOHA) and owner National Construction have released renderings for a new 30-unit condominium complex in West Hollywood that features cantilevered corners, faceted facades, and perforated metal panel and wood cladding. The four-story complex at 1030 N. Kings Road is located in the same neighborhood as the firm’s much-heralded Habitat 825 complex. 1030 N. Kings Road is designed to break down in scale as it rises and features a series of geometric cut-outs along its facades. The cut-outs establish viewsheds for individual units while also allowing for natural daylight to flood into the building’s common areas, which include a shared gym and communal seating spaces. The cut-outs also contain screened outdoor balconies and terraces accessible to building units. The development’s two large amenity spaces are located along the building’s most prominent facades, which are wrapped in the various cladding types. Renderings for the project depict a faceted housing block with large windows, a double-height entry lobby, and well-lit corridors. The 41,500-square-foot project comes as LOHA expands its footprint in the L.A’s bustling multifamily housing sector. The firm recently completed work on a starburst-shaped apartment complex in Los Angeles. In addition to moving forward on the 1030 N. Kings Road project, Lorcan O'Herlihy will also be presenting at AN's Facades+ conference in Los Angeles this October. See the Facades+ website for more information. The project is currently under construction and is expected to be completed in mid- to late-2018.
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New Kid on the Block

Neil Denari designs nine-story West Hollywood hotel development
Neil M. Denari Architects (NMDA) has unveiled renderings for a new mixed-use hotel and apartment complex in West Hollywood, California that features filleted corners, tapered walls, and wedge-shaped windows. The midrise block would bring a 91-key hotel as well as eight apartments to a corner site along the city’s La Brea Avenue corridor. The somewhat sleepy quadrant of the city that has seen renewed investment interest in recent years, especially from the hotel industry, Wehoville reports. NMDA’s proposal rises nine stories and is arranged with its tallest levels hugging the street. The hotel’s double-loaded corridor configuration is supplemented along lower levels by the building’s parking podium, which wraps around the hotel program, taking up the entirety of the site. The four-level podium is topped by an amenity deck that contains a swimming pool and lounge, among other uses.   The building also features ground floor retail spaces that are set back from the sidewalk and exist below overhanging building elements. The structure is supported by large piers along the street that carve up storefront spaces and demarcate the building’s lobby areas. The tower’s facade is studded with gridded, floor-to-ceiling window assemblies that are interrupted by alternating vertical window bands. The exterior of the structure is clad in what appear to be black metal panels. NMDA’s proposal would take over an existing car garage and would help to spread development southward from the city’s bustling Sunset Boulevard, where Gehry Associates is attempting to build its controversial 8150 Sunset project. Gehry’s project has drawn community ire for being perceived as too tall for the area and for not having enough parking. Initial reaction to NMDA’s hotel has been more muted, however, with Gwynne Pugh, principal of Urban Studio—West Hollywood’s urban design consultant—giving the project positive marks, saying, “this building will act as a significant marker and gateway into the city of West Hollywood. In addition, the choice of color, a dark grey, really creates an eye-catching and slightly foreboding vision.” A timeline for the project has not been announced.
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Hillside Backdrop

Hollywood’s historic John Anson Ford Amphitheatre set to reopen after major renovation
The newly upgraded and renovated John Anson Ford Amphitheatre in Los Angeles is making its official debut this weekend following nearly three years of construction. Levin & Associates Architects acted as design architect while Mia Lehrer + Associates (MLA) performed landscape architecture services on the $72.2 million project; both firms are based in L.A. The 1,200-seat outdoor amphitheater complex was originally built in 1931 as a replacement structure for a previous theater that had burned down. The complex—then known as the Pilgrimage Theatre—was built out of masonry to resemble the fabled gates of Jerusalem. The original complex utilized rough, board-formed concrete surfaces throughout, with smoother treatments deployed across the crenelated towers and walls that make up the theater’s stage areas. The completed renovation brings a new two-story, 11,055-square-foot concessions and office structure to the complex that includes a commercial kitchen, new projection booth, control room, and a series of catwalks designed to optimize new stage lighting upgrades. The renovations also carved out 3,500 square feet of “found space” from underneath the stage. The removal of the underlying bedrock allowed the design team to address rampant drainage issues—The stage is embedded into the hillside site, an arrangement that resulted in storm runoff rushing directly into the complex’s basement levels. Levin & Associates also added ADA-compliant artists’ spaces, including accessible restrooms and dressing areas, as well as new telecommunications systems. MLA has reworked the hillside landscape behind the stage to introduce a native “generational landscape” that will age gracefully in place and is designed to be held in place by a series of retaining walls. The landscape architects also added a series of mature tree specimens to the site, including two mature coast live oaks and two strawberry madrone trees. The amphitheater area is wrapped in a modular acoustical metal panel wall assembly that is designed to keep sound from performances inside the complex while deflecting the traffic and noise of the nearby Interstate-101. The entry and approach areas of the complex were also reworked to be ADA-accessible.
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Ark-itecture

Koning Eizenberg combines symbolism and craft for a new chapel in Hollywood

It took decades of piecemeal construction—a new day school here, a dank brick chapel there—to build the Temple Israel of Hollywood (TIOH). But it would require 10 years of work by Koning Eizenberg Architecture to transform the 90-year-old Spanish Colonial Revival–style temple into a flexible and social campus for worship. So far, the project has yielded a collection of generous, sunlit spaces, including a sculptural multiuse chapel.

The chapel is a study in contrasts: A large glass wall populated by staggered, canted window panes fronts a courtyard framed by the masonry-clad temple and a low administrative wing, the glass surfaces of the new chapel sheathed by a folded-aluminum louver system. That steel-supported shade was meticulously designed and fabricated against the restrictive physical tolerances of the aluminum material—its design is partially inspired by the ceremonial tallit cloth. The expanse is interrupted by a wall enclosing the Ark of the chapel, an extra-thick volume that appears to be made of solid sandstone but is actually hollow inside. The sedimentary exterior treatment on the Ark is achieved by hand-applying compositions of different colored sands and tiny pebbles—brought to Los Angeles from congregants’ visits to Jerusalem—over a shotcrete substrate.

Nathan Bishop, principal at KEA and project designer for TIOH, explained that a tight budget forced the architects to develop custom but frugal approaches. “There are no off-the-shelf products,” Bishop explained regarding the chapel’s major components.

Along the inside of the chapel, the Ark itself is interrupted by a large vertical screen made of CNC-milled maple. The Ark screen is decorated by a dense geometric pattern that conceals a space containing a Torah. The chapel interior is topped by a suspended CNC-milled, segmented plywood ceiling. Its crisscrossing and angular profiles sweep from east to west, variable peaks and valleys rising and falling to create a cavernous lid. The segments allow for the ceiling to have two readings: an airy structure from below, and a solid one from afar.

Bishop explained that among the Ark wall, sunshade, and chapel ceiling, the designers aimed to establish an open-ended dialogue between architecture and ritual. The sunshade, for example, can exist as a discrete architectural element reflecting light every which way, while remaining vaguely associated with “something that feels like the frayed end of the tallit,” as Bishop put it.

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Stair Master

Renderings revealed for stepped Stanley Saitowitz–designed tower in Hollywood
San Francisco–based Natoma Architects has revealed renderings for 1360 Vine, a new 21-story stepped tower proposed for downtown Hollywood, California. The 429-unit project—which is being developed by Canadian firm Onni Group—would also bring 60,000 square feet of commercial space and 15 live-work units to the area. The project is slated to include a 677-stall parking garage as well. Development agreements allow for the project to contain either 50,000 square feet of offices and 5,000 square feet of retail or a 55,000-square-foot grocery store. According to an environmental report published by the Department of City Planning, the project will require the demolition of an existing eight-unit multifamily complex and several small scale industrial buildings currently occupying the site; six existing bungalow homes will be preserved and reused either as housing or restaurant spaces. The new construction will encompass a mix of studio, one-, two-, and three-bedroom units, 16 of which will be set aside as deed-restricted affordable housing for very low-income residents. The developer has also agreed to provide 19 affordable units off-site; a location for those units has not been specified. The preserved bungalows will be separated from the new tower by a broad pedestrian paseo line along the tower side by retail uses. The stepped tower—which is U-shaped in plan—will step up rather steeply from the bungalows, revealing a series of terraces as the mass climbs in height. Along other exposures, the black glass-clad tower will feature projecting balconies that overlook the street and a central courtyard. The developer behind the project is also working on a bevy of high profile projects across the city, including a pair of forthcoming towers proposed for lots adjacent to the historic Los Angeles Times complex in Downtown Los Angeles. Onni is planning for a total of 1,125 units and 34,000 square feet of retail in those structures; the new towers would replace the Times Mirror complex designed by William Pereira. 1360 Vine is expected to finish construction in 2021.
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Old Meets New

New renderings released for L.A.’s massive Crossroads Hollywood project
International firm SOM and L.A.-based Rios Clementi Hale Studios (RCH) have released new renderings depicting the firms’ massive redevelopment of the historic Crossroads of the World complex in Hollywood, California. The 1.43-million-square-foot project, currently pegged to cost between $500 and $600 million to develop, aims to repurpose, update, and expand the Crossroads of the World complex by adding a collection of new programs and several high-rise towers. Crossroads of the World was designated as a City Cultural-Historic Monument and was designed in 1936 by architect Robert V. Derrah as the region’s first outdoor, mixed-use office and shopping complex, according to the Los Angeles Conservancy. The complex, which features a collection of squat, streamline, Spanish-, Moorish-, and French-Revival style structures, will be joined on surrounding blocks by a group of high rise towers and mid-rise podium structures. Overall, the so-called Hollywood Crossroads project aims to add 950 housing units, 94,000 square feet of office space, and 185,000 square feet of commercial uses to the roughly eight acre site. The project features a trio of towers, including a 26-story hotel tower containing 308 rooms, a 30-story tower with 190 condominiums, and a 32-story tower containing 760 units, including the podium levels. The project’s site plan features a diagonal paseo cutting through the site that connects the Crossroads of the World complex with the new housing towers. The paseo is lined with ground floor retail uses overlooked by apartment balconies. The generic-looking, glass-clad housing and hotel towers rise from these integrated lower levels, according to the renderings. Sunset Boulevard, via a collection of new—and controversial—high rise developments, is in the midst of  becoming a new vertical spine running through Los Angeles. The Hollywood area, in particular, is seeing a rush in high-rise construction, as developers scramble to meet an insatiable demand for new housing. These projects, however, have run into problems, as the new density has rankled local residents hesitant to see their neighborhoods change. Projects like Natoma Architects’ Palladium Residences and Frank Gehry’s 8150 Sunset in nearby West Hollywood have drawn the ire of local residents, for example. David Schwartzman, chief executive at Harridge Development Group, however, is unfazed by the potential controversy. The developer behind the project told the Los Angeles Business Journal, “In Hollywood, you always have issues with projects and people complaining, but we’re following the rules.” He added, “We’re not doing a general plan amendment, we’re providing affordable housing. We’ve thought about the needs of the community. At the end of the day, you’re not going to make everybody happy.” The recent completion of RCH’s Columbia Square—another tower-over-historic-complex project developed a few blocks east of the Hollywood—has been met with praise, so perhaps there is hope yet for this project. Harridge aims to complete construction on the project by 2022, though an official construction timeline for the development, has not been released.
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Stairway to Heaven

New renderings released for Gensler’s “EPIC” creative office tower in Hollywood
Architects Gensler and developer Hudson Pacific Properties have revealed a new set of renderings for a 300,000-square-foot creative office tower complex in Hollywood, California. The project, dubbed EPIC, will replace an existing parking lot and be 230 feet tall. The EPIC tower rises highest and most prominently along Sunset Boulevard and contains ground floor retail wrapping its base. The structure steps up from a wide parking podium section until roughly the midway point of the tower’s height. These stepped sections contain a series of elaborate, multi-level planted terraces that overlook the surrounding neighborhood. Higher up, the tower presents a more formal silhouette and is studded with floor-to-ceiling, square-shaped expanses of glass. These sections are offset slightly from one another and contain divided light window assemblies Interior creative office spaces feature spare interiors, with unfinished concrete floors and a spare grid of square-shaped concrete columns spanning the structure’s broad floorplates. The new batch of renderings includes several views of multi-level interior office spaces and of the outdoor terraces, as well. The terrace areas contain a variety of seating configurations, are landscaped with modestly-sized trees, and divided up by variable planted partitions. The tower is being developed as a sister project to the developer’s $150 million expansion of the Sunset Bronson Studios complex directly across the street. That project consists of a 14-story tower containing 400,000-square feet of office spaces, including five-stories of movie, sound, and film production facilities. Both projects join an increasing number of high-rise, mixed-use tower complexes slated for the area, including the recently-completed RCH Studios–designed Columbia Square development and the beleaguered Natoma Architects–designed Hollywood Palladium towers. EPIC is currently in the beginning stages of construction; a final construction schedule has not been completed.
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Star Struck

A Planet Hollywood becomes a Victorian observatory in Orlando’s Disney Springs

This article appears in The Architect’s Newspaper’s April 2017 issue, which takes a deep dive into Florida to coincide with the upcoming AIA Conference on Architecture in Orlando (April 27 to 29). We’re publishing the issue online as the Conference approaches—click here to see the latest articles to be uploaded.

When it comes to theatrical architecture, Disney rarely disappoints. So when it came time to remodel the spherical Planet Hollywood in the Disney Springs Development, it turned to Boston-based Elkus Manfredi Architects to double down on the theme “Dine Amongst the Stars.”

Disney Springs is located near Disney’s collection of theme parks in Orlando, Florida. The recently expanded district is home to retail, dining, and entertainment, all modeled after a centuries-old American town that evolved along an alternate timeline to our own. The remodeled Planet Hollywood was envisioned as a stand-alone destination while still fitting into this fantastical setting.

Leveraging the existing iconic dome of the Planet Hollywood, Elkus Manfredi reimagined the building as an epic late-19th-century observatory. A new brick base, complete with arched windows and truss details, adds 5,000 square feet to the project. A tensile Teflon-coated silver fabric resurfaces the dome, referencing the metal domes of vintage observatories, and completes the thematic exterior transformation. Outdoor seating and an exterior stair, encased in a radio-tower-esque structure with another exterior bar, give guests a whole new set of dining options.

The interior of the spherical building has four levels. At the heart of the space, a mock vintage telescope rises through all three of the main dining and entertainment stories. Throughout the whole project, planetary and stellar motifs adorn everything from the custom carpet to the multimedia screens, but each floor has its own character. The main dining level is large and open, connected to the outdoor terrace overlooking Disney Springs. The second level is more intimate, with a smaller dining area and a lounge area geared toward adults. The top dining level on the fourth floor is the most intimate space in the restaurant. Guests here are closest to the dome and the projected stars on its inner surface.

While the restaurant will no longer sport the familiar 1990s Planet Hollywood branding, that does not mean that everything will be replaced. Multiple displays of Hollywood memorabilia are still part of the project’s experience.

The timing of this transformation seems only appropriate. As NASA continuously announces the finding of exoplanets in neighboring star systems, perhaps this new observatory will help Disney discover its own planet… Hollywood.