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Go Big, Go Home
Pei Cobb Freed & Partners breaks ground on renovation and addition to Yamasaki's Century Plaza Hotel in L.A.
The Playa Vista neighborhood on Los Angeles’s west side is quickly becoming Southern California’s answer to Silicon Valley, as it plays host to a growing contingent of technology-focused companies like Google, Facebook, Yahoo, YouTube, and WeWork. And as capital, brainpower, and new residents flow into the area, so too have big-name architecture firms with high-minded designs.
The Playa Vista tract was originally owned by airline mogul Howard Hughes, who used the ocean-adjacent expanse as the manufacturing facility and airstrip where he built his famous Hercules (Spruce Goose) airplane. President Bill Clinton designated the 1.3-square-mile area as one of six national pilot projects of the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing in 1998, and the property began its redevelopment as a mixed-use neighborhood in 2002. In the years since, the 460-acre area, partially master-planned by Los Angeles–based Moule & Polyzoides, has seen its population boom to over 10,000 residents. In recent years, the area has gained the moniker “Silicon Beach,” as technology companies originally based in the nearby communities of Venice and Santa Monica have outgrown their initial outposts, expanding the technology industry’s footprint southward.
Last year, Google signed on to lease 319,000 square feet of space in the Hercules Campus, a complex redeveloped by Brenda Levin and Associates and EPT Design for the Ratkovich Company, including the 200- by 700-foot Hercules building in which Spruce Goose was designed. The team restored the building, adding pedestrian-oriented amenities to the complex while also converting the historic structure into a series of soundstages and tech-friendly offices.
Michael Maltzan Architecture, which designed the eight-acre Playa Vista Central Park in 2010 with Office of James Burnett (OJB), is adding a new 425,300 square foot office complex called The Brickyard. The Brickyard is also beind developed with OJB. The new complex, currently under construction, will feature partially-sunken landscaped parking areas that aim to extend the park outward into the office zones. The office structures, articulated as a maze of stacked, shifted, and offset volumes, are made up of two principal masses: one long office block that bends at two elbows in order to frame the aforementioned parking deck and a singular, six-story office tower. Both buildings feature punched openings as well as a variety of delicately-articulated access points that connect the parking and ground-level areas with what’s above. The complex will include a 9,000-square-foot daycare facility and will help fulfill Playa Vista’s goal of becoming a full-service neighborhood.
Gensler has also been busy at Playa Vista, undertaking the architectural repositioning of four existing office spaces in its Playa Jefferson complex. Vantage Property Investors has announced a tech-focused project dubbed “Building E,” which will encompass another large office structure designed for creative collaboration. The structure, undertaken with 360 Construction Group and AHBE Landscape Architects, will bring 200,000 square feet of open plan creative office space to the district, with large expanses of glass, terraced floor plates, and a cantilevered anchor office space. Li Wen, design director and principal at Gensler, detailed several key aspects of the design, including “side-core configurations that allow open floorplates, direct access to and abundance of private outdoor space, operable windows, sawtooth skylights, thinner floorplates for natural ventilation and deep penetration of natural light, and flat slab construction that provides for 13-foot ceiling heights.” The ocean-oriented project is located adjacent to the “lifestyle amenity-rich” Runway at Playa Vista Apartments by Johnson Fain.
Last but not least, Shimoda Design Group and OJB completed work in 2015 on The Collective, a 200,150-square-foot, LEED Gold office park complex designed for Tishman Speyer that features five two-story buildings clad in distinctive, tilt-up concrete panels (seen at the top of the article). These panels, interspersed with expanses of glass, are topped by zigzagging, metal-clad roofs. The campus connects the humdrum of office life directly to the adjacent outdoor areas via a series of landscaped paths, bringing in the sensitive Ballona and Bluff Creek wetlands that run alongside Playa Vista’s northern and southern edges. With new lease agreements being signed almost by the day and the careful, meticulous process of filling in the district’s vacant parcels fully underway, Playa Vista looks more and more like a sure bet for L.A.’s growing roster of creative offices spaces.
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
Ceiling Assembly Arktura
Altered Glass (213) 327-2016
Exterior Windows SageGlass
Architect: DDG Location: New York, NY
Acting as design architect, developer, and general contractor, DDG developed a custom, cast-aluminum screen using 3-D modeling software and state-of-the-art hardware. A burlap texture was hand-applied to the set of 12 repeating components before the sand-cast molds were made and the finished components cast. The resulting sinewy surface creates dialogue with the cast iron historic buildings of the area.
Executive Architect HTO ArchitectStructural Engineer Severud Associates Fabricator Walla Walla Foundry RenShape Foundry Pattern & Tooling Board Freeman Manufacturing & Supply Company Aluma Black Birchwood Casey
Honorable Mention, Digital Fabrication: Northeastern University Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex
Architect: Payette Location: Boston, MA
The Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex at Northeastern University is a high-performance research building with a triple-glazed curtain wall and solar veil to help the building exceed 2030 energy savings goals.
Honorable Mention, Digital Fabrication: FilzFelt LINK
Architect: Gensler Location: Los Angeles, CA
Originally created as a one-time solution for Gensler’s Los Angeles office, the company recognized its wider possibilities and partnered with FilzFelt to produce a flexible modular panel system that adds texture and color to an environment while serving as a privacy screen, shade system, room divider, and acoustical element.
The Architect’s Newspaper (AN)’s inaugural 2013 Best of Design Awards featured six categories. Since then, it's grown to 26 exciting categories. As in years past, jury members (Erik Verboon, Claire Weisz, Karen Stonely, Christopher Leong, Adrianne Weremchuk, and AN’s Matt Shaw) were picked for their expertise and high regard in the design community. They based their judgments on evidence of innovation, creative use of new technology, sustainability, strength of presentation, and, most importantly, great design. We want to thank everyone for their continued support and eagerness to submit their work to the Best of Design Awards. We are already looking forward to growing next year’s coverage for you.
2016 Best of Design Award in Facade: The Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center at Columbia University
This state-of-the-art medical and graduate education building at Columbia University embraces how medicine is taught, learned, and practiced in the 21st century. The facility rethinks the conventional stacked floor plate typology of high-rise buildings by complementing traditional classroom and laboratory spaces at the north side of the building with a network of social and collaborative study alcoves that connect via a cascading open staircase on its south side. By combining this with a range of sustainable features, Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Gensler have created a forward-looking training ground for future healthcare practitioners.
Facade Consultant BuroHappoldStructural Engineer Leslie E. Roberston Associates Curtain Wall Fabricator/Installer Josef Gartner, Permasteelisa Group Glass BGT Bischoff Glastechnik AG Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete (GFRC) David Kucera, Inc.
Honorable Mention, Facade: 371 Broadway
Architect: ODA New York Location: New York, NY
To balance this building’s modern appeal with the old world aesthetics of its environment, ODA New York reinterpreted Tribeca’s cast-iron typology with curving, basket-weave brick that expresses a similar scale to that of its pre-war neighbors.
Honorable Mention, Facade: USTA Grandstand Stadium
Architect: Rossetti Location: Queens, NY
The stadium facade is composed of 486 individual Teflon-coated fiberglass membranes that vary in opacity and translucence, offering glimpses in and out of the stadium as if through foliage.