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Originally designed by William Pereira in 1961, the 8-story, 120,000 sq. ft. building sat vacant for nearly 20 years prior to renovations.After sitting vacant for nearly 20 years, the eight-story Metropolitan Water District office tower in Los Angeles’ Echo Park neighborhood has been converted by David Lawrence Gray Architects from an office building to a luxury residential tower. The original building was designed in two phases by famed modernist William Pereira – a low-rise podium, and high-rise tower – through a process that spanned 12 years, from 1961-1973. Pereira’s design was structurally expressive concrete frame building, with cantilevered exposed concrete slabs establishing a wrap around balcony on each level. The primary bays of the building along the longitudinal axis are expressed at the ends with infrastructurally-scaled white concrete columns, while perforated concrete panels formed an iconic modernist brise soleil along the podium. Named after an ancient Greek conception of heaven, The Elysian blends architectural modernism with contemporary luxury living to produce 120,000 sq. ft. building with 96 Live/Work Units. Pereira’s original building was, at times, carefully and respectfully restored by the project team. This is evident in the clean-up of Pereira’s concrete columns, which contained – under decades-worth of grime – a high quality quartz aggregate cast (much to the surprise of the team). Another preservation marvel is the restoration of the existing mullions on the building. Metal panels from the lower third of the opening were removed along with original glass panes. The steel mullions were grinded down and repainted. The openings were replaced with new double-paned coated glass and micro shades to produce a new building envelope. The architects worked with CRL-U.S. Aluminum to integrate an operable window unit and patio doors within Pereira’s mullion layout. Also notable is the detailing of the new steel railing which translates an original post spacing cast into the slab with a new horizontal assembly providing technical precision of steel without visually overpowering the building envelope. While this renovation project makes historical acknowledgements to Pereira’s modernism, the new work to the building tends to give way to necessary market demands of luxury residential living: amenities like floor-to-ceiling windows and a two-story penthouse addition subtly transform the modernist building into something more “transitional.” The penthouse addition is carefully designed, but produces the most deleterious effect on Pereira’s proportioning system. His primary columns, once soaring optimistically beyond the body of the building towards the heavens have now been capped by a stealthy new addition which the project team has skillfully blended into the aesthetics of the original structure. Here, the curtainwall system, thermally improved by a continuous thermal spacer that is interlocked within pressure plates, is a sophisticated update to Pereira’s steel mullions. The system picks up where Pereira’s mullions left off, set in alignment with the mullion spacing throughout the building, and color matched with the rest of the building envelope. However, the 20-foot penthouse heights require an unfortunate and unavoidable heavier thickness. There is something interesting about juxtaposing a thermally sophisticated modern curtainwall system against steel profiles of the 1970’s. The two-story penthouse addition works to creatively conceal a rooftop mechanical space housing condenser units and a photovoltaic array for solar hot water heating. Also, the existing building was design with a generous floor-to-floor dimension of approximately 13 feet, allowing for an adaptive reuse of the building with minor modifications to the slabs required. New residential units were efficiently stacked by the project team, allowing for an economy in utility distribution, and limiting slab penetrations between floors to simply a new shaft and stairwell. Historians might argue for removal of the penthouse entirely, while environmentalists might argue for a full replacement of the original mullion system. Regardless, occupants of the building – especially those in the upper floors – will surely take delight in the 360 degree views of Los Angeles’ distant hills and sprawling low-rise cityscape that Pereira, and now David Lawrence Gray Architects, have provided.
- "Parametric Modeling and Adaptive Automation: from Design to Fabrication" with Kyle Watson (Zahner) and Jonathan Asher (Dassault Systems)
- "Advanced Facade Analysis, Rationalization, and Production," with Daniel Segraves of Thornton Tomasetti CORE Studio
- Good location: dense enough projects able to pay for expensive well-located sites.
- Harmonious growth in time: build strategically the first half (partition structural and firewalls, bathroom, kitchen, stairs, roof) so that expansion happens thanks to the design and not despite it. Frame individual performances and actions, so that we get a customization instead of deterioration of the neighborhood.
- Urban layout: introduce in between private space (lot) and public space (street), the collective space, not bigger than 25 families, so that social agreements can be maintained.
- Provide structure for the final scenario of growth (middle class) and not just for the initial one.
- Middle-class DNA: plan for a final scenario of at least 775 square-feet or 4 bedrooms with space for closet or double bed, bathrooms should not be at the front door (which is the typical case to save pipes) but where bedrooms are; they may include a bathtub and not just a shower receptacle and space for washing machine; there should be possibility of parking place for a car. None of this is even close to be the case in social housing nowadays.
The idiom "can't see the wood for the trees" is rarely—if ever—applied in a literal sense. Researchers at Stockholm's KTH Royal Institute of Technology however, may have found a genuine excuse to do so. An article published in the American Chemical Society journal Biomacromolecules reveals that the research team has developed transparent wood.
According to Lars Berglund, a professor at Wallenberg Wood Science Center at KTH, this transparency is achieved by chemically removing the wood's lignin, a structural polymer found in the cell walls of plants that gives wood its brown coloring. It also stops up to 95% of light from passing through. "When the lignin is removed, the wood becomes beautifully white. But because wood isn't naturally transparent, we achieve that effect with some nanoscale tailoring," explained Berglund.
In a press release, KTH said this "nanoscale tailoring" involves impregnating the wood, or "white porous veneer substrate" as it's technically called, with a transparent polymer. As result, light can pass through the material more easily and the 'wood' becomes transparent.
The American Chemistry Society reports that the subsequent material is twice as strong as plexiglass. "It also offers excellent mechanical properties, including strength, toughness, low density, and low thermal conductivity," adds Berglund. However, there has been no publication on the materials properties pertaining to how it will react when exposed to water, fire, or extreme temperatures. Despite this, the case for see-through timber (pardon the pun) is clear. Berglund advocates for the material being used for windows and semitransparent facades, with the aim to "let light in but maintain privacy."
"Transparent wood is a good material for solar cells, since it's a low-cost, readily available, and renewable resource," Berglund continued. "This becomes particularly important in covering large surfaces with solar cells." Prior to the development, Berglund pointed out that transparent structures were yet to be considered for use as solar cells in buildings. Now he and KTH have set their sights on improving the transparency of the wood and producing the material in larger quantities.