Archive for December 9th, 2010

December 9, 2010

Holdrege Avenue / Herman Miller Building

Holdrege Avenue / Herman Miller Building

Los Angeles, CA

Urban Offerings
Inc., Herman Miller Inc.

Lynch / Eisinger / Design (LED)
New York

Design Principal
Simon Eisinger, RA, LEED AP
Christian B. Lynch, AIA

Project Designer

Brandon Pass

Project Manager
Erik Brotherton, RA

Project Team
Kristen Alexander
Christopher Connock
Michael Gibson
Carolynn Karp
Mitsuhiro Komatsu
Christopher Mascari
Nina Reckeweg
Aviva Rubin

Brent Klokis

Associate Architect

Structural Engineer
Structural Focus

MEP Engineer
Rosini Engineering

Landscape Architect

Van Atta Associates
Emerald Design

Lighting Designer
Lighting Workshop

Oltman Construction Company
Howard Building Corporation

LEED Consultant
Zinner Consultants

LEED Commissioning

Engineering Economics, Inc.

Energy Modeling
Brummit Energy Associates, Inc.


Amy Barkow / Barkow Photo

Site Area

52,250 sf

Building Area
31,500 sf (including courtyards

Culver City is an area west of Los Angeles that has seen many of its industrial buildings turned into striking, high-profile architecture for design and technology companies. The same trend occurs in this renovation of three factory and warehouse buildings for Herman Miller. It is an understated design but no less striking. Architects Christian Lynch and Simon Eisinger answered some questions about this West Coast project.
View of entry at dusk
What were the circumstances of receiving the commission for this project?

We were initially selected to be the architects for Herman Miller’s new Los Angeles showroom as the result of an RFQ and then an invited competition. Early during the design process, we were introduced to the building’s owner, Dean Nucich, president of Urban Offerings, Inc. He promptly asked us to submit a proposal to design the whole site and the base building rehab, as well as the showroom interior. This was a good thing, since our showroom design took some real liberties with the building (including demolishing large swaths of it). After we had completed construction documents for the showroom, Herman Miller – for reasons of their own – decided to go with a different site. By then we had a good relationship with the landlord, and we stayed on to complete the project working directly with him. About a year after they pulled out of the lease, a Herman Miller representative drove by the nearly completed building and decided they wanted back in. So in the end, their LA showroom is there as planned, though they made changes to the showroom interior, without our involvement the second time around.

Entry pavilion interior
Can you describe your design process for the building?

Although initially we were asked to think about the interior showroom space, our interest in the project was always in how it fit into the urban landscape, and what kind of an effect it could have from the inside out. We wanted to invite the public into and through the building, while extending and enriching the passage from sidewalk (or car) to interior. The site is on the fringe of Culver City, a part of Los Angeles with a growing art and design community, and with real potential for pedestrian traffic. We wanted to give the building a chance to be a hub for that population, should the occupants want to foster such a thing. The large floor plate made it clear from the beginning that to get adequate light into the building we would have to cut away big pieces of it, but we didn’t want to lose the street-wall and be left with loosely defined exterior spaces. So the exterior spaces became as much a part of the building as the interior ones. The front courtyard, screened and enclosed by the entry pavilion, becomes the main space for the whole building, even though it is accessible without ever actually going inside. Initially this was part of a sequence of sky lit gathering spaces that culminated with the rear courtyard. Although the showroom interior wasn’t built as planned and the sequence was lost, the two courtyards still function well as active outdoor rooms, while allowing light deep into the building.

Entry courtyard
The existing buildings themselves were classic mid-century LA industrial sheds, with beautiful wood roofs and bow-string trusses. Our approach was simply to expose as much of the base buildings as possible, leaving no doubt as to what was old and what was new. We used rigid insulation on the exterior of the roof, in order to keep the curved wood planking visible from the interior. The new glass walls and steel moment frames look nothing like the existing wood trusses, pipe columns and tilt-up concrete walls. There are almost no finishes in the whole project. The structure is exposed inside and out, and almost all expression of new construction is through the shading systems, a combination of perforated cor-ten steel, galvanized gratings, and wood slats screens.
View from main showroom
How does the building compare to other projects in your office, be it the same or other building types?

We are often asked to work within existing buildings, with limited ability to affect the core and shell. That can be frustrating when we see clearly how the whole building or site could be improved, but we don’t have the means to affect such changes. Working for the tenant first and then the landlord meant really being able to work on the project as a whole. It is encouraging, since we like to start all our projects with a much bigger picture in mind: if we are designing a building, we think about the city, if we are designing an apartment, we think about the building. This time it paid off, and it’s good to be reminded that there are clients out there who are receptive to such an approach, and even recognize that it can be very good business.

View of rear courtyard
How does the building relate to contemporary architectural trends, be it sustainability, technology, etc.?

The building had to be at least LEED Silver from the start (we ended up with LEED Gold), but in some ways that was a distraction from the basics of good sustainable design. Under the LEED system, there are points to be earned, but no demerits, and almost no credit for simply doing less. You actually stand to get more points by adding a flooring material with some recycled content, for example, than if you just omit the floor finish altogether, and use the existing slab. It is also inevitable that once the project is registered in the LEED system, everyone involved starts counting up the points rather than talking about and striving for what actually makes a more sustainable building.

E-Mail Interview conducted by John Hill

Entry Pavilion
Are there any new/upcoming projects in your office that this building’s design and construction has influenced?

We rarely work on something that doesn’t affect everything we do subsequently. We actively try to bring seemingly antithetical ideas from one project in to challenge another one we are working on. Sometimes it is a fundamental design concept, other times a construction technique. We’re currently restoring the hundred-year-old Hawthorne Barn in Provincetown, Massachusetts, converting it from an un-insulated painting studio to house a new year-round artist residency program. The decades of paint on the interior walls is irreproducible, while the exterior shingle cladding can be easily replaced. So we’re looking at adapting the external insulation system employed in LA to insulate the entire shell of the barn. A new building on the same site, which is embedded in a hillside, may also make use of the peripheral courtyard idea, in order to bring in daylight while extending the positive space of building beyond its interior footprint.

Exterior Details
Site Plan
Enlarged Section

December 9, 2010

Which city is the center of America’s architectural universe? NY, LA, Chicago, or none of the above?

Is New York the creative center of American architecture? Is Chicago a second city? And what of Frank Gehry’s LA? I ask because, while riding the “El” into work today, I was perusing Robert A.M. Stern’s illuminating collection of essays, “Architecture on the Edge of Postmodernism.”

In one of these essays, “New York, New York: Pluralism and Its Possibilities,” first published in 1979, Stern writes of New York’s place as a center of ideas–a nexus of distinguished architecture schools, journals, museums and newspaper criticism that no other American city could match. He goes on:

“One comes to New York to see architecture being made, and not so much to see it. How different from Chicago, where the products of Mies’s talents and those of his followers are everywhere to be seen. Chicago is like Detroit or Hollywood–the product and the place are one; architecture is Chicago’s dominant plastic art, just as film is Holywood’s chief artistic product; they are company towns, urban villages grown up to produce and market one or two things. New York is a metropolis, a world capital; architecture is dreamed here, realized everywhere.”

Did Stern correctly characterize Chicago in 1979? And now, 31 years and a host of changes later, where is he right and where is he off base?

Here are some thoughts to get the debate going:

1) Stern correctly observed Chicago’s preeminence in architectural production–a standing that is as true now as it was then, at least if one takes multiple generations of a city’s buildings, and not simply contemporary work, into account. But while he acknowledged Mies, Stern left out the other heroes who made Chicago preeminent–William Le Baron Jenney, Adler and Sullivan, Burnham and Root, Holabird and Roche, Frank Lloyd Wright, Holabird and Root, and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. A surprising lapse for a distinguished architectural historian, but maybe the literary stylist in Stern didn’t want to get bogged down with a long list.

2) Even in 1979, Stern greatly oversimplified when he characterized Chicago as an urban village grown up to produce and market one or two things. The city has long been the metropolis of the Midwest, a maker of tools, a stacker of wheat, a player with railroads and all that other stuff Carl Sandburg mused about in his famous “Chicago” poem. Today, Chicago is a global metropolis, regularly named one of the world’s top financial centers and the place that the Leader of the Free World calls home. More to the point, it’s no provincial design ‘burg. It exports its architectural talent around the world, just as it imports top design talent like Gehry, Koolhaas, and Piano.

3) New York’s position as a center of architectural energy has been greatly undermined, if not superseded, by the rise of Gehry and other Los Angeles architects. That’s not my observation. It came last year from New York Times critic Nicolai Ouroussoff, occasioning this heated response from William Menking of The Architect’s Newspaper.

My take on this debate: Bye-bye, 1979. New York may still lead in talking, but the essence of architecture is building. And great builders and thinkers can be found all over, the Web’s distance-collapsing influence making an architect or an architectural dreamer in LA, Chicago, or even Des Moines as important as his or her counterpart on Park Avenue. Hey, New York–start spreadin’ the news: It’s a multi-polar architectural world out there. Deal with it.