Sharing the spotlight
For Frank Gehry's concert hall, Chu + Gooding's Los Angeles Philharmonic Association headquarters proves a fitting accompaniment
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 10/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
The Walt Disney Concert Hall's 16-year odyssey is a story of epic proportions, worldwide headlines, and sweeping pronouncements. "The miracle is that it happened," says architect Frank Gehry. Now—years after Bilbao—Los Angeles can at last lay claim to a trait shared by most of the world's major cities: a signature building. What more can possibly be said about this gleaming beacon of music and architecture?
Something substantial, in fact, for those who've been watching a quieter story unfold on a stage right next door. Connected to the Disney Hall, on the same downtown South Grand Avenue block, stands the limestone-clad home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, formerly located in scattered headquarters at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The orchestra's corporate arm now occupies 15,000 feet on two floors, an office by Chu + Gooding Architects.
The space was originally meant for nothing more than mechanicals. Nevertheless, the L.A. Phil's executive director, Deborah Borda, was taken by the building's backstage access and keen on consolidating her staff of 100 there. When husband-and-wife principals Annie Chu and Rick Gooding began work two years ago, steel framing wasn't even close to complete.
Some serious concerns had already cropped up, though. Could the space successfully encompass a hierarchy of private, semiprivate, and open offices as well as a boardroom? Would adjacencies be too tight? Could the architects overcome a mess of ductwork, shafts, and steel cross bracing to create a cogent scheme on $75 per square foot? "Could we accommodate the huge amount of filing?" Gooding wondered. (They could—and did.)
Borda's office, at one end of the 168-foot-long axis, is situated for its stage-door proximity. Enclosed offices—nine on the first floor, four on the second—hug one wall. Cross bracing mandates circulation right down the middle, and Chu + Gooding addressed the L.A. Phil's storage needs by installing Antonio Citterio's shared filing system along this main corridor. The spline also anchors 80 of Citterio's Ad-Hoc workstations, for most of the staff. Their open plan creates a "central library-meeting space," says Gooding.
The solution that Chu + Gooding developed is not only pragmatic but also reflects Chu's refined sense of color and materials, subjects she teaches at Pasadena's Art Center College of Design. The architects began with cork flooring in reception, where exposed steel beams flank a reception desk faced in aquamarine plastic laminate. Much of the office's envelope is white, but the architects distinguished select areas with a palette derived from fine art. To initiate a discussion about which colors should be used, Chu + Gooding showed the client paintings by Mark Rothko, Helen Frankenthaler, and Richard Diebenkorn. Borda opted for the dusky quality of Rothko's Entrance to Subway.
Accordingly, Chu + Gooding incorporated tones of deep cocoa brown and coffee gold into custom carpeting whose grid pattern and varying textures provide visual layering. There's movement—underscored by the exposed steel beams—but decidedly no link to musical notation. "So many people would give it their own interpretation. We'd be bound to make a mistake," Gooding explains. Chu chose six similar tints for walls: sky blue, dark brown, coffee gold, waxy yellow, whipped-cream white, and fennel green.
Art again provided the basis for the boardroom's focal point, an eight-panel birch-plywood screen shielding a galley kitchen. This time, the architects' muse was E.J. Marey's drawing Le Mouvement. Cork reappears in two different shades for flooring.
Achieved with drywall and glass partitions and an activated ceiling plane, clad in acoustical panels of wood fiber and cementitious fiberboard, the architecture assumes the quality of a three-dimensional graphic at certain viewing points. "Our way of differentiating ourselves from Frank's building," explains Gooding. And the L.A. Phil is definitely a separate entity, though there's no escaping the link to Disney Hall—which, coincidentally, was originally designed with limestone cladding. The hall's backstage area shares walls with the first floor of the L.A. Phil; the L.A. Phil's second floor looks across a courtyard to the hall's southwest corner. "Yet the two coexist without a sense of the hall being a looming ship," says Gooding. Another measure of the firm's success? "Every time I call the L.A. Phil, someone thanks me."