Making the grade
Pugh + Scarpa's design for the Los Angeles headquarters of XAP, an Internet resource for college applicants, is entirely worthy of Eric Owen Moss's Backslash building
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 1/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
Sometimes, building a company is rocket science. XAP Corporation, an on-line management resource for college-bound students, is the brainchild of former aerospace whiz Allen Firstenberg. Firstenberg founded the company in 1996, after watching his daughter suffer through the cumbersome application process. Just a few years later, XAP and its 55-strong staff, most under 30, had already outgrown traditional, vanilla quarters in a Los Angeles high-rise. In a radical about-face, Firstenberg relocated to Eric Owen Moss's Backslash building, one of the stunning architectural statements in the Hayden Tract, a 57-acre site that has been critical in revitalizing Culver City. The CEO commissioned Pugh + Scarpa Architecture to ensure that XAP's 20,000-square-foot interior would be simultaneously striking and efficient.
The project came with provisos, however. "All phases of design required approval by Eric," Lawrence Scarpa says. "One of the more stringent constraints was that no element of a tenant's improvement design could significantly touch or interact with the existing architecture. That included mechanicals." By contrast, client-imposed stipulations were nil, excepting provisions for personnel count and private offices.
Completed in four months, for $1,020,000, the design is a "superhighway of activity," to use Scarpa's metaphor. With the public zones and other busy areas situated along the building's front elevation, workers and visitors alike are assured maximum exposure to the namesake slash of windows. Placing the kitchen-cafeteria and the recreation zone at opposite ends of a 165-foot-long spine means that everyone "must walk clear across the space to get to either of these programmatic elements," the architect comments. Distancing the massive cast-in-place concrete reception desk from the entry by almost 40 feet is another device to draw people into the space, he adds: "It encourages visitors to penetrate and interact with forms before making contact."
One expects such spatial deftness from this veteran of the industrial genre. Think Pugh + Scarpa—the firm that he founded with architect-engineer Gwynne Pugh—and there's an instant association with bold constructions inserted into what is now accepted as the new commercial landscape. A 1996 office project in Santa Monica, California, saw an early use of the shipping crate as conference room. The firm created a similarly striking enclosure of canted and folded planes for a production facility in Santa Monica's Bergamot Station complex.
At XAP, Pugh + Scarpa's characteristic cunning manifests itself in a pair of steel-and-plaster ellipses designated as conference room and boardroom. On a macro level, these "sculptural follies," as Scarpa calls them, guarantee that his solution holds its own with Moss's architecture. On closer examination, they reveal a construction counter to convention. Reversing the norm, these lathe structures are raw and exposed outside, while their inner surfaces are finished in smooth plaster. "It's as if the plaster from the inside had oozed through to become textured on the exterior," says Scarpa.
Process, too, bears noting. Pugh + Scarpa first studied the freestanding forms as physical models, then translated them to a computer-generated format for further investigation. Once design, orientation, and relationship to the larger field satisfied Scarpa, his team produced precise computer drawings and E-mailed them to the steel fabricator.
Not content to limit a passion for material exploration to public spaces, the architect created one-off pieces in private sectors as well. The boardroom table is a layered affair with 1/8-inch-thick panels of colored acrylic supported by a steel frame. Workstations, arrayed in a skewed grid to foster employee interaction, combine Homasote panels with powder-coated MDF counters. And, this being Southern California, there's every reason that industrial can also mean earthy: Desks in private offices are ecologically friendly pieces made of Dakota Burl, a composite of recycled sunflower-seed hulls.
PROJECT TEAM: KELLY BAIR; PETER BORREGO; ANGELA BROOKS; MICHAEL HANNAH; VANESSA HARDY; CLAY HOLDEN; ANNE MARIE BURKE; ANNE MARIE KAUFMAN BRUNNER; CHING LUK; CHARLIE MORGAN; TIM PETERSEN; BILL SARNECKY. CHAIR, SOFA (LOUNGE): MODERNICA. CHAIRS (CONFERENCE ROOM): HERMAN MILLER. TABLE: KNOLL. LIGHT FIXTURE: CAPRI THROUGH PRUDENTIAL LIGHTING. CUSTOM DOOR HARDWARE: HYPE ARC DESIGN + BUILD. CARPET: CAMBRIDGE COMMERCIAL CARPETS. CUSTOM BENCH WOODWORK (RECEPTION): JOSEPH E. COOPER. CUSTOM SOFA (RECEPTION): LOJA DESIGNS. SEATING CUSHIONS: BALERI ITALIA. FILE CABINETS: ALLSTEEL. STEELWORK: BANKS WELDING. GENERAL CONTRACTOR: HINERFELD WARD.