What lies beneath
Something isn't quite as it seems at Tool's commercial-production site in Los Angeles
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 2/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
Got milk? How about Yahoo! or Miller Lite? If you do, chances are that TV commercials influenced your decision. All those commercials, some of the wryest ever to hit the small screen, are the output of Tool of North America, a production company in Los Angeles. Off-camera work for those award-winning campaigns took place in equally edgy Santa Monica environs—designed by director Erich Joiner, the company founder.
Fun and functionality, the workplace's vibes, echo the ethos of Tool. Commercial production is a multiphase, collaborative endeavor in which staff and freelancers juggle casting calls, storyboards, location scouting, editing, and budgeting. Not only members of the production crew but also representatives from the advertising agency and the client company can be on-site at any given time. Therefore, accommodating sheer numbers (up to 80) became a prime program consideration, as was fostering interaction. The setup works like Tool works.
"So many production companies have gone out of business recently. This space gives the feeling that we've been around. 'And will continue to be," Joiner says of the 10,000-square-foot bow-truss building, formerly a plumbing warehouse.
Once Joiner patched the concrete floor, sanded the bricks and timber, and added 10 skylights, he and his staff apportioned quarters in a roughly symmetrical scheme. Front and center is the reception area, which does triple duty as a photo gallery and, during casting calls, an anteroom. Along both sidewalls, Joiner placed runs of offices, their glass fronts supported by a steel beam at the 12-foot-high mark; 11-foot stretches of steel hardware stabilize the 1/2-inch-thick glass and prevent it from bowing. Office furnishings combine the refined (Arne Jacobsen chairs) and the ad hoc. Desks are nothing more than varnished folding tables; storage units are basic maple bookshelves.
"We needed just a few semi-secluded spaces and private offices," says Joiner, who eschewed personal work space for himself. "The remainder is common areas—no place to run, no place to hide." A staff kitchen occupies a rear corner. Along the back wall, signature pieces by Le Corbusier, Eero Saarinen, and Charles and Ray Eames appoint a lounge. Its fireplace adds coziness; Joiner's bare-bulb pendant fixture provides whimsy.
Running down the center is a concrete spline anchoring a row of folding tables equipped with fluorescent tubes and Aeron chairs. These bare essentials serve the needs of freelance production crews.
On either side of this island 'lies Tool's real pride and joy—besides $40 million in annual billings and a collection of Effie, Clio, and Cannes commercial-film awards. These particular objects of affection are two 15-by-26-foot patches of sod. . .and what's beneath them, namely a pair of subterranean conference rooms. Building the 450-square-foot spaces entailed four weeks of excavation, a 12-foot-deep retaining wall, and 24 cubic yards of poured concrete.
Joiner designed the conference rooms' tables of steel and glass, chose Eames Soft Pad chairs, and installed audiovisual equipment in a wall surfaced in zebrawood. Walls clad in mohair-covered sound-soak panels allow preproduction meetings to stretch to four uninterrupted hours, rendering the bunker analogy apt in both literal and figurative applications.
Got light? (It's the obvious question.) The rooms' sod roofs are raised 2 feet above the warehouse floor, and steel-framed clerestories provide ambient light to supplement illumination from Joiner's bulb pendants.
Similarly dramatic features can be found in Tool's other outposts, which Joiner has also designed. The New York office's long, narrow space is a winter wonderland of icy steel and snowy marble. And a location in Torrance, California, is still under construction, but Joiner promises a white poured-epoxy floor "like an ice-skating rink." Clearly, the Southern California sunshine must be getting to him.