Full Speed Ahead
For the Los Angeles headquarters of car-data provider edmunds.com, Studios Architecture kicks into overdrive
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 1/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
If you've got James Bond fever, you probably fancy the Aston Martin DBS that 007 drives in Casino Royale. Researching the roadster online would lead you to edmunds.com, where you would learn that the DB9, the closest thing to the yet-to-be-released Bond-mobile, is a mere $170,000. Fortunately, further surfing on the site yields a 2007 Ford Mustang coupe in the mid-$20,000's.
This prime resource for car data started out as a booklet called just plain Edmunds in 1966. For ease of Web access, thank Peter Steinlauf, who purchased the operation 21 years ago, revamped it, and brought it into the digital age in 1995. What was once a three-person staff in his Los Angeles home office eventually ballooned to 350: Web designers, salespeople, editors, and writers sprawling over several levels in three separate Santa Monica buildings. When a trio of contiguous albeit pricey floors came up in a neoclassical office building nearby, Steinlauf jumped at the chance to keep his beach-centric crew happy. Then he put Studios Architecture firmly in the driver's seat.
Managing principal Chris Mitchell and associate principal Sandra Page Mitchell, husband-wife architects, found themselves facing 90,000 square feet of humdrum law and medical offices—nothing remotely groovy about them. So the Mitchells gutted everything, leaving three vast shells with exposed, fireproofed ceilings and concrete floors. The top and bottom levels are now given over to Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec's Joyn desks for all, Steinlauf included. The middle level functions as hub, simultaneously reception and gathering zone.
"It couldn't be about car photos. That would last maybe three minutes," Chris Mitchell says of the showpiece floor. Instead he played a quick word-association game: What are cars about? Sunset Boulevard, motion, being hip, the Pasadena native recalls responding. This is L.A., baby.
Team Mitchell made its moves accordingly. Setting the tone are a Ferrari-red elevator lobby and entry tunnel with chrome pendant fixtures as round as headlights. No signage needed. Beyond, grand fluid gestures dominate the "great room." Who wouldn't think speedway upon encountering a 60-foot-long curving coffee bar with a tangerine stripe zigzagging down the white Corian top and a fleet of Matchbox cars parked at one end? Similarly aerodynamic, the 35-foot-long reception desk is backed by a white supergraphic swooping across walls painted acid yellow or indigo. And couldn't the red vinyl-covered banquette be the backseat of a vintage car? "My father had a big old Riviera," Chris Mitchell says. He compares the zipped-together components of Ben van Berkel's Circle seating, snaking through the great room, to a black "skid mark."
There's hardly a straight line in the place, except for the angles of a switchback floating stairway. The structure would be purely industrial—nothing more than concrete treads, risers of solid and perforated steel, and balustrades of ½-inch-thick tempered glass—if it weren't for the balustrades' vibrantly colored strips of adhesive film, giving the whole thing the look of a sight-specific installation.
Conventional film, colorless and frosted, ad-heres to the glass fronts of six conference rooms. For complete privacy, employees can retreat to another conference room, this one with an aluminum garage door. But given the nearby attractions, closed-door powwows are rarely drawn-out affairs. Some staffers, in fact, prefer conversation just outside the conference rooms, in a break-out area furnished with five white leather-covered swivel chairs. It's just like Indy 500 drivers who get together, put their feet up, and talk.
Steps away, vending machines are set behind a slatted partition of 18-gauge steel strips, all painted in classic car colors: not only Ferrari's bright red but also Ducati yellow, Shelby Cobra blue, Mercedes-Benz silver, Jaguar green, Lamborghini orange, and humble Ford aquamarine. For a classic deep red, staffers head to the coffee bar on the floor below: There sits an immaculately reconditioned 1948 Cadillac Fleetwood.