For the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, Los Angeles, Clive Wilkinson turned on the blue
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 1/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising campus in Irvine, California, is a study in bubble-gum pink: Think pink epoxy flooring in the reception lounge, pink supergraphics on its focal wall, pink customized Verner Panton chairs everywhere. Completed in 2002, the project brought a flush of acclaim to architect Clive Wilkinson. So why is he feeling blue? Because that's the keynote color of his latest FIDM project, which won a 2004 AIA/LA Interior Merit Award.
The training ground for such success stories as wedding-dress designer Monique Lhuillier, the school was founded in 1969. It has since grown to four campuses, the main facility—built by the Jerde Partnership in 1990—being a 180,000-square-foot building in downtown Los Angeles. With an enrollment of 3,700, however, even that wasn't sufficient. And overpopulation wasn't the only problem. The L.A. campus desperately needed a design studio for homework and meetings.
Those needs have now been met by a nearby Standard Oil building from 1926. Its ground floor offered two vacant spaces totaling 9,700 square feet, more than enough room for drafting, conducting meetings and presentations, logging in to FIDM's sophisticated software library, or simply absorbing the atmosphere. "We brought in the spirit of Southern California," Wilkinson explains. That meant sassy interpretations of Pacific surf, David Hockney–esque pools, and—let's not forget—palm trees. Furthermore, the annex's 19-foot ceilings gave Clive Wilkinson Architects the opportunity to experiment overhead.
In the smaller of the two spaces, the 3,300-square-foot west studio, four stiltlike steel poles support a 250-square-foot drywall enclosure painted a shade of Caribbean blue that inspired 'Wilkinson to nickname this lofty meeting room the Wave. It and the studio are connected physically by a steel staircase and visually by furnishings, notably Antonio Citterio tables with plastic-laminate tops and Jasper Morrison stacking chairs with plastic seats and backs.
In the 8,000-square-foot east studio, on the other side of the building's lobby, the Wave's counterpart is an elevated conference room, the aquariumlike Tank. Whereas the drywall Wave is open on two sides, its steel-framed cousin is an enclosed cube of cobalt-blue laminated glass outlined in blue neon. Similar elements include a steel staircase. A steel bridge connects the Tank to a 1,000-square-foot mezzanine. Part lounge, part work space, it's furnished with groups of Stefano Giovannoni's spirited white Bombo stools and tables.
White mixes with pale gray on the ground level, where Wilkinson provided two work options. The more conventional involves runs of workstations by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec and swiveling task chairs by Maarten Van Severen. Then there are the three long tables, their plastic-laminate tops a very Japanese 17 inches off the floor. For seating, Wilkinson designed low benches wrapped in faux fur.
That wintry touch gives way to Southern California sunshine in the east studio's rear lounge. Here, an in-ground "pool" of sunken blue gym mats fairly begs for a Missoni bikini. The surrounding palm-wood platform "deck" is lined with custom chaise longues covered in white automotive vinyl and equipped with 'stands for laptops. Enhancing the outdoor feel, Wilkinson suspended a "sky" above: Imagine the inside of a massive square lamp shade, displaying palm-tree images silhouetted against a cloudless expanse of tropical blue. (The exterior is wrapped in perforated white woven vinyl.)
Aside from the palm-wood platform and the carpeted mezzanine, flooring on both sides of the annex is pebbles embedded in epoxy resin, and ceilings are exposed—meaning that Wilkinson had to address the acoustics issue. He responded with padded focal walls covered in large-scale cotton prints. In the east studio, the wall beneath the mezzanine wears an abstracted cactus pattern in blue and green; near the Tank in the west studio, one wall sports organic forms outlined in black against a white ground.
Together, the annex studios have a capacity of 200. Crowds of that magnitude are rare, but the spaces see plenty of activity at any given time between 7:30 AM and 6:00 PM, Monday through Friday. A workplace? Sure. But for landlocked downtown students, the annex offers a trip to the ocean—without L.A.'s freeway traffic.