Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 6/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
Robert Redford leaves a legacy beyond the Sundance Film Festival, Ordinary People, The Way We Were, and The Sting. Outside moviedom, he's a philanthropist and an environmental activist. Standing as testimony is the Los Angeles office of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Hailed as the greenest in the U.S., the Robert Redford Building has earned a LEED platinum rating of 55 points—as well as acclaim for Moule & Polyzoides, Architects and Urbanists.
Even the Santa Monica location holds intrinsic environmental assets: The city's mixed-use commercial district offers easy accessibility to public transportation and walkable distances to shops and restaurants. And a two-block proximity to the Pacific Ocean makes cross ventilation a natural cooling choice. In other words, says principal Elizabeth Moule, it's about "social engineering, clean air, and compact pedestrian zones."
She would have liked to preserve the existing two-story building from the 1920's. However, its 1970's renovation and most recent incarnation as a pink-stuccoed acupuncture clinic left it an unlikely prospect for world-class efficiency and conservation. Ultimately, the architect was obliged to blend adaptive reuse with virtual rebuilding, inside and out.
Speaking the low-scale, informal language of the neighborhood, the exterior of the completed building challenges the uninformed observer to determine whether it's old or new. (That clapboard look-alike on the ground-floor facade is actually Hardie siding, a fiber-reinforced cementitious product.) Inside, the 15,000-square-foot space is clearly today, with a mix of private offices and workstation zones, two meeting rooms, a library, and a street-front interactive Environmental Action Center open to the public.
To bring daylight deep into the heart of the party-wall building, Moule says, she designed three light wells "marching down the center of the structure." Also clad in Hardie siding, these breezy white-painted areas double as organizing elements and, she adds, "generous places to gather."
In Southern California, though, no interior is complete if it does not connect with the outdoors, so Moule & Polyzoides transformed the roof into a luxurious terrace. Three new 400-square-foot pavilions, built in the beachfront vernacular, accommodate a staff kitchen, a presentation room, and a boardroom.
Photovoltaic roof panels supply 20 percent of NRDC's electricity. And two basement cisterns store rainwater—one for plant irrigation, the other for toilet flushing. The many energy-related sustainability solutions also include operable windows, which reduce air-conditioning needs. Abundant daylight is supplemented by light fixtures with photosensitive dimmers.
To reduce transport pollution, half the construction materials came from within 500 miles. Bamboo flooring, recycled-nylon carpet, recycled-glass ceramic tiles, and rest-room partitions of recycled plastic milk bottles make up a good portion of the palette. Structural steel comprises a minimum of 75 percent recycled metal, some of it old cars and destroyed handguns.
Sustainability characterizes NRDC's furnishings as well. According to Moule, "The most important value was permanence." That, she explains, meant "extending the lives of pieces" by selecting antiques or vintage finds and commissioning items adhering to green guidelines.
Roy McMakin's conference tables and library cabinetry are salvaged maple. Seat belts get a second life as the woven backs and seats of guest chairs. In reception, the custom desk has a counter of Syndecrete, a lightweight composite concrete impregnated with metal casings, wood chips, shells, and glass.
Next to reception, the 1,000-square-foot Environmental Action Center features cabinetry made of forest-certified maple and MDF. Exhibits, designed by Leta Wong Sherman and Tim McNeil, include a global-warming installation with Redford narration, while the cyber-action zone's computer terminals and Alvar Aalto birch stools come courtesy of another Hollywood big gun, Leonardo DiCaprio.