The Motion of the Ocean
At the Clive Wilkinson-designed Los Angeles headquarters of Maguire Properties, the tide has truly turned.
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 2/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
For the past 40 years, developer Robert Maguire has been a prime mover and shaker in Los Angeles, building I.M. Pei & Partners's U.S. Bank Tower in 1989 and currently redeveloping the mixed-use Park Place. But it was unexpected for him to make a major real-estate move of his own, decamping from downtown L.A. to beachside Santa Monica. Stranger still was his about-face vis-à-vis design—from traditional to uncompromisingly cutting-edge, courtesy of Clive Wilkinson, one of the liveliest proponents of provocative office design today.
"The call came out of the blue," says Wilkinson, who happened to be working on a project in New York when the phone rang. Back in L.A., he found the 14,400-square-foot fourth floor of a new building by Moore Ruble Yudell Architects & Planners—and a book on surfing. The book was a present from Maguire, a surfing enthusiast who knew that the sport has long been Wilkinson's chief source of inspiration.
Pragmatism drove the no-nonsense plan formulated by Clive Wilkinson Architects. The corners of the floor plate house Maguire Properties's four most senior executives; that includes Maguire himself, who has a private terrace as his biggest perk. Plus, his credenza is the flame red of the corporate logo, in lieu of the white his employees get. Glassed-in offices for seven additional executives hug two window walls, while workstations line another one. Bookending the plan's 125-foot length are a pair of conference rooms.
And that's where the straightforward part of the landscape ends. Upping his own creative ante, Wilkinson went to town—or dare we say the beach—making waves with grand gestures. The big kahunas are definitely the two conference rooms, both enclosed by canted, frameless planes of ¼-inch-thick tempered, laminated glass. The glass walls surrounding the larger room, up front, are different shades of bottle green; the smaller room, at the rear, is two-tone aquamarine. Conference tables feature a surfboard-shape top of shiny white resin-finished fiberglass, set on a pedestal clad in plastic laminate.
Staying with the surf-culture metaphor, a creamy-white textured floor recalls a scrupulous raked beach. Wilkinson calls it a quartz carpet: a seamless surface of poured marble aggregate. "It's one of the very few materials that can achieve a curve," he says. He made his point by sweeping the aggregate upward to form the bases of the reception area's desk and banquette.
Far more refined than surfer-dude slang, the pervasive beach vocabulary involved not only pale or transparent materials but also, Wilkinson explains, "two variations of curved shapes, expressing the extremes of the motion of water." In white drywall, no less.
The most dramatic forms, in varying sizes and shapes, occur around the perimeter of the two conference rooms. Look quickly, and you might think that the shapes pierce the glass panels. In fact, the glass was cut to fit into channels incised in the drywall forms, which are supported by internal steel tubes drilled into a steel deck beneath the floor surface. That's precision craftsmanship at its (practically invisible) best.
There's gentler surf at the workstations. Antonio Citterio's Ad Hoc models are separated by drywall panels that rise on a curve to crest at 5 feet, a height calculated with an eye toward virtually unbroken views. In addition, the rhythmic swells connect visually to the amorphous floating ceiling, which plays hide-and-seek with exposed ductwork.
If the end product of the drywall forms is eye-boggling, the process behind them is exceptional. Wilkinson constructed full-scale CNC-milled foam mock-ups on location, fine-tuning them with cut lines in black Magic Marker. Designing the complex shapes and determining the sight lines, the architect says, would have been impossible in two dimensions. "Luckily," he adds, "the client elected to go for it, because the process was critical." What appears so simple and so tightly edited is actually Wilksinson's most complex project to date.