You've Got Style
HOK's Los Angeles headquarters for AOL sends out a clear,
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 1/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
One of the original go-to sites, AOL has, over the past 10 years, seen its territory invaded by Yahoo!, Google, YouTube, and, of course, MySpace. Established? Sure. Stodgy? Not on a bet. At least that was the substance of AOL's message to HOK. Words in the subject line: "new headquarters, Los Angeles."
The Beverly Hills building, designed by Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects, was originally the home of DreamWorks SKG. AOL currently occupies 65,000 square feet on two and a half levels. The remaining half level houses Madonna's onetime Maverick Records until November, when AOL's 225 staffers will assume full occupancy.
"Branding the building as AOL's posed a chief challenge," HOK interior design director Clay Pendergrast recalls. Tricky, too, was working around the reception rotunda, which bifurcates the plan of the lower two levels. On either side, he'd have to find locations for a full gamut of office and hoteling zones, plus an Internet café and a film studio with its support spaces: three audiovisual rooms, two green rooms, and two crucial hair-and-makeup suites.
Almost half the ground level is devoted to the 8,700-square-foot studio. Despite a bad rap, Beverly Hills does get street traffic, and pedestrians, lured inside, start their site tour at the studio's pre-function room. To make certain they snap to attention in this branded space, Pendergrast led with broad strokes—allusions to the Internet service provider's new citrus-colored graphics and the building's curving forms. Jolts come in the form of the tangerine wool covering a banquette and the equally orange glass tile cladding the convex wall behind.
Color branding plays just as major a part in the Internet café. Suspended from the exposed ceiling, a lemon-drop drywall ellipse serves as a canopy for a horseshoe-shape bar. It's ringed by stools with polypropylene seats in more of that orange. They coordinate with Ron Arad's parabolic Size 10 lounge chairs and Arne Jacobsen's leggy Ant chairs—yep, all in orange. A squirt of shimmery lime comes from the banquette upholstery.
There's lime plastic laminate on cabinetry in the green rooms. (Pun intended.) The shade also shows up on one wall of a corridor. Opposite, paneling of sustainable wheat-board is punctuated by niches backed with acrylic blocks in orange, yellow, and turquoise, glowing with light from concealed fluorescents. The installation is a metaphor, Pendergrast explains: "When AOL sends out information, it's basically in the form of light."
Emblazoned with the AOL logo, deep-orange panels of back-painted etched acrylic ring the circular second-floor space surrounding the top of the rotunda. The dome is tiled with cerulean glass mosaics, transforming an ungainly element into a definite draw, and the clublike vibe is heightened by an LED color show playing out on the ceiling's stretched-nylon louvers. This lounge of sorts features both café tables and chairs—more of Jacobsen's Ants—and fiberglass ModPod chairs fitted with speakers for MP3s.
Break-out areas are a given in any open-office landscape. At AOL, Pendergrast calls them "huddle" rooms. Upholstered chairs with school-style tablets furnish the one right outside the 60-seat screening room—handy for post-film discussions. By the window wall, another "huddle" emits a media-room vibe. Thanks to a flat-screen monitor mounted against a wall upholstered in lime polyester, staff can screen content from the comfort of futonlike Piero Lissoni seating.
These social areas are jazzy and energetic. Meanwhile, office zones are "heads-down," Pendergrast explains. How to make an impact with an exposed ceiling and workstations? He resolved the classic problem with inboard offices: three executive enclosures with cherry-slat walls and drywall lids. "It's fresh and current but not trendy," he says. "No late-'90's dot-com look."