In the Works: Pacific Design Center’s Red Building
CHARLES S. COHEN Developing a Living Museum
All of L.A. is well acquainted with the “Blue Whale”. Even if you don’t know it— you know it. It’s the mammoth, six-story, blue structure that lords over the intersections of Melrose and San Vicente. It, along with its nine-story green partner to the north, is what we have all come to know as Pacific Design Center. Sitting on the 14-acre West Hollywood lot, the two buildings combined make up for more than 1.2 million square feet of space that have come to exemplify design excellence in Southern California.
And soon the Blue Whale and its cohort, the PDC’s “Green Building”, will have a third color to add to the palette; a 400,000 square foot “Red Building” is to break ground at the beginning of next year. The red, glass-clad complex of offices and parking will be the third and final building for the PDC. Owner and Developer Charles S. Cohen is poised to have the vibrant building’s doors opened for business by 2009.
Developing successful real estate is no new trick for Cohen, who heads Cohen Brothers Realty Corporation, a New York-based company that owns and manages more than eleven million square feet of premiere office and showroom space in L.A., Manhattan, Houston and Florida. With the Red Building, Cohen hopes to underscore the success of the PDC and turn a few heads while doing it. “It’s going to be a spectacular office building, one that will set a standard for many, many years to come,” says Cohen confidently from his Pacific Design Center office. “What we have done is made an office building that will work, that is attractive, and that has a manageable floor size.”
The innovative building, whose glowing red appearance falls somewhere between a ship’s hull and a Legoland fantasy, will feature two state-of-the-art office towers atop an enclosed parking structure that will be capable of accommodating 1,500 cars. And—as with the rest of the PDC—comfort and efficiency is imperative.“We spend more time today then ever before in our offices,” asserts Cohen.“So you see materials in offices that you used to just see in the home. A lot of the elements that were strictly residential have now crossed over into the office environment.” To aid in this softening of the hard-edged office, both towers will feature sky lobbies that are to overlook some- thing of an oasis—a meticulously landscaped palm court that offers expansive views of all of West Hollywood and beyond.“You want to be surrounded by elements that stimulate you. When you’re sitting in a spot that gives you pleasure, your work is going to succeed more because of it. Our environments allow us to achieve our potential.”
In terms of the PDC’s potential, Cohen says that there is no one element that is responsible for the center’s rebirth over the past few years.“It’s the combination of all the elements that have led to the renaissance,” he says, citing the presence of Wolfgang Puck restaurants and a branch of the Museum of Contemporary Art as giving the PDC the accoutrements of a cultural destination.
Now, Cohen looks forward to ushering in the cherry atop San Vicente and the PDC’s newest beacon, the Red Building. It’s “a defining office building for this time and place,” he beams.
Designing Spectacle with Flair.
Charles S. Cohen isn’t the only one red with excitement—79 year-old architect Cesar Pelli is equally keen. The completion of Pacific Design Center’s new ruby edifice will mark the end of a three-decade journey for the world-renowned Argentinean.
While currently based in New Haven, Connecticut with his firm Pelli Clark Pelli Architects, Cesar’s work has spanned the globe. September 15th marked the opening of Pelli’s most recent opus, the magnificent Orange County Performing Arts Center right down the 405 in Costa Mesa. Clearly, the lively Pelli is no stranger to Southern California.
Raised and schooled in Tucuman, Argentina, Pelli migrated to Los Angeles— via the University of Illinois—in 1964. In 1968 he began his tenure with Gruen and Associates, and it was there that he would begin his lengthy voyage with the PDC, which launched construction of the colossal Blue Whale in 1971. In 1977, a few years after the Whale’s completion, Pelli packed up his things, bid L.A. adieu and joined the Ivy elite as Yale’s dean of architecture.
Pelli’s successes continued to grow in New Haven but, when the PDC called in the mid-eighties, Mr. Pelli was happy to sign on and add to his original work. The addition was not as easy as he anticipated, though. “When we built the Blue Building, we thought that that was going to be a solitary element forever; it was designed to be conceived as a form complete in itself. So, the Green Building was a very difficult thing to do,” he comments.
But he maintains that all the various changes that have altered the face of the PDC over the past thirty years have been instrumental in keeping the vitality of the complex. “If you look at the old photographs when the Blue building was all alone, it was not nearly as inviting—not nearly as large and complex or as imposing or as fantastic as it is now,” he says.
Pelli’s architecture is what he considers an architecture of response. Of the Red Building’s inception, he explains, “We are very responsive and responsible architects.This was a case where the needs and requirements of this building were such that they should be colorful and eye catching.” And so they are. It’s impossi- ble to drive down San Vicente, down Melrose, or even hike up Runyon without being very aware of the presence of Pelli’s handiwork.With a warm, liberal laugh, he says with great satisfaction, “If you’re driving down San Vicente you will never miss them. Even if you’re having an argument with your wife, these buildings will catch your eye and you will know you are going by the Pacific Design Center.”
The project’s completion date is a day that Pelli speaks of with the zeal of a car-happy teen just weeks away from his sweet sixteen. “Seeing the building finished and occupied is the most gratifying. Until it is occupied, it has not really come to life,” he says, pausing pensively.“Because architecture is really about people. Seeing people enjoying and living and interacting and talking and having drinks—that to me is sheer joy.”
Pictured: A palm-lined courtyard promises to offer open, public space to West Hollywood. Images courtesy Pacific Design Center