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Swept Away
Bold statement chosen for Newport Beach civic center
A sail-like scrim wraps the double-height council chambers.
Courtesy Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

Orange County’s Newport Beach is a resort town known for its marinas and its political conservatism. But when it held an open competition for its new civic center, city leaders ended up picking an unconventional design by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson.

Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, which is best known for creating a luminous cube for Apple’s most prominent store in New York City, presented a compelling case for contemporary design, unfettered by references to Spanish tile or pink stucco: A silhouette clearly inspired by the ocean. The main building has a roof that undulates like a wave, and the adjoining double-height council chambers feature a curved fabric “sail,” a decorative scrim of Teflon-coated fiberglass mesh over a steel frame. The zinc cladding of the council chambers will create a shimmering effect through the sheer material. “It’s a poetic move that becomes their iconic front-door image,” said Mottola.

A new 15-acre park will surround the new civic center. (Click to zoom)

The structure itself is also Southern California climate-friendly. To bring in the bright sun without gaining too much heat, a series of north-facing clerestory windows draws in indirect light. The roof extends on either end in the shape of a broad overhang to shade outdoor gathering areas. Inside, six large bays are designed to be open, flexible spaces that can be modified as city departments grow and shrink over time.

As is often the case with coastal sites, there are severe height limitations, in order to preserve views of the ocean and harbor for the neighborhood on the surrounding bluffs. Much thought was devoted to staggering the two-story building down the slope. And since it is in Southern California, parking requirements were also steep, with 450 on-site spaces required. To save costs, rather than excavate for below-grade parking, a straightfoward, two-story parking garage runs parallel to the city hall. The plan is to cover it with a large hedge, so the garage will appear as the landscaped edge of a park that lies between it and the civic building.

The project also includes a 15-acre park with wetlands restoration to the east of the civic center, which is being designed by Berkeley’s Peter Walker and Partners. An addition to the existing library rounds out all the components of the $100 million project, which is scheduled to be completed by fall 2012.   

Lydia Lee