Nokia Calling

Nokia Calling

John Edward Linden

No matter where you were in Los Angeles on the night of October 18, it was difficult to miss the opening of the Nokia Theatre. Not only did the building glow brighter than every other building in downtown, but dozens of lights spun deliriously into the sky, putting any klieg-lit premiere in Hollywood to shame. The sleek building is the first completed building at L.A. Live, the massive residential and entertainment corridor taking shape in the blocks adjacent to the Staples Center, in the South Park neighborhood.

When completed in 2010, the 4-million-square-foot L.A. Live will also include the 2,400-seat Club Nokia venue, corporate office space for Herbalife, studios for ESPN, a Grammy museum, and a flurry of dining and entertainment tenants. A 54-story tower designed by Gensler will serve as the anchor hotel for the convention center, including residential units, a 123-room Ritz-Carlton and an 878-room J. W. Marriott. AEG, the sports and entertainment corporation that also owns Staples Center, is serving as developer for the project, which is estimated at $2.5 billion. Berkeley-based ELS Architecture designed the 260,000-square-foot, 7,100-seat Nokia Theatre. The 40,000-square-foot plaza surrounding the theater was designed by Rios Clementi Hale Studio of Los Angeles.

Designed to complement the Staples Center, the Nokia’s exterior uses a similar palette of materials, including metal panels, concrete, and glass, which will in turn be referenced in other elements at L.A. Live. Beyond the drama of a three-story glass-fronted lobby buzzing with LED panels, the interior of the theater itself is understated, almost unfinished, meant to be a neutral backdrop for the performers (it’s described by the designers as the “biggest black box in the country”). The theater blends the raw energy and high-end production capabilities of larger venues—the stage measures 14,000 square feet, one of the largest in the United States—with the intimacy of a concert hall. “No seat is further than 220 feet from the stage,” says ELS principal Kurt Schindler. “Seating is designed with a comfort level that exceeds an arena and approaches a performance theater.”

More important to the exterior are the throbbing LED panels that plaster the building, giving it that healthy glow. These had to be distinctive from the air, as the Nokia-Staples complex will serve as the centerpiece of the “blimp shot” for broadcasting events. A similar consideration had to be made for the plaza, where an elegant graphic paving pattern lends richness for television cameras and familiarity on a human scale, said Bob Hale, partner at Rios Clementi Hale, alluding to more than 15 residential towers completed or under construction within walking distance of the plaza.

“For certain events it will be the center of LA, but on a day-to-day basis it’s the town square for that part of South Park,” remarked Hale, who also said that developers would like to bring a greenmarket to the plaza as just one of its many uses, from red carpet arrivals to cultural festivals. For special events, the plaza itself can convert into an entertainment venue, aided by an electronic infrastructure that allows “plug and play” audio visual capabilities, and the six towers, which can further support filming, projection, or performance space. The plaza is flanked by landscaping, including planters that provide places to sit and gather while shaded by canopies of plane trees. Rios Clementi Hale’s design will continue to be implemented to visually unite the entire L.A. Live complex.