Driving along Wilshire towards its intersection with Santa Monica Boulevard, one is distracted from the usual backup of traffic by a most unusual building. At first glance it appears disturbingly assertive: a shiny bauble shoehorned into the inept historicism and generic modernism at the edge of Beverly Hills’ Golden Triangle. The glass facades feel puffed up, like a cluster of soap bubbles and capped by a lacy, undulating canopy. However, it’s unwise to rely on first impressions. Never judge a book by its cover, or dismiss a party guest who may be talking too loudly and wearing too bright a jacket, but turns out to be the most interesting person in the room. So it is with the Gores Group offices: a model of invention and sustainability.
Belzberg Architects remodeled 9800 Wilshire for the private equity firm, creating the most innovative skin, interior, and roof garden of any commercial building in Los Angeles. Its third floor is linked by a bridge spanning an alley to another suite of offices atop a new six-level parking structure on South Spaulding. “We covered the two facades in bubble wrap, to create performance patterning, activating the surfaces with the reflections of moving traffic,” said Hagy Belzberg. “In addition, it’s a thermal barrier that shuts out noise, filters light, and ensures privacy for the occupants.” Buses and trucks pass within ten feet of the north face, and they are turned into a kinetic spectacle for pedestrians and silent phantoms for those within. Smooth limestone clads the original shear walls at the base, and the stone was water-blasted to extend the curvilinear forms of the glass, so that the whole facade dissolves into motion. The former CAA Building (now occupied by Sony) is a sensuous sweep of travertine that Michael Ovitz commissioned from I.M Pei, but it has worn rather badly, and now looks drab beside its new neighbor.
It took 18 months of R&D with California-based glass company Pulp Studio to test different thicknesses and come up with the right shape in repeatable panels. The Gores facade comprises three variations, randomly arranged. In the 3.5 inches of separation between the flat inner surface and the double outer skin is a layer of polycarbonate that serves, like fritting, as a privacy screen. It allows occupants to see out but not be seen. Hot air is evacuated from the inner space in summer and recycled to warm the interiors in winter.
The offices are entered from the alley to the rear. Belzberg and project architect Cory Taylor retained much of the existing steel-framed structure, but punched out a central void for a lofty reception area and skylit stair hall, which pulls natural light into the center of the building and serves as a social condenser that fosters interaction between staff working on different floors. The staircase is treated as a sculpture that mimics the fluidity of the exterior. Water-bent strips of whitened ash form a continuous arched balustrade that turns and ascends through the four stories and frames a glimpse of a rooftop tree. The conference room opening out of the lobby, and the top-floor boardroom are walled in glass to convey a sense of transparency, as are most of the private offices. Across the bridge is a racetrack plan of glazed offices that open onto a richly planted courtyard that convey a sense of rus in urbes. Joan Behnke selected furnishings that give the interiors a residential feel, and made good use of the firm’s contemporary art collection.
The roof garden is a first for Beverly Hills, and Belzberg had to fight for six months to secure a waiver on the absurd regulation that allows only service equipment. A new roof, reinforced to support a greater load and conceal ducts, was installed. Concrete pavers alternate with plantings and seating for alfresco lunches and receptions. Undulating canopies of fretted white-lacquered steel cast lacy shadows and echo the profile of the Hollywood Hills. It’s an additional facade that peeks down to the street and can be enjoyed by the occupants of taller buildings. Landscaping enhances the workplace and contributes to the sustainability of the building. Hopefully the city will drop its irrational prohibition and encourage others to emulate Gores.