LEVER Architecture, the Portland-based design firm whose portfolio of timber buildings has made waves in the Pacific Northwest, has recently put down roots in California, a state that is only beginning to explore the potential of cross-laminated timber (CLT) construction. With its newly opened office in Los Angeles, LEVER has recently broken ground on a 145,000-square-foot office building in L.A.’s Chinatown at 843 N Spring Street, commissioned by Santa Monica-based developer Redcar Properties. Once completed next year, it will be among the first major CLT office buildings in the city, and California by extension.
As an adaptive reuse project, the shell of a single-story commercial building that has been on the site for three decades will be transformed into a string of retail pods on the office building’s ground floor, which the firm anticipates will be occupied by businesses that reflect the cultural history of Chinatown. The decision to devote a significant amount of space to the public was informed by the building’s proximity to the Chinatown Metro Station across the street and the neighborhood’s overall commercial resurgence in the last few years. Standing just under 75 feet, soaring compared to its neighbors, the building will become one of the tallest CLT office buildings in the city while still abiding by the standards of the 2021 International Building Code (IBC) for the state.
To account for the steep slope of the site, the building is split into two volumes to make room for a tiered vertical garden courtyard at its center designed by James Corner Field Operations, the international landscape and urban design firm. Given Chinatown’s temperate climate, LEVER and Field Operations worked together to develop a creative environment that weaves the office spaces and the outdoors through several open-air circulation spaces, a rooftop deck, and generously sized balconies overlooking College Street. “The new development will provide a unique office environment for next-generation creative tenants,” the team wrote, “while offering the community a public landscape experience in a high-density urban setting.”
The building will continue the firm’s tradition of materially expressive design by employing a novel hybrid structural system developed by LEVER that combines 5-ply CLT with a concrete slab and exposed steel columns. The interior spaces will be bathed in natural light and clad in exposed timber panels to imbue the office spaces with a warm aesthetic. As one of only a small handful of CLT structures currently being built in Los Angeles (including the Alvidrez, a 14 story supportive housing project designed by Michael Maltzan Architecture for the Skid Row Housing Trust), the building signifies a promising new method of construction for the city’s near future. Currently 30 percent through construction, the project is scheduled to open to the public on July 8th, 2022.