Behind this airy facade, architect Hagy Belzberg and designer Joan Behnke have crafted a work environment for a private equity firm as dramatic as it is green.
Bland modernism alternates with timid historicism along the commercial strip of Beverly Hills, but traffic slows for a new landmark at the busy intersection of Wilshire and South Santa Monica Boulevards. At first sight, the structure resembles a stone vessel overflowing with soap bubbles, which sparkle in the sun and produce kaleidoscopic reflections. Fretted white canopies undulate above like a topping of foam.
This was once a corner building as unremarkable as its siblings, but Belzberg Architects clad the two exposed walls in slumped glass, remodelled all three floors and added a rooftop garden. It is now the headquarters of the Gores Group, a private equity firm, and the interior spaces are as dynamic as the facades.
Smooth limestone clads the original shear walls at the base; the blocks were water blasted to extend the curvilinear forms of the glass, so the whole facade dissolves into motion. Beneath the skin, a thermal barrier shuts out noise, filters light and ensures privacy for the occupants. Buses and trucks pass within three metres of the north face, turning into a kinetic spectacle for pedestrians outside and silent phantoms for those within.
It took 18 months of research and development working with Rayotek and California Glass Bending, two slumped glass producers, to test various thicknesses and come up with the right shape in repeatable panels. The Gores facade comprises three variations, randomly arranged. In the nine-centimetre separation between the flat inner surface and the double outer skin, a layer of polycarbonate serves as a privacy screen, like fritting, allowing the occupants to see out but not be seen. Warm air is evacuated from the inner space in summer and recycled to heat the interiors in winter.
The offices are entered from the alley to the rear. Principal Hagy 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 a skylit stair hall. This pulls natural light into the centre 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: water-bent strips of whitened ash form a continuous arched balustrade that turns and ascends through three storeys. The conference room opening out of the lobby and the top-floor boardroom are walled in glass, as are most of the private offices, to convey a sense of transparency. A bridge over the alley links the third floor to a racetrack plan of glazed offices that overlook a richly planted courtyard atop a five-level parking garage.
Joan Behnke & Associates, an L.A. interior design firm, had done nine previous jobs for CEO Alec Gores and his family, including houses and an airplane. She collaborated so closely with Belzberg that they functioned as a single team. “We produced mood and finish boards, and the architects transformed the rectilinear interior into an organic experience,” says Behnke. “We are designers, not decorators, and we try to speak the language of architecture, integrating it into all of our projects.”
Her sensibilities are evident in every detail, from the lobby’s sculptural chairs, sourced from Gallery Fumi in London, to the subtle tones of the executive floor, and the strategic placement of artworks from California and beyond. The client has conservative tastes and wanted to avoid ostentation; Behnke had earned his trust and managed to allay his anxieties. She convinced him that the acrylic stalactites suspended as a light fixture from the boardroom ceiling were the mirror image of a city skyline. In his own expansive office, a structural I‑beam is cunningly concealed within an undulating plaster ceiling, a concept Behnke borrowed from artisans she had worked with in Sardinia, Italy.
The rooftop garden is a first for a Beverly Hills office building. Concrete pavers alternate with plantings, and comfortable seating accommodates al fresco lunches and receptions. Undulating canopies of white-painted steel cast lacy shadows and echo the profile of the Hollywood Hills. This additional facade can also be enjoyed by the occupants of taller adjacent buildings, enhancing the workplace and contributing to the building’s sustainability. This is one office that staff may be sorry to leave at the end of the day.