2022 AIA CA DESIGN AWARDS
Architect: Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects
Project Location: Costa Mesa, California
Photographer: Matthew Millman
An abandoned Los Angeles Times print facility is reborn as a creative office in this 430,000-sf adaptive re-use project. Portions of the once dark, monolithic three-story complex are selectively subtracted to achieve thriving habitability while retaining its industrial past. Subtraction reveals the previously unseen: the high volume of a former press line, or austere steel once hidden by tinted glass. Spaces for machines become spaces for people.
“The design successfully preserves and upgrades; the new interventions are well conceived and executed. The open space and landscape design are particularity strong and additive to the user experience.” – 2022 Design Awards Jury
Selective preservation and intentional growth distinguish this complex adaptive re-use, which utilized nearly every aspect of its previous life. The design celebrates material and organic markers of time—as-is paint chips, rail spurs and conveyor belts and an existing tree placed to grow through the structure itself—hint at history, site and context. The project also reincorporates an existing rail line into a bike and pedestrian trail as part of Orange County’s master plan.
In the spirit of reuse and recycling, a number of mature trees were relocated within the campus to not only preserve what had been, but what was to come. Many of the trees that either still exist or were relocated signify a profound viewer experience, taking advantage of the selective subtraction of the hardscape and building to let in the fresh breath of natural moments. Openings in the loading dock canopy allow for tree canopies to poke through, a poetic intersection of new life with the industrial past.
Given the existing facility’s mass, the goal was to maintain the beauty of cavernous “cathedral” spaces while maximizing efficiency of space. The team worked closely with the structural engineer, evaluating the integrity of the existing structure to understand the most effective ways of creating various openings and new mezzanine levels, selectively removing some elements and preserving others. All milestones included cost estimates to parse the budgetary impact of each move. Cost reduction exercises focused on maintaining design integrity while providing needed spaces.
Every move – the selective removal of concrete panels to allow for light and views, the sequence of each entry, the adjacency of every program element – was modeled and reviewed with daylight and wind simulations. Natural light and access to views also drove liberal incorporation of operable windows and inserted balconies throughout the interior. The Rail Trail provides a scenic walking path right on campus that not only promotes recreation and “thinking while walking” opportunities, but also connects the campus to the great community with the publicly accessible amenity.
Material selection stressed selective subtraction and minimal addition. Glass fills newly-opened corners to accentuate existing elements. Every new material was chosen based on how it would age, embracing the march of time and its residual quirks.
Avoidance of newness for its own sake informed use of thermally-modified pine wood which is both relatively low-impact due to fast growth, will age to echo the original building’s patina.
Three varieties of Radiata Pine decking were used throughout, including the open-air lobby, entry court stairs, park and outdoor decks and seating.
The overall aesthetic vision embraces history and imperfection, patinas and paint chips and all. By incorporating the concept of wabi sabi – the idea of beauty being imperfect and incomplete – the renovation has a texture and character that hints at the past and creates a dialogue about site and context. The project maintains a local history in a region that is still developing a story about its past, present, and future.
Structural elements, meanwhile, celebrate the original facility’s strongest constituent parts, elevating utilitarian steel beams into dramatic spatial framing devices without relegating them to the realm of the decorative.
Such an approach not only anticipates but celebrates the process of material aging and organic growth. An existing ficus tree at the site was transplanted into the open-air lobby, with the expectation that it would grow through all the structures and guardrails, eventually forming a natural canopy.
Resiliency upgrades address two primary building threats: flooding, due to the flat and low-lying nature of the site, and earthquakes. All new structural elements meet current building code requirements for earthquakes, and areas that previously did not have been upgraded to ensure the safety of all occupants and the resiliency of the buildings. With regard to flooding threats, new site grading directs water away from the buildings and into landscaped stormwater retention basins and bioswales.
The factory line and adjacent site based on its sheer monumental scale is rich with opportunities for happenstance interactions as well as quieter moments of discovery and serendipity.
An exterior ‘Atrium’ is inserted into the central press line, providing casual workspace and chance encounters as circulatory paths cross. From certain spots, conveyor treads spanning the former press are visible in their entirety, a vantage point that would have once been mechanically impossible. A ‘Skycut’ slices across the building to create pedestrian paths through the site. A former mechanical penthouse becomes a hideaway rooftop bar. Loading docks and canopy overhangs become continuous back porches – opportunities for reflection, fitness, and collaboration. Leviathan volumes for printing presses become cathedral-like workplaces.
Not unlike a cathedral is a modern variation on stained glass that enjoys its own “golden hour:” a transparent Southwestern-themed color field mural, when sunlit at just the right angle, is projected upwards onto the walls to create the illusion of continuity with the sky above.
Though conceptualized years earlier, the adaptive re-use’s key concepts happen to align with the ideal of a “post-pandemic workplace:” connectivity to nature and amenities, which enjoys the added benefit of natural ventilation throughout. Unique indoor-outdoor spaces at every scale are layered with landscaping and graphic murals and are discovered as one traverses the project. These varied experiences speak to the varied personalities and moods of the occupants.
The Press can serve as a model for other types of campuses with aggregated programs—where a mix of tenants/departments/schools can intersect with each other adjacent to public amenities (like the Rail Trail) and retail (like the Canteen). All set within an reused structure that is extremely porous, flexible and encourages indoor-outdoor interaction.
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