Progress: Columbia Square Groundbreaking

Hollywood’s past, present, and future were all on display February 10, 2014 at the official groundbreaking for the Columbia Square campus of buildings on Sunset Blvd. A massive hole in the ground 50-feet deep belied the fact that the actual groundbreaking took place several months ago. As stakeholders convened for the opening ceremony, workers were already bending rebar into place for an elevator core, while two steam shovels continued to dig even deeper. A mountain of dirt the size of a Sochi ski jump attested to their productivity.

It was a graphic reminder of how much time you have to spend below ground to build a 20-story building.  A project of this size typically spends the first six months digging down into the earth, and the next six months just returning to street level.  As the design architect for Columbia Square, collaborating with executive architects House & Robertson and GBC, we were still tinkering with the exterior look of the residential tower while the contractor was laying its groundwork.

During the first few weeks of the excavation, the biggest traffic jam in Los Angeles was the steady stream of dump trucks exiting the site, each with a full dish of Hollywood dirt. Ordinarily, builders have to pay somebody to accept that amount of fill.  But luckily, the folks at Porsche were only too willing to take it off our hands so they could create an elevated racetrack at their 53-acre Porsche Experience Center, slated to open in Carson in December, 2014.

Columbia Square brings to more than $800 million the amount that Kilroy Realty has invested in reinventing this part of Hollywood.  David Simon, Kilroy’s executive vice president, said he hoped its innovative mix of residential and commercial uses, extensive transportation management plan, LEED-certification, and preservation of the original site’s international modernist style would serve as the template for future development in the neighborhood.

CEO John Kilroy, meanwhile, couldn’t stop talking about the project’s “miles and miles of outdoor space” for workers, residents, and visitors alike to enjoy the Southern California sunshine.

While work on the new office buildings and underground parking was still in its earliest stages, significant progress was already visible on the historic 1938 William Lescaze buildings that will remain, in accordance with the site’s 2009 designation as a Historic-Cultural Monument.  Contractors have removed numerous interior walls that contributed to a maze of small rooms.  Renovations to these buildings will result in higher ceilings, more natural light, and the kind of open space that today’s entertainment and technology firms now demand for collaborative work.  Kilroy noted that this trend in real estate was a throwback to the 1920s, an era before the advent of air conditioning, when light, airy spaces were essential for the flow of air, rather than ideas.



Sustainability: GSA Domenici Courthouse Wins SITES Certification

Our re-design of the plaza surrounding a federal courthouse in Albuquerque, New Mexico recently won two-star certification under the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES).  The landscape architecture equivalent of LEED-certification, SITES is a national effort to promote sustainable land design, construction, and maintenance practices.

SITES-certified landscapes use fewer natural resources, generate less waste, and impact the land less than landscape design. Unlike buildings, they also have the capability to give back by cleaning the air or water, reversing climate change, or restoring habitat and biodiversity.

The certification lauded our design’s creative re-use of harvested material—21,000 sq. ft. of charmless concrete sidewalks that were preventing stormwater from infiltrating the ground and replenishing the water table.  We dug up the concrete, cut it into blocks, and stacked them to make seatwalls.  The seatwalls increase the land available for planting, divide program areas of the plaza, and welcome visitors to linger where lawns used to forbid them. The award specifically cited the seatwalls as a “vehicle for promoting the beauty and quality of recycled materials to the design and building communities.”

We also won plaudits for our comprehensive use of rainwater harvesting, bioswales, and cisterns to increase water efficiency.  The original plaza, built in 1988, squandered 250,000 000 gallons of municipal water per month, thanks to its large expanse of lawns and a leaking fountain.  Today, it sips just 20,000 gallons over and above the 46,000 gallons it harvests from rainwater. Our approach also allows filters 95 percent of stormwater runoff for pollutants before they leave the site.

Rooftop solar panels capitalize on Albuquerque’s 300 days of sunshine per year to generate 100% of the electricity needed to power bright, energy-efficient LED fixtures throughout the plaza.  The new plaza also provides a refuge for urban wildlife by replacing non-native plants with drought-tolerant species more appealing to local birds and butterflies.

To put this plaza on the cutting edge of sustainability, we employed ancient traditions. Our rainwater harvesting system is based on Pueblo drainage canals known as acequias. We borrowed another indigenous tradition, the chevron pattern found in Pueblo blanket weaving, to arrange plants according to the amount of water they need.  We used methods as old as the pyramids to stack the blocks for the seatwalls.  And we ripped out water-intensive lawns favored by a more recent generation and replaced them with plants that have survived for millennia in the Rio Grande Basin’s unique climate and hydrology.

Best of all, by weaving together art, ecology, engineering, and cultural history, we returned this public space to the people.  The result demonstrates how a site can be retrofitted to better connect with users, use resources more efficiently, and celebrate the contributions of the federal government to local communities.

The Sustainable Sites Initiative is sponsored by the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin and the United States Botanic Garden. For more information on the criteria used to certify SITES projects, visit www.sustainablesites.org/report.




A Grand New Year

Los Angeles has arrived!  The city long derided as a little more than a loosely linked collection of suburbs proudly honed in on a central gathering place on Dec. 31, 2013, when an estimated 25,000 revelers flooded into Grand Park for the park’s first-ever New Year’s Eve celebration.

Organizers anticipated that maybe 10,000 people would show up for a free program of electronic music, art installations,  brightly lit fountains, and a 3-D multimedia presentation on the side of City Hall. When more than twice that many showed up for the festivities, the food trucks ran out of food and the beer lines snaked through the park.  Minor fracases broke out when fire marshals declared the park at capacity and tried to close it.  But the skirmishes largely ended after the party crashers broke through security lines and joined the celebration.

“We have a really, really good problem,” said Howard Sherman, chief operating officer of the Music Center, which operates Grand Park and helped organize the first annual New Year’s program.  “We hoped this is what it would turn into in years to come.”  He added that the crowd at the “Park for Everyone” truly reflected the dozens of races, ethnicities, and backgrounds that make up the amazingly diverse L.A. metropolis.

“It was amazing to see so many people from so many different parts of Los Angeles all celebrating in one place,” said Brian Retchless, a downtown resident .  “The New Year’s Eve event was an example of the kind of Los Angeles I want to live in.”

(Photos: Grand Park, KTLA, LA Times)



Happy 1st Birthday, Grand Park!

Grand Park marks its first birthday today, and the reasons to celebrate keep rolling in.  The American Planning Association last week named it one of the Great Places in America for 2013.  The annual award recognizes “authentic places [that] have been shaped by forward-thinking planning that showcases diverse architectural styles, promotes community involvement and accessibility, and fosters economic opportunity.”

The award affirms what Los Angeles residents and visitors have already discovered over the past 12 months: a spectacular public park that is creating a nucleus for a city long accused of lacking one.  Attendance at Grand Park has far exceeded anyone’s highest expectations for its first year, says Tony Paradowski, Senior Associate and a lead designer on Grand Park for over six years.

The overwhelming response, says Paradowski, is due in large part to the tireless work of the people at the Music Center, who have been responsible for the park’s seamless operation and the innovative programming that has drawn people downtown from all over Southern California.  Jurors and government workers decompress at the park’s free lunchtime yoga sessions.  The weekly farmer’s market fills the air with the scent of local produce and fresh flowers. Sunday concerts have people dancing in the aisles. And kids of all ages never miss a chance to splash around in the restored fountain.

The park hosts its own birthday party tonight with food trucks and a free concert on the Performance Lawn.  Sprinkles is commemorating the anniversary with special Grand Park cupcakes, available through Oct. 11 at their FIGat7th location.



RCHS and Johnson Fain Selected to Renovate Crystal Cathedral

Our office, along with Johnson Fain, has been selected to renovate the former Crystal Cathedral and transform the 34-acre campus into the home of the Christ Cathedral and Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange.

“The Crystal Cathedral is an established international landmark and is much lauded for its architectural inspiration and iconic stature…Johnson Fain and Rios Clementi Hale Studios have the experience and ability to respect the building’s original design inspiration while creating a fitting and functional home for Orange County’s 1.3 million Catholics,” Bishop Kevin W. Vann said at the 8th annual Orange County Catholic Prayer Breakfast last Wednesday.




Osmar, Maria, and Cat reflect on their summer at RCHS

Osmar, Maria, and Cat share reflections on their summer internship at RCHS! They each left a tremendous impact on our office, and we are so thankful they spent the time that they did with us.

“I am currently a first year student at the USC School of Architecture, and my 11-week summer internship at Rios Clementi Hale Studios could not have been a better head start for my career choice. As a recent high school graduate, I eagerly anticipated the many wonders an architect’s career held, and my expectations were far exceeded while at RCHS.

My first week, I began by working in the model building phase of the Columbia Square project. Immediately, the many trade secrets and dexterous approaches of Ryan Vasquez, the model shop manager, began to unfold. Throughout the model building process, I learned how to interpret project designs on paper and apply them to a physical model. I gained a comprehensive understanding of the design and creative process of projects. And, even more, I automatically began to learn the quotidian life of a true architect.

The routine Monday morning meetings led to great insight of the firm’s current projects and ever interesting “lessons learned.” The weekly design reviews became the ultimate learning experience and was a sneak peek to future models to be built. As a supplement to model making, I dedicated several hours to precedent research of certain projects. Slowly, I began to appreciate the different phases of a project to a greater extent. But even better, the cherry to my sundae summer was the site visits. At site visits, I not only learned the many physical and non-physical components of the architectural constructions but also visualized and understood completely the models I had helped build.  The delicate and precious models of the shop became alive and present to me at construction sites.

My summer marvels did not cease quite yet, however. I faced the unexpected aspect of landscaping and learned how to accurately interpret it amidst the partnering architectural components. As my learning horizon widened, each day I gained a greater sense of inclusion to the RCHS family.  Above all, I learned more than the finesse of model making or the proficiency of a design process, I experienced the entirety of a design culture, one that propones more than quality results but quality making of those results. Thank you RCHS for a splendid summer!” – Osmar Molina

“One of the biggest highlights of my summer with Rios Clement Hale Studios was definitely the people at the company! Everybody was welcoming, interesting and enthusiastic. I never felt like a lowly intern, but always as part of the team. During our site visits, everyone took time to thoroughly explain the projects and answer our questions. During my ten weeks with the company, I greatly appreciated the level of responsibility entrusted upon me. As interns, were free to explore and develop crazy proposals and pursue interesting research avenues for our weekly team meetings. Another fun and important event was the weekly Design Review which is open for all to attend. Each Friday afternoon, a selected project is presented for critique and engaging discussion. Our project was presented during two of the reviews and I was quite inspired about pursuing a career in the design field. It’s been a few weeks since I have finished my internship with Rios Clementi Hale, and school is around the corner, but I must admit that as much as I look forward to school, I was quite sad for the internship to end!” – Maria Sviridova

“I finished my internship with RCHS about a month ago, and now I’m back up at Berkeley starting up my final year of grad school. Although I love being back at school, I’m definitely missing the office and people at RCHS!

For me, the best part of the summer was definitely working on the Stormproof competition with my fellow intern, Maria. The competition challenge was about ‘stormproofing’ cities and communities, and we chose to focus our efforts on the debris basins of Los Angeles. Designed by the Army Corps of Engineers to “catch” the debris flows of LA’s notorious landslides, our research revealed that the collective system of concrete debris basins – amounting to 900 wasted acres of public space — were shockingly inefficient, aging, and wasteful.

Every week Maria and I strategized with an interdisciplinary team of designers to create a new landscape infrastructure that would protect LA in storm events, but also act as a valuable and accessible public space to the community at large. Parting from traditional idea of infrastructure that weakens and breaks as it ages, our new landscape infrastructure uses the energy and material created by storm events to its advantage, strengthening and evolving as a space over time. Hopefully, this helps to re-frame the community’s discussion about disaster protection and public space in Los Angeles.” - Cat Reibel 



Fridays at 5 + Machineous

Our second Fridays at 5 event was a total thematic detour from our first one with Studio Mumbai.  Last month was all about craftsmen in the Indian countryside…this week we heard stories about a man and his robots.  Our guests were Andreas Froech and Denis Grunfeld from Machineous.   Machineous is a custom fabrication and R&D company that specializes in projects that use robotic machining equipment for part making.

Over beer and empanadas, Andreas showed us work their studio has created over the last 4 years while musing about the intersections of art + architecture + fabrication.  When their office opened in 2008, he was able to take advantage of automotive industry fire sales to purchase a few robotic arms. He adapted them for CNC-type operation, and began fabricating some very surprising objects including towers of plastic, wood crystal tables, twisted brick facades, and spaces carved with chain saws attached to robot arms. The robotic arms help with all the repetitive grunt work, but all final assembly and finishing is done by hand.




Field Visit #5: Playa Vista Community Center

For our final field visit, we toured the Playa Vista Community Center construction site, which is a very busy place these days!  This community center will be the second one for the neighborhood, and is the first building to break ground as part of Playa Vista’s Phase II development. The new 25,000 square foot, two-story building will provide a private fitness center and pool deck for residents, as well as other facilities including classrooms, a large meeting room, and a demonstration kitchen.  There will also be a new public ½ acre park directly adjacent to the center.

Currently, the main steel structure is being erected, with significant progress gained each day. The building’s foundation is composed of a combination of grade beams and piles; a total of 88 piles, reaching 50 feet +/- into the ground. The grade beams are additionally used to support the remaining columns, and provide support for the floor slabs.

The impressive structural framing will also support a green roof that meanders through the building’s floor plan. The green roof will be visible in various places throughout the center, creating the feeling of an indoor/outdoor environment. Furthering the indoor/outdoor experience, the building is designed to take advantage of western prevailing breezes, which means it will need almost no cooling or heating.





A+D Museum invited our office to host a one day design-build workshop for kids aged 7-12 as part of their ARkidECTURE event series. Workshops in this series allow kids to explore creative disciplines through a hands-on project created by hosting firms. We had the opportunity to teach kids what it means to be a multi-disciplinary design studio. We started by giving everyone a tour of our office and presented five projects including our building at 639 N. Larchmont, Grand Park, the Center for Early Education, Caltech Childcare Center, and the Playa Vista Community Center. We discussed how architecture, landscape architecture, interior design, graphic design, product design, and urban design tools can come together to tell a story (and create the spaces) in these projects.

We then presented the kids with our design problem: design a PlaySpace that tells a story about the intended activities for the space. The kids were asked to select two actions, such as jumping or twirling. Next, they chose a site condition in which these actions were to take place, such as a snowy day or a sunny day. Finally, they were asked to select at least three design features that they felt would best tell the story of their PlaySpace. These design features included typical urban design, landscape architecture, architecture, interior design, graphic design and product design tools. Everyone was provided with modeling materials, inspirational images of the actions, site condition examples, and design features. RCHS and A+D staff worked with the kids, providing design feedback and model-making advice. After an intensive 1.5-hour model-making session, the kids presented their work to the group.

As they left, participants received a set of postcards showing images of the RCHS projects that were presented in the tour, as well as a colorful snack set gift from notNeutral. See more photos of the day on our Facebook page!


Field Visit #4 Caltech Child-Care Center

We went out to Pasadena on a hot day to visit Caltech’s new child-care center and met with Mike Tramutola (Landscape) and Tom Myers (Architect) who are working through the construction phase with Matt Construction.  They walked us around.  The main entrance of the nursery and day care center is immediately visible and will be welcoming to young children and parents entering the building.   As one walks into the expansive entrance you are oriented toward the interior courtyard’s landscape and the walls begin to frame an abstract view of sky. The entrance ceilings are going to be painted a pale blue that matches the color of the sky, making the space feel accessible, airy, and much like an extension of the outdoor environment.

This is a Design Build construction project.  One of the unexpected “field coordinated design” moments between GC & Architect, occurs at the front desk.   Originally intended to align with the ceiling soffit, during the speedy course of construction the desk had to be re-oriented to avoid conduit lines.   However, its new angled position opened up other possibilities:   a more direct relationship to the entrance, providing a more welcoming experience for those coming into the building.

The outdoor area incorporates learning into design; kids can play in an expansive courtyard space that mimics the surrounding area’s ecosystem and water cycle.  Runoff from the new “butterfly” rooflines is diverted into a landscape designed arroyo, or seasonal creek, that weaves a playful and interactive path through the outdoor courtyard, simultaneously separating and uniting the buildings of the three age groups.