Thinking Inside the Box


Many companies ship their products in large steel containers. Not many companies conduct business meetings inside the corrugated steel boxes.

The exception to the rule is Reactor Films, a Santa Monica production company that specializes in commercials and music videos. The tour de force of the firm's interior is a shipping container that architectural firm Pugh & Scarpa has artfully converted into a conference room.

The container/conference room looks quite different from the containers commonly seen atop freight trains and cargo ships. For one thing, the Santa Monica-based architects shortened it from 30 feet to 20 and widened it from about 8 feet to 15. They also wrapped it in plate steel, providing a new sliding door fabricated from a discarded container wall, and they replaced the ceiling with transparent Lucite.

In the simple, loft-like space of Reactor Films, the densely detailed container looks like a ceremonial object--the sarcophagus of an ancient king, perhaps. It sits on two concrete piers; visitors enter the room by a cantilevered concrete stair that seems to hover in the air.

For architect Larry Scarpa, use of the shipping container was an exercise in giving new interest to a commonplace object by changing its surroundings. He quoted a statement by architect Robert Venturi: "Familiar things seen in an unfamiliar context become perceptually new as well as old."

Reactor Films principal Steve Chase said he had asked the architects simply for an industrial-looking interior. "I wanted it clean and airy, with white paint and steel and concrete," Chase said. "It's just my personal bent."

Otherwise, Chase said, he gave Scarpa free rein. The final product is provocative, judging by the reactions of passers-by. Many who see the conference room through the front window stop and press their noses to the glass, Chase said.

"Some people ring the doorbell and ask, 'What do you sell?' or 'What do you make?' " he said. Far from being annoyed, Chase interprets those responses as a sign of the design's success.

"My business is about style and presentation and fashion," he said. "For creative people, the world is very much based around those values. It is very important for us to have a very stylish edge."

Indeed, in creative fields such as film production and advertising, a firm's interior design can symbolize both the sophistication and the level of taste of the company.

"Our space has to be as good--as cool--as theirs," he said, referring to his colleagues and rivals in film and advertising. "After all, presentation is everything."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World