Seeing red at design center

Times Staff Writer

As construction workers laid steel posts from which a bright red building will rise at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, architect Cesar Pelli inspected the progress and talked about how buildings had changed since the great Blue Whale first went up in the 1970s.

Even the new structure’s color -- a blaring, fire-engine red -- would have been a shock in those days, when most buildings were modernist and spare.

The rounded Blue Whale, as it is popularly known, came first in 1975, followed by a green neighbor in 1988. Now work is underway on the long-planned third piece, a sleek structure clad in shimmering red glass.

The first two buildings at the design center were unusual enough for their times, Pelli said, with their wild, post-modern configurations and potent hues, so it’s probably best that this building was saved for last. The unusually shaped, intensely colored building would have been galling to many during the Cold War, when “red” was a synonym for communism, he said.


“This would have been impossible in the 1970s because of the political implications of the color,” Pelli said. “Red is wonderful, though.”

And back then, China -- or Red China as it was often called -- wouldn’t have been able to produce the high-end insulated windows that will cover the building in a red sheath. “Nobody would have thought the Chinese could have competed at making glass when we did the blue and green buildings,” the architect said.

Pelli, whose designs include the skyscraper Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, was also in town to examine a 30-foot model of how the glass skin will look when the eight-story Red Building is complete. The mock-up, he said, was “a piece of reality to make sure everything is right before we go ahead.”

The red glass curtain wall enveloping the $160-million edifice on San Vicente Boulevard just south of Santa Monica Boulevard will be the most complex of the three at the Pacific Design Center, owner Charles Steven Cohen said. “It will have thousands of pieces of glass that are all different sizes,” he said.


Work on the foundation is well underway, Cohen said, and the building should be ready for occupancy by August 2010. Unlike the blue and green structures, which were built to be showrooms for the interior design trade, the Red Building will be offices only. Cohen, a New York developer and landlord, hopes to attract tenants in creative fields -- and they must like red.

“We spent a great deal of time with the glass manufacturers making them do it again and again,” said Pelli, who declared he was finally satisfied with the color, even though it had no official name. “It’s a very beautiful red,” he said, “close to scarlet.”