Architect Frank Gehry, internationally recognized for his swashbuckling designs, has turned his talents on a comparatively demure new office building under construction in El Segundo.
The designer of Walt Disney Concert Hall has conceived a one-story office structure reminiscent of former industrial buildings common in El Segundo that are increasingly being repurposed as offices for businesses in creative fields.
So-called creative office buildings, usually created by upgrading old structures that have outlived their original purpose such as manufacturing, are the darlings of today’s real estate market and often command higher rents than glitzy skyscrapers do.
The $50-million building in El Segundo with one big floor containing 80,000 square feet is intentionally unassuming, the architect said in a videotaped interview.
“It’s not architectural in the sense that you are making an architectural statement,” Gehry said. “It is really creating an environment that energizes and promotes interactivity in a less formal way.”
Ascend, as the building is known, is the first that Gehry has designed for his longtime friend Larry Field, the founder of Beverly Hills real estate development company NSB Associates Inc.
The men have been close for more than 40 years, when both were starting their careers in Venice and Santa Monica, said Anthony O’Carroll, vice president of NSB.
NSB is erecting Ascend at the intersection of Utah and Douglas avenues, where it will be the sixth building in a creative office complex NSB fashioned among former Xerox research and development facilities.
NSB considered trying to renovate two old buildings on the site, but knocked them down when the famous architect entered the picture.
“When we had the opportunity to work with Frank Gehry, we decided to pursue ground-up construction,” O’Carroll said.
While Ascend will share some traits such as high ceilings with other open-plan offices in the neighborhood, it will have some striking differences.
Commonly such buildings are like islands surrounded by parking lots. Ascend will effectively be on stilts, standing over 280 ground-level parking spaces and nearly filling the boundaries of its lot.
It will open onto 16,000 square feet of outdoor balcony patios and be illuminated by multiple windows and skylights.
“We had the freedom to break from a traditional warehouse in the sense that they’re pretty much boxes with no windows,” said Gehry’s son Sam Gehry, an architect who is also working on the project. He spoke in a videotaped interview.
The firm Gehry Partners is based in what used to be such a traditional warehouse, a former industrial BMW facility in Playa Vista that Frank Gehry and Field bought together about 15 years ago.
Gehry redesigned the building and created a wide-open workplace under a cavernous ceiling that would become a model for creative offices. He said he got the idea for open offices from artist friends who made studios out of former industrial buildings.
“Of course they were only one or two people but, when you bring a group of 20 or 30 people in, it changes the equation,” Frank Gehry said. “It does create some new ideas … that just happen serendipitously.”
Gehry also designed the Facebook campus in Menlo Park, Calif., that was heralded as having the the largest open-floor-plan office in the world when it opened in 2015.
He has two major projects for different developers yet to start construction in Los Angeles: the massive Grand Avenue Project of condominiums, apartments, shops, restaurants and a hotel on Bunker Hill downtown, and a residential and retail complex called 8150 Sunset at the corner of Crescent Heights and Sunset boulevards in Hollywood.
El Segundo, which suffered from high office vacancies when the aerospace-defense industries concentrated there contracted after the end of the Cold War, has emerged as a creative hub in recent years.
The city is also home to numerous corporate headquarters such as Mattel, DirecTV and media company Internet Brands, said real estate broker Mike McRoskey of JLL, who will lease Ascend for NSB.
Rent has yet to be determined, he said, but recently renovated creative buildings in El Segundo typically lease for about $3.25 per square foot a month. Ascend is to be completed by the end of the year.
NSB owns or manages about 2.5 million square feet of commercial space, mostly on the Westside, O’Carroll said. Among its tenants is Google, which rents four NSB buildings in Venice.
El Segundo now stands to attract more high-profile firms, he said. “This project is a kind of a vote of confidence in that town.”