Neighbors of the Wilshire Grand tower have a billion-dollar view — but some complain that they can't enjoy it when sunlight bounces off the nearly completed building's glass surface.
"That is annoying as hell when the light is coming straight through the window at your face," said Jeffrey Hurst, an attorney who works across the street from the architecturally acclaimed skyscraper. "It's nearly blinding."
The Wilshire Grand, the tallest building west of the Mississippi River, has been rising at Figueroa Street and Wilshire Boulevard in downtown Los Angeles since February 2014. The 900-room hotel joins a growing roster of modern reflective structures, such as downtown's Walt Disney Concert Hall, that have been asked to hit the dimmer switch.
EYP Realty, a real estate management firm that owns a building next to the $1-billion project, has filed a protest with the city of Los Angeles, asking that the project's building permit be revoked. The company wants owner Korean Air to stop construction and replace the glass exterior of the 1,100-foot structure, which is scheduled to be finished in four months.
"The installation of the very reflective glass is a clear violation of the conditions of approval for the Wilshire Grand project," Ryan Leaderman, an attorney representing EYP Realty, wrote to the city's Department of Building and Safety this summer.
The department studied the complaint and issued a report last week saying it did not violate city environmental rules in approving the original building permit. Leaderman said EYP will appeal the decision to the city's planning department.
A representative of Wilshire Grand's developer said EYP has failed to offer any details, such as the time of day when the glare is worst and which part of the building is causing the problem.
"We would be willing to work with them, but they have provided no evidence of anything specific," said Lisa Gritzner, a spokeswoman for AC Martin, which is building the hotel tower for Korean Air.
AC Martin consulted experts and reviewed several types of glass before deciding on the material that covers the building, Gritzner said. Representatives from the city's planning department were consulted about the glass chosen by AC Martin, she added.
The fight over the glare shines a light on an increasing problem with modern buildings encased in reflective material.
Workers had to use hand sanders on parts of the stainless steel facade of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2005 after neighbors in nearby condominiums complained about a reflective glare from the building.
In London, a glass-sheathed office building named 20 Fenchurch Street garnered the nickname "the fryscraper" a few years ago because the building was reflecting so much glare onto the streets that pedestrians were able to fry eggs on the sidewalk even on overcast days.
The Vdara Hotel in Las Vegas installed a thin film on 3,000 glass panes on the building's exterior and erected giant poolside umbrellas in 2010 to cut down on the intense reflection of sunlight off the curved, glass-coated structure.
In Dallas, a 42-story residential building began in 2011 to reflect so much sunlight on the adjacent Nasher Sculpture Center that critics said it risked damaging the art inside. After five years of meetings on the problem, no solution has been proposed.
Experts say building glare has become more prevalent because developers are more likely to use new glass technology that controls how much light enters a building. But that technology means more light is bounced away toward neighbors.
Marc Schiler, a USC architecture professor, said computer-assisted designing also makes it easier for developers to create buildings with curves.
"The combination of all of those things means that we live in a world where there are more opportunities for surprises," he said.
In Los Angeles, EYP Realty, a subsidiary of Brookfield Property Partners, operates out of a 41-story building on South Figueroa Street, south of the new Wilshire Grand tower.
In a June 14 letter to Los Angeles' chief code enforcement officer, EYP Realty said the tower's exterior is highly reflective and "creates severe glare and reflective conditions several hours a day." The letter also says that the Wilshire Grand had up to 95 types of glass to choose from and selected "the one with the absolute highest exterior reflectance."
Inside the 725 S. Figueroa St. building owned by EYP Realty, tenants say the glare comes and goes, depending on the time of day and the angle of the window panels on the Wilshire Grand.
Paralegal James Swanson said he and his co-workers are forced to pull the blinds in the 27th-floor break room because of the glare.
"It's a shame because that is such a great view," he said.
A Brookfield Property Partners spokesman declined to elaborate on the problem, offering only a statement that "the safety, comfort and productivity of our tenants, our building staff and visitors to our property and the surrounding area is our top priority."
Gritzner said the Wilshire Grand tower is convex shaped so that the reflection of light off the building's surface is dispersed, not concentrated on any particular area. Already, 85% of the glass exterior has been installed, and construction of the building is expected to be completed in April.
"What they are asking us is to remove all the glass on the building," she said. "There are a myriad of solutions that have nothing to do with removing our glass."
Gritzner added that the project developer has a Facebook page and a Twitter account but has received no other complaints from neighbors or pedestrians about glare from the building.
Dave Balassi, who works in a title insurance company on the second floor of 750 S. Figueroa St., was standing in front of the building Thursday. On some days, he said, the reflection from the Wilshire Grand has been so intense that "it feels like a heat lamp out here."
To read more about the travel and tourism industries, follow @hugomartin on Twitter.
7 p.m. Nov. 17: This article was updated with additional comments from neighbors.
2:05 p.m.: The article was updated to say that EYP plans to appeal the Department of Building and Safety's decision on Wilshire Grand Center's building permit.
12:15 p.m.: This article was updated to elaborate on what the Department of Building and Safety had to say about issuing the building permit.
1:50 p.m.: This article was updated to include the news that EYP Realty plans to appeal the Department of Building and Safety's ruling about the building permit for Wilshire Grand.