Environment HONOURABLE MENTION #1
Work title: Post Post-War
This project proposes subtractions to postwar towers in Los Angeles. The intentions of the project are to expose the spatial possibilities of the existing structural frames and to develop an aesthetic of subtraction to rival new construction. While these buildings were built near the end of architecture’s faith in a universal grid, this project aims to appropriate and reconfigure the grid to generate spaces of surprise and differentiation.
Los Angeles Typology
While Manhattan produced a plethora of glass-and-steel towers during the postwar period, Los Angeles deployed a different building type in the 1960s and 70s -- the exposed concrete frame tower. Wherever clusters of density exist in Los Angeles, such as along the Wilshire Corridor or in Downtown, this tower type appears. Built in a range of scales and construction quality, one could say this is one of the most characteristic building types of the Los Angeles area. Although interest in LA vernacular types has often addressed either residential architecture or low-rise strip malls, it is time to look at these towers, especially as they are approaching their 50-year obsolescence. Facing either demolition or renovation, many of these towers are in excellent condition, with solid construction that could support another programmatic incarnation.
Amenities over Optimization
Although structurally robust, these buildings are programmatically obsolete. As commercial towers, their interior spaces no longer meet the requirements for Class A office space because of their low dropped ceilings, monotonous partitions, lack of natural light, and absence of amenities. When these towers were built, the organization of office space was determined almost exclusively by the optimization of available floor space, even if it meant dark, undifferentiated fields of cubicles. But the expectations for commerical office space have shifted in the last half-century, with an emphasis on a greater diversity of spaces, more natural light, access to greenery, and built-in amenities such as cafes and stores. The structural frames of these towers contain that possibility, but they need to be deleted and reconfigured to create moments of exterior space, double-height spaces, and increased exposure to light and air.
Appropriating the Grid
With programmatic transformation in mind, these proposals explore the spatial possibilities of exposing the grid of the concrete frame. Many of these towers feature highly classical organizations based on nine-square grids or four-square grids. Such subdivisions dictate the location of key structural columns and are therefore essential in guiding any process of subtraction. These design proposals explore how a subtractive process could both integrate and transform the classical order of the existing towers by connecting key vertices into irregular polygons. Such connecting lines produce a stack of primitive shapes that both emerge from and defy the existing order.
Unlike the curtain-wall towers so common in New York, these buildings have load-bearing concrete facades that form their external image. Not only does this broadcast the grid visually, but it also shifts the site of exploration from the free plan/free facade to the free section. Since the grid of the facade cannot change, the space between the facade and the cores forms the zone of freedom. These propositions explore how the concrete slabs can be strategically deleted to create double-height spaces and a differentiation between ordered and free space in the plan. Where the slabs are deleted, either glass floors rest on top of the joists but or the joists float free, enabling double-height spaces where the grid multiplies and expands around the viewer. These double-height spaces form spectacular sites for conference rooms and cafes. The moments of subtraction slice across the plan, between significant structural columns, to open up zones of communal space in contrast to the more ordered spaces of cubicles and offices.