FORM on Design: Emerson College’s New LA Outpost

By Tim Braseth

For a special guest post, Tim Braseth takes us on a tour of the new Emerson College campus designed by Morphosis. Image courtesy ULI-LA.

For a special guest post, Tim Braseth takes us on a tour of the new Emerson College campus designed by Morphosis. Image courtesy ULI-LA.

The new $110 million Los Angeles outpost of Boston’s Emerson College by Thom Mayne’s Morphosis Architects hosted a private tour for Urban Land Institute – Los Angeles members on July 10, 2014

Prior to opening the Sunset Boulevard facility, Emerson College leased space in Burbank where students were housed at the Oakwood Apartments. With the opening of the new building, Emerson is able to consolidate its student housing, administrative offices, classrooms, performance studios, screening rooms, audio and computer labs and auditoriums. It’s here where students now complete senior-level coursework and participate in internships in film, television, advertising, journalism and marketing.

The project is unique for clustering both high and low-rise buildings in a mixed use structure (residential, commercial, educational), and incorporates many outdoor conditions that posed unusual challenges to entitlements, permitting and inspections with the City of Los Angeles.

The building is comprised of a series of interlocking elements beginning with three levels of underground and street-level parking and retail space. This is topped by academic facilities in a multi-story free-form structure of glass-fronted spaces overhanging Sunset Boulevard that merge with open-air terraces that double as outdoor amphitheater and central plaza.

Over two hundred students live in co-ed suites in two towers of eight stories each, connected by bridges. Slated for LEED gold certification, the towers use passive cooling systems and operable windows to regulate the interior climate. Sunlight and solar heat gain is moderated by automated louvers which are computer-controlled by a roof-mounted weather station. The open ends of the building admit cooling breezes, with shade provided by the canopy truss. A communal kitchen, outdoor barbecue area, laundry facilities and fitness center bring students together on the terraced plaza, promoting a sense of community not previously possible in the Oakwood apartments.

The north and south tower facades are clad in Kynar-coated aluminum panels in a stack pattern framing the open ends of the cube. East and west tower facades are glazed curtain walls behind the automated louvers. The interior of the cube is clad in a scrim of folded Kynar-coated aluminum panels in 16 different repeating panels creating a dramatic, undulating sculptural effect which has become one of the signature features of the building.

The resulting effect of a hollowed-out cube of monumental proportions containing a jumble of contrasting shapes is reminiscent of Hollywood’s architectural heritage of large, boxy studio buildings containing fantastical sets of complex shapes within, except this time those sets are visible to the outside world. The shapes protruding from the Sunset Boulevard façade, breaking the plane of the cube, can be compared to the aliens bursting from the chests of astronauts in the Alien films. The grand arch effect also is reminiscent of the monumental sets for D.W. Griffith’s 1916 epic Intolerance, which stood a few blocks away and are now replicated in the nearby Hollywood & Highland retail complex.

The attitude of the “Emerson Mafia,” which includes Jay Leno, Norman Lear, Kevin Bright (Friends) and Max Mutchnick (Will & Grace) is best summed up by alum Denis Leary who said “This sucks, it’s so great. I wish I went to school here now.”

Tim Braseth is the founder of ArtCraft Homes. A version of this piece appeared on the ULI-LA’s Web site.

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