Architects Rios Clementi Hale Studios transform Mini-Mall into a design laboratory.
The design firm has been stretching the definition of “architecture firm” for more than 20 years. Already doing urban planning, architecture, landscape, interiors, product design, graphics, and branding, the Los Angeles firm—with its new move to larger space—is building on its talent as retailer/wholesaler by becoming landlord and developer of a 17,000-square-foot mixed-use center on the city’s active Larchmont Boulevard.
“The move to Larchmont means larger space for our design operations, and an opportunity to contribute to a diverse, lively part of Los Angeles,” says Mark Rios, FAIA, FASLA, partner and founder of Rios Clementi Hale Studios. The firm, which has more than doubled its staff in the past three years, is working on several of LA’s “mega-projects”: Grand Avenue Civic Park, NBC Universal Studios, Century City Greening Plan, and Nokia Plaza at LA Live! Other recent projects: The California Endowment, Westfield Century City Dining Terrace, Mark Taper Forum renovation, Austin City Limits, Woodbury University Studio Building, and many private residences.
Comprising 12,000 square feet of studio space on both levels for the firm’s 50+ employees, 639 North Larchmont Boulevard will also be home to the 1,000-square-foot notNeutral retail flagship store, as well as the product company’s design and wholesale operations. notNeutral was established by Rios Clementi Hale Studios in 2001 to design and produce furniture, tableware, vases, pillows, and other home accessories. Additional ground-floor retail spaces will be occupied by a salon, as well as yet-to-be-named café and retail shop. “Our goal is to have a mixture of harmonious retail operations that promotes great lifestyle and design,” says Julie Smith-Clementi, IDSA, a partner of the firm and CEO of notNeutral. Rios Clementi Hale Studios will move in this December, with notNeutral opening its doors in January 2008.
The former mini-mall is being updated and streamlined to fit in with the sophisticated streetscape. “The existing building, which sported design styles from Spanish Revival to Art Deco, was designed to be a corner mall, but is actually not on the corner,” notes Frank Clementi, AIA, AIGA, partner of the firm. Existing assets of the building, such as skylights, are maintained, while drab stucco and mansard roofs are replaced with glass and metal screens.
Newly installed upper-level balcony walkways contribute to the indoor/outdoor feeling of the space. “They remind us of the famous sleeping porches in the Gamble House,” says Clementi, referencing the Pasadena landmark by architects Greene & Greene. Alternating panels of glass and metal screens lend rhythm and intrigue to the building’s exterior. The screens are water-jet cut in an abstracted water pattern that includes the subtle face of Triton as a recurring motif. “We wanted to honor the history of the site, which was once the Hollywood Swim Arts School,” says Clementi. The screens are placed strategically along other areas of the building’s façade, as well as on the street level, where they act as decorative lanterns while shielding necessary exhaust vents. As in other projects by the firm, this pattern is taken from the macro level (architectural panels) to the micro level (lacquered 8"x8" trays).
Complementary retail to notNeutral, along with an indoor/outdoor café, will create a design-oriented haven for shoppers and workers along Larchmont. “The building will now engage the street, promoting a healthy urban environment,” says Bob Hale, FAIA, partner. “We’re also designing this for LEED certification, which is a little unusual given the small size of the project.” The US Green Building Council rates buildings in the LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System™ for their environmental responsibility.
Rios Clementi Hale Studios encompasses myriad talents in one firm. Established in 1985, this extraordinary practice has developed an international reputation for its collaborative and multi-disciplinary approach, establishing an award-winning tradition across an unprecedented range of design disciplines. Acknowledging the firm’s varied body of work, the American Institute of Architects California Council gave Rios Clementi Hale Studios its 2007 Firm Award, the organization’s highest honor. The architecture, landscape architecture, planning, urban, interior, exhibit, graphic, and product designers at Rios Clementi Hale Studios create buildings, places, and products that are thoughtful, effective, and beautiful.