Form suddenly meets function

One Monday morning many years ago, the boss came into the office and announced that we were going to enter a design competition for the West Hollywood Civic Center, which would be located on a block across the street from Cesar Pelli’s Pacific Design Center. He had seen an ad for the competition on Saturday evening while he was looking through an architecture magazine, and he had come up with a concept that he was sure would win the competition. Soon after telling us about the idea, he sent in a check to get the program coming through the mail, and he called in an old friend who was also a space planner. The boss had already drawn up a building plan before the entry requirements and program information arrived in the mail. His plan – a giant bow tie – would be symbolic of a Hollywood he knew.

When the program and related information arrived in the mail, the space planner went to work, and we also enlisted help from a cost estimator. The program information stressed the importance of the budget.

After several days, the space planner and the cost estimator met quietly with the boss. Then they both left the office, and the boss presented the rest of us with a dilemma.

The space planner had found that the program spaces could not fill the immense bow tie plan that the boss had created. All of the departments and their discrete spaces could be sprinkled along the perimeter wall of the bow tie plan at each floor, but that left a vast amount of unoccupied space in the interior of the building. The construction cost estimate exceeded the project budget severalfold. We were also running out of time; the submission deadline was only a few days away. We would have to abandon the bow tie, cut off part of it, or reduce it. Considering the boss’s situation (and ours), we ruled out the first two options.

We determined an ideal efficiency for the building, and we photographically reduced a copy of the building perimeter plan by a percentage that would accommodate the program area at each floor while maintaining a high net to gross efficiency. Then we shuffled and fit the program areas into the reduced bow tie plan. It would not have been the best plan for building occupants and furnishings, but it was mathematically efficient. Also, the cost estimate shrank to fit the budget.

Alas, the firm’s entry did not win. The entry’s call for knocking down all adjacent buildings on the block – some apparently occupied by competition jurors – may have influenced the outcome and kept the bow tie design from receiving an award. However, there were stranger entries among the hundreds that found their way into the display tent. One, perhaps given more serious consideration, was a billboard-like building featuring a giant Marilyn Monroe.

Posted in Design, Oops, Project Management

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