Los Angeles’ landscape is made for good design. The sprawling Santa Monica mountains that spill into the Pacific. The gangly palm trees that dot the skyline in any neighborhood from Venice to Silverlake. Sunsets that turn from blue to purple to pink to orange to yellow all within minutes, gone as quickly as you could whip your cell phone out to remember the moment, even though a beauty like that can’t be captured even with iOS 13.
For over three years, I’ve worked in Playa Vista, the central Silicon Beach of Los Angeles. The buildings are sleek, clean, and of course, new; the entirety of Playa Vista started to be built up within the past ten or so years, but business boomed once Google bought the Spruce Goose Hangar famously built by Howard Hughes. When I think about what makes the Los Angeles design scene so unique, a tenet of most spaces is that they were not brand new, but they were made new.
Los Angeles has been on the forefront of the sustainability movement, even with architecture and how to envision something extraordinary from the ordinary, both out of practical need and the want for beauty. GoGuardian is another Silicon Beach startup that reused a former Raytheon facility to create their new space in 2019. It features a lot of collaborative workspace, and most strikingly, a “mindfulness corner” for employees. Not only is sustainability important, but mental health and wellness are other factors companies are incorporating into their spaces to make their employees more comfortable.
My office’s parking garage is bespeckled with graffiti murals from local artists. I used to park right under this portrait of a woman, all in blue gradient, who’s hair was blowing in the wind and eyes looked longing west towards the ocean. If I didn’t know any better, she was looking for the California dream, just like many others (myself included) have done at some point in their lives. Around the corner from the garage, and in the middle of a business park, stands a 26-foot-tall figure from the artist KAWS. This statue, titled Companion, is a stark contrast to the rest of the scene here; execs buzzing from meeting to meeting, clients chatting at Blue Bottle by their agency partners, young families ushering toddlers around after a playgroup. Why was this larger-than-life sculpture placed in a tech mecca? Juxtaposition.
If New York City is a Norman Rockwell painting, then Los Angeles is a David Hockney. Dingbat apartments abound as opposed to skyrises, filled with pastel colors that you’d find in a cake shop. Pools sit stagnant but sparkling in barred terraces and old script fonts loudly share the dated name of each building. While dingbats – and the occasional stucco box – are usually snubbed for their commonality, there is charm found in the everyday. Photographers like Lesley Marlene Seigel have captured many images of dingbat exteriors, each one with a unique story to tell. We have to wonder; who lives in them? Who has been a resident for 20+ years? Who just moved in? What brought them here? It’s Los Angeles, after all.
Crawl closer to the ocean, say, a beach town like Venice, and you’ll notice bungalows. Lots of them. Sprawling the haywire streets, fenced in but with low enough barriers so you can still peek inside to see what instrument the local resident has. Have they kept the integrity of their little one-story bungalow? Or is it now a glass box, on display for all to see, with mid-century modern fixtures installed instead of crown molding? What’s most fascinating about Los Angeles is that it grew in square footage as opposed to height during the heyday of it’s expansion. Everything remains low to the ground, with the exception of a few pockets of skyrise office spaces (Downtown, Century City, Mid-Wilshire, Hollywood, the like). But even in those neighborhoods, a fifty-story building is met with a small one-story house just as a Great Dane stands next to a Chihuahua.
Juxtaposition is a common theme throughout all of Los Angeles’ design and architecture landscape. How can we take the old and make it something new? How can we place something so big in a space so small? How can we make an out-of-place piece of art feel right at home? It’s why the Eames House was nestled in the narrow streets of the Pacific Palisades and why Frank Lloyd Wright chose to build a mansion-adjacent house in the quiet neighborhood of Los Feliz. The architecture scene of Los Angeles wants us to be shocked by design where we least expect it.
Los Angeles has space. Other cities built up, but Los Angeles had the luxury of building out. A friend of mine once likened the landscape of Los Angeles to Detroit’s; very big, very wide, with little presence or use of public transport. The Metro train line is expanding, yet Angeleno’s still choose to drive whatever eco-friendly car is trending at the moment, suffering through hours of traffic because that’s what you do in California. The start-up scene here has that space to it’s advantage. The aforementioned Spruce Goose Hangar is just one example of companies taking massive spaces and making them functional for business. Most of Playa Vista is expansive spaces. Offices are no longer just offices, but a part of campuses. And, like college, there are local watering holes for coffee and tacos where employees from different companies mingle. In the heart of Playa Vista sits Fullscreen, a multimedia entertainment company specializing in social media content and creators.
Fullscreen’s headquarters building was designed by Rapt Studio. In efforts to attract talent that was simultaneously interested in Fullscreen’s work, Rapt made sure to design the new space with a content-first mindset. A mini-theater is at the forefront of the welcome area, showing off client work and creators alike during work hours, as well as being a central space to celebrate and engage with fellow employees. Aiming to be multi-use, the two-story space also incorporates primary colored walls that help add dimension as well as backdrops for filming when talent is visiting. Understanding Fullscreen’s hiring priorities and affinity for talent relations helped lead Rapt to create the perfect space that would attract the right fits. “We’ve all talked about how an open office plan works, but what we don’t talk about as much is the importance of variety,” shares Ashley Carr, an Associate Director of Strategy at Fullscreen. “What Fullscreen does well is have a lot of spaces to escape to during the day for a change of scenery and/or change of activity. No one wants to feel chained to their desk.”
The use of space is not only to attract people to a job with a fun and unique environment, but also to propel collaboration and forward-minded thinking
Again, we see juxtaposition: communal workspaces instead of individual offices, where instead of less getting done, more gets done. Breaking down walls, physically and metaphorically, leaves for more common ground between new coordinators and seasoned C-suite members. We need to create less individual space in order to think more creatively. Most startup companies incentive employees with free lunches, coffee stipends, and even pet daycare. Investing in a good workplace is important, but investing in the people who inhabit it even moreso. Startups want their employees to feel celebrated and cared for, and what better way to do that by taking care of their basic needs? Doing so also helps to stimulate work and motivate individuals to bring their best selves to the office knowing extraneous matters are cared for.
Design is important in motivating people in a workplace
Call rooms need to be sleek but private. Most new startup spaces in Los Angeles opt for glass walls for transparency as well as comfort. Big desks with cushy chairs, white boards around every corner, beer on tap; all of these are things offices must consider now when attracting new employees. On top of the interiors and design, location is equally as important. El Segundo based startup WPromote is located close to LAX, which is a perk for employees wanting to travel or clients visiting the office. Another company, InvestCloud, is in the Pacific Design Center, a famed building in the middle of West Hollywood where the best and brightest of the design world reside. Being in good company is another location perk that shouldn’t be overlooked. Not only was I proud of my Playa Vista office, but I was always eager to share that it was next to Google, YouTube, and Fox Studios.
Companies are seeking more space
We saw it firsthand when Amazon opted for a Crystal City destination instead of the assumed and prestigious Washington D.C. Even in Los Angeles, companies are trickling away from Hollywood and Century City and heading south. Venice and Playa Vista were the first stops, since they both allowed expansion within close proximity to the rest of Los Angeles. But as work becomes more flexible and remote, we’re seeing companies fly further south. El Segundo is the tip of the South Bay of Los Angeles, and Hermosa Beach, Torrance, and even as far as Long Beach are experiencing the trickle-down effect. Even years later, industry is expanding outwards from the traditional center of Los Angeles. Good design is more important now than it ever was if a company wants to attract eager and hungry employees. The traditional studios and high-rise buildings in Hollywood and Mid-Wilshire are no longer desirable, even if hard-working Lauren Conrad from The Hills in 2005 made it seem like they were. People are headed west, and south, and all over in search of the new, mid-century modern California dream.
There is a space—and a need—for smart design in the workplace. Individuals feel stimulated, appreciated, and elevated when where they work is made with thought and care. It matters more now than it did twenty years ago to hire the new or innovative or Black-owned or women-owned design and architecture firm to create a company’s space, since employees are more aware of how their surroundings affect how they work.