Years before commencing Vakko/Power, REX was engaged by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) to design a research and teaching facility intended to foster interdisciplinary collaboration. Known as the Annenberg Centre, the building was to be unwaveringly extroverted while accommodating the Pasadena Design Commission's austere regulations. To do so, REX employed a wolf in sheep's clothing strategy. The Annenberg Centre's office and research spaces were organised into an elegant but frugal ring the Sheep constructed of thin concrete slabs. Cloaked by the Sheep's simplicity was a more expressive and collaborative Wolf that housed the Annenberg Centre's classrooms, conference rooms, lounges, exhibition spaces, and circulation.
Composed of four, interconnected steel plates, the Wolf formed a robust braced frame supporting the fragile Sheep. When Caltech's senior administration suddenly changed only weeks before construction was to start, the Annenberg Centre was sadly cancelled. Several years later, the CEO of Vakko and Power Media approached REX to design and construct a new headquarters in less than a year using an unfinished hotel whose structure had been abandoned during the 1980s. The requested timetable would normally have been implausible. However, the unfinished building fortuitously had the same plan dimension, floor-to-floor height, and servicing concept as the Annenberg Centre's Sheep. By converting the plan of the hotel's abandoned concrete skeleton into a Ring similar to the Sheep's square plan and by adapting the Sheep's existing Construction Documents, construction on the perimeter office block commenced only four days after Vakko/Power first approached REX.
This adaptive re-use opened an eight-week window during which the more unique portions of the program could be designed simultaneous to construction. Speed became the design's most significant parameter. Whereas the Annenberg Center's Sheep was a fragile, post-tensioned concrete structure which depended upon the robust, steel interior for support, Vakko/Power's existing Ring is painfully over-designed, the byproduct of numerous, deadly earthquakes in Turkey. The design problem was therefore reversed: Vakko/Power's steel interior must be lightweight and remain detached from the Ring so as not to disrupt the structural integrity and waterproofing of the in situ skeleton. Dubbed the Showcase, this unique interior houses the auditorium, showrooms, meeting rooms, and executive offices, as well as all vertical circulation and restrooms. Meanwhile, the upper floor of the skeleton's subterranean parking contains Power Media's television and radio studios, which require acoustic damping and light control. REX only had two weeks to submit the steel mill order after starting the project, with the steel arriving on site six weeks after submission. Therefore, a concept for the Showcase was demanded that established the general steel shapes and quantities while still allowing the design to evolve significantly. REX and its engineers devised steel boxes that could be assembled in myriad configurations while retaining the Showcase's structural integrity. While the steel was being produced, permutations of the boxes were tested to meet program adjacencies and code/exiting requirements. By the time the steel was delivered eight weeks into the project, the final stacking of the boxes had been determined. Each box was fabricated adjacent to the building site and craned into the Ring's centre.
The entire Showcase was erected in less than a week. The slopes of the auditorium, showrooms, and meeting rooms create a circulation path that winds from bottom to top of the Showcase. The Showcase is clad in mirror-glass, cloaking the steel boxes with a mirage-like exterior, and enlivening the building's interior to kaleidoscopic effect. A beautiful and refined architectural image was critical to maintaining Vakko/Power's public profile; yet, the clumsy structure of the abandoned hotel was impossible to hide given the project's compressed schedule. REX embraced this constraint by designing an exceptionally transparent and thin glass for the Ring that exposes and takes pride in the fact the building was the product of adaptive re-use. Because forensic analysis of the existing Ring could not be performed within the short schedule, its dynamic response was relatively unknown. The surest, safest way to attach glass to the Ring was therefore with four pins, allowing the facade to easily rack in an earthquake. By slumping a structural X into each pane connecting the four pins the glass's strength is increased, the need for perimeter mullions is eliminated, and its thickness is greatly reduced. The result is an ultra-thin sheath of glass that wraps the existing skeleton. This ethereal Saran Wrap subtly reveals the pre-existing concrete skeleton and suggests the Showcase behind.