A family affair

Wednesday 06 Mar 2013

LA’s Wilshire Grand Tower on track to complete in 2017

Timing is everything as they say. And timing was certainly key for the Wilshire Grand Tower, a 73-storey skyscraper that has been in planning for more than 20 years now and is now destined to become a reality. Designed by David Martin of the Los Angeles based AC Martin Partners, the tower will be the tallest building on the West Coast.

It will house offices on the lower levels and a 500-room luxury hotel above that will welcome visitors into a dramatic sky lobby located 70 floors up that will take them through a thicketed bamboo forest before delivering them to an open lobby where they can take in the views of the Pacific Ocean, the iconic Hollywood sign, and the Griffith Observatory. It’s an experience intended to be dramatic but after all it is Los Angeles and David Martin feels a building this special should deliver something extraordinary.

‘It’s the kind of commission that architects dream of when they’re in design school’, said Martin, who described the gig designing the tallest building in the city as a ‘very exciting journey’ and a project that has kept his office hopping after a long, slow period in which he managed to keep things going but had to lay off staff. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime, but for Martin it’s about so much more than putting his signature on the skyline.

On a personal level, the project presented the unprecedented opportunity to build on his family’s legacy. When completed, the Wilshire Grand tower and one other building in Los Angeles, that being City Hall (a building designed by Martin’s grandfather in 1928) will be the only two buildings in the city to put their mark on LA’s skyline, punctuating it with distinctive spires. All of the others tall buildings in the city have flat roofs.

Until recently flat roofs were mandated on all tall buildings by the city’s fire code. They were needed to support heliports which were seen as the first line of defense for fighting raging fires in skyscrapers. ‘Times are different now’, said Martin. ‘There are new technologies that have come along since 9/11’, such as the hardened core with high-speed elevators and redundant staircases, that now make it possible to design safer buildings in Los Angeles, and ones with a dramatic top. While the regulation still exists, Martin was able to convince the city to allow his team to build a a building that would culminate in a dramatic finish. ‘While some say the building looks like a sail and others say it looks like a wing standing on its end the building’s design is dictated by function’, said Martin.

The tower’s design is informed by three ideas. Martin wanted to make a nod to City Hall, he wanted to rethink the idea of creating a sense of place and rather than establish it at ground level he wanted to do it 1000 feet up, and he wanted also to create a urban space at ground level that was on par with New York’s Rockefeller Center. The form of the building is predicated on the site area there was to work with and the sun angles. ‘The building is oriented East West and its curvy facades are there to catch the sun’, said Martin. He designed the tower to be transparent and light weight to contrast with the surrounding buildings, which are mostly glass and granite....’buildings that have weight and gravitas’, he said.

‘Construction is on track’, said Martin. The $1bn mixed use tower developed by Korean Airlines will replace the Wilshire Grand Hotel and office site in the heart of Downtown LA’s Financial District. The project is slated to complete in 2017.

Sharon McHugh
US Correspondent

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