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Morphosis’s Emerson College Los Angeles Building Set to Open in March

The project gives the Boston-based communications and arts school a permanent home on the west coast.

by Deborah Snoonian Glenn
February 27, 2014
Photo © Roland Halbe

Renowned for its communications, TV, and film programs, Emerson College has long been a presence in iconic Boston neighborhoods, first in residential Back Bay and more recently in the historic Theater District. Its newest building stakes out similar territory, but this time in Los Angeles on the famed Sunset Boulevard. Designed by architect Thom Mayne of Morphosis, the dynamic, aluminum-clad structure—really a self-contained campus—stands poised to become a symbol of its rapidly changing neighborhood. The college purchased the lot in 2008 and later tapped Mayne for the job based on the strength of his educational work, notably Cooper Union’s 41 Cooper Square in New York.

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The building more than doubles the number of undergraduates who can attend Emerson’s semester-long, internship-based L.A. program, which began in 1986 and until recently was housed in rented space in Burbank. The 10-story, $85 million project, which took two years to complete, will accommodate 217 students in suite-style housing located in the two vertical towers. These living spaces flank the academic and administrative core, which include classrooms, a state-of-the-art digital screening room, a lecture hall with distance-learning capabilities, performance spaces, editing suites, and more. Pulling apart the various functions in the massing not only lets light pass through the structure—a welcome gesture in what is still largely a low-rise, mixed-use neighborhood—but is also a response to the closed-off nature of institutional buildings. “An arts and communications school should not be generic or opaque to the community,” Mayne says. Ample glazing along Sunset Boulevard extends this idea, as does a street-level cafe open to the public.

The design also capitalizes on a site that is unusually rich in vantage points. The well-known Hollywood sign in the hills to the north is framed from several spots within the building and at its outdoor gathering spots. The fifth-floor deck—the “piazza,” Mayne calls it—has sweeping city vistas, from downtown skyscrapers to the east and glimpses of the Pacific Ocean farther to the south and west. “You know you’re in L.A. up here. It’s a microcosm of the urban experience of the city,” he says.

Technological innovations echo the school’s own zeitgeist. Among the building’s energy-saving systems are exterior louvers that open or close automatically in response to the weather and the sun’s intensity. And two intriguing metal scrims, made from 17 different aluminum shapes that were digitally generated and manufactured, shade the interior faces of the residential towers.

The official opening kicks off on March 8 with a nighttime gala. Look for Record’s full coverage of the project in the May 2014 issue.

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