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Los Angeles Design Center
Los Angeles
John Friedman Alice Kimm Architects

Architects breathe new life into a warehouse complex for a thriving furniture business

© Benny Chan / fotoworks

For more photos click on 'photos & drawings' above.

To see the people and products behind this project click on 'people & products.'

By Joseph Giovannini

Francisco Pinedo, owner of furniture manufacturer Cisco Brothers, founded his company in a garage 15 years ago. His enterprise has since blossomed into a $15-million-a-year business. The company occupied a number of warehouses in an area of South Los Angeles that has become the heart of the city’s nascent furniture industry. Pinedo needed a showroom, and he thought other manufacturers could benefit from a local presence outside the Westside’s high-rent design district. He asked the architects to design the core of what might grow into a much larger development (one warehouse is completed; the other is still under renovation).

The building itself offered clues about how to proceed. The steel columns, retrofitted on the outside, suggested a scaffolding for what became a new facade of translucent polycarbonate panels, applied like shingles along the length of the facade that faces the parking lot. The architects turned the facade at the front so that it ran parallel to the street, giving the parking lot more closure and the front facade more presence. With this billboard structure, the architects absorbed the notion of visual street language in their design.

A variegated appliqué of horizontal, greenish concrete panels, scaled to be glimpsed obliquely from cars sailing past, signals a refined design sensibility that offers not just cautious reinvestment in the neighborhood, but also authenticity, even joy. The panels wrap portions of the two, two-story brick warehouses and share facade space with what appears to be a billboard partially spanning the parking lot between the two primary structures. Suspended tarps sail above the parking lot like magic carpets, just beyond a fence of punched steel.

Inside, Freidman, the principal in charge, sited a few strategic interventions. Removing a section of the first floor, he placed a hardwood landing, large enough for furniture displays, from which a staircase with transparent siding leads to the second floor. He terraced a section of the second floor (raised to accommodate a loading dock below) to take advantage of the level change. The north side of the terrace was walled off with another layer of shingled polycarbonate panels. All the moves were large, to the point of being environmental.

The most transformative insight was turning the parking lot into a public space. At the Design Center, the lot comprises a watering hole, piazza, and party space with a couple of deft, inexpensive moves. The polycarbonate facades add softness and shimmer to the space; the overhead tarps contain it by defining its height; and concrete parking pads in different shades of gray, separated by planted strips that follow construction lines drawn from the surrounding structures, create a lively patchwork quilt underfoot. Eventually, the parking lot will serve as a point of origin for a path leading to other buildings in the expanded project.

See the July 2003 issue of Architectural Record for full coverage of this project.

Formal name of Project:
Los Angeles Design Center

Los Angeles

Gross square footage:
80,000 sq ft

Total construction cost:
$1.2 million

Francisco And Alba Pinedo
Owners, Cisco Brothers Corporation
1933 W. 60th Street
Los Angeles, California 90047
323. 778. 8612

John Friedman Alice Kimm Architects
701 East Third Street, Suite 300
Los Angeles, California 90013
T 213. 253. 4740
F 213. 253. 4760


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