A Closer Look at the Selected Design for Parcel B in Culver City

Now that we know that Combined Properties will be the developer of Parcel B in downtown Culver City, let's take a closer look at their proposal. Here's how they describe what they plan to do on the site. All the words are Combined Properties'.

"When one thinks of Culver City, these things come to mind: historic studio lots, a vibrant restaurant scene and flourishing Art District. Culver City’s rich history as the “Heart of Screenland” takes form in the built environment through its Main Street and landmarks such as the Culver Hotel, Culver Studios and Kirk Douglas Theater. Our development seeks to create a place within the heart of downtown which celebrates these key Culver City moments while enhancing the lively pedestrian activity generated from the studio, restaurant and art scenes.

Site Context

The site lies at the very crossroads of downtown, the junction of pedestrian activity from Main Street and Culver Boulevard and traffic flows from Culver and Washington (formerly Ince) Boulevards. Pedestrians and bicycles also access the site from the future Metro station to the east. Our design addresses these pedestrian and vehicular flows by providing localized responses that capitalize on the unique conditions surrounding the site. The building pays homage to the storied buildings visible or within walking distance from the site through framed views and axial alignments. This project weaves into the urban fabric by sensitively scaling the building elements and relating to the surrounding brick and beige material palette. Retail shops are strategically sized and located to create particular shopping districts that complement and enhance the existing retail presence.

Creating a memorable place in the heart of Downtown

The extension of the existing Town Plaza into the site is our primary urban gesture. The pedestrian plaza located between the Culver Hotel and the Pacific Theaters is extended eastward into the site, where a large Grand Stair, at the scale of the urban plaza in front of it, receives pedestrian flows from Main Street and literally all directions. It is visible to drivers from Culver Boulevard and pedestrians crossing the street or walking east along the current Town Plaza. Facing directly across the street from the lobby of the Culver Hotel (the Grand Stair and brick facade share the same axes), the Grand Stair and the Elevated Plaza it leads up to, will activate the eastern end of the Town Plaza. It will serve as a place for residents and visitors alike to gather and view the city from a new perspective. A natural meeting point, it will collect the various pedestrian flows whether they are weekend/ evening theater or restaurant-goers, daytime professionals from the surrounding studios and offices, or people attending one of the summer concerts or City Block Parties. By its grand scale and landmark nature, it will sustain and encourage activity at all times of the day.

 The project incorporates the paving patterns and materials from the approved Town Plaza hardscape plan and weaves them into the Grand Stair and Elevated Plaza, fortifying the connection between the two. A series of welcoming light posts are proposed, starting from the Town Plaza, marching up the steps and into the Elevated Plaza. A water feature is located at the terminus of the Elevated Plaza, reminiscent of the “Lion’s Fountain” in front of Pacific Theaters and bookending the entire Town Plaza area. The Elevated Plaza is home to restaurants that overlook Culver Boulevard and open up to the plazas with outdoor dining. Lushly landscaped planters, trees, and a grape arbor trellis that frames views of the historic Culver Studios Mansion will ensure that the Elevated Plaza is a destination unto itself, similar to the High Line in New York.

Icons and identity

The project incorporates architectural elements that are instantly recognizable and can become icons for Culver City, building on the City’s identity as a place of entertainment, history and pedestrian-centered activity. The Grand Stair serves the dual purpose of drawing people to the Elevated Plaza as well as providing seating for the Summer Series concerts, performances and outdoor screenings. During the day, people can lounge on the inviting wood plank steps, interspersed with planters and have lunch, meet a friend or pour over their guidebook. It is a natural place to take a break, people-watch or pose for a picture.

Another recognizable element specific to the project is the curved Lightbox Marquee at the busy corner of Culver and Washington (formerly Ince) Boulevards. This intersection is the symbolic gateway to downtown Culver City and the dramatic corner announces it as such. The curved corner is inspired by the nearby Kirk Douglas Theater (recently reimagined by Ehrlich Architects with the Center Theatre Group) with its backlit marquee incorporating graphics and tower element integrated with sign letters. Double-height retail is possible at the ground floor corner, across from the Trader Joe’s and the Ince parking structure. The Lightbox Marquee projects over the ground floor retail glass, creating a strong horizontal element that distinguishes the retail area from the office spaces above. The individual boxes have the flexibility to serve as display cases for retail, graphic advertising related to the retail space or video art.

The Elevated Plaza: A place where art, food and culture intertwine

The first consideration was establishing the Town Plaza as the   focal point of Downtown Culver City.  Our design calls for an   Elevated Plaza that extends and complements the Town Plaza.   It will serve as a place for residents and visitors alike to gather   and view the city from a new perspective. The Grand Stair also   provides for a community seating area that can be utilized as an   amphitheater, which will cater to large functions and gatherings   held in the heart of Culver City.   

One is drawn up the steps to the Elevated Plaza from the Town Plaza or from the street in front of the Culver Studios by glimpses of tree canopies and the grape arbor trellis. In contrast to the open, primarily hard-scaped Town Plaza the Elevated Plaza is like a garden, with colorful plantings, a water feature and places to sit. This vibrant urban oasis is a public amenity - a gift to the City. Brick planters integrated with wood benches situated below the grape arbor trellis with its hanging vines, provide a tranquil place to relax and take in the views of the Culver Studios mansion. The Elevated Plaza and Grand Stair are on center with the Culver Hotel, in deference to the historic landmark.

We made a conscious effort to create a building that   maximized views of the local surrounding area and one that created a recognizable connection between nearby   destinations, thereby enhancing the community feel and vibrant energy of Downtown Culver City. We have studied   other places that have successfully used creatively designed elevated open spaces and stairs to create environments that   are embraced by their community and visitors alike:  

• The Spanish Steps in Rome, Italy  

• The Highline in New York, New York  

• The Steps to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC.  

The stairs that lead to the Elevated Plaza are set at an angle,   inviting pedestrians into the Town Plaza and up to the Elevated   Plaza. Diners will fill the balconies surrounding the second floor restaurant space, reflecting the gravitational nature of   the Town Plaza.  We envision full Wi-Fi access in the Elevated Plaza, drawing both locals and visitors looking for a   relaxing, outdoor, open-air environment. We anticipate   incorporating sculptural art into the Elevated Plaza at the fountain,   at the planters or as shade structures along the Grand Stair. A series   of educational plaques referring to the adjacent landmarks that   celebrate Culver City’s history is proposed as well. We would look to   work with the community and the Culver City Historical Society to   ensure that we honor the legacy of “Screenland”.

From the deck, one has views looking down Main Street and the pedestrian activity in the Town Plaza below. The restaurants are intended to open up directly onto the Plaza, activating it, through sliding glass doors and windows that take advantage of the indoor-outdoor climate. A generous canopy on two sides of the building not only provides a dramatic, unique form for the restaurant - it provides shaded and sheltered dining areas for patrons.

A water feature visible from the Grand Stair draws visitors down the length of the Elevated Plaza. Sculptural art could be incorporated at the fountain and/or planters. A series of educational plaques referring to the adjacent landmarks that celebrate Culver City’s history is proposed as well. The Elevated Plaza level of the Office Building has the possibility of becoming a gallery space, where sliding glass doors can open directly onto the Elevated Plaza. Events on a gallery opening night could spill onto the Plaza, with gallery-goers mingling with diners or people taking an evening stroll. The confluence of art, food and culture makes the Elevated Plaza a rich experience for the community.

The Office Building

The Office Building forms the backdrop of the Elevated Plaza. It is four stories high but reads as a three-story high building from the Elevated Plaza. The mostly glass walls have grand views of the Culver Hotel and plazas, and glass rollup garage doors at the upper level office spaces overlooking the Elevated Plaza activate the outdoor spaces and allow the occupants inside to feel connected to the activity below. Strategically located, the office lobby is situated where it can have a Culver Boulevard address and have a presence (and lobby) at the Elevated Plaza level. A concrete structure is proposed to maximize floor to floor heights and give flexibility to tenants.

Ground Level Retail

Retail shops line all the sidewalk edges of the building with the exception of the service/ loading/parking entry area on the Culver Studios side. This development does not have a back side - every face addresses its local condition in a unique way. The major retail corners (northeast and southeast) turn the corner with full-height glass facades. Between the corner glass areas and stretching along the Culver Studios side, smaller scale retail shops complete the retail edge, set within brick facades. The Culver Studios Retail Row takes on an intimate alley atmosphere, as a pedestrian zone with cafe tables, string lights above and recessed storefronts. It animates the walk between the Ince Parking Garage and the denser retail/restaurant activity further west

Parking

The required building parking for the project is partially provided by the existing Ince Parking Structure across Washington Boulevard. To extend the total number of available parking spaces and to provide on-site parking for the office spaces above, three parking options providing 98, 126, and 256 parking spaces were analyzed.

  • Parking Option 1 consists of 98 total parking spaces including 17 tandem spaces and is located entirely underneath the 9300 Culver Boulevard site.
  • Parking Option 2 consists of 126 parking spaces on one level and extends underneath the Town Plaza.
  • Parking Option 3 consists of 256 parking spaces on two levels and extends underneath the Town Plaza.

In order to provide the most generous pedestrian experience around the site the parking ramp was located inside the 9300 Culver Boulevard footprint in all three schemes rather than in the street between the site and Culver Studios. By locating the ramp inside the building, the retail spaces located along the Culver Studios side have access to pedestrian scale outdoor seating and shading elements rather than opening directly onto a parking ramp. The Town Plaza is extended along the street between the 9300 Culver site and Culver Studios, increasing the visibility of the plaza for pedestrians leaving the Ince Parking Structure.

Massing and Materials A Collection of Personalities

In order to avoid a monolithic structure, every effort was made to make the building as humanly scaled as possible through form and varied materials. The overall massing of the project was developed so that the building was tallest (four stories) on the east side (facing the Ince Parking Structure and Trader Joe’s) and the northeast corner. At this corner, the project serves as the “Gateway” to the City and a significant retail presence fits within the context. The massing of the buildings steps down as one moves east, closer to the pedestrian plazas. The restaurant element is a single story above ground level retail, perched above the Town Plaza, and separated from the office building by an open air stair that leads up to the Elevated Plaza area. The perception of the office building from the Elevated Plaza is that of a three-story structure. The Grand Stair literally steps down to meet the Town Plaza. The massing strategy facilitates the desire for individual tenants to create their own unique retail/office identities within the development - the project is a collection of expressive personalities. Distinct retail zones are possible within the varied massings.

At a finer grain, the facades have various vertical expression utilizing suspended awnings, overhangs, fins, frame elements, trellises, deep recesses, punched window openings and operable windows that swing out. All of these bring surface texture to the exterior, making the scale pedestrian-friendly and animating the overall facades.

Materials

In addition to sensitive massing, the project weaves into the existing context through a carefully chosen palette. Warm and variegated materials such as red brick and copper-colored metal panel are paired with glass curtain wall and used in a contemporary way. Two types of glass are proposed: clear glass at retail locations and a high-performance greenish glass at office areas. The curtain wall areas are broken up in various ways: with deep metal fins and glass roll-up doors on the west office facade, with closely-spaced fins on the northwest office facade and with operable windows sprinkled throughout.

Wood walls are proposed at key retail areas. Weather-resistant wood, a material pleasant to touch and to walk on, is also proposed at the Grand Stair amphitheater seating, Elevated Plaza planks, benches and at the grape arbor trellis.

Red brick is part of the Culver City downtown fabric - the Culver Hotel, the restaurant row flanking the existing Town Plaza, Culver Boulevard and Main Street facades, and adjacent Trader Joe’s all have brick facades. In the project, red brick facade walls give the feeling of solidity and groundedness and break up large areas of glazing. The steps adjacent to the Grand Stair are also brick, as are various plaza elements such as planters and paving bands, bringing color and warmth to the space. Copper-brown metal panel is used at particular moments - canopies, largescale frame elements surrounding curtain wall, the Lightbox Marquee, and at the restaurant with its dramatic roof lines. Light gray and sand-colored concrete steps and pavers are used at the Elevated Plaza, matching the colors from the Town Plaza. The handsome palette of warm durable materials are compatible with the uses of the building (retail, office, public gathering) and is in harmony with its surrounding neighborhood.

Features and Amenities

The development fully embraces and engages its unique location in the City through its urban gesture - the Grand Stair and garden-like Elevated Plaza. Both of these spaces will be amenities to the community and enhance and energize the surrounding businesses and neighborhoods. They will make the Town Plaza the destination to visit in the City, attracting locals and visitors alike. The fixed Grand Stair steps act as an amphitheater to accomodate an audience of 300+ people (which could increase to 500+ people by providing loose seating in the Town Plaza). Demountable platform elements could provide a temporary stage for public events and could be housed within the project’s dedicated storage space. Permanent infrastructure for stage lighting and sound can be incorporated into the Grand Stair structure itself.

A public elevator (accessing parking and the two plaza levels), restrooms and storage space (for event furniture, etc) are proposed at the southwest portion of the project, convenient to the plazas.

Sustainability

Operable windows throughout the project promote natural ventilation and have the added benefit of connecting the occupants with the activity outside, on the plaza and the street. Photovoltaic panels could be incorporated into the building roofs, serving a dual purpose by shading mechanical equipment. To reduce solar heat gain, basic solar orientation principles were followed where possible: ample glazing on the north-facing facades, vertical fins on the west-facing facade, deep overhangs on the southern facade.

The project will be LEEDTM Certified and will comply with the CalGreen requirements, Photovoltaic Requirements and Green Building Requirements as mandated by the City. 

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