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Atrium: Design for Instant Architectural Recognition

May 18, 1986

The Atrium, now completed in Irvine, is an office building with a highly unusual architectural design, incorporating--as its name implies--an atrium.

But more than the usual atrium. The twin, 10-story towers are roughly triangular and stepped back away from each other in such a way that the central space is enclosed in glass to form the Atrium's 130-foot-high atrium.

A development of the French & McKenna Co., the building at 19100 Von Karman Ave. offers 290,000 square feet of office and retail space, of which about 20%, 58,000 square feet, has been leased. The developers put the project cost at $64.5 million and expect that its value, when fully occupied, will be $95 million.

Tenants will begin occupying their space in the late summer and early fall. A major restaurant, Bistango, originally a Los Angeles establishment, is to open its first Orange County facility in December in 9,000 square feet on the ground floor.

In addition to the architecture, the developer/partners, Leighton H. French and Charles A. McKenna, are enthusiastic about the amenities offered to the tenants, which they feel go well beyond those usually found in such buildings.

Financial, retail and office services will be found on the plaza level, where there also will be a concierge to help make arrangements for local travel, business, shopping and entertainment.

Other on-site conveniences will include mail and dry-cleaning services, a car wash and an auto detailing facility and shared telephone and telecommunication services.

Computerized systems are built in to provide maximum tenant comfort, efficiency and security, including an integrated security system that allows each business office customized off-hour access and connects individual security controls with the master system.

Parking for 1,000 cars is available in an adjoining structure and there is surface parking for visitors.

"The amenities are probably our strongest selling point," French said, "but it's difficult to overlook the building's unparalleled architecture."

He described the Atrium as "a high-quality urban-oriented office building featuring some of the most sophisticated life-support and mechanical systems in today's business world.

"Our shared tenant services, as provided by Telecom Plus, offer greater efficiency in operating costs and reduction in tenant occupancy expenses."

McKenna concurred: "The architectural uniqueness of the Atrium creates an identity that tenants can't find working at other office complexes. When a tenant says they're located at the Atrium, no other description is necessary."

In addition to the huge glass-enclosed atrium, the architecture features a highly unusual exterior surface. McKenna said, "We searched for a truly special material, one that would make the Atrium noted for its design and appearance, rather than its street address."

Found Material in England

They found this material in England's Lake District, a 500-million-year-old green slate from a quarry owned by the Cavendish family. Cleaved by hand, the blocks that form the Atrium's outer skin are polished, while those used to pave the enclosed atrium are left unpolished, with blocks of darker and lighter color forming a pattern in the floor.

The architect is the WZMH Group, based in Los Angeles with offices in Toronto and Dallas. French & McKenna Co. is both owner and builder.

Spaces, a space-planning firm based in Newport Beach, planned the conceptual layouts for interior public and office spaces while Snyder Langston Inc. of Irvine will construct the tenant improvements. Landscaping is designed by the Newport Beach-based landscape architecture firm of Allan Fong & Associates.

The exclusive leasing broker is Coldwell Banker Commercial Real Estate Services.

Combined Experience

French and McKenna formed their partnership for commercial real estate development in 1983. They say their combined experience totals nearly 35 years in real estate law, development, land acquisition, construction, financing, leasing and sales.

They describe their business philosophy as: "Maintain maximum control, stay small and manageable, and focus on quality rather than quantity for excellence that helps ensure repeat business."

In accordance with that viewpoint, they develop one major project at a time. Projects have included joint ventures with Penn Mutual Life Insurance, Great West Life Assurance and Aetna Life & Casualty. They value their current development portfolio at more than $100 million.

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