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Attractive Alternative : The elegantly straightforward Burbank Centre shows how commercial building designs can avoid the dull and commonplace.

August 14, 1992|SUSAN VAUGHN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Susan Vaughn writes regularly about architecture for The Times

Modern architects are faced with a challenging dilemma. They must search for alter natives to the dull glass box architecture that populates America's commercial landscape, yet keep their designs economical, simple and attractive.

Chicago-based Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, one of the world's 10 largest architectural firms, solved this problem on Alameda Street in Burbank in 1985, when it created the 21-story Burbank Centre.

The building is elegantly straightforward. Its clean white facade, interspersed with a grid pattern of tinted green windows, radiates vitality and playfulness. Its articulated green-glass corners resemble cheerful vertical candy stripes. They lend additional integrity to the building's design. Burbank Centre's major tenant is The Disney Channel.

According to Steve Sobel, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill's project manager, his design team sought to create a building that would relate not only to then-existing Burbank street scapes, but to the verdant Hollywood Hills nearby.

The team's color selection--green on white--is a resultant marriage of nature with technology. Their emphasis on symmetry and proportion allowed Burbank Centre to blend with the smaller commercial structures on the block, while retaining its uniqueness--a difficult task because the Centre was the first tall office building in the area.

Inside, Burbank Centre's ambience changes: the structure gets down to business with a formal, crisply defined entry and lobby. But the building's exterior gaiety is again revived in a three-story atrium crowned by a green-glass roof, where natural light spills onto Parisian-style tables, where reading, snacking and conversation are encouraged.

Besides functioning as a lounging area for tenants, the atrium serves as an architectural bridge between the lobby and its upper-floor offices and the building's retail outlets and parking structure.

Current merchants at Burbank Centre include La Scala Restaurant, The Centre Cafe, Fast Lane (sundries), Federal Express, Delta Airlines, Nutri-System and Carlson Travel.

The building's office space is 99% leased, according to Charlie Peck, president of Cushman Investment and Development Corp. of Los Angeles, the building's developer. Peck adds that Cushman selected the 3800 Alameda Blvd. site because of its proximity to the Hollywood and Ventura freeways and its potential for commercial success.

"There weren't any buildings in the area that met today's corporate needs," Peck said. "We wanted to create one that would be user-friendly and appeal to major corporate users."

Cushman had been interested in Burbank as a development site since the early 1980s, he said.

Beside the Disney Channel, corporate tenants include Walt Disney Co., Disney Development Corp., Mobil Oil and Financial Indemnity.

Burbank Centre's modernized classicism stands out amid the more ambiguous, complex avant-garde structures being erected in Los Angeles County today.

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