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COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE | FORM AND FUNCTION: Innovative
Uses of Southland Work Spaces

Animators' Office Is Creative Mosaic

Inherited decor is incorporated into new work space for the people who draw TV's 'South Park' series.

February 09, 1999|MORRIS NEWMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Artists who use "found objects," items that have been thrown out or abandoned by others, would have no trouble appreciating a new animation studio on the Westside.

"Found office space" would be a fitting name for the style of the new offices of South Park, creators of the "South Park" television series who have made inventive use of design elements left behind by earlier tenants.

Much of the inherited decor is Mexican-themed, including pseudo-adobe surfaces, red roof tiles and colorful murals. Adding a note of the bizarre, a Japanese pagoda intrudes on the scene. (Actually a free-standing office, the pagoda was contributed by an earlier tenant, a Japanese-born fashion designer.)

South Park's architects--at the Santa Monica office of HOK Interiors, a unit of Hellmuth Obata & Kassabaum of St. Louis--have added their own layer of industrial imagery to this incongruous mix. The workstations for animators feature vertical conduits, resembling stovepipes, that carry electrical wiring down from the ceiling. This method of delivering power to computers, which required a special permit, helped save money; otherwise, the architects would have had to order the construction of a raised floor to make room for the wiring.

The deceptively low-tech look of this high-tech operation could be described as "a futuristic shantytown," said architect Steven Marc Drucker, studio director at HOK Interiors.

The look of the South Park studio reflects both the sardonic sensibilities of the creators of the television series, as well as the extreme economies of the job. The co-creators of "South Park," Trey Parker and Matt Stone, suddenly needed new offices a year ago to accommodate an expanding staff, after the series was picked up by cable channel Comedy Central.

After looking at many buildings, the pagoda tipped the scales for Parker. "Trey has a real fondness for anything Japanese," said executive producer Anne Garefino, who added that Parker has lived in Japan, speaks Japanese and is trained in karate. "When I saw the pagoda, I knew immediately that he would have to have it."

The architects faced the dual challenge of creating a space on a shoestring budget of $100,000, or slightly less than $10 per square foot, as well as a breakneck deadline of six weeks to complete construction.

Given the budget and time constraints, Drucker opted for inexpensive materials with natural finishes, which helped the new offices fit in quietly with the existing adobe-and-pagoda imagery.

Garefino is pleased with the space so far. "It's a really great atmosphere," she said.

She also admires the durable finishes, which must endure the stresses of a roomful of creative people collaborating on tight deadlines. "We are really hard on the space, and it holds up," Garefino said.

Admirers of the South Park offices must be content to read about them, however. To avoid the disruption of uninvited visits from fans of the show, South Park will not give out the address.

"They have groupies," Drucker explained.

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