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COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE | Forum and Function: Innovative
Uses of Southland Work Spaces

'90s Architect Sets Up Shop in a Classic '50s Building

July 06, 1999|MORRIS NEWMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Most architects use their offices as a showcase for their talent, often transforming their work spaces into three-dimensional samplers of their design skills.

An exception to the rule is Frederick Fisher, a West Los Angeles architect who has chosen instead to preserve a more than 40-year-old building designed and built by another architect, the late A. Quincy Jones.

Fisher says he is "reverent" toward the building, which was built in the heyday of the California Modernist style in 1955, and expanded three years later. "This is one of the most refined small commercial buildings in the city."

Jones, who was perhaps best known for residential design, designed his office in a style similar to that of his houses. Windows and natural light can be found throughout. Natural materials, including wood and river stones embedded in the floor, can be found throughout the project, as well as industrial-looking steel window frames.

Jones believed that indoor living space should be continuous with outdoor space; accordingly, the 18,000-square-foot building contains no fewer than four enclosed patios. For a conference room that did not have an outdoor view, Jones created an interior garden.

Unlike many cold and institutional office buildings of the 1950s, the Jones office contains a surprising number of changes in ceiling height, a variety of materials, and varying qualities of natural light. In short, the office is a sort of constructed encyclopedia of Jones' design.

The building "influences [us] as much as it provides an environment," says John Berley, an associate in Fisher's office.

Fisher is an accomplished designer in his own right. He was the master planner of Bergamot Station, an office-and-gallery complex in Santa Monica, and is currently designing museums in Long Beach and in Waterville, Maine, as well as a housing development in Berlin that incorporates both new construction and historic preservation.

Although Fisher did not design the building, he does feel simpatico with the design philosophy that the building embodies. "We believe in exposed structure and natural materials," he says, and both are evident throughout the Jones building.

Fisher has done comparatively little to the old office, except to remove some work desks from one small room, opening a view from the design studio to an enclosed patio; the garden was redesigned by landscape architect Pamela Burton. Fisher also sandblasted the wood ceiling of the 16-foot studio, and added some shades to the enormous windows on the east.

Indeed, Fisher's feeling of kinship to Jones' design ideas seemed almost supernatural, on one occasion, according to Berley.

He recalls that Fisher had selected a globe-like hanging lamp from the catalog of furniture maker Herman Miller. Astonished, Berley pulled out an archival photograph from the Jones era, showing that the late architect chose an almost identical lamp, by the same manufacturer, for the same room.

"It was a very pleasurable synchronicity to know that we had come to the exact same conclusion, independently," Fisher says.

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