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In Here, Things Can Get Very Loud

September 12, 2002|JANET EASTMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising faced an image problem. Its new Orange County campus was to be housed in a gray warehouse on a dull street in Irvine. The uninspired building defied, rather than helped define, the edgy, design-conscious instruction that would take place inside.

Fast-forward nine months to its official opening two days ago, and the former factory has been reborn to match the function and flavor of the college's course work.

But the transformation didn't arrive without compromise. Architect Clive Wilkinson and his design team, which included Stephen Lesko, wanted passersby to be instantly clued in that this was a center of creativity. They envisioned sail-like fabric screens wrapping the front of the 53,000-square-foot building. Painted onto the screens would be bold polychromatic patterns.

The idea, however, didn't fly with the Irvine Co.'s design review board, which only approved bare screens to quietly shade windows. The architectural team was disappointed but not undaunted, and like a rebellious teenager restricted to his bedroom, the group came up with an interior that is really, really loud.

The floor of the reception area is awash in Pepto-Bismol pink, and building-block couches are upholstered in iridescent yellow-ochre polyester. Flat-screen TVs that run fashion shows nonstop are tucked into cushioned boxes or attached to walls. A stainless-steel plaster mesh "ceiling" exposes the air-conditioning and heating ducts above it, and hanging sheets of vinyl that are splashed with wild floral abstracts serve as room dividers.

"Exuberant expression"--Wilkinson's words--explodes throughout the building. Angled walls, 24-foot-high skylights and towering lofts force eyes upward, while openings carved into exterior and interior walls and a glass atrium that flows into a courtyard push the dimensions out. A circular pathway on the concrete floor, marked by magenta epoxy paint and mustard-colored carpet, connects the academic, administrative and social centers inside the sprawling space.

The Los Angeles-based architectural firm also took a nontraditional approach to a routine matter. Instead of hiding telecommunication wires inside the walls, aluminum cable trays are mounted a few inches below the ceiling and look like an overhead conveyor belt. The cases add a decor energy, complement the industrial-looking interior and provide a practical perk: Walls won't have to be opened when more wire is needed to accommodate ever-increasing high-tech demands in classrooms, offices, digital labs and conference rooms.

Furnishing throughout the space is a blend of designer classics--such as Philippe Starck's conical tables and Vitra plastic rocking chairs--and amoeba-shaped upholstered seating created by the architectural firm.

The campus' 400 students also needed a soothing zone for intense study as well as a lively place to hang out. Wilkinson provided both with a library--its soft birch bookshelves hold bins of swatches--which is adjacent to a bustling student's activity center outfitted with a pink concrete counter bar that spills outside.

The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising campus, which offers tours of its facility, is at 17590 Gillette Ave., Irvine. For more information, call (949) 851-6200; www.fidm.com.

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