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Type A Spaces

The Hollywood talent agencies are famous for their hyper-competitiveness. So why are three of them using the same corporate architect? Our critic goes inside and finds the post-Ovitz generation struggling to break with the past.

December 09, 2007|Christopher Hawthorne | Christopher Hawthorne is the architecture critic of The Times. Contact him at christopher.hawthorne@latimes.com.

One afternoon earlier this year, architect Neil Denari met me in the cloud-white lobby of his best-known Southern California design: the Endeavor talent agency in Beverly Hills, which was completed in 2004. Talent agencies typically hire architects to reinforce their reputations as places in Hollywood where careers are shaped and deals are packaged--where power is consolidated. The resulting buildings are almost always streamlined, conservative and a bit imposing: the architectural version of the agent's neatly pressed dark suit. Endeavor, though, which was founded in 1995 by four defectors from International Creative Management--including Ari Emanuel, the model for the manic Ari Gold character on the HBO series "Entourage"--wanted something with more verve. Denari produced a series of remarkably fluid spaces, beginning with an entrance area that opens directly onto Camden Drive and is decorated with gigantic eyeballs and other oversized graphics by the New York design firm 2x4. A blood-red screening room occupies the rear. Upstairs, a third-floor reception area is wrapped in glass and connected to offices above by a dramatic staircase.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, December 09, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 95 words Type of Material: Correction
A critique in today's Los Angeles Times Magazine about the architecture of the buildings in which talent agencies are headquartered includes details from a tour of Creative Artists Agency offices given to The Times' critic by managing partner Bryan Lourd. The critique says that CAA typically makes a point of keeping itself at arm's length from the press but that after weeks of back and forth CAA agreed to provide a tour by Lourd. While the tour itself was on the record, Lourd's comments from the tour should not have been included in the critique.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday January 06, 2008 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Part I Page 7 Lat Magazine Desk 2 inches; 97 words Type of Material: Correction
A critique in the Dec. 9 issue about the architecture of the buildings in which talent agencies are headquartered includes details from a tour of Creative Artists Agency offices given to The Times' critic by managing partner Bryan Lourd ("Type A Spaces"). The critique says that CAA typically makes a point of keeping itself at arm's length from the press but that after weeks of back and forth CAA agreed to provide a tour by Lourd. Though the tour itself was on the record, Lourd's comments from the tour should not have been included in the critique.

Toward the end of our tour, Denari took me over to meet Emanuel. He was sitting behind the desk in his corner office, which has seven flat-screen televisions on the concrete wall, each one tuned to a different channel. He saw the architect and jumped to his feet. He told Denari he'd heard how busy his firm was, designing buildings around the world, and claimed credit for turning him into a big name.

"I want 10% of everything!" he said.

I told Emanuel I was working on a story about the architecture of talent agencies--in particular, the new Creative Artists Agency building in Century City. He grinned.

"I heard CAA is trying for some . . . white-leather, Gucci-style, 1970s grandeur over there," he said, plucking a gumball from a tiny machine sitting on a nearby shelf and popping it into his mouth. "When we hired Neil, we wanted the design to be about attack mode. Attack, attack, attack! CAA is different--they want to protect, protect, protect."

Emanuel asked if I'd seen the new CAA offices yet.

"Sort of," I said.

About a month earlier, I'd driven to those offices to meet Gene Watanabe, a principal in the local office of Gensler. A huge global architecture firm that remains little known by the general public, Gensler had pulled off a surprising coup in this case. First, it was hired by a local developer, Trammell Crow, to design a $400-million office building on Avenue of the Stars, replacing the old ABC Entertainment Center and the Shubert Theatre.

CAA, which was looking to move out of its famous Beverly Hills headquarters for reasons of space and psychology, decided to lease about a third of the building, or 240,000 square feet, on eight floors. (Though it holds several other companies, the entire structure immediately became known as "the CAA building.") The agency then hired Gensler's highly successful interiors division to customize its wing, with room for about 700 employees, including 300 agents.

The result--Gensler on Gensler--is an anomaly in an age of celebrity design, when museums, real estate developers and professional sports franchises hire famous architects to give their projects extra buzz. And it turned out that was just the beginning. Gensler went on to land commissions from two of CAA's closest competitors: ICM and the William Morris Agency. ICM joined CAA in Century City earlier this year, taking four floors in the MGM Tower. William Morris is planning a six-story headquarters in Beverly Hills, with shops and restaurants at its base, that it says should be complete in about two years.

In Hollywood circles, the news that both CAA and ICM were leaving for Century City was, from the beginning, fodder for plenty of gossip. Much of it had to do with food--in particular, where agents would eat lunch now that they couldn't walk to The Grill or Mr. Chow. But Century City is only a mile and a half from the heart of Beverly Hills: In the sprawling geography of Southern California, the two cities might as well be on the same block. And many in Hollywood forget that CAA already had a stint in Century City, in the 1970s and '80s, on the 14th floor of the Tiger International Building. More fascinating is that three of the top agencies in town, agencies that are hyper-competitive with one another, all hired the same corporate architecture firm.

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