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Wooded wonderland

September 13, 2007|Janet Eastman

IMAGINE inviting celebrities and VIPs of the music world to party in a dreary, windowless room devoid of warmth. No amount of Champagne or fizzy flattery could camouflage the feeling of a dead-end. So when the designers at Belzberg Architects were given the job of creating a clubby reception room underneath the Ahmanson Theatre at the Music Center in downtown Los Angeles, they needed solutions that rose above the subterranean location.

Architect Hagy Belzberg and his team dreamed up environmental wood sculptures that spread across the ceiling like sound waves, dividers that drape like theater curtains and perforated walls that let halogen light peek through like stars.

These elements became the new shell for the Ahmanson Founders Room, where billionaire patrons and world-renowned performers mingle. Sofa frames, bars and tables carry on some of the design motifs and were crafted by the firm using three-dimensional modeling and a computer numerically controlled router, known as a CNC machine, which can carve wood, stone, plastic, foam, fiberglass and even recycled materials with remarkable precision.

In this 2,250-square-foot space, Belzberg focused on wood: walnut, Douglas fir and fiber board.

"I think you can overdo rooms with every material except wood," he says, adding that he appreciates its versatility, recyclability and sustainability. "Unlike steel and stone, everyone has a personal connection to wood. It's everywhere we go, from nature to furniture."

The CNC router can reproduce a family portrait on a wall, says Belzberg, who worked for Frank Gehry before opening his Santa Monica firm 14 years ago to design modern residences, restaurants and stores. He has used this computer technique to dress up walls in a long hallway and sees the possibilities as limited only by imagination.

"Technology has moved us into the world where everyone can have a custom pattern," he says. "We don't have to buy off-the-shelf items anymore."

The cost for the computerized milling work varies, depending on the material and intricacy of the pattern. But you'd better get chummy with an art patron. It starts around $60 a square foot and can jump to more than $300.

--Janet Eastman

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