The Open Studio
An early “forensic visit” confirmed his instincts by revealing a long-span wood truss system that would facilitate the creation of an open environment to support the practice’s established studio culture. “I always like to be in large volumes where people feel they’re working together,” Ehrlich says. “No low ceilings, no cubby holes for this office.”
Renovation centered on “honoring the spirit of the building without being a slave to its preservation,” the architect continues. Thus, the footprint, with its distinctive bowed front, was retained, as were roof lines and raised maple flooring dating to the dance hall era. Everything else was completely stripped down to the shell.
The “new” structure, essentially a container for the open studio, is dominated by fenestration systems addressing light and ventilation needs. An aluminum, thin-line sash configuration, recalling steel window systems of the early 20th century, covers much of the building’s front face, where the “formal” entry is marked by a steel-framed door, steel and glass canopy, and the architect’s one nod toward extravagance: $850 Bauhaus hardware. A second system at the east elevation fuses the interior and exterior to make the all-important Southern California connection. Here, one progresses from the parking lot through sculptor Guy Dill’s concrete portal to an enclosed courtyard built around an 85-year-old rubber tree. Entry to the studio proper occurs through a roll-up garage door, left open more often than not. There is a third distinctive facade treatment and it consists of raw steel panels. The naturally rusted metal clads the built-up front curve and pierces the building’s boundary to continue as a reception wall.
Inside, Ehrlich’s intent is immediately apparent. Within the two-level volume, everything opens to the main studio. Demarcations between the studio and the reception zone, library, and an informal meeting area are suggested rather than rigidly enforced. The periodicals library, for example, is nothing more than shelving built into the 54-in.-high partition of medium density fiberboard encircling the studio. Clearly, this arrangement was meant to foster interaction. The meeting room is more precisely defined, yet only at two end points. Partitions here consist of fir doors with milk-white laminated glass panels. Even the conference room, occupying the bow front, maintains visual and physical links with the studio thanks to a wall made from the same aluminum window system and a pocket door.
The central of the studio
Similarly, the mezzanine, with a newly-inserted steel frame, extends an invitation to mingle. Open to the studio below, its central expanse is given over to an auxiliary library for art books and a large table. At either end, the window system is used to articulate private spaces designed for the firm’s principal and bookkeeper.
Within the central workplace, lit primarily from daylight through five new skylights, generous work stations have enclosures formed from tinted Finn-plywood and work surfaces consisting of doors topped with linoleum. Erlich calls it “nomadic furniture,” as units were transported from the previous Santa Monica site. A perimetrical ledge anchors supplementary fluorescent downlighting while providing a celebratory place for project photography and the firm’s numerous awards and citations.
Horizontal surface of the studio
Sheet aluminum, in quarter-in, thickness, is a prevalent horizontal surface that appears in the reception table, model stands, and meeting room counter. Elsewhere, aluminum tops meeting and conference tables plus rest room vanities. Ehrlich also cites the industrial steel stairway as another example “of taking extra steps in both design and amenities” while attending to a budget of $65 per square foot.
After the six-month construction, the architect, sensitive to his multicultural staff, held ceremonies to appease lingering spirits. There was a sage-burning ritual, and a Catholic priest blessed the space with holy water and Bible readings. Pews from the former mortuary chapel were donated to a small Latino church in east Los Angeles.
Ehrlich built the place as a light, airy, and eminently embracing environment for a closely knit staff, some of whom have been with him for 15 years. It’s not for show or intended as a business card. “At this point, impressing clients doesn’t enter into the equation. It’s about work, the ability to do the work, and the hunger for it.” After 20-plus years in business, is the hunger still there? “Oh yeah. I have an incredible desire to design and build.” Anything in particular? “I’d love to do museum spaces and places of worship,” says the architect, whose practice comprises residential, civic, and commercial projects in relatively equal thirds. Thomas Zahlten shares credit as project architect for the studio renovation.
Inside the Studio design