DTLA - When a company is looking to relocate its headquarters, the decision often boils down to a few criteria: Does the new space fit its goals? Is the building aesthetically pleasing? Is the price right?
For prominent architectural firm Jerde Partnership, the answers to those questions could not be found in their longtime home of Venice. Instead, Downtown Los Angeles fit the mold.
Jerde signed a lease last November to take over the fifth floor of the CalEdison building at 601 W. Fifth St. and completed the move to the historic Bunker Hill building in recent months. A 40th anniversary celebration that doubled as a coming-out party for the new office was held on Sept. 13.
“Downtown seemed like where we wanted to be,” John Simones, Jerde’s CEO and design director, said during a recent tour of the new space. “Jerde Partnership prides itself on reinvigorating cities through our projects and we wanted to be part of that same idea and help reinvigorate the Downtown area.”
The late Jon Jerde founded the firm in 1977. The USC grad was looking to break away from the more conventional designers of the time. His aim was to create places where people could gather, rather than simply visit and spend a few bucks.
His vision was born out in mega-projects such as the 23-acre Universal City Walk and the redesign of Santa Monica Place. Jerde also helped design and plan the vision for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
Additionally, the firm had a role in Downtown, designing one of the community’s first shopping complexes, Citicorp Plaza (now FIGat7th).
Outside of California, Jerde designed the Mall of America in Minnesota and the Bellagio and Treasure Island Hotel and Casino along the Las Vegas Strip.
After the Great Recession hit, the firm’s focus was driven almost entirely overseas, frequently to Asia. The bulk of Jerde’s work is still for international clients, including the 7.5 million-square-foot Roppongi Hills and Namba Park, a swirling park built on the site of a former baseball stadium in Osaka, Japan.
Jerde Partnership had spent almost 30 years in offices on the Venice boardwalk. The move to Downtown serves multiple purposes, including being close to some clients.
“There is energy down here,” said Paul Martinkovic, Jerde’s chief financial officer. “Most of the developers and firms are down here and it has just proved to be a very good move for us.”
Martinkovic said that Jerde looked at sites in Santa Monica and El Segundo, but was drawn to the benefits that Downtown offered, including an opportunity to be more involved with local projects.
Jerde also explored numerous local neighborhoods, including South Park, Chinatown and buildings along Broadway. It ended up in the 87-year-old CalEdison, which originally served as the home of the Southern California Edison Co. Rising Realty Partners purchased the 14-floor property in 2015 and began a top-to-bottom remodel as it repositioned the building as creative office space. Tenants include H&M Innovation Lab, Akerman LLP and TubeScience.
Chris Rising, founder and president of Rising, said that Downtown offers an opportunity for expansion and growth for companies outside of an increasingly crowded Westside.
“There is just not enough space on the Westside for the big expansions of all of these companies,” Rising said. “It’s just a matter of space. DTLA has the space.”
Jerde’s Downtown office houses 65 employees (20 more work in Shanghai) and employs an open-space aesthetic. The new home also puts the entire team on a single floor; the Venice office was spread across three levels.
Lush green plants and large-scale models of the company’s past work are displayed throughout the office, helping to balance out the building’s gray concrete walls. Large windows allow for ample natural lighting. The ceiling reveals exposed pipes.
Simones said the look fits the way the firm sees itself.
“We look at ourselves as a boutique architectural firm,” Simones said. “The design of the office is one of a boutique, kind of a classic, collaborative workshop environment. All the way down from the executive offices to the model shop to the major workspace where all the designers work together.”
Martinkovic said that Jerde works on close to 50 projects in various stages of development at any given time. While most of those are still overseas, Simones said a few local developments are in the works, though he would not reveal details.
Simones and Martinkovic said there is another advantage to being in Downtown: It provides access to a large talent pool. Downtown housing rates, while seemingly expensive, are below those in Venice, the principals noted. The vibrancy of the Central City, including the ample nightlife, is appealing to younger workers.
“We tried to recruit people from out of state and we would get through two to three interviews and make an offer. They would make the trip and come back and say, ‘Sorry, I can’t do it,’” Martinkovic said. “Economically they couldn’t facilitate a move. We would lose a lot of potential hires because of that.”
Simones said that the firm looks forward to putting to use the expertise employed in international projects.
“The idea of creating a beautiful mixed-use development, similar to the ones that we have done internationally, in the Downtown area, has actually acted as a catalyst to bring more energy,” Simones said.
© Los Angeles Downtown News 2018