Local Color

At the crossroads of historic downtown Los Angeles, surrounded by Olvera Street, Chinatown, and Union Station, local design firm Rios Clementi Hale Studios (RCH) has created a bold new headquarters for the California Endowment. Known for its multidisciplinary soup-to-nuts approach to design, RCH worked with the statewide health-care nonprofit to craft a playful multilevel campus that cleverly references its setting—a priority for an organization surrounded by the communities it serves.

On the exterior the primary method for this is color: two single-story structures, which house meeting rooms for grassroots advocacy and service groups, are painted ochre, for the beige and stone of Union Station, and terra-cotta, for the brick palette of Chinatown. A third building is white flecked with panels of blue glass; all three are crisscrossed by bands of variegated greens to connect to the California landscape. “Some people in the organization were a little afraid of having strong colors, but once we explained the story behind them and they realized that this was about being thoughtful, not about showing off, they came around,” principal Bob Hale says.

The landscaping continues the theme: the state’s native plants show up in a tranquil front courtyard of sycamore trees and river grasses. Strips of concrete—made of green stones from Northern California and gold from the Central Valley—are picked up in the buildings’ interiors, where local influences were just as important. All of the artwork is by California artists, and the Endowment asked RCH to work with other local designers as a way of reflecting the institution’s own collaborative approach. As a result Culver City–based Sussman/Prejza weighed in on the signage of the meeting rooms, which have names like Tahoe and Joshua Tree, and the local offices of DMJM Rottet worked on the buildings’ interiors.

But the Endowment’s mission is not just embodied aesthetically. Offices have a direct view of city hall, a reminder of the political influence to which the organization and its grassroots counterparts aspire. And how effective could a group of health-care advocates be without a healthy work environment? “There is a big emphasis on wellness at work,” says Jeff Okey, the Endowment’s associate for media relations. The downtown site was chosen in part because of its proximity to public transportation—the north side of the campus even has views of the Metro Gold Line, a novelty for Los Angeles. Daylighting is emphasized in the sunny atrium and glass-walled stairwells, which encourage workers to climb. “Everyone wants to come to work now,” Okey laughs. “Even I want to come to work.”

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