A Community-Focused Office Reinvestment

Targeted reinvestment transforms an aging building with underused open space into a magnet for tenants and the community.

On the main drag of Glendale, California, 801 N. Brand sits in a stretch of nondescript 1980s office buildings, a familiar expanse of cement and glass. With vacancy rates increasing to more than 20% in many areas of Los Angeles, reinvestment projects up and down the boulevard have focused on creating glitzy, quasi-luxury workplaces, hoping to lure tenants seeking high-end spaces.

“A lot of developers think by shouting the loudest they’re going to get the tenants, but that’s not necessarily the case anymore,” says LPA Director of Workplace Rick D’Amato. “It’s about a better human experience and an understanding that we need to make our tenants, our employees and our staff feel connected.”

Early in discussions with the owners of 801 N. Brand, the subject often turned to the inviting public spaces that support social life in many great cities. The asset manager for this property talked passionately about a recent trip to Europe — the public gardens, street cafés and long conversations.

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Spaces reflect a hospitality-oriented model, supporting connections, inclusiveness and knowledge sharing.

Those discussions provided the foundation for the reinvestment strategy. The design focused on 1.5 acres of underutilized open space and creating a workplace environment that was open and inviting. An integrated team of interior designers, landscape architects and engineers took a community-focused approach to the project, centered on using the open area to energize the building and create the type of public space that serves as a magnet for the neighborhood.

The reinvestment transforms the plaza and four-story lobby into a cohesive set of indoor and outdoor environments that engages the wider business community and enables new ways of working for tenants. The formerly gray, one-dimensional plaza now feels like a park. An Airstream trailer café, shade structures, a wide variety of outdoor furniture and two large areas of artificial turf create a welcoming atmosphere. Each week, the space hosts a farmers’ market. The upper terrace caters to building tenants with shaded breakout spaces that pour out from the indoor conference center.

The redesign focuses on connections — to the outdoors and to each other. A folding wall links the lobby to the outdoor spaces, where a coffee bar, multipurpose conference center and building management office support the hospitality-oriented service model.

“It’s about a better human experience and an understanding that we need to make our tenants, our employees and our staff feel valued.” – Rick D’Amato, FAIA, LPA Design Director, Workplace

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A coffee nook at the merging of lobby, conference center and plaza embodies a communal sense of hospitality.

Throughout the lobby, pockets of soft seating and warm, natural materials encourage tenants to linger.

“In 801 Brand, hospitality is the glue that connects people,” D’Amato says. “Our design is about that feeling of connection, inclusiveness — the idea of sharing knowledge, and what those types of spaces can do for you.”

The sense of hospitality starts the moment one enters the plaza. Circular café tables and communal tables under shade canopies line the promenade, a wide path of multicolored pavers that invites visitors in. Adirondack chairs in small groupings dot the artificial turf landscape, which is bordered by wooden benches and custom terraced seating, as well as cornhole and table tennis. The only holdover from the original space is a large chrome sculpture, now an element that complements the Airstream trailer and reflects the playful paving of the promenade.

A step up in elevation transitions to the indoor/outdoor conference area. Cabañas line the front façade, extending the footprint of the lobby, and tech-enabled outdoor meeting areas serve as an extension of each tenant’s leased square footage.

Inside, a four-story lobby space that had been overwhelmed by right angles and stone cladding has been transformed into a warm, inviting environment. Interior architecture softens the space with curves and sawtooth forms. A wood fin wall clads the inner core, embedded with vertical lights that draw occupants in. An elevator lobby with delicate fluted panels adds a level of detail and refinement.

“We wanted to connect people to the environment in a more authentic way,” says LPA Project Designer Lindsay Votel.

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The tiered plaza is designed to encourage a wide variety of uses and interactions.
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Light peeks from behind wood paneling, softening a lobby space that was overwhelmed by gray stone.

“Instead of greenery and graphics creating this over-the-top connection to the outdoors, we brought in natural elements that create subtle connection between the interior materials and the plaza spaces.”

LPA’s multidiscipline team was engaged throughout the project. The firm’s structural engineers helped develop the outdoor spaces, which hover above an underground parking structure, reactivating long-covered-over tree pits to enable a tree-planting strategy that protects the plaza from strong winds. Mechanical and plumbing engineers helped the Airstream café meet California’s strict food safety codes. Electrical engineers navigated a tricky subspace to electrify the plaza and accommodate the 20-foot-high fixtures that light the monumental space. Civil engineers ensured heavy rains wouldn’t affect cars parked below.

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Seating nooks with natural materials bring a human scale to the four-story lobby.
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Multicolor pavers form a promenade that invites workers from surrounding buildings into the parklike plaza.

“If we had just been a landscape architect approaching this project, we would have had to have so many extra consultants,” says Director of Landscape Architecture Rich Bienvenu. “As an integrated team, we were able to come together in one room to work through the issues.”

The result is a seamless environment that creates an authentic sense of community in downtown Glendale. The refreshed building is a hub for social activity and one of the most popular spots in the neighborhood, attracting workers from the four surrounding office buildings. Instead of the type of building people simply walk by, 801 Brand is now a place for people to linger and hang out.

“We’ve taken this giant ‘look at me’ space and turned it into this very human environment that can be used in many different ways,” D’Amato says. “It’s not about that building. It’s about who you are serving.”