Originally designed by William Pereira in 1961, the 8-story, 120,000 sq. ft. building sat vacant for nearly 20 years prior to renovations.
After sitting vacant for nearly 20 years, the eight-story Metropolitan Water District office tower in Los Angeles’ Echo Park neighborhood has been converted by David Lawrence Gray Architects from an office building to a luxury residential tower. The original building was designed in two phases by famed modernist William Pereira – a low-rise podium, and high-rise tower – through a process that spanned 12 years, from 1961-1973. Pereira’s design was structurally expressive concrete frame building, with cantilevered exposed concrete slabs establishing a wrap around balcony on each level. The primary bays of the building along the longitudinal axis are expressed at the ends with infrastructurally-scaled white concrete columns, while perforated concrete panels formed an iconic modernist brise soleil along the podium.
Named after an ancient Greek conception of heaven, The Elysian blends architectural modernism with contemporary luxury living to produce 120,000 sq. ft. building with 96 Live/Work Units. Pereira’s original building was, at times, carefully and respectfully restored by the project team. This is evident in the clean-up of Pereira’s concrete columns, which contained – under decades-worth of grime – a high quality quartz aggregate cast (much to the surprise of the team).[interstitial]
Another preservation marvel is the restoration of the existing mullions on the building. Metal panels from the lower third of the opening were removed along with original glass panes. The steel mullions were grinded down and repainted. The openings were replaced with new double-paned coated glass and micro shades to produce a new building envelope. The architects worked with CRL-U.S. Aluminum to integrate an operable window unit and patio doors within Pereira’s mullion layout. Also notable is the detailing of the new steel railing which translates an original post spacing cast into the slab with a new horizontal assembly providing technical precision of steel without visually overpowering the building envelope.
While this renovation project makes historical acknowledgements to Pereira’s modernism, the new work to the building tends to give way to necessary market demands of luxury residential living: amenities like floor-to-ceiling windows and a two-story penthouse addition subtly transform the modernist building into something more “transitional.” The penthouse addition is carefully designed, but produces the most deleterious effect on Pereira’s proportioning system. His primary columns, once soaring optimistically beyond the body of the building towards the heavens have now been capped by a stealthy new addition which the project team has skillfully blended into the aesthetics of the original structure. Here, the curtainwall system, thermally improved by a continuous thermal spacer that is interlocked within pressure plates, is a sophisticated update to Pereira’s steel mullions. The system picks up where Pereira’s mullions left off, set in alignment with the mullion spacing throughout the building, and color matched with the rest of the building envelope. However, the 20-foot penthouse heights require an unfortunate and unavoidable heavier thickness. There is something interesting about juxtaposing a thermally sophisticated modern curtainwall system against steel profiles of the 1970’s.
The two-story penthouse addition works to creatively conceal a rooftop mechanical space housing condenser units and a photovoltaic array for solar hot water heating. Also, the existing building was design with a generous floor-to-floor dimension of approximately 13 feet, allowing for an adaptive reuse of the building with minor modifications to the slabs required. New residential units were efficiently stacked by the project team, allowing for an economy in utility distribution, and limiting slab penetrations between floors to simply a new shaft and stairwell.
Historians might argue for removal of the penthouse entirely, while environmentalists might argue for a full replacement of the original mullion system. Regardless, occupants of the building – especially those in the upper floors – will surely take delight in the 360 degree views of Los Angeles’ distant hills and sprawling low-rise cityscape that Pereira, and now David Lawrence Gray Architects, have provided.