After years as a Tinseltown landmark, posh Beverly Center gets some plastic surgery from Callison Architects.

Reinventing a fading star into a polished, hot property is hardly unusual in image-conscious Hollywood. A professional makeover with an elegant new look, fresh color palette, and upscale designer clothes does wonders to attract a sellout crowd and update a well-worn appearance. That was the plan when retail developer Taubman Centers, of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., hired Seattle-based Callison Architecture, to revitalize Beverly Center, a 906,000-sq.-ft., multi-level mall located in the heart of downtown Beverly Hills, Calif.

Despite a prime location, the mall hadn't been revitalized in more than 20 years. The chrome-and-white, museum-quality ambiance looked cold and dated; the property was in decline. Customer demographics indicated the center attracted 30% tourists (considered high for downtowns); 70% upper-income local residents, and several film production studios in the area for a lively, diverse lunch and dinner crowd. But Taubman felt there was room for improvement.

“Taubman's project goals were to pamper customers in an elegant shopping environment, while creating an upscale ambiance that would continue to attract the world's most prestigious fashion tenants,” says Callison principal George Wickwire. The prime tenant profile included the exclusive couture boutiques found on Rodeo Drive, and their carriage trade clientele. These goals could only be achieved by a complete physical makeover — from the planters, information booth design, furnishings, finishes and equipment to the grade level shops, signage and the rooftop café.

Today, Beverly Center is a high-end urban retail mall consisting of restaurants at ground level, topped by a six-level parking structure; a three-level center with two stories of shops and a third level of entertainment and dining. Since cars are integral to the L.A. lifestyle, drop-off zones and vertical circulation routes to retail and restaurants received significant attention, both to design detail and the visitor's experience as they proceed through the varied spaces.

The solution included a variety of customer-oriented elements tailored to sophisticated consumers. Stylized graphics, including black Art Deco-inspired letters on a yellow background, signage, and wayfinding elements signal Beverly Center's new visual identity. A parking valet service greets guests and directs them to the express elevator to the seventh floor, the first retail level above the six-story parking garage. The valet drop-off area resembles a luxury car showroom, with elegant lighting, finishes, colors and amenities high-end consumers expect in the heart of Hollywood. The existing eighth-floor food court was redesigned in a warm color palette reflecting the casual L.A. attitude. A new outdoor rooftop terrace overlooks downtown Los Angeles, the Santa Monica Hills and the legendary Hollywood sign.

Beverly Center's main public gathering space, the Grand Court, resembles a contemporary hotel interior, warmly appointed in olive and tan, with marble flooring, art glass and cherry wood casework. “This design approach appeals to a chic Hollywood crowd, who seek the latest in cutting-edge trends; tourists seeking a glimpse of the eclectic L.A. lifestyle; and many celebrities,” says Wickwire. Cozy living room seating areas located in the wings encourage visitors to relax, shop and people-watch before continuing on to the large central space.

Fast-tracked construction enabled the work to proceed swiftly. “The project went from design to completion in only 11 months, from January to November 2000, while the mall remained in daily operation. Construction was nearly invisible. Work occurred at night, after 10 p.m. closing, with a scrub-down two hours before opening,” says Carl Hagelman, senior vice president, Taubman Centers.

The building exterior was repainted in three graduated colors, from darker earth tones at the base to increasingly lighter shades at the body and top, effectively breaking up the center's massive urban scale, and creating a signature landmark from a distance. City authorities allowed billboards and ad space to appear on the façade, providing additional visual interest and details for pedestrians and motorists.

Due to the center's location in an active earthquake zone, seismic design and local building code requirements were a concern. The heavy structural cross-bracing beams in the passenger elevators were enclosed with a three-story, backlit, luminescent shoji screen, consisting of colored polycarbonate panels. Although this material maintained necessary fire ratings, local code and elevator officials were uncomfortable approving a plastic material surrounding an elevator shaft. They negotiated a compromise solution, with a tempered glass-lined interior elevator shaft, and the polycarbonate material facing the corridor. When seen from inside the elevator cab, natural daylight streams in through the screen and glass as the elevator rises above six parking levels to the shopping and entertainment zones. At night, the screen's backlighting produces a soft, warm glow as visitors ascend from the parking level to an upscale, thoroughly uplifting L.A. state of mind.

Barbara Nadel, FAIA, is principal of New York-based Barbara Nadel Architect and national 2001 vice president of the American Institute of Architects.

Premier screening

A colorful California wrap encases the Beverly Center's main elevator shaft with a striking, 75-ft.-high, backlit shoji screen. This first run Hollywood screening is made from Lightblocks, sheets of colored polycarbonate — a material with a higher fire code rating than acrylics and stronger than glass.

Manufactured by M.B. Wellington Studio, Inc. in Nashua, N. H., the material — and its unique color application technique — were developed by sculptor and painter Mary Boone Wellington, who sought a strong yet lightweight, translucent substitute for glass in her public artwork. Color is applied manually to Lightblocks on both sides of the material, with special tools and equipment, rather than cast in place or rolled on. “The matte finish surface is renewable, and suitable for public spaces. It can be brought back to life by sanding with a special pad. Scratches, vandalism, dings and black scuffmarks are easily erased,” says Boone.

The three-story, three-sided elevator enclosure centerpiece to the Beverly Center is 32-ft. wide, with 252 separate panels, each 30 inches square. The rich blue-greens, golds and desert red tones represent the Southern California landscape. When backlit, the material assumes the luminous qualities found in oil paint pigments, such as mica and earth elements. In addition to the elevators, these colorful custom screens are used in the food court, valet parking area, and furniture table tops throughout the center.

For more information on Lightblocks, see www.lightblocks.com.