May 24, 2013

A Vision for Television: Gensler Rethinks KCET

Since leaving PBS in 2011, KCET has been the largest independent public TV station in the U.S. That’s how Gensler principal Michael White begins the conversation about the recent transformation of KCET. On air since 1964, it had been sprawled out in several Hollywood buildings known collectively as the Sunset Lot. Offices, broadcast studios, and technical facilities were each housed separately.

All changed when KCET relocated and consolidated. Its 100 employees now report for duty in Burbank, once the epicenter of the studio system and still home to the Walt Disney Company and Warner Bros. Entertainment. And everyone at KCET works in the same place: 55,000 square feet on two levels at the Pointe, a LEED Gold–certified office block on 3 landscaped acres.

To devise innovative, eye-popping solutions for what had been totally bare space, Gensler analyzed staffers’ work flow. “The production process in the broadcast industry is no longer as linear. State-of-the-art digital technology has dramatically changed the workplace,” White notes. “Through the use of server-based PC production technology, technical and office areas, traditionally separated, have merged into one unified environment, and that consolidation has made the creative process more collaborative and efficient.”

In addition to internal considerations, the connection to greater Los Angeles has particular importance for independent KCET. (It’s the most-watched public TV station in Southern California.) Gensler symbolized that point, on the upper level, by wrapping the reception area and spaces to either side in curved swaths of red-cedar veneer, stretching 120 feet long in total and incorporating shapely seating nooks. At the far end, the red cedar sweeps over one of the top corners of the main broadcast studio. This particular corner is glass, allowing a bird’s-eye view into the 2,500-square-foot space. “It’s highly unusual for a broadcast set to be open to the public like this,” White says. KCET, in other words, is walking the walk.

?When sensitive interviews require privacy, the corner window can disappear behind the white muslin or black velour curtains that drape the studio’s perimeter, often serving as backdrops for pledge drives. A study in flexibility, the studio also offers different set scenarios—fully fitted out for the evening news or rearranged more minimally for a talk show. Both live and taped transmissions are overseen by the master control room. Since KCET airs 24/7, this is really the heart of the operation.

While the main studio is double height, the smaller one has half the square footage with a standard ceiling height, 10 feet. The latter fact would be a problem if it weren’t for LED technology, White explains: “Without LEDs, the lights would be too hot, too close overhead.” It also goes without saying that LEDs are energy efficient. An even bigger cost-saver is the studio’s green-screen technology, used in such major motion pictures as Avatar. In laymen’s terms, that means any environment can materialize in the studio electronically. No need to build expensive sets for each production. Next to the small studio is the green room, industry-speak for talent lounge. “We made sure to locate it at a corner with a view of the Hollywood Hills and Griffith Park,” White says. “In contrast to the black-box production spaces, it explodes with natural light.” Furnishings are worthy of a movie star’s living room.

Windows in the reception area take in the Warner Bros. lot and Burbank Studios, formerly NBC Studios. Hugging the opposite curtain wall are the workstations of the administrative staff, creatives, and some executives—the very mention of the word workstation hints at revolution. KCET’s previous headquarters consisted almost entirely of the private offices endemic in the broadcast business. “The collaborative environment hasn’t taken hold,” White says. “KCET is groundbreaking.” Of course, the workstation setup washes the interior in California sunshine. Celebs aren’t the only ones who’d rather be seen in the best light.

Project Team
Denise Zacky- Popoch; Kevin Kilmer; James Lee; John Plumb; Douglas Peters; Mason Lee; Shawn Shin; Konstanza Valdez; Jessica Chang: Gensler. Kaplan Gehring McCarroll Architectural Lighting: Lighting Consultant. Plannet: Audio Visual Consultant. Englekirk Structural Engineers: Structural Engineer. Arc Engineering: MEP. Black Sheep Enterprises: Drapery Workshop. Krismar Construction: General Contractor.

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