Let It Rain: A So-Cal Ad Agency by Lorcan O’Herlihy
How do you brand Comcast, Energizer, Motel 6, Petco, or Target. . .in translation? What about “Got Milk?” Ask John Gallegos. The grandson of Mexicans, he founded the advertising agency Grupo Gallegos in Southern California to develop print, broadcast, and Web campaigns for the Spanish-speaking market in the U.S. Running counter to recession doldrums, his agency has been in expansion mode, and the buzz is palpable just steps inside the Huntington Beach office. Could the Energizer bunny be a more appropriate symbol?
Previous quarters were a single level in a Long Beach mid-rise-Gallegos was ready for a big change from that banal environment. Like all forward-thinking CEOs these days, he envisioned a democratic openness to spur and support creativity, and creativity was clearly in the DNA of a former Cineplex he found in Huntington Beach. Three of the 1980’s building’s four theaters had already been combined when Gallegos and Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects jumped in. Then, when construction was already under way, the final theater became available for a total of 40,000 square feet. This meant that Gallegos, a University of Southern California baseball star, could have his heart’s desire: a gym on-site. Its maple-floored court plays equally well for batting practice, basketball, volleyball, and even modified soccer once the right gear is up. Come evening, the space has hosted a black-tie casino event for staff.
The workplace proper unfolds on two levels. Workstations, essentially a benching system with slotted dividers, fill the carpeted part of the double-height central atrium. Overhead is the project’s main flourish. “We like to have one big idea,” Lorcan O’Herlihy says. (Which is similar to how ad agencies work.) Here, 360 custom white rain umbrellas hang, unfurled and upside down, from the black ceiling. Not that there’s much rain in Southern California. “They reference photo shoots,” he explains-and, on a more practical level, distract attention from the exposed mechanicals and sprinkler system. Ringing the atrium are an assortment of singleheight private offices, meeting rooms, and support spaces as well as a cafeteria and a lounge. All are tucked below a perimeter mezzanine dominated by additional private offices. An office suite for Gallegos is naturally at a corner, a location that ensures a staff-wide meet-and-greet whenever he enters or exits.
There’s a constant up-and-down and a powerful rhythm, as creatives and account executives take the four atrium staircases-one wide enough to serve as stadium seating, since presentations and screenings are part of the agency’s culture. In the upward direction, the big draw is a pair of conference rooms anchored to the mezzanine and existing structural supports and cantilevered into the atrium. O’Herlihy gave the conference rooms a touch of whimsy by splashing the word ocupado, Spanish for busy, across their exteriors. The huge writing-bright crimson script or matte black block letters-is applied on both solid wall and window louvers.
“I consider color an architectural material in a big way,” O’Herlihy says. He took art classes during his undergraduate architecture studies and, after an early job working at I.M. Pei & Partners on the Musée du Louvre pyramid in Paris, embarked on a two-year painting sabbatical in New York. Now, he steals time for his avocation when he’s not at the studio or tending to his 2½-year-old twin boys. So his practiced eye knew that the cheery lemonade yellow on the undersides of Grupo Gallegos’s mezzanine and conference rooms would go well with accents in lime green, bright and optimistic. Lime-tinted film covers the glass walls of meeting rooms, while lime faux suede joins cerulean blue and citrus orange on the workstation dividers.
Red joins the yellow, green, blue, and orange in the cafeteria, its beachy informality reinforced by a glass front framing actual views of palms, sand, sea, and Surf City USA’s famous wooden pier. Down a corridor from the cafeteria, a Ping-Pong table and a comfy sectional furnish a hangout lounge. O’Herlihy also added locker rooms with showers, plus plenty of storage for surfboards and bikes. If you build it, they will come-make it fun, and they will stay. And they have, if the reception area’s trophy wall is any indication. At last count, shelves displayed a total of six Clio and Cannes Lions Awards. That’s ad-speak for excelente.
DONNIE SCHMIDT (PROJECT DIRECTOR); KATHY WILLIAMS (PROJECT MANAGER); TOM MEYERS; ALEX MORASSUT; IAN DICKENSON: LORCAN O’HERLIHY ARCHITECTS. PRIME TECHNOLOGIES: AUDIOVISUAL CONSULTANT. FICCADENTI WAGGONER AND CASTLE STRUCTURAL ENGINEERS: STRUCTURAL ENGINEER. AMELECT: MEP. MULLER CALIFORNIA: SIGNAGE CONTRACTOR. MANAGE 360 CONSTRUCTORS; TSUCHIYA CONSTRUCTION COMPANY: GENERAL CONTRACTORS.