May 1, 2011

Pacific Rim: Corporate Meets Cool at an LA Ad Agency

How do you bridge the cultural divide between hierarchical South Korean corporate executives and freewheeling Los Angeles advertising creatives? Then how do you lure the L.A. crew to drive at least an hour south every morning to Huntington Beach, aka Surf City, U.S.A.? The queries are complex, but the answer is simple: Innocean Worldwide is precisely the type of project that Shubin + Donaldson Architects does best. Give Russell Shubin and Robin Donaldson a raw shell, better yet one for an ad agency, and they’ll design an edgy interior that nevertheless fosters work. 

As Innocean executive creative director Jeff Spiegel says, “This was an opportunity to build a culture from the ground up.” One of Hyundai’s many subsidiaries, the agency started out doing automotive print ads and TV commercials strictly in-house. It’s now pitching other clients as well, and the resulting staff growth made a move attractive. The new location encompasses 32,000 square feet on the upper levels of a three-building mixed-use complex that also includes retail and a hotel.

“The industrial kind of buildings Innocean chose, with lots of natural light and Pacific Ocean vistas, was perfect for a flagship with a distinctive West Coast feel,” Shubin notes. This from Donaldson: “One of the fun parts of the project was to bring the urban loft-conversion aesthetic to a whole new locale.” It’s certainly a locale he knows well. He grew up nearby, even working as a life­guard at this very beach—Innocean is just steps from the sand and one of the longest piers on the West Coast.

Second-story decks connect Innocean’s trio of buildings, and their organization follows broad strokes. The first building contains the largest space, a double-height cube comprising reception, a corner conference room, and a mix of open and private offices. The next building, mostly untouched by Shubin + Donaldson, offers additional spaces for financial operations. In the final building, the smallest of the three, work goes informal with three meeting rooms, two lounges, and a kitchen. 

In the main building, Shubin says, “We built everything.” He, Donaldson, and senior associate Mark Hershman effectively doubled square footage in the 26-foot-high volume by adding a mezzanine complete with a glass-walled meeting room that cantilevers vertiginously over the reception desk. Stairs connecting the levels are hidden behind a cement-board partition with four built-in TV monitors facing the reception area, providing entertainment for those seated on the sand-colored Jasper Morrison sofas.

Details are key to the project. “But that didn’t mean hanging surfboards from the rafters,” Donaldson says. “We introduced cool materials but not in a cliché way.” More to the team’s tastes are the all-pervasive hot-rolled steel with exposed welding, reclaimed American oak, and clear reeded glass. Even the custom workstations adhere to the minimalist palette, Hershman explains: “We went for a seamless integration with the background. There’s a masculine feel that’s at one with the space.” That masculinity carries over to the perforated steel panels used overhead. They conceal mechanicals along the sides of the ceiling and projection gear in the center. 

The only deviations from the no-color color scheme are the reception desk’s appropriately ocean-blue resin counter and the occasional shot of the?Innocean logo’s sunburst orange. It appears on the 2-foot-tall letters spelling out the?agency’s name street-front and on the smaller versions in reception. Luckily, Fernando and Humberto Campana’s signature tangled-wire armchair came standard in the exact same orange, so Shubin + Donaldson placed one next to?the reception desk. “Future offices are going to get one, too,” Shubin says—Chicago’s up next. Finally, the orange recurs as glass dividers.

While the main building is all business, the small building shows that infor­mal­ity is equally conducive to generating ideas. The only enclosed elements, all hugging the rear wall, are a media lounge with a barn-door slider; three meeting rooms, two of which can join; and the restrooms, concealed behind a wall of bookshelves. Otherwise, the area is open, dotted with iconic 111 Navy chairs, Parsons-esque tables, and a Hella Jongerius sofa. A gray-upholstered banquette backs up to the white-tiled island that demarcates the kitchen, staffed by a fuel-providing barista. Spiegel, Innocean’s executive creative director, describes the effect as “a sweet spot between living and working environments. That’s a difficult trick to pull off.”

Of course, creative problem-solving is literally the name of the game at Innocean, a made-up word derived from ocean of innovation. “The nomenclature came from Seoul,” Spiegel offers. “They named the agency like they name cars.”


Erik Schonsett; Audrey McEwan: Shubin + Donaldson Architects. Lighting Design Alliance: Lighting Consultant. Global Presenter: Audiovisual Consultant. Grimm & Chen Structural Engineering: Structural Engineer. Gouvis Engineering Consulting Group: MEP. Coastal Cabinets: Woodwork. Man Metal Design: Metalwork. Sierra Pacific Constructors: General Contractor.

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