HOLLYWOOD, Calif.—Since construction of Emerson College’s new Hollywood campus for communications and arts students was completed in December 2013, its eye-catching design—a modernistic sculpture in shiny aluminum and glass—has attracted plenty of attention and requests for tours.
The star quality also earned it the 12th annual Q Award for all-union construction from the Alliance for Quality Construction. The award was presented to Emerson College in a ceremony June 24 at the school.
Opening the award ceremony, Mayor Garcetti called Emerson an artistic achievement and a flagship accomplishment for the revitalization of a neighborhood that has seen decline. “This is now a jewel in the crown of the Hollywood Renaissance,” Garcetti said. “This was a shot in the arm in the form of good, middle-class jobs.
“To me, it’s a symbol of LA’s comeback, because we’ve been through some lean years,” the Mayor added. “I know what it’s meant for the union leaders, who’ve had as much as 40 percent unemployment among their members.
Every year, the AQC, a Southern California association of union contractors and Building Trades unions, selects a winner from among union-built projects completed the previous year.
“The opening of this magnificent building on Sunset Boulevard makes a statement that Emerson is committed to the city of Los Angeles and to the entertainment and communication industries for the long term,” said Emerson College President Lee Pelton.
The architectural vision conceived by renowned architect Thom Mayne of Morphosis Architects was brought to reality by the Building Trades.
The Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council struck a Project Labor Agreement with Emerson and general contractor Hathaway Dinwiddie to have the $85 million project done entirely with union labor.
“We were happy that Emerson was very interested in building all union,” said Bruce Arnold, Hathaway Dinwiddie’s senior project manager. “The unions were able to supply the workforce with the skill that is required.” He said Dinwiddie has been working with organized labor “for over 100 years now.”
The City Needs Good Jobs
District 13 LA City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell said the kinds of jobs the project created are the kind the city needs. “I want to recognize the LA and Orange Counties Construction and Building Trades,” he told the audience.
“We know the workforce is here. We have talented men and women ready to go to work every day. That’s the goal for this city when we do business. A Project Labor Agreement provides local hire and apprenticeship opportunities allowing people into the Building Trades, into a middle-class way of life.”
The 107,400-square-foot complex of student housing, classrooms, lecture halls and voluminous outdoor spaces, including terraces and amphitheater, already has achieved one of its missions: letting the public know that Emerson, an institution based in Boston, maintains a major presence in Southern California.
The new building at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gordon Street serves as a permanent West Coast home for college students who previously lived and studied in rented space in Burbank.
Emerson graduates include television producer Norman Lear, actors Denis Leary and Henry Winkler and television icon Jay Leno.
Despite the complex geometry of the project, which Arnold described as “kind of like a gourd inside a frame,” the building was completed on time and within budget.
Emerson Los Angeles was also designed to make the structure and what is happening within it clearly visible and part of the action on Sunset Blvd., said Aaron Ragan, the project architect.
“It is a very iconic structure, something that everybody notices,” Arnold said. “It is very much a piece of art.”
The blending of art and workmanship is apparent in the undulating aluminum walls that face the center of the project.
Robert Zahner, senior vice president of A. Zahner Company that manufactured the aluminum skin in Kansas City, Missouri, said skilled union workers were required to painstakingly install the pieces that had been produced with the help of computers to match the architect’s design.
“They were craftsmen in the true sense of the word,” Zahner said of the Sheet Metal Local 105 members who performed the installation. “If even one piece was slightly out of place, it would have jumped out like a sore thumb.”
The Building Takes Shape
Luther Medina, Business Manager of Sheet Metal Workers Local 105, said he takes pride in what was accomplished. “The architects are the ones who design it and the Sheet Metal Workers are the ones who make it happen,” he said. “You can draw it one way but until you actually install it you don’t know that the pieces will fall into place. When you see it take shape you draw a breath of relief.”
Ragan said the architects and the electrical, plumbing and mechanical subcontractors made three dimensional digital models of their plans that they compared weekly to make certain everything would fit together.
Having the plumbing systems connect through the geometric diversity of the project required careful engineering, said Danny Martin, project manager for Murray Company, which performed the plumbing.
“The design did make it challenging,” Martin said. “We had to work within the restraints of the design.”
20 Tons of Beams
He explained that there were multiple levels in the middle of the building, between the dormitory towers, through which plumbing systems had to be run to provide domestic water and storm drains. About 12 union Plumbers were on site each day.
“It took a lot of pre-planning to make sure everything fit,” said Jay Lieberman, superintendent for Bragg Crane and Rigging. Due to the tightness of the construction site, he said, 40,000 pounds of steel beams had to be stacked 18 feet high between the building and the sidewalk before they could be hoisted aloft.
Stoney Martell, general field superintendent for Schroeder Iron Corp. that was responsible for installing the stairs and stainless steel railings on the building, said he is “real happy” with how it turned out.
Like others who worked on the project, Martell has driven by since it was completed, sometimes with family. He said his 10-year-old son “thought it looked like something from ‘Star Wars.’”