Thom Mayne's high-tech Emerson College LA campus opens in Hollywood [slideshow]

The $85 million, 10-story vertical campus takes the shape of a massive, shimmering aircraft hangar, housing a sculptural, glass-and-aluminum base building.

March 07, 2014 |
Photo: Iwan Baan - / Courtesy Emerson College

Larry David, Maria Menounos, and Sofia Vergara are among the Hollywood elites scheduled to attend a star-studded gala March 8 to celebrate the opening of Emerson College's new $85 million Los Angeles campus building

Located on Sunset Boulevard, in the heart of LA's entertainment and communications industry, the 10-story, 107,000-sf multipurpose campus can house up to 217 students and includes wired classrooms, an open-air screening and live-performance space, a Dolby Surround 7.1 audio post-production suite, a 4K screening room, computer labs, mixing suites, and a planned green screen motion capture stage.

Design architect Thom Mayne of Morphosis said the building's form, which takes the shape of a massive, shimmering aircraft hangar, housing a sculptural, glass-and-aluminum base building, is designed to "expand the interactive, social aspect of education. We focused on creating with the broader community in mind—both in terms of public space and sustainable design.” 

The building’s exterior features a dynamic sun shading system that adapts to changing weather conditions to maintain optimal indoor temperature and natural light levels. Heating and cooling of the building is further optimized through an innovative passive valence system developed by Buro Happold. 


Photo: Iwan Baan - / Courtesy Emerson College


Additional green design initiatives include: the use of recycled and rapidly renewable building materials; installation of efficient water-saving fixtures; a high-performance glass curtain-wall to minimize heat gain; landscaping and a living green wall; and a central management infrastructure to monitor overall building efficiency.  

Morphosis' design statement:

Bringing student housing, instructional facilities, and administrative offices to one location, ELA condenses the diversity of a college campus into an urban site. Evoking the concentrated energy of East-Coast metropolitan centers in an iconic Los Angeles setting, a rich dialogue emerges between students’ educational background and their professional futures.

Fundamental to the Emerson Los Angeles experience, student living circumstances give structure to the overall building. Housing up to 217 students, the domestic zones frame a dynamic core dedicated to creativity, learning, and social interaction. Composed of two slender residential towers connected by a helistop, the 10-story square frame encloses a central open volume to create a flexible outdoor “room.”

A sculpted form housing classrooms and administrative offices weaves through the void, defining multi-level terraces and active interstitial spaces that foster informal social activity and creative cross-pollination. Looking out onto the multi-level terrace, exterior corridors to student suites and common rooms are shaded by an undulating, textured metal scrim spanning the full height of the towers’ interior face.


Photo: Iwan Baan - / Courtesy Emerson College


Looking to the local context, the center finds a provocative precedent in the interiority of Hollywood film studios, where outwardly regular façades house flexible, fantastical spaces within. With rigging for screens, media connections, sound, and lighting incorporated into the façade’s metal framework, this dynamic visual backdrop also serves as a flexible armature for outdoor performances. The entire building becomes a stage set for student films, screenings, and industry events, with the Hollywood sign, the city of Los Angeles, and the Pacific Ocean in the distance providing added scenery.

Anticipated to achieve a LEED Gold rating, the new center champions Emerson’s commitment to both sustainable design and community responsibility. Wrapping the building’s northwest corner, a green wall underscores the towers’ actively changing exterior skin. Connected to weather stations that track the local climate, temperature, and sun angle, the automated sunshade system opens and closes horizontal fins outside the high-performance glass curtain-wall to minimize heat gain while maximizing daylight and views. 

Further green initiatives include the use of recycled and rapidly renewable building materials, installation of efficient fixtures to reduce water use by 40%, energy savings in heating and cooling through a passive valence system, and a building management and commissioning infrastructure to monitor and optimize efficiency of all systems.


Photo: Iwan Baan - / Courtesy Emerson College


Building Team

Architect: Morphosis Architects (Thom Mayne)

Structural engineer: John A. Martin Associates, Inc.

MEP engineer: Buro Happold

General contractor: Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction Company

Development consultant: Robert Silverman

Civil engineer: KPFF

IT/BIM implementation: Synthesis

Lighting consultant: Horton Lees Brogden Lighting Design, Inc.

Specifications: Technical Resources Consultants, Inc.

Theater consultant: Auerbach Pollock Friedlander

Acoustic consultant: Newson Brown Associates LLC

Audiovisual/IT consultant: Waveguide Consulting Inc.

Code/life safety consultant: Arup

Facade consultant: A. Zahner Architectural Metals; JA Weir Associates

Cost consultant: Davis Langdon

Vertical transportation: Edgett Williams Consulting Group, Inc.

Curtain wall consultant: Walters & Wolf

LEED consultant: Davis Langdon

Graphics: Follis Design

Waterproofing consultant: Independent Roofing Consultants

Geotechnical consultant: Geotechnologies Inc.

Sustainability: Davis Langdon

Landscape consultant: Katherine Spitz Associates

Architectural specifications consultant: Technical Resources Consultants, Inc.

Architectural visualization: Kilograph

Smoke control: Exponent

Exterior building maintenance: Olympique

Project Information

Cost: $85 million

Total size: 107,000 sf (70,500 sf residential; 30,100 sf instructional/administrative; 6,400 sf retail for Emerson kitchen)

Lot size: 37,351 sf

Building height: 130 feet; 10 stories

Parking: three levels of subterranean parking with 239 parking spaces

Housing: capacity for 217 students: 159 single rooms (eight are designated for resident assistants), 29 double rooms, and four faculty/staff apartments

Instructional spaces: six general purpose classrooms; computer lab; editing lab; audio lab; distance learning room; two performance studios; two dressing rooms; two study rooms; 4K screening room; large assembly room; audio post mixing suite

For more information, read Emerson's article on the Emerson LA grand opening and the LA Times report.


Photo: Iwan Baan - / Courtesy Emerson College


Photo: Iwan Baan - / Courtesy Emerson College


Photo: Iwan Baan - / Courtesy Emerson College


Photo: Iwan Baan - / Courtesy Emerson College


Photo: Iwan Baan - / Courtesy Emerson College


Photo: Iwan Baan - / Courtesy Emerson College

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