Ahmanson Founders Room

Ahmanson Founders Room

Belzberg Architects
135 N. Grand Ave. Los Angeles, United States | View Map
Project Year

Ahmanson Founders Room

Belzberg Architects as Architects


The Ahmanson Founders Room project was initiated in 2004 as a political, social and economical device geared toward enhancing institutional fundraising through private membership at the Ahmanson Theatre. With the addition of the Walt Disney Concert Hall to the Los Angeles Music Center campus, the desire to promote each venue with increased membership offerings was enhanced. The existing design of the Ahmanson Theatre de-emphasized the value of the Founders by wedging the dedicated room into a small, closed-ended space. Beyond the physical limitations on size, there was no opportunity for additional services such as food and beverages to be included with the Founders experience. The scope involved satisfying these purely logistical issues of an adaptive re-use project while simultaneously checking contemporary aesthetic against the political will of the theatre group.

Economically the new space has become an income generator for the theatre. The theatre has benefited from the added food and beverage service coupled with lengthier periods of time spent by visitor at the room. The Founders Room has shifted from one that periodically served the desires of few to one that is held in high regard by all and beckons future members. The space has been revived as an essential and desirable part of each night’s event program. Politically the contemporary-yet-not-all-that-unfamiliar design aesthetic increased the enthusiasm and identity of the Founders and seated this group comfortably and visibly among the contributors of the Los Angeles Music Center.

As Part of a Larger Arts Context

During the 1960s, three major arts complexes were completed in the United States, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York, the Edward Stone’s Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and the Los Angeles

Music Center(2). The Music Center includes four venues for the arts; the Ahmanson Theatre(3), Mark Taper Forum, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and, as of 2003, the Walt Disney Concert Hall. In all, this complex dedicates approximately 11 acres (45,000 m2) to performance arts in downtown Los Angeles.

The three aforementioned arts complexes are noted for successfully being designed within the style of New Formalism. “The success of the New Formalism in the America of 1960s is not hard to account for; in an affluent society it lends itself to the use of expensive materials (as well as materials that only look expensive); in a society that aspires to culture it flatters the spectator with its references to the past; in a conservative society it suggests that the old forms need only to be restyled to fit them for the new needs. The style was embraced and employed as an appropriate synthesis of civic authority and Classical monumentality.”(1) While the Walt Disney Concert Hall has uprooted this ‘style’ in terms of architectural aesthetic and spatial experience, the ideology of New Formalism remains within the spectator.


The lobby for the Ahmanson Theatre off Grand Street is sunken below street level which enforces an ascent to the theatre for a public admittee and allows for members to exit the lobby into the Orchestra Level where the majority of priority attendees are normally seated. The new design for the Founders Room was to be located on the same level as this lobby with direct entry from the subterranean parking garage. Therefore the most desirable location to suit this need is the thickened boundary between the congested streets of Los Angeles and the brimming communal areas of the Ahmanson Theatre on event night.

For clients who wish to bestow some of those qualities so prominent in the New Formalist ideology to their new space, the initial challenge was based on the complexity of location. The garage generates undesirable noise within an abundance of concrete masses, and the sunken location of the room deprived the space and the Founders of natural light. These issues coupled with the almost clandestine preoccupation of exclusivity by the Founders helped reorient the design objectives toward this project.

The frenetic and raw nature of the spaces adjacent to the Founders Room is instead used to emphasize the grandeur of the new space. The static aura of the parking garage is boldly contrasted upon entering the Founders Room with a palette of warm materials, sensual lighting schemes and smooth textures. At the North end of the room, a thin window spans the width of the space and allows for the physical and visual extension of the Founders Room ceiling into the public lobby directly adjacent. From the lobby, this window reveals the saturated colors and variegated striations of the CNC-routed ceiling pattern of the room beyond. It uses the monochromatic white tones of the lobby to frame out the slight reveal of the Founders Room. This gives purpose back to the aesthetic of the public lobby while simultaneously evoking a sense of importance or prestige for the space beyond.

Adaptive Re-use

Having felt a great need to improve the members’ amenities, the Music Center staff searched for space to provide the Ahmanson Founders with their new room. Unsuccessful after many attempts, a stagehand came to the rescue when he remembered there was an old storage room used by MCOC (Music Center Operating Co.) in the garage behind the existing bar. This room had been used to store documents and other miscellaneous files since the ‘60s when the theatre opened [11]. The photographs on the following page[9],[10] show the previously existing wall of the MCOC storage room and the new face of the Founders Room after.

Following this discovery, the strategy in plan was to annex this existing storage space adjacent to the garage and to combine that with excess space from the existing lobby after moving the bar from the South side of the room to the North. Once the area to be reused was determined, every effort was made to afford the main room with as much space as possible. The core areas remained the same while the service areas were compact, efficient and purely functional. Founders enter through the garage and can immediately check a coat or pick up tickets for the evening’s soiree. When ready to enter the show, direct access to the public lobby is available where entry to the Orchestra Level of seating is immediate as mentioned previously. The existing design provided an abundance of space to the general public yet only a very small space was allocated to the original Founders Room. The lobby therefore was large and largely unused. The combination of a forgotten storage space, a small portion of the garage and the reorganization of the previous lobby brought emphasis and grandeur back to the Ahmanson Founders Room.


(1) Grimes, Teresa | “New Formalism”, an excerpt from Historic American Building Survey (2) www.musiccenter.org (3) www.centertheatregroup.org/theatres/ahmanson

Design Techniques

The necessities of the project set a stage for the marriage of two seemingly dichotomous components: computer generated means of design/fabrication as well as the visceral predictions of affective architectural qualities, primarily light and warmth. The design for the Ahmanson Founders Room ties together various architectural elements through a series of quantitative relationships. Working primarily with the ‘flat’ nature of wood panels, there were simultaneous pursuits to develop three-dimensional textures from two-dimensional data as well as operational devices set in place to control one data set through the functions of another.

While not contained within a single parametric model, certain piecemeal efforts to cross software applications yielded new insights into ways of extracting information from various file types and data sets and into ways of using that information as input in alternate devices. The versatility afforded by employing loosely attached systems of rigorous parametric relationships stems from the inherent lack of limitations imposed by the use of a single software application. The images created for the wall panels eschew the transcendent, classical qualities of visual art in favor of exposing geometric entities which yield very ‘blue collar’ information such as size, density and other more determinable data.

The two-dimensional diagram of the ceiling is the root modifier of sectional profiles and textures throughout the space. While subtle shifts in the line work of the ceiling diagram alter adjacent diagrams only slightly, parameters and operators introduced at a finer level in the hierarchy of relationships further disguise the results’ direct correlation with the base diagram.

Whatever the extent of differences between components of the finished room may be, there is a resounding aura of connectivity between texture, material, color and light. The Founders Room design should be seen as an attempt to judge objectively the ratio of cohesion between quantitative design techniques and the overall architectural experience.

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