The project is a state-of-the-art performing arts center, built on the site of the historic, 1934 Beverly Hills Post Office. The center contains the 500-seat Goldsmith Theater, where every seat is intimately connected to the performance space. The historic post office building contains a 120-seat Lovelace Studio Theater, where ideas will be tested, workshopped, and developed into world-class material. The historic building also contains an education center with classrooms, administrative offices, and the main entry for theatre patrons, including a box office and concessions facility. A garden and courtyard connect the historic with the new building with direct visual connection to the shops and restaurants of downtown Beverly Hills.
At one point, prior to SPF:a’s involvement in the project, conventional wisdom was to place the new performing arts venue within the walls of the historic post office building, and to create a small annex on the site to house the educational components of the program. SPF:a does the reverse – instead, the studio takes the smaller programmatic elements such as the rehearsal hall, classrooms, and administrative offices and locates them into the three level historic building, where they fit nicely and snuggly. This preserves and celebrates the historic architecture, as well as affords the Center the opportunity to create a new, state-of-the-art, flexible performing arts facility with ample back-of-house amenities.
The plan diagram of the new theater is a “T”, as is the historic building. By turning the new “T” so that it fits on the site adjacent the existing one, a dynamic site diagram evolves. The interplay between buildings also forms a series of serene outdoor gardens and courtyards that allow for a variety of activities and landscapes, including a pathway that will allow visitors to walk from City Hall through the site towards the shopping areas. Each interior space of the complex has a corresponding exterior plaza or garden that extends the space into the public domain and takes advantage of the southern California climate.
The project is comprised of a set of programmatic surfaces that are layered against and within the old and new construction and each other. The surfaces perform a number of functions:
Rather than imitate or pay homage to the existing architecture, the new interventions on the site celebrate the history of the site itself, and the activity that took place there: the processing, sorting, and delivery of mail. Thus the project is essentially a collection of wrappers, envelopes, and surfaces that weave together a diverse set of functions and itineraries.
The skin of the new Goldsmith Theater is an abstraction of the millions of letters and envelopes that once defined this historic site – formed in copper-colored concrete panels. A 4 foot by 9 foot envelope-shaped panel is repeated across the façade. The result is a beautiful abstract textural pattern, engraved into a copper skin. Each envelope is slightly different; some flat, some closed, some open, some turned front side out, and some turned to their backs. The direction not only creates symbolism in its architecture, but an abstract composition and a piece of art.
The skin folds in response to the street and existing building on the site. The skin also conceals the mechanical equipment of the building. As it wraps around the building it modulates its construction to create a cohesive figure out of the building masses that otherwise would be perceived as separate elements.
What was once a hub of private personal communication becomes a center for art and education. In doing so, the Center embodies the invisible monumentality of the process of mail distribution, creating a resonance with its new function as a center for the processing and distribution of culture.