Cultivating the Atypical: The Resort at Playa Vista

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The Resort at Playa Vista is not an object. Depending on how you approach the site, you may see a line of Washingtonia palm trees guiding you toward a pair of entry doors, or a glass-enclosed light box hovering high above the adjacent street. You may detect a planted roof wrapping around the building, its drought-tolerant grasses waving in the coastal breeze. What you won’t immediately see from any angle is the discrete outline of a building.

This is a project that is difficult to classify with the traditional architect’s eye. Instead, it is a project to be mapped.

Architecture becomes the choreography of a framed view, topography, the sound of the wind through a grove of bamboo, a backdrop of color, a layering of visual and sensuous experiences.

Like an archaeologist excavating a site, removing layer after layer to gain an understanding of its history and function through the relative spacing of a collection of artifacts, you must also piece together this project’s narrative, though in real time, to build an understanding of the organization of spaces. The enclosure’s dynamic form is revealed as you walk through the project; it is not a showy architectural object in the landscape, holding all other disciplines subordinate.

What would this mapping reveal? The planted roof traces the main circulation loop, which starts as a gathering space at the entry and transitions into an exercise circuit. Near the entry, bold graphic murals invite you to linger, an impulse further strengthened as the passage opens out onto a courtyard marked by brightly colored custom furniture and shaded by an elegant tabebuia tree. As it approaches the fitness center, the passage coils into a running path and adjacent exercise ramp.

Within opposite eddies of this circulation loop, the fitness center and public meeting rooms are nestled. Each program area is expandable into adjacent outdoor areas — planted courtyards, shaded gardens, and terrace vistas — that build up a rich palette of spaces that encourage assembly, exercise, or relaxation for the surrounding community. The mapping reveals an architecture that is an accretion and sequencing of compelling spaces that suggest wellness, reflection, or conversation, and an open connection to the ecology and environment.

This is no accident. A historical study of the site revealed its past as a wetland, followed by the construction of Howard Hughes’ runway, and its subsequent zoning as a park. This past ecological history proved too seductive to ignore, and the idea of a park landscape was co-opted as a means to structure the new facility. The building envelope itself functions as a wetland landscape, as rainwater is slowed and filtered through the planted roof.

This experience of architecture as an immersive landscape is influenced by a process of working where architects and landscape architects, and indeed interior designers and graphic designers, actively collaborate to shape space. Expanding the architect’s toolbox to include a row of trees, a supergraphic, or a clustering of pendant light fixtures to define a space pushes the idea of architecture beyond a formal object that houses program and organizes building systems. Architecture becomes the choreography of a framed view, topography, the sound of the wind through a grove of bamboo, a backdrop of color, a layering of visual and sensuous experiences.

While the archaeologist deconstructs spatial relationships to understand the past cultural significance of a site, the architect’s process here is just the opposite. An architectural plan no longer simply delineates enclosure and exterior, but becomes a procession of programmatic zones connected along a continuous promenade, separated as necessary by varying levels of transparency. As the function of the facility is thus orchestrated across a spectrum of spatial negotiations and tied back into the natural history of the site, a new cultural narrative is constructed.

The willingness to approach a problem from multiple sides, blending these toolboxes, and allowing for equal usage without a predetermined hierarchy, allows for the discovery of new prototypes. It allows for the cultivation of the atypical.