Cognito Films

Cognito Films in Culver City, California by Randall Stout Architects, 2001

Recently receiving an honor award from Wood Design & Building Magazine, the office for Cognito Films in Culver City (home to many of Eric Owen Moss's architectural adventures) is definitely unconventional in its use of wood, using structural sizes to demarcate space in an imaginative arrangement. The jury commented that the "arrangement and connections are so simple that one can imagine the stacked timbers re-use at some time in the future." This thinking goes hand-in-hand with the company, a production company for television commercials, who strive for freshness and surprise.

Randall Stout Architects' design responds to the bowstring trusses of the roughly 11,000 s.f. warehouse space they retrofitted into office space. While the wood members of the trusses are smaller with space between, the main intervention competes through its mass, 12x12 inch pieces stacked together. These wood walls contain a conference room, media room, A/V editing room, and staff workroom (also supporting a mezzanine lounge for staff) though never completely as the skewed walls create gaps both in plan and section. The plan illustrates the simplicity of the main design element, basically an island within the warehouse space.

Beyond the contemporary design, the architects successfully incorporated sustainability by using timbers from a local yard that were cut from reforested, new growth trees. According to the architects, "Timber lengths range typically from 14 to 33 feet [and] are held together using simple combinations of steel angles saddles and splice plates with 3/4-inch diameter bolts. Stacked timbers were drilled through on 7 foot centers to receive 3 inch diameter steel pipe and also glued along their entire lengths. No finish was applied so as to leave the wood grain fully open to sight and touch." While it may not be immediately apparent, the details of the construction are just as important as the ideas behind the design.

Renovating warehouses is a popular means to create office space in and around California. Many ways of relating to the existing structure exist, including the extremes of ignoring it or celebrating it. In this case, the architects come close to celebrating the existing, though their reinterpretation of the use of wood moves the design away from mere mimicry. A consistent material palette from roof structure down to the new walls helps to create a cohesive space that is otherwise lacking in completeness: the walls look like they could still be under construction. But it's a maneuver that in the end pays off.