Mimi Zeiger

Critic, editor, curator and instigator.

Apple may have acquired Beats Music and Beats Electronics in May, but the new Beats by Dre headquarters in Culver City couldn’t be farther from the all-white aesthetic favored by Jonathan Ive and Steve Jobs or Norman Foster’s spaceship-in-the-garden landing soon in Cupertino. “We come from hip-hop, hardcore punk, and indie rock. Hype Williams to Paul Williams, Robert Mapplethorpe to Robert Kelly. How do you design for that without being cliché?” asks Luke Wood, cofounder of the company with Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine.

Los Angeles-based architect Barbara Bestor tackled the question over and over again across the Beats campus. In renovating two existing industrial buildings, she meets Wood’s musical breadth with a series of architectural gestures that go from pop to cinematic to downright arty. The interior combines spaces saturated in deep blue and red paint with custom op-art wallpapers, and blond wood plucked from a primer on Scandinavian design. There’s even brass-lined staircase reminiscent of 1970s minimalist art.

At 105,000 square feet, the Beats by Dre workplace is one of the larger projects her firm has taken on. Bestor Architecture worked with workplace consultant Loescher + Meachem Architects to develop a scheme that could accommodate working environments for three CEOs, four executives, and 650 employees across more than a dozen departments that span software (Beats Music) to hardware (Beats Electronics). The design was completed this spring before Apple acquired Beats. Wood says the acquisition will not alter how Beats plans to use the space.

The main building, a former dental equipment manufacturer, is the public face of the company and houses the reception areas, conference rooms, offices, and acres of open desks. Across the parking lot, a second existing building accommodates a cafeteria, small gym, and grand, double-height workshop dedicated to research and development.

Bestor is known for her use of color and patterning—graphic signatures oft used in her retail and residential projects—and deft ability to make spaces that are generous and casual, while remaining sophisticated pieces of architecture. “Daytime disco is not a bad model for an office, ” says Bestor, recalling her 2011 installation Silent Disco at SCI-Arc, a provocatively glam construction tucked into an architecture school gallery. “With Beats we created a variety of calculated environments within the larger workspace: peaceful, activated, or super-classy spaces and simple spaces or art school spaces.”

Three elements organize the office layout: a long, two-story lobby that cuts across the building’s short axis and two courtyards, one all-white and dedicated to marketing and a deep blue courtyard for operations. A bit of an oversized thoroughfare during the day, Bestor designed the lobby to function as a place for Wood’s legendarily inspiring all-hands meetings where the whole company gathers in the space. Each courtyard has an urban, almost Rear Window, appeal as second story meeting rooms gaze into the more communal atrium below. Beats may be all about what goes in your ears, but this workplace feeds the visual. “The references are cinematic and the idea is about view: hidden view, open view,” Bestor says. “I think it is very romantic, like when you are walking on the ramps of the Guggenheim and getting views across the atrium.”

Wood touts the design’s long sightlines and ample visibility. “I spent 20 years in record companies—it was a bunch of little nests. You’d go all day and not see anyone. Now, you see people working away, you understand what everyone is doing.”

Beats is a Southern Californian company and Bestor’s design underscores that connection to L.A.’s history, landscape, and culture with a series of photo murals by photographer Iwan Baan in 10 of the conference and break-out rooms. The aerial images depict the founder’s neighborhoods—Silver Lake, Holmby Hills, Hollywood Hills—as well as the abstractions of freeway interchanges and the oilpumpjacks still bobbing away in Baldwin Hills.

For Wood, the Culver City location is especially important. It’s not just that the area was RKO Forty Acres, where the studio filmed King Kong and Gone With the Wind, or that the Culver City’s Hayden Industrial Track is architecturally known for wildly expressionistic buildings by Eric Owen Moss, or even that L.A.’s Silicon Beach is rapidly filling the renovated buildings of the former Howard Hughes Airport to the west. It’s all of them. “We’re located at the crossroads between technology and culture—aerospace and the backlot,” he explains. “It’s a tremendous ideological foundation from which to build our new space.”