Mimi Zeiger

Critic, editor, curator and instigator.

Emerson College Los Angeles, the newly opened West Coast outpost of the Boston-based institution, sits on a stretch of Sunset Boulevard that is rapidly changing from seedy to cinematic. The school has strong alumni community in Los Angeles and an established internship program. Designed by Wallpaper* Design Awards judge Thom Mayne of Morphosis Architects, the $85 million, 10-storey building-cum-microcampus hosts students majoring in television, film, marketing, acting, screenwriting, and journalism.

At nearly 10,000 sq m, Morphosis’ scheme maxes out the site, but has a hollow centre. The mixed used educational building includes two 10-story dormitory towers (housing 217 students), classrooms, faculty offices, video and film production labs, and multi-use performance spaces, including an outdoor amphitheater with a view of the Hollywood sign. A superstructure roof connecting the two towers does double duty as a theatrical lighting grid and helipad.

The architects hope to achieve LEED Gold certification. Motorized sunshades on the east and west tower facades control solar heat gain and give the building a tough, mechanical-looking exterior. Designed using computational processing, the folded aluminum screens on the sides of the courtyard are dynamic and mesmerizing, an optical illusion suggesting depth and motion.

Mayne was inspired by the hangar-like soundstages found on studio lots. ‘There are all these worlds in a big room,’ he says, reflecting on the sets. ‘We understood our building as being very flexible and open ended. And very possibly used for a background for filming.’ Indeed, every curved wall is endlessly photogenic, and in true Sunset Boulevard fashion, ready for its close up.