Credit: Bruce Damonte

Drive down Los Angeles’s Sunset Boulevard and you’ll discover Morphosis Architects’ latest project, a futuristic cube, rising from a strip of lowly fast food outlets. The structure is the West Coast micro-campus for Boston’s Emerson College, and is home to 217 students majoring in television, film, marketing, acting, screenwriting, and journalism. As you draw closer, the solid mass reveals itself as a proscenium, framing a patch of blue sky. The building’s two residential towers bookend open-air courtyards and performance spaces. “Some might say it is an aggressive building, but I see it as rather classical,” says Thom Mayne, FAIA, principal of Morphosis Architects, with offices in Culver City, Calif., and New York. “[The design] is a critique of an institutional building as a big block.”

At 107,400 square feet and 10 stories high, Mayne’s building is a robust addition to the neighborhood’s transformation, which is being spurred by the city’s Hollywood Redevelopment Project. The structure, on track to achieve LEED Gold certification, is not a traditional academic building. Emerson College, with the support of a strong alumni community, commissioned the $85 million facility to accommodate its long-standing internship program, which brings students to L.A. each year to work in the media and film industries. The building boasts 188 student rooms and four faculty apartments, as well as classrooms, faculty offices, and video and film production labs.

Credit: Bruce Damonte


Mayne, an Angeleno who studied in the Boston area at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, recognized the culture shock potential between the two cities and based his concept on an idea about urbanism that mediates between East Coast density and the wide-open L.A. basin. His concept weaves an imagined urban fabric from indoor and outdoor spaces, including courtyards that double as performance spaces. A large outdoor stair serves as a gathering area for students, but it’s also an amphitheater equipped with theatrical lighting for public events. “Los Angeles can be a very complicated and opaque place to visit,” Mayne says. But sitting on the steps looking out at the Hollywood sign framed by his building, there’s no confusion: This is L.A.

This stretch of Sunset Boulevard was far from glamorous when Emerson purchased property along it in 2008. Today, condos are rising in once-empty parking lots. Although the academic building incorporates 120,000 square feet of parking spread across three levels, it is located near the Hollywood/Vine Metro station and is designed to be pedestrian friendly. The ground floor café is open to the public.

This stretch of Sunset Boulevard was far from glamorous when Emerson purchased property along it in 2008. Today, condos are rising in once-empty parking lots. Although the academic building incorporates 120,000 square feet of parking spread across three levels, it is located near the Hollywood/Vine Metro station and is designed to be pedestrian friendly. The ground floor café is open to the public.

Credit: Bruce Damonte


The building is located on a rapidly gentrifying commercial strip of Sunset Boulevard.

The building is located on a rapidly gentrifying commercial strip of Sunset Boulevard.

Credit: Bruce Damonte


  • Exterior detail.

    Credit: Bruce Damonte

    Exterior detail.
  • Exterior detail.

    Credit: Bruce Damonte

    Exterior detail.

The fromnt exterior of the building, which is located on the south side of Sunset Boulevard.

The front exterior of the building, which is located on the south side of Sunset Boulevard.

Credit: Bruce Damonte


At 10 stories tall, the building is considered a high-rise in Los Angeles, where building codes require emergency helicopter access on structures taller than 75 feet. So the project team integrated a helipad into the design. The robust superstructure bridges the two dorm slabs and doubles as a lighting grid for outdoor performances in the second-floor courtyard and in the amphitheater.

At 10 stories tall, the building is considered a high-rise in Los Angeles, where building codes require emergency helicopter access on structures taller than 75 feet. So the project team integrated a helipad into the design. The robust superstructure bridges the two dorm slabs and doubles as a lighting grid for outdoor performances in the second-floor courtyard and in the amphitheater.

Credit: Bruce Damonte


The organically shaped form between the two dorm towers contains performance spaces, administrative offices, and classrooms, including a distance learning room facing onto Sunset Boulevard. For Mayne, the play between indoor and outdoor areas is more analogous to the older urban fabrics in Europe and Asia, not Los Angeles. We built a little town. I am fascinated by the accidental feel of cities more than the formal, he says. The building is filled with interstitial spaces.

The organically shaped form between the two dorm towers contains performance spaces, administrative offices, and classrooms, including a distance learning room facing onto Sunset Boulevard. For Mayne, the play between indoor and outdoor areas is more analogous to the older urban fabrics in Europe and Asia, not Los Angeles. “We built a little town. I am fascinated by the accidental feel of cities more than the formal,” he says. “The building is filled with interstitial spaces.”

Credit: Bruce Damonte


  • Credit: Bruce Damonte

  • Credit: Bruce Damonte


Lobby security.

Lobby security.

Credit: Bruce Damonte


The design embraces the Southern California climate with two large piazza-like spaces and integrates performance-quality lighting and audio equipment. The third-floor terrace, adjacent to a communal kitchen and dining room, is dedicated to the resident students. It features barbecue grills and outdoor dining furniture.

The design embraces the Southern California climate with two large piazza-like spaces and integrates performance-quality lighting and audio equipment. The third-floor terrace, adjacent to a communal kitchen and dining room, is dedicated to the resident students. It features barbecue grills and outdoor dining furniture.

Credit: Bruce Damonte


  • One of the most striking features of Morphosiss design is the eight-story sunscreen that shades the buildings two internal façades. The firm used computational scripting to determine the final geometry. Over the better part of a year, in-house designer/programmers input the parameters that created the undulating and dynamic surface. The scripting program responded to inputs such as the curvature of the classroom building and the location of the elm tree in the fifth-floor courtyard.

    Credit: Bruce Damonte

    One of the most striking features of Morphosis’s design is the eight-story sunscreen that shades the building’s two internal façades. The firm used computational scripting to determine the final geometry. Over the better part of a year, in-house designer/programmers input the parameters that created the undulating and dynamic surface. The scripting program responded to inputs such as the curvature of the classroom building and the location of the elm tree in the fifth-floor courtyard.
  • Screens provide shade and privacy for the dorm rooms. They are composed of 17 different folded components made out of triple-coated aluminum. The Morphosis team worked closely with the A. Zahner Co. in Kansas City, Mo., on the fabrication. The company used 3D models to produce the exact curvatures of Maynes design and then shipped the panels to the site.

    Credit: Bruce Damonte

    Screens provide shade and privacy for the dorm rooms. They are composed of 17 different folded components made out of triple-coated aluminum. The Morphosis team worked closely with the A. Zahner Co. in Kansas City, Mo., on the fabrication. The company used 3D models to produce the exact curvatures of Mayne’s design and then shipped the panels to the site.

Two single-loaded residential towers present austere perimeter façades to the east and west. An automated system connected to weather stations that monitor temperatures and sun angle controls the horizontal sunshades. A high-performance glass curtainwall features operable windows in the dorm rooms. Rooftop solar panels on the west tower provide enough power to heat hot water for the entire complex, and each dorm room is equipped with a valence system that provides radiant heating and cooling. The first way to deal with energy is to reduce the load, Mayne says. There isnt much coming out of the office that isnt [LEED] Gold or Platinum.

Two single-loaded residential towers present austere perimeter façades to the east and west. An automated system connected to weather stations that monitor temperatures and sun angle controls the horizontal sunshades. A high-performance glass curtainwall features operable windows in the dorm rooms. Rooftop solar panels on the west tower provide enough power to heat hot water for the entire complex, and each dorm room is equipped with a valence system that provides radiant heating and cooling. “The first way to deal with energy is to reduce the load,” Mayne says. “There isn’t much coming out of the office that isn’t [LEED] Gold or Platinum.”

Credit: Bruce Damonte




Project Credits
Project Emerson College Los Angeles
Client Emerson College
Architect Morphosis, Culver City, Calif.—Thom Mayne, FAIA (design director); Kim Groves (principal and project manager); Aaron Ragan (project architect); Chandler Ahrens (lead project designer); Shanna Yates (project designer); Natalia Traverso Caruana, Brock Hinze, Yasushi Ishida, Jai Kumaran (project team); Katsuya Arai, Marco Becucci, Chris Bennett, Cory Brugger, Amaranta Campos, Joe Filippelli, Alex Fritz, Penny Herscovitch, Hunter Knight, Zach Main, Jon McAllister, Nicole Meyer, Cameron Northrop, Brandon Sampson, Scott Smith, Michael Smith, Satoru Sugihara, Ben Toam, Elizabeth Wendell, AIA (project assistants)
Visualization Jasmine Park, Nathan Skrepcinski, Josh Sprinkling, Sam Tannenbaum
Development Consultant Robert Silverman
Structural Engineer John A. Martin Associates
M/E/P Engineer Buro Happold
Civil Engineer KPFF
Landscape Consultant Katherine Spitz Associates
IT and BIM Implementation Synthesis
Lighting Consultant Horton Lees Brogden Lighting Design
Specifications Technical Resources Consultants
Theater Consultant Auerbach Pollock Friedlander
Acoustic Consultant Newson Brown Acoustics
Audiovisual/IT Consultant Waveguide Consulting
Code/Life Safety Consultant Arup
Façade Consultant A. Zahner Co.; JA Weir Associates
Vertical Transportation Edgett Williams Consulting Group
Curtainwall Consultant Walters & Wolf
Cost, LEED, and Sustainability Consultant Davis Langdon
Graphics Follis Design
Waterproofing Consultant Independent Roofing Consultants
Geotechnical Consultant Geotechnologies
General Contractor Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction Co.
Architectural Specifications Consultant Technical Resources Consultants
Architectural Visualization Kilograph
Smoke Control Exponent
Exterior Building Maintenance Olympique
Size 120,000 square feet (gross)
Cost Withheld