From the top of the new Samitaur Tower, you can see several of the 15-odd buildings designed in Culver City, Calif., by architect Eric Owen Moss. The tower directly overlooks the dark tilting form of the Stealth, and the bulbous Beehive and twisting green Umbrella are to points east and south. Moss’s corner of Culver City is an architectural wonderland, a landscape of Seussian shapes with a forceful materiality of zinc, cement plaster, and slump glass. And of course, there is the structure at hand, a five-story tower of steel plate and milky acrylic: oil derrick meets iPad.

The Samitaur Tower sits adjacent to a new light-rail line, under construction and expected to open by 2012. With a projected daily ridership of 27,000, this new infrastructure brings with it a large, and largely captive, audience. Developers Laurie and Frederick Samitaur Smith, who also own the construction company that built the tower, commissioned Moss to design something to entertain strap-hangers, and perhaps entice them to linger: a structure that’s primary goal is to showcase film and video art. A novel concept, perhaps, but the Samitaur Smiths have spent 25 years developing this once-blighted section of Culver City—working with Moss as their sole architect—into an urban center of art and culture. “We wanted to stabilize the neighborhood, and introduce jobs, architecture, and art,” Frederick Samitaur Smith says. 

The tower’s form is defined by five offset steel rings, which are cantilevered off of steel beams at the rear. The rings are partially filled in with steel floor plates, creating different levels that can be occupied by tower visitors. The gap between each ring level is bridged by differently shaped panes of an acrylic and optical-film assembly, which, when viewed together, form an irregularly shaped rear-projection screen. Each screen is angled toward a different form of transportation: The first level is intended for street traffic, while other screens point toward the entrance to the tower, the future light-rail station, and the notoriously congested Santa Monica Freeway. “You could make the argument that we’re solving the problem of different vantage points,” Moss says. In situations where the geometry of the rings would dictate that the screen tilt up instead of down (reducing visibility) the architect omitted them, leaving apertures for taking in the view. The Samitaur Smiths are still mulling over what to show in their new drive-by theater.

The tower tops out at 72 feet above grade, but the site also boasts a sunken level with a small outdoor amphitheater and another, smaller, screen on the rear of the building that is directed at this audience. The concrete bleachers only seat 200, but for larger events, guests can spill into the neighboring parking lot (also owned by the Samitaur Smiths) and still see the show. The tower “has a very suggestive role for an urban artifact, which is a new kind of thing. There’s no name for it,” Moss says. “It’s a new kind of program.” But a new name might have to be coined: Moss designed the tower as a prototype, and, if the response is good, the Samitaur Smiths are looking at deploying several more throughout the city.

 Video: Time-Lapse of Samitaur Tower Under Construction

Project Credits

Project Samitaur Tower, Culver City, Calif.
Client/Owner Samitaur Constructs, Frederick and Laurie Samitaur Smith
Architect Eric Owen Moss Architects, Culver City, Calif.—Eric Owen Moss, FAIA, (principal); Dolan Daggett (project architect); Pegah Sadr, Eric McNevin, Vanessa Jauregui (project team)
Mechanical Engineer Nibecker & Associates
Structural Engineer Arup—Bruce Danziger
Electrical Engineer Lucci & Associates
Civil Engineer Samara & Associates; Paller-Roberts Engineering
Geotechnical Engineer Geotechnologies
Construction Manager Peter Brown, Tim Brown
General Contractor Samitaur Constructs
Façade Engineer Toft, De Nevers & Lee, Doug Street
Size 5,000 square feet
Cost Withheld

Materials and Sources

Acrylic Mullions Reynolds Polymer Technology (custom)
Adhesives, Coatings, and Sealants Dow Corning (structural sealant)
Elevator Otis Elevator Co.
Lighting Control Systems Vantage Controls
Lighting Crescent/Stonco, by Philips; Allscape by Philips
Metal Deck ASC Steel Deck
Projection Screens Arkema (custom)
Site and Landscape Products Tensar International Corp. (geogrid); Stover Seed Co.
Structural System Structural Steel over cast-in-drilled-hole and grade beam foundation
Windows, Curtainwalls, and Doors Torrance Steel Window Co.

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