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Touring Downtown's Ritz-Carlton, Learning About Glass Curtain Walls

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When you ask local architects to weigh in and give their opinion on the new Ritz-Carlton/JW Marriott building in downtown, they’ll usually point out two design aspects. First, there’s the way the Gensler-designed tower expands towards the top like a tulip, and then there’s the blue-colored glass curtain tower that covers both the Ritz and the adjoining JW Marriott Hotel. Whether architects like the overall design of the building varies--and we’ve heard a range of opinions from “stunning” to worries the blue design is already dated-looking--but people usually point out those two design aspects. During a tour last week, Gensler principal Warwick Ian Wicksman, AIA, explained more about those features, and the 54-story Ritz/Marriott itself, the only new building of the real estate boom to significantly add to the downtown skyline.

From a design point of view, the 878-room JW Marriot is connected to the Ritz-Carlton at its base, with the two buildings creating an L-shape until the 26th floor, site of the Ritz’s pool. Then the tower shoots upward, and this portion of the building holds the 224 Ritz-Carlton condos, which are priced from $1.4 million-$10 million.

Given the varying room sizes of the JW Marriott, the Ritz hotel, and the Ritz condos, (and it's worth pointing out that with just 123 rooms, the Ritz-Carlton hotel is really a boutique hotel), there's basically three different buildings.

The Marriott rooms are generally 30 feet long, while Ritz rooms are 38 feet, and the condos are even bigger, hitting about 42 feet at the 46th floor, before reducing back to about 35 feet at the very top. The top of the Ritz tower has 12 penthouses, but the two floors--the 53rd and 54th floors--are used for mechanical and elevator equipment.

Since the building gets bigger as the units do--there's the tulip explanation--Gensler wanted to use a glass curtain to give the building a uniform look, and hide the different floor plans, the varying room heights, and the service floors. Basically, the glass wall is acting as a veil. Genser used some reflective glass on the bottom of the Marriott portion, but didn't want to use reflective glass on the veil (many downtown buildings, like Concerto, use reflective glass), because it would have looked "monolithic," according to Wicksman.

As for the glass curtain, it's a modular panel system. The number of glass pieces in each panel vary, but in some cases, panels are two stories tall and hold 8-10 panes of glass. The blue color theme was picked for a number of reasons, including the fact that the blue color is a better energy-saver, and that it's less reflective than other colors. As Wicksman explains in a follow-up email:

“The more reflective the glass, the harder it is to see outside at night, from the residences. The blue also works well with the other available glass colors that have similar light transmittance – mainly clear glass and gray glass. The idea was to have all of the glass be similar in light transmittance, so that their appearance would be similar when viewed from the interior." (And no, there is no pattern to the blue colors).

As for the building’s orientation---one side faces towards the hills and the freeway and the other looks sort of towards the ocean and the Long Beach port---AEG wanted the project to act as a backdrop for LA Live. Additionally, Gensler did sun studies to determine the best angle.

Meanwhile, it’s worth pointing out that the two buildings' guests have to interact with each other. In other words, the millionaire owners of the Ritz-Carlton have to interact with everyone else—the Ritz hotel customers, convention center guests staying at the Marriott, and the LA Live crowds.

Since the condos make up a significant portion of the project for developer AEG and its financial partners (the Marriott is just the hotel operator, and has a small financial stake in the project), how do you separate the 14-year-old Jonas Brothers fans headed to Nokia Theater from the condo owners? Laurie Miskuski, director of sales and marketing for AEG, says: “I think it was a concern early on, but the design of the campus allows for privacy. The entrance of the street on Georgia is your first point of have your own valet, entrance. You can choose to take part [with LA Live], or you can choose to be alone.”

There are more captions and descriptions the photo gallery. The Ritz opens in mid-March and the Marriott opens on February 15th.
· Ritz-Carlton Archives [Curbed LA]

Ritz-Carlton/JW Marriott

800 West Olympic Boulevard, los angeles