Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
Beverly Hills, USA
The Crescent Drive Post Office stands as one of three buildings built during the Depression that mark Beverly Hills’s establishment as a city. After serving the community for over 60 years, the post office outgrew its “envelope,” and in 1999, the city purchased the building with the intent of turning it into a cultural center.
The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts transforms the long-dormant site of the landmarked post office into a hub for the city’s cultural programs. Initially, conventional wisdom had the main programmatic element (a 500-seat theatre) inserted into the original mail workroom of the historic post office, with an added wing housing all the other pertinent programmatic elements. However, SPF:a had a different vision: give a new purpose to the historic building without implementing any major alterations.
This was done by inserting the ancillary programmatic elements (a 120-seat theater, an education wing, support spaces) within the existing, landmarked building and constructing an adjacent annex to house the new, larger Goldsmith Theatre. This concept gave SPF:a an opportunity to fully restore the chief elements of the post office’s historic fabric following the Secretary of Interior Standards for Rehabilitation. As an added bonus, the center would remain eligible for historic tax credit status.
With SPF:a’s choice to repair and restore the original post office, the architect was required to rethink the site, its access points, how patrons would interact, how actors would move through spaces, loading logistics, and how to maintain security while keeping the facility open to the public. Changes in codes and life safety requirements became paramount design issues that dictated new elements. A balance was struck by joining the 21st-century building with a tunnel, allowing both buildings to convey their respective periods and aesthetic. The new building, T-shape in plan like the original, is sunken low into the site to level its height with the historic post office building.
The façade is made up of a skin of various envelope-shaped, copper-colored concrete panels that are arranged in an abstracted pattern across the surface. The skin creates symbolism in its architecture, by harkening to the building’s past, as well as its materiality as the copper color reflects the terra cotta color of the historic building. Functionally, it conceals the mechanical equipment of the building.
The Wallis enhances historic preservation through the full restoration and repurposing of a period structure and site for public benefit. Originally, the post office benefitted the public by providing an environment for the dissemination of information via the USPS. Today, that very same site represents our cultural aspirations by way of the performing arts. Moreover, not only was the original building fully restored, but the site was adapted to provide for public outdoor spaces and connection to civic and business life; the project seeks to link these elements by being at the center.
Previously, generations of local residents and businesses cherished this building as their post office; new generations will cherish the architectural landmark as an essential part of their civic center.