Sneak peek at KCRW’s new home

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KCRW is coming up for air. We got a sneak peek at the station’s new building, designed by architect Clive Wilkinson.

After 33 years broadcasting out of an airless and fluorescent-lit basement on Santa Monica Community College campus, KCRW will soon move into a bright new above-ground building, designed by Clive Wilkinson Architects, that is far more welcoming to the public.

Wilkinson, whose past projects include the first Googleplex in Mountain View and ad agency TBWA/Chiat Day’s offices in Playa Vista, was tasked with building a ground-up structure for KCRW on a satellite SMC campus that would join two classroom buildings, one dating to the 1970s, one new.

The three structures make up the Center for Media and Design and form a satellite campus at Olympic and Stewart, walking distance from the Expo Line. The three surround a plaza and together they form a broadcast station and school for students of communications and media design.

Wilkinson knit together the buildings with beige brick and yellow fiber cement panels. It feels somewhat industrial, somewhat Pop. The yellow signals public areas like the large staircase that projects from the building, and a shared outdoor terrace.

The new KCRW building. Photo by Avishay Artsy.

Inside you’ll find a light, large open plan office space, punctuated by by two bright orange glass conference rooms and one that has a fluorescent yellow-painted wall and floor. Studios are clad in wood. In a nod to the long, creative years in the loved-but-hated bunker, staff will eat lunch in a gathering space with an outdoor terrace, named The Basement.

But the most radical departure from the present home is the public space. KCRW listeners will be invited to attend concerts and news and talk events held at an outdoor stage in the plaza or inside in the performance studio where MBE will be recorded.

Clive Wilkinson and his team began work on KCRW’s new building around a decade ago. A Santa Monica bond measure paid for the construction and KCRW capital campaign donors — over 5,800 families who gave a dollar or more — paid for the broadcast equipment and technology.

After some construction delays the building is now nearing completion and on Saturday, Dec. 2, supporters will get a sneak peek.

DnA toured the campus with Clive Wilkinson, who talks about his choice of “happy colors”, why context matters more than “frivolous technological developments,” and why staffers don’t need to worry about “getting above themselves” in the new building.

When interviewed by the LA Weekly in 2014, Wilkinson referred to the basement office as “subhuman.” We asked him what he meant by that.

“Well, it was subhuman. But it was also a very charming, closely-lived environment. It’s hard to really communicate smells and things like that over the air. But it was a hard-working basement.”

Wilkinson began designing the building in 2008, when the fashionable trends in architecture involved playing with digital effects, laser-cut metals, lots of complex curves, and lacy designs utilizing the latest in digital technologies. But he didn’t do any of that.

“I’m very very influenced by context. I really believe in growing a project out of its existing context. The original building gave us all the cues about using the brickwork, replicating some of its formal language, tying into it aesthetically, and then fragmenting the program in a way that was very direct and straightforward. We are really not that interested in frivolous technological developments. So I think that this will stand the test of time. It’s a building that’s of its place. And I think it has a sort of classic simplicity about it as well,” Wilkinson said.

It also has a kind of a pop quality that is reminiscent of a period of architecture from the early ’80s, during the height of post-modernism, and now post-modernism is having a comeback. So does it have some echoes of that spirit?

“I think one of the aspects of postmodernism that was interesting was the breaking of rules and the playfulness of architectural form, often in an incredibly simplistic way,” Wilkinson said. “I think it is a postmodern building but more in the broader literary sense than in a neoclassical postmodernism sense.”

KCRW’s veteran staffers Ariana Morgenstern, Steve Herbert, Matt Holzman and Bob Carlson also shared their thoughts on the move.

“I always felt that down here in the basement we were apart from the world and we were commenting on the world. But we were down in our own bunker,” Carlson said. After long hours spent focused on a project, “when you would finally finish and you would come up, you would literally feel like you were emerging from a hole and the world looked different and… it was like Vegas, where you didn’t know what time it was.”

“I think in the new place… we are going to now feel a part of the world as opposed to a hole down in the ground separate from the world.”

When asked if she will miss our longtime digs, Morgenstern said the big windows in the new building are going to be a joy for the Vitamin D-deprived station staff with their “studio tans,” and bands will love having an audience when they perform. She added, with a smile, “I’m going to miss the stink sometimes. I will miss not having a sink in the kitchen. I will miss those days when the air conditioner goes out and everybody’s in a sauna.”