Innovative designs, creative solutions, constant collaboration, and commitment to our clients is what distinguishes Structural Focus. One of our latest projects, ROW DTLA Building 2, stressed the importance of team collaboration and design flexibility. During the conversion of this 100-year old manufacturing and warehouse facility into a mixed-use center, including ground-floor retail and upper-level office space, many factors united to make this a memorable and challenging project.  

Building 2 is approximately 100 feet by 600 feet in plan and consists of six stories with a basement and several rooftop penthouses as well as a non-functioning water tower. New work added a rooftop deck with sweeping, north-west facing views of Downtown Los Angeles. The 400,000 square foot building is a major component of the ROW DTLA development, one of the newest and largest additions to the burgeoning Arts District redevelopment in Downtown LA. Envisioned by developer Atlas Capital Group and design architect Rios Clementi Hale Studios, ROW reinvigorates the vast and historic Alameda Square warehouse and industrial building complex into a vibrant district of offices, retail, and restaurants, and provides a network of public spaces for live music, entertainment and festivals. Structural Focus Associate Samuel Mengelkoch, SE shares his experience shepherding the success of this project through different challenges.

An ownership change in the middle of the project’s Design Phase was one of the project’s more formidable challenges. The initial owner had directed the Structural Focus team to mimic the retrofit design of a similar building on the campus, a strategy that highlighted the new retrofit elements as a prominent exterior feature of the final design. The new owner had a much different vision for the project, part of which was to maintain the “New York City” feel of narrow streets and formidable building facades — a style incompatible with highly visible earthquake retrofits. Structural Focus quickly determined that a series of shear wall cores down the center of the long, narrow building would be the ideal fit for the owner’s design vision. The architecture of the rehabilitation fit well with the new design — and as the structural team had suspected all along — the building behavior was simplified and the performance was significantly improved. Willingness to move on from old ideas, and being open to change moved the project move forward, satisfied the client’s goals, improved seismic performance, reduced cost, and preserved the building’s historic character.

The change in ownership, coupled with changes in both design and executive architects, necessitated flexibility not only in design but also in project management. Contracts and budgets changed, scope increased, timelines compressed, and project goals changed. This project allowed Structural Focus to demonstrate our ease in providing excellent service to many types of clients under dynamic circumstances and expectations.

The building itself presented challenges and opportunities requiring the structural team to think quickly, adapt to existing conditions, and make the best use of the building’s characteristics. With four full-height specially reinforced concrete shear wall cores, the collection of forces was critical. The team employed robust and generously reinforced existing beams and slabs, designed to support 250 lbs per square foot of live load, for double duty in collecting forces in compression, tension, and shear to the new shear walls. Suspecting they would exhibit good behavior, the team performed non-linear finite element analysis on existing round, spirally reinforced concrete columns, and compared their inherent ductility to anticipated building drifts. This strategy allowed us to eliminate the need for Fiber Reinforced Polymer (FRP) wrapping on hundreds of concrete columns throughout the building.

To maintain the early 20th-century charm of the building, we carefully analyzed the rooftop water tower and facade fire escapes to prove that they could safely remain. With a few minor suggested upgrades from our team, the water tower sits proudly on top of the finished building; due to strict regulations in the City of Los Angeles, unfortunately, the five 100-year old fire escapes could not be saved.

The building’s size, age, and countless functionalities presented surprises until the very last days of the project’s construction. Electrical transformers from the early 20th-century lined a dark room in the basement; in-floor industrial ovens capped with concrete years ago remained undisturbed, still full of ash and charred concrete; sheet metal spiral chutes used to deliver packages from upper stories down to the loading dock level were found; hidden slab overload damage that previous tenants had attempted to repair; and even windows that had once been above grade, were now below the street level outside with plywood holding back the soil behind them. Design changes and hidden conditions required many unanticipated drawing submittals, bulletins and addendums. By remaining dynamic in our staffing capabilities and tracking changes carefully with ownership, we were able to stay one step ahead of the demanding schedule while successfully meeting our budget targets.

ROW DTLA Building 2 presented unusual and complex challenges for the design team but positive collaboration, flexibility, and adaptability proved key to the project’s successful completion. The owner and the architect had a remarkable vision for this structure and we are proud to have been part of the project. The building’s creative office space perfectly complements the dynamic retail and dining environment downstairs. “I keep going back to events at ROW, not just for the memories of my own work there but because the whole district has a quality that’s truly special,” stated Structural Focus Project Manager Samuel Mengelkoch, SE. “Once the tenancy is filled out, ROW will be a major destination in LA.” ROW DTLA is a huge part of the revitalization of the Arts District in Los Angeles. Standing as an eclectic and elegant example of adaptive re-use without displacement, ROW demonstrates how maintaining a physical connection to our past is not at odds with a promising economic and cultural future.