“A machine that makes the land pay.” That’s how architect and Manhattanite Cass Gilbert described the skyscraper in 1900, when the building type was just getting off the ground.
Suffering from occupancy rates hovering around 50 percent, in 2013 the U.S. Bank Tower was purchased by Singapore-based OUE Ltd., who set out to modernize the skyscraper in hopes of riding the recent wave of revitalization hitting downtown Los Angeles hotspots like Pershing Square and FAB Park. About to lose the title of tallest tower to the Wilshire Grand tower opening next year, OUE needed something spectacular to make the building stand out from the skyline.
That soaring vacancy rate gave OUE a pressing reason to rethink how the tower might be used. Thus, the “Skyslide” was born.
Found in places as diverse as the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon, Willis Tower, and Tokyo Skytree, glass bottom observation decks have become one of the most used engineering marvels of thrill seekers looking for a new perspective on the world.
Now, the U.S. Bank Tower in downtown Los Angeles has upped the ante for adrenaline-spiking structures – affixing a glass side to the building’s facade. Spanning from a window on the 70th story to a terrace on the 69th, the 45-foot-long chute opened to the public last week, providing those courageous enough, to ride it with breathtaking views of the city.
The slide is made of made of four-inch-thick clear glass, and was designed by M. Ludvik Engineering. It takes up most of the daring part of Gensler’s $50 million renovation to the Harry Cobb-designed tower, which at 1,018 feet (310 meters) has held the distinction of tallest building in LA since its opening in 1989.
The slide and observation deck are part of a $50 million makeover for the U.S. Bank Tower. Overseen by architecture firm Gensler, the new facilities also include a pair of redesigned lobbies (one for the tenants at ground level that is much more open to the sidewalk than before and the other for the slide-going public), a café, a slick and windowless “transfer floor” on the 54th story and a restaurant and bar on the 71st.
In fact, as downtown Los Angeles — like many city centers in the U.S. — becomes more attractive as a place to live, the vast majority of new towers going up are largely residential. That leaves the owners of aging all-office high-rises like the U.S. Bank Tower looking for ways to produce new revenue — and, where possible, to redefine those towers in the popular imagination.
In part because Cobb’s postmodern 1989 design for the tower was loosely based on Art Deco architecture, Gensler has chosen Deco motifs and a black-and-gold color scheme for many of the redesigned spaces.
Though it has overdone this tribute in certain spots — particularly the transfer floor, which looks oddly enough like a cross between a nightclub and, with its interactive displays, the new lobbies and the observation deck are restrained, with terrazzo floors and white walls.
Seemingly suitable for the millennials, the facilities enter a market that is wide open in Los Angeles. The only observation deck of note downtown is one atop City Hall, which is free though (at 454 feet) quite a bit lower.
Tourists in other parts of the world have their pick of places to look out over the city. An observation deck at the World Trade Center tower in Manhattan — charging $32 per person — opened last year, joining one with a glass bottom and a ticket price of $22 at the Willis Tower in Chicago.
But in Los Angeles, a place that has been mainly horizontal for nearly all of its architectural history, we have had very few chances that didn’t involve helicopter rides to become familiar with the top-down view.
Considering that the observation deck has so little competition in Los Angeles — and that the slide has none, really — it’s tough to say precisely what kinds of crowds the remade tower will draw. Judging by the way OUE and Gensler have arranged the ticket desk and especially the transfer floor, it’s clear they are expecting long lines.
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