Not long after Gatehouse Capital began working on the massive W Hollywood Hotel & Residences—a luxury hospitality experience at the historic intersection of Hollywood and Vine—the US real estate market crashed. Most developers were forced to reconsider their efforts—but not Gatehouse.
“Every block surrounding us had projects planned, but we were the only ones to execute,” says Benjamin Cien, vice president of construction and design at the real estate management and development firm. “Now we’ve become the building block other developers can lay a hat on to get their projects financed and going.”
Building the LEED Silver-certified and transit-oriented hotel wasn’t easy. The project was massive; the development includes a 305-room W hotel, 143 luxury W residences, 375 luxury apartments, more than 50,000 square feet of street-level retail, an underground parking garage, and an intermodal service bus and metro stop.
At the same time, the site was severely restricted. “The necessary density of the site was part of the puzzle from the beginning,” Cien says. “We had large program requirements that had to fit within a limited city block at the corner of Hollywood and Vine and meet challenging height restrictions.”
Q&A with architect Benjamin Cien
What were the major design obstacles?
The site was tight; we had to work around a Metro stop, integrate a bus intermodal and fire department access, be contextually respectful of the neighboring historical fabric, and fit a massive program within floor-area-ratio and height restrictions.
How did you overcome those challenges?
We worked closely with the Community Redevelopment Agency, [the] Metropolitan Transit Authority, and all city departments to achieve the necessary programmatic density while maintaining client-desired open space
and adhering to city requirements.
How did you do that?
We managed a very talented team and allowed everyone to contribute in the solution. For instance, the structure utilizes post-tension slabs with high-strength steel, which keeps it strong but efficient and thin, allowing us to add a floor and stay under the height restriction. We also developed an internal motor court for valet and convenient guest and residential access while accomplishing fire- and life-safety requirements. The architecture is clean and bold yet responsive and respective of the neighboring buildings. Beyond that, we went through numerous iterations and adjustments along the way.
Cien believes a significant sustainable achievement was the transformation of the building site itself. “The project is in a dense urban area; the site was underutilized, with surface parking on top of a transit center,” he says, adding that the architects did what they could in the most difficult areas of sustainability, which are energy and atmosphere. “Meeting minimum requirements for LEED is difficult, but meeting California title 24 for a mixed-use project of this magnitude adds a layer of complexity. We were fortunate to hit the requirements in that area.”
The designers managed to overcome those challenges while attending to the puzzle of sustainability. Conceived by HKS Architects (whose team included Cien as project architect, coordinating the documentation at HKS at the time) for Starwood’s W brand, perhaps the most notable thing about the building now is that it managed to obtain LEED Silver certification despite being planned long before LEED became the predominate standard for sustainable practices.
“When we develop a new project, before we do anything else, we ask who our customers are and what are their expectations,” Gatehouse Capital owner Marty Collins says. “In California, the customer is an advocate of sustainability and a very early adaptor, so we set aside $500,000 to $750,000 to get the building LEED-certified.”
Other green features include preferred parking for high-efficiency vehicles, a high-performance irrigation system (which reduced use of potable water by more than 70 percent), and low-flow fixtures and dual-flush toilets (which reduced water usage by 32 percent). Twenty-four percent of materials were locally manufactured, and 87 percent of construction waste was diverted from landfills.
Cien also notes, however, that some green aspects didn’t “translate into common understanding of the LEED rating system, such as the underground parking garage, which reduces the building’s footprint and thus the heat-island effect.”
The staff of the completed hotel itself is now pursuing eco-efficient operations and practices as well, and a lot of them include the guests. “Guests are thrilled to be part of W Hollywood’s green initiatives,” says Jim McPartlin, general manager of the W Hollywood. “Their choices help to contribute to our overall success.”
When asked about his favorite element of the hotel, McPartlin says it’s the fact that it sits atop the Hollywood/Vine Metro Station. “It’s only 7 stops and 11 minutes to downtown,” he says.
All in all, it’s a major accomplishment for a project that started in what Collins calls a “brave new day” because people weren’t familiar with LEED criteria and there weren’t yet many sustainability integrators.
“In the beginning, we just tried to embrace best practices at the time,” Cien says. “By the time we finished, the industry had experienced a major awakening, so we did our best to make adjustments along the way.”