The Wilshire Grand Center—a mixed-use development that includes offices, an event space, and the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown hotel—has altered the skyline of the city. Rising 73 stories and 1,100 feet, the tower, owned by Hanjin International Corporation (a subsidiary of Korean Air), is the tallest building west of the Mississippi River (and boasts another claim to fame: the largest continuous flow of concrete at 1,180 cubic yards poured for its foundation) with a sail-like profile that challenged city codes that require high rises to have flat roofs with helipads.
Los Angeles-based AC Martin spearheaded the design of the 889-room hotel, which occupies floors 31 through 70 and spans 2.1 million square feet with a narrative that embodies the ecologies detailed in British architect Reyner Banham’s book Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies: freeways, foothills, the beach, and flatlands. AC Martin added its own ecology to the mix—Downtown LA—to create an organizing framework that celebrates the city’s distinct DNA. “This project is blocks away from where we all live and work, and every person who worked on this hotel had a heightened level of ownership and motivation to make it truly great,” says Christopher King, design principal at AC Martin, who spearheaded the design with project director for interiors Michelle Sterling and director of design Sandra Lévesque. “After all, the pool of potential critics—friends, family, and colleagues—is often the harshest.”
Approaching the hotel as a city in the sky, the firm made a bold move by locating the lobby on the 70th floor. High above the streetscape, the lobby offers a calming respite where references to the urban landscape abound. For example, check-in pods comprise concrete panels with fiber optics that mimic the city grid, while hanging above, a jewelry-like light installation of red, white, and orange elements cast in resin—the same material used for car lights—pays homage to the geometries of nearby freeways with a strung form derived from mapping the 10 and 110 freeways. Below, intimate seating areas in calming tones complement original beams that are wrapped in leather.
What AC Martin truly captures is the whimsy and idealism associated with LA—it is, of course, home to movie stars and dream chasers. The pool bar, for instance, is literally a white and blue-tiled swimming pool carved into the side of the building, while a mural of five synchronized swimmers in red suits tantalizingly beckon revelers to dive in.
Indeed, art played a major role in the hotel’s story. “The idea behind many of the custom pieces is to showcase and celebrate what many might consider to be mundane as something spectacular —it’s about altering your perspective,” King says. (He even used his own photographs as inspiration for the carpets.) Starting at the curving porte-cochère, a 20-foot-tall handpainted mural depicts notable LA landmarks that punctuate the city’s horizon, and in the lower lobby, Korean artist Do Ho Suh’s Screen comprises 86,000 individually cast and multicolored resin figures that cover multiple towering walls. Guestrooms tie back into the five ecologies, with vinyl murals above the headboards that speak to the city’s charms, some with cheeky sayings like “Nobody walks in LA.”
Unrivaled are the hotel’s F&B options. Along with the marble-clad lobby lounge and intimate sushi spot Sora, there’s Seoul Jung—the celebrated Korean restaurant from chef Dong Hun Kim formerly resided in the Wilshire Grand Hotel but is reincarnated here with a design inspired by South Korean traditions and local LA flare. A standout is a “pixel alphabet” of overlapping patterns by local artist Jackie Kim. A playful alternative is the all-day dining spot Dekkadance on the 69th floor. Here, asymmetrical brass lighting and X-ray graphics of appliances and food by artist Nick Veasey add to the surreal aspect of dining in the sky.
French opulence meets California cool in La Boucherie on the 71st floor with Marie Antoinette and the vaquero (cowboy) serving as inspiration. Subtle nods to Versailles are highlighted in graywashed wood parquet floors fashioned after the Hall of Mirrors and blue-gray wall panels that echo details from the traditional moldings found at the royal French château. These elements complement dusty rose-tufted velvet banquettes, marble tabletops, and jewel-toned mohair sofas, an interpretation of Marie Antoinette’s Chaperone chair. A curvilinear couch encourages social interactions, while bathrooms separate both characters: a cowboy mural marks the moody men’s room and the ladies room features elegant touches like parquet flooring and faux wall paneling.
Perhaps the hotel’s biggest draw is Spire 73—the highest open-air rooftop bar in the country, with 360-degree views of the bustling city below. Along the perimeter, glass panels and birdcage seating help to mitigate the wind, while a grid of 18 columns compose a fire feature where flames reach two feet in height. Though Wilshire Grand eschewed the requirement for a helipad, it’s not uncommon for copters to circle dramatically, if only to incite reactions from guests. Adds King: “The very things that we as Angelenos complain about, like the freeways, are also the very features that make us distinct from other places.”