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Santa Monica’s Green Civic Center Parking Structure Losing its Sparkle  


By Melonie Magruder
Lookout staff

April 5, 2012 -- When the Santa Monica Civic Center parking structure opened in 2007, the nation's first LEED-certified, sustainable parking structure was hailed by critics as a "sparkling destination point," a signature gateway to the city.

Its design, by local firm Moore Ruble Yudell Architects and Planners, won an American Architecture Award, and its colorful panels and rooftop array of solar panels seemed to exemplify the future of an urban sustainable building plan that looked so hip, tourists were seen snapping its picture.
Civic Center Parking Structure South Facade. Photos by Lookout Staff. more pictures

Five years later, there are clear signs that the building's details are degrading, with some of the vertical panels that line the façade of the structure losing their bright colors. Along the south and west sides of the building, which are exposed to stronger wind and sun, swaths of paint on the glass panels are stripping away in chunks.

As a signature aesthetic element of the design (at night, the panels light up as colorfully as a Christmas tree), the degradation is as much a puzzlement as a disappointment, according to Miriam Mulder, the City's Architect.

“Clearly, the application of color on these panels had problems,” Mulder said. “It seems to be the weather. The way the panels absorb heat, particularly on the higher elevations that get more sun, is being affected.”

Mulder stressed that she was limited in what she could say, since the matter has been referred to the City’s legal department, but added that her office has been working with both Moore Ruble Yudell and building contractor ARB, Inc. to get to the bottom of the problem.

“The City will ultimately find a remedy, but first we have to figure out what is causing this,” Mulder said. “And then, what do we do? Replace the panels? Reuse existing ones? Integrate new colors? We just don’t know yet.”

She also said she had no idea of the cost to the City, if any, of such repair.

The panels, which are painted with a special automotive-type paint after they are fabricated, are largely a decorative feature that helps control the amount of light and heat that enters the structure, Mulder said.

The use of natural light reflected off white ceilings is intended to lower total lamp wattage for effective building illumination, she said. The degradation does not present a health hazard and no other feature of the building seems to be suffering.

When asked who bears the liability for repair and re-installation of a design feature so soon after delivery, Mulder demurred, citing legal constraint. But she said that, as a “design/build project,” the contractor bears the prime responsibility.

“The panels were heat tested before installation, so it’s puzzling that this has become an issue,” Mulder said. “It’s just sad.”

Brenden McEneaney, the City’s Green Building Program Advisor, said that other public sustainable building projects had not run into similar problems.

“Ultimately, aesthetics don’t really affect the sustainability level of a project,” McEneaney said. “You also have to look at the bigger picture.

"If you look at the acres of asphalt that are currently around that area now, all that will soon be a park," he said. "Sure, this is a problem to be dealt with now, but you also have to look at what we will look like in five or 10 years.”

Mark Thurman, vice president of ARB Inc., said that he was completely “mystified” at the unwelcome transformation.

“We’ve worked with this kind of glass before and this problem is unique,” Thurman said. “We’re looking at how to rework the panels to make them look the same again, but we’re still trying to figure out what went wrong.”

Thurman, who declined to speculate on the cost of an eventual repair or replacement, said his firm was working with all stakeholders to pinpoint the cause of the degradation of the panels, which were “strictly decorative and very expensive,” before moving forward.

“The fact is, we simply don’t know,” Thurman said.


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