Marketcol/22"/dt1st/LK2nd/mark2nd

NOTE: COLUMN IS A LITTLE SHORT BECAUSE TODD IS SHOOTING A PHOTO FOR IT

The building now inhabited by Ground Zero Advertising is not an office. It is an advertising theme park.

To be considered a cutting-edge ad agency in Los Angeles, you really have to have a cool building. Apparently there's something about the wide-open spaces of converted warehouses that speaks to the Muse of Copy Writing hence the decision by TBWA Chiat/Day to abandon its wacky Binoculars Building for even wackier warehouse space near Playa del Rey, and the move by Dailey & Associates from its staid Mid-Wilshire headquarters to "creative space" in the Pacific Design Center.

But of all the far-out, unbuttoned, eye-bulging agency offices in L.A., there is nothing like the new home of Ground Zero in Marina del Rey.

Since its inception in 1994, Ground Zero has gone out of its way to seem different from any other agency. Its former office, also a converted warehouse, had desks and ceiling fixtures made of wings from old warplanes, and its walls were festooned with gigantic baby photos of its employees.

The new home, a few miles from the old one in Santa Monica, is still under construction, although the company officially moved in last week. It was supposed to be complete before Christmas but building a grand vision can take time.

The first thing that strikes a visitor about the agency's new home is the Ramp. A long corrugated metal walkway sticks out uncomfortably far from the side of the building into the main driveway, leading up to a second-floor entrance.

An expensive way to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act? No. The Ramp is a central theme to the building's new design; Disneyland has a monorail, Ground Zeroland has the Ramp.

Entering the building, you find yourself surrounded by glass, inside a windowed cube with glass doors leading in. Beyond the doors, the Ramp cuts straight across the center of the building, growing ever wider as it sweeps slowly to the floor. At the bottom, a concrete slab rises as the Ramp descends forming the receptionists' desk.

On both sides of the Ramp is an open sea of strange desks. Each is a tear-shaped slab of glass mounted on top of silver oil barrels, with an industrial-looking arm hanging over it. There are wheels on one end of each desk, so that they can be swiveled around to meet the desk next door, forming a big Yin and Yang circular desk.

Hanging from the ceiling, cutting the big warehouse space into three sections and surrounding the ramp on both sides, are giant white see-through screens. Once the system is installed, these will serve as huge movie screens for projectors hidden in the rafters. Visitors will be bombarded with images from slides or movies; if the agency is expecting a visit from a prospective banking client, for example, those images might all relate to banking. If it's an employee's birthday, they might just be old baby pictures of the employee.

On an upper floor is the post-production studio, as well as a focus-group research room complete with two-way mirror. There are several large conference rooms for client presentations and a full kitchen.

The only thing resembling offices is a row of rooms on the south side of the building. But these aren't offices as much as idea boxes, with walls made to be written on with dry-erase markers and a big conference table running down the middle.

Each office is actually the headquarters of one of the agency's accounts. The team working on that account will meet in those offices to discuss the ongoing campaign. Otherwise, the workers are spread all over the place; there is no media or creative department and people just sit wherever they want.

"What we really wanted was something that makes you feel like you're in it, you're part of something," said Jim Smith, one of the three partners running Ground Zero. "The three of us (partners Court Crandall and Kirk Souder) agreed that this is the most harmonious and collaborative environment we've ever worked in. No one is an outsider you're not an outsider because you're a client, we're all in it together."

How much are the partners spending to create their grand vision? Actually, not that much. Because the warehouse is mostly open space, Smith says the redesign is costing far less than most companies spend on build-outs. Ground Zero is paying about $16 a square foot on the 25,000-square-foot space. Typical build-outs cost around $30 a square foot, Smith said.

"If you can do all this for even less money than you'd spend doing something crappy, why not?" Smith said.

Before Ground Zero moved in, the warehouse, located in an industrial zone bordering on a low-end residential neighborhood, was the headquarters of special-effects company Boss Film Studios, which closed its doors in 1997. Before that it was a bottling plant; there are still drains with metal grates on the floor from its old factory days.

Smith concedes that one reason for creating such a visionary office which was designed by Culver City architecture firm Shubin & Donaldson is to impress clients. But he says the main reason was to make an attractive place for Ground Zero's employees to work.

"Our view from day one was, if we could make this a place where people are jazzed to come to work every day, they would do great work," Smith said. "And when you do good work, good things will happen."

News Editor Dan Turner writes a weekly column on marketing for the Los Angeles Business Journal.

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