Early Hollywood was a scrappy place where fly-by-night studios filmed on street corners and movies were often a flash in the pan. That more or less described the viral video internet production company Funny or Die until success and expansion inspired a recent move into a new, playfully creative office designed by Clive Wilkinson Architects.
Fittingly, Wilkinson even describes the aesthetic of the 25,000-square-foot space as “scrappy,” with many design moves derived from the company’s on-the-fly mentality, in which writers and producers instantly respond to daily events with web-based shorts often featuring celebrities in irreverent situations. “Coming into a building that was innately corporate, we wanted to do something that would emphasize life being in process, rather than finished,” Wilkinson says. “The visual interest of the space comes from this unprocessed look.”
Funny or Die occupies two floors with a dedicated entrance in a glassy new building recently opened on The Lot, a historic studio in West Hollywood, California. The first-floor lobby establishes the casual tone, almost like a basement rumpus room for rowdy teenagers, with walls clad in unfinished pegboard and hung with pictures and gold antlers, a particleboard desk, unfinished concrete floors and structural ceilings, and exposed steel studs emphasized with concealed white LED linear lighting. “We were able to make a silk ear out of a sow’s purse,” says Wilkinson, somewhat unintentionally mixing up the metaphor in a way that fits Funny or Die’s anti-corporate startup mentality and strictly limited budget for the project.
A raw look that is acoustically refined
To help the young staff keep its tight-knit collegiality in the much larger new space, Wilkinson added a bright yellow steel staircase to improve connectivity between the production spaces—stage, prop rooms, and editing rooms—on the first floor and the main offices and collaboration spaces on the second floor. The exposed-steel-stud look is carried throughout the offices. To enclose the main conference room, the architects added a layer of Homasote to the drywall for additional acoustic treatment, coupling it on the interior with acoustical dampening covering the otherwise exposed concrete ceiling. Exposed electrical and data boxes in the stud wall are encased in fireproofing putty, which further seals the room from nuisance sound transmission.
In the open office areas, simple industrial fluorescent strip lights are encased in two fabric-covered acoustical baffles. The use of soft furniture, like a large sectional sofa in the lounge, helps to further reduce the noise levels and reinforces the idea of informality and domesticity. Other furniture on wheels makes it easy to move things around during ad hoc film shoots. A variety of other workplace furniture approaches—long tables, individual desks, two-person enclosed offices—accommodate the company’s ever-shifting workforce. Although Funny or Die has around 65 permanent staff members, with contractors and other temporary staff, the number of people in the office sometimes totals more than 100.
More enclosed offices than open work areas
Most of the enclosed offices were left relatively unfinished, allowing employees to select their own paint color and furniture. Unlike other companies Wilkinson has worked with that prize flexibility for an ever-changing office environment, Funny or Die has a significantly stable workforce and prefers individual offices with collaborative group breakout spaces where needed.
In some places, like a conference room, the staff installed patio furniture to create an indoor “sun-room” area to gather. Another conference room, completely enclosed in glass, includes AstroTurf carpeting and green chairs. The sparing use of blue, yellow, and green wall paint adds layers of punchiness and fun—in Wilkinson’s view, akin to a kindergarten, intentionally the opposite of sophistication. The color green repeats in the ground floor stage as a green screen cyclorama wall, which gives the company’s low-budget filmmaking the benefit of unlimited contexts. The yellow kitchen features a torso-level view slot around the counter, allowing an almost Hitchcockian view of people walking by. “We are all voyeurs at a certain level,” says Wilkinson. “That’s sort of Funny or Die’s thing.”
Jana Fain, Funny or Die’s director of operations, says staff initially thought the new office was too nice to move into, especially given the company’s previous tight quarters in an older building. “We weren’t used to having space,” Fain says. “And then to see we have room to grow is pretty exciting.” But mainly, Fain feels Wilkinson captured the company’s energy and spirit, as well as expanded opportunities for filming in the space. “We are all always getting kicked out of our offices for filming,” says Fain, laughing. No one seems to mind, as long as it’s funny.
Funny or Die
- Architect: Clive Wilkinson Architects
- Client: Funny or Die
- Where: West Hollywood,California
- What: 25,000 total squarefeet on two floors
- Cost/sf: $88
Key Design Highlights
- The unprocessed look of the space—which contrasts bright colors with raw materials— echoes the youthful, irreverent premise of Funny or Die.
- A variety of acoustic treatments counteracts the effects ofhard surfaces.
- A bright yellow stair connects first-floor production spaces with the second-floor office area.
- Workspaces and meeting areas are mostly enclosed, and slots are strategically placed in the walls to capture views.