“We wanted to communicate a range of things,” says Rubel, chargé d’affaires for the new building’s design and execution. “We wanted first and foremost to encourage the collaborative spirit that’s at the heart of the company’s culture.”
To sum up its aspirations in steel and stone—and to house its 700 employees—CAA needed a lot of room, and found it in a new complex under construction by developer Trammell Crow Company in Century City. In January 2007 the agency moved into 240,000 square feet of dazzling lobbies, conference rooms and offices laid out with Gattaca-like perfection. The building—actually a semi-self-contained block within the office complex—is wired to the hilt for instant global communication and further tricked out with a 12-screen programmable multimedia wall in the lounge and a glowing nine-story light wall that bathes the central atrium in shifting colors. That central atrium, incidentally, is the spine and soul of the building, an open column that allows agents to shout the news from one floor to the next—imagine Pei’s lobby, but stretched vertically—and provides agents upward mobility via a bank of mirrored elevators and a seemingly endless staircase.
Apart from employees, clients and select friends of the secretive agency, though, few outsiders have actually passed through the lobby’s glass entrance door and walked the burnished Carrara-marble floors. Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne gained entry only after weeks of phone calls and e-mails, he noted pointedly in his review of CAA’s offices. Such reticence to open doors inevitably strikes some observers as arrogant or even menacing, and a common misperception holds that CAA occupies the entire 500,000 square feet of offices at 2000 Avenue of the Stars—a structure that is striking for its imposing size and the dramatic eight-story aperture that pierces its center. Like other structures that cloak power—the Pentagon, for one—the CAA headquarters has provoked lurid gossip and fantasies. (“I heard CAA is trying for some…white-leather, Gucci-style, 1970s grandeur over there,” Endeavor chief Ari Emanuel was quoted saying in the Times, perhaps disguising his competitive anxiety as disdain.) Small wonder then that Hollywood gawkers, industry insiders and rival agents have dubbed the place the Death Star, in recognition of the attraction, envy and, likely, fear that CAA inspires. “I don’t understand what it means,” deadpans Lourd. “Is that Star Trek or Star Wars?”
The first thing you notice when you approach CAA’s lobby from the valet parking circle outside is a 220-foot-long wall made of slabs of hand-chiseled Carrara marble, sized as if for an ancient monument. The true centerpiece of the lobby, though, is a monumental marble staircase, a glossy paean to hard-edged cool that anchors the soaring space like a giant paperweight handed down by Zeus. The fact that its use is largely ceremonial—most employees opt for the elevator—makes it seem even more extravagant. It’s the kind of architectural flourish meant to flatter agency clients such as Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts and George Clooney and convince them that they couldn’t possibly be better represented elsewhere.