At the new downtown development ROW DTLA, Rios Clementi Hale Studios used place-led branding to reveal the story and uniqueness of the place. Layers of the site’s past remained throughout the development: faded signage, timeworn concrete and a gritty patina that was important as a bit of the history of the Produce Market, which is still functioning today. A fresh skim-coat would have wiped these important imprints away but celebrating them gives the site an authenticity that can’t be recreated.
It was important to both client and design team to maintain the feeling that this 30-acre site was an integrated part of the city, not a mall or corporate campus, while offering tenants all the convenience of both. Each user group had its own unique needs; retail tenants and visitors needed all the function of a mall directory, while office tenants preferred an organic feel without compromising the unique industrial and artistic character of the Arts District.
Attracting tenants and events that align with the client’s vision for leasing to unique shops and the visitors that would frequent these businesses has been very important. Achieving this meant providing top-notch amenities and attention to detail while allowing the ad-hoc vibrancy of the Arts District streets to permeate the project.
The scope included exterior signage spread over four mixed-use buildings and a parking garage, 30+ sign types with hundreds of unique instances, five murals and tenant storefront criteria. The EGD team worked in-house with the architect and landscape architect on the project to provide fully integrated services.
The Rios Clementi Hale Studios design team created three distinct layers of navigation to position wayfinding and site data in an organic way. These elements (structured wayfinding, uniquely signed landmarks and artistic accents) impart a balance between the future and the past.
There is a planned irregularity in the signage. The palette of cut metals and neutral tones for the structured wayfinding blends with the original buildings to provide information where you need it, while pops of color and light draw attention where you want it. The overall system hangs together loosely, maintaining a similarity of approach without sameness.
While tenants are still completing build-outs, ROW DTLA has secured leasing commitments from dozens of unique retailers, restaurants, fitness studios and creative offices. The project has been able to attract major events like Smorgasburg and 29 Rooms and office tenants like Adidas, which taps into demand for the authentic experience of this area while it continues to grow into its potential.
Part of the area’s success is that the tenant guidelines are about preserving a quality of space, not about standards. The experiential graphic design solution at ROW DTLA tells Rios Clementi Hale Studios that sometimes the place is the story, and they need to be stewards of that message alongside the other goals that are driving the project.
"While the stand-alone pieces are straightforward in design and execution, the layered approach provides a rich and varied wayfinding system that adds a layer of depth to this mixed-use development. Nothing here feels like it competes. Considerate use of type both honors and complements the historical context of the site."
"The trompe l’oeil graphics, signage, and murals in this project elevate simple concrete structures into a visually engaging and well considered experience. The collection of elements strike the perfect balance between maintaining continuity and complementing each other without feeling overly prescriptive or contrived.
"The identity and wayfinding system transforms somewhat unremarkable structures into something special. Understated but with a big impact, the identity is exceptional."
Rios Clementi Hale Studios, Wayfinding and EGD Design Team: Mark Rios (partner); Sebastian Salvado (principal); Erin Williams, Julien Harcc, Delta Murphy, Misato Hamazaki, Mallory Cohn (designers)
Ro & Co, Placemaking and Identity Design: Simona Popvassilev (design, project manager)
Carly Kuhn, LoveBerto, Retna (muralists); Ro & Co (branding); Rios Clementi Hale Studios (architecture, landscape architecture)