IRVINE, CA — Every day, tens of thousands of vehicles pass the gleaming buildings of Park Place Office Campus and its three “mysterious” towers. Perhaps the most prominent architectural landmark from San Diego to Los Angeles, Park Place in Irvine is also an hvac rarity.

You see, those mysterious structures aren’t observation decks, surveillance stations, or executive lounges. They’re mech-anical towers that house fancoils, supply and return fans, and outside air dampers.

“Maybe even a few nesting owls from the wildlife sanctuary,” quips John Bicking, engineering administrator for Winthrop Management, the firm that manages the eight buildings for the owner, Jamboree LLC.

“The towers also serve as pedestrian stairwells for accessing each floor as well as the roof,” explains Bob Negohosian, director of operations. “This design allows for concealment of the chilled water coils, rather than placing them obtrusively on the roof or outside the building on the ground floor, which would alter the architectural look.”

This “look” has appealed to filmmakers, and Park Place has been the setting for a Michael Jackson video, domestic and foreign commercials, and several movies, including “Demolition Man” and “Defending Your Life.”

“This particular mechanical design closely follows the principle of ‘form following function,’” says Negohosian. “The towers not only work as mechanical elements but also stand out as a distinctive feature of the buildings’ contemporary design.”

Welton Becket and Associates of Los Angeles designed the original buildings and grounds in the mid-70s. The complex has been occupied since 1975.

Replacing Fan Motors Can Be A ‘Real Pain’

Usually, fans are located on the roof and air is distributed throughout the building from there. Not so at Park Place.

“Our fans, outside air dampers, and coils are inside the tops of the three towers,” says Bicking. “Air is distributed down through the tower and back up through two main underground shafts to each building. There are four supply and four return fans in each tower, and each tower serves two buildings.”

Negohosian doesn’t “see any drawbacks to this design, except that the replacement of fan motors can be challenging for a inexperienced equipment rigger.”

Karl Von Salzen, assistant chief engineer, sees the situation a little more colorfully.

“Repairs can be a real pain,” he admits. “For preventive maintenance, you fix it where it is, but if a motor fails or a rotor explodes, you have to take it out. That’s when your troubles begin.”

Pointing to dings in the stairwell wall and nicks in the overhead steel bars, Von Salzen explains how 250-hp motors have to be brought from the central plant to the fourth floor.

“They come to the first landing using anchors mounted in the wall. With chain hoists and come-alongs, a crew of four pulls the 2,200-lb motor. After that, you have to creep it up to the second flight, then into the fan room.

“We tried stair crawlers, but they weren’t powerful enough.”

Reggie Butler, an estimator at Allison Mechanical in San Bernardino, is the designer of the lift points.

“It’s a small space to negotiate,” Butler says. “It can’t handle more than four guys. But, basically, the equipment does all the work with chain falls.”

According to Bicking, Allison Mechanical can get the fan down and out, and put another one in overnight.

“We like this done fast, since we can run a building on one fan, if necessary, but we don’t like to do that, especially not in the summer, when the load is much greater,” says Bicking.

Prior to Allison Mechanical, a moving company was responsible for getting fan motors up and down the stairs.

“They tried to make skids,” Butler says, “but we found it a lot easier doing it our way. Fortunately, fan motors don’t have to be replaced very often. If you’re lucky, you can go 20 or 30 years without failure.”

Preventive maintenance is another story, says Von Salzen.

“The 750-hr and 1,500-hr PMs come up pretty quick. And every 4,500 hours, we have to calibrate the pneumatic controls.”

More Challenges, But Never Out of Style

“Something else that’s very interesting, very unusual, is that the supply fans are vertically mounted,” says Butler. “Instead of at a 90-degree angle, they’re tilted about 15 degrees in. This makes it extremely difficult to access the motor. If they’re straight up and down, fans are very easy to get to, but rigging them at an angle is very different.

“Why they did that, I don’t know. Maybe to put a load on the bearings.”

In Von Salzen’s opinion, the vertical mount may have to do with the underground ducting, which he sees as “another real pain” because it has to be kept “very, very clean.”

One big plus about Park Place’s design isn’t lost on Von Salzen.

“You never have to go outside,” he says with a smile. “All the buildings are interconnected. From an engineer’s standpoint, never having to go out in the rain, wind, and cold is great.”

Connecting the 10-story tower and the six four-story buildings in the complex, this interior walkway makes for a feeling of community among Park Place’s 43 major tenants and numerous smaller ones. An on-site fitness center, 2,600-seat cafeteria, spacious atrium lobbies, auditorium and conference rooms, along with amenities such as a gift shop, coffee/food cart, banquet rooms and café, make this a world unto itself. Add to the indoor perks nearly 5,300 parking spaces and a six-acre landscaped plaza for lunchtime strolls.

“It was built approximately 25 years ago, but I don’t think it’ll ever go out of style,” says Von Salzen.

This report provides information for contractors living in the West/Pacific region of the United States. This includes California, Hawaii, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona. If you have information from this region, please contact Mark Skaer at 248-244-6446; 248-362-0317 (fax); or (e-mail).

Publication date: 05/14/2001

Sidebar: Facts and Figures

Here are the stats on Park Place Office Campus in Irvine, CA:

Current owner: Jamboree LCC, managed by Winthrop Management.

Buildings involved: One 236,000-sq-ft tower, six four-story 200,000-sq-ft atrium buildings, and one single-story concourse building on 15 acres.

Overall rentable space: 1.8 million sq ft (includes six-acre plaza, 38 acres of landscaped grounds, and 50 acres of parking lots).

Major tenants: ConAgra Foods, Home Base, Cal Trans, Prudential Insurance, Coco’s/Carrow, El Polo Loco, Western United Insurance, and IT Group California Highway Patrol. Campus has been occupied since 1975.

Mechanical maintenance contractor: Air Mechanical, Los Angeles, CA.

Fan removal: Allison Mechanical, San Bernardino, CA.

Engineering services: ABM Engineering, Los Angeles, CA.

Mechanical equipment involved:

  • Three 1,800-ton Carrier Marine chillers (a total of 5,400 tons).
  • Two Cleaver Brooks hot-water boilers, 5 MBtu each, for heating the 10-story tower. (The six atrium buildings and the concourse have radiant heat panels along window lines.)
  • Three primary 60-hp, 3,085-gpm chilled-water pumps and three secondary 125-hp, 3,000-gpm chilled-water pumps.
  • Four Marley 1,400-ton cooling towers.
  • Three 125-hp, 5,220-gpm condenser water pumps.
  • Ten floor fans in the 10-story tower. (The concourse and six atrium buildings have supply and return fans only.)
  • Twelve 120,000-cfm coils, two in each of the six atrium buildings.
  • Two 108,000-cfm coils in the concourse.
  • Two 138,000-cfm coils in the 10-story tower.
  • No DX split systems or package units.
  • Two supply and two return fans for each of the six atrium buildings and the concourse.
  • Two supply and two return fans with floor fans acting as air handlers in the 10-story tower.
  • Approximately 1,100 VAV boxes (zones).
  • Approximately 7,000 hvac drops.
  • Pneumatic hvac control system.