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Irvine Company Restores Historic Concrete Sculptures at Expanding Headquarters Complex

ORANGE COUNTY, Calif., Feb. 12, 2014 — The Irvine Company has restored part of Newport Beach’s history and cultural legacy at the modern office workplace being built at its Newport Center Drive headquarters complex.

The company in late January installed six vintage slabs of intaglio — or sculpted concrete panels, each weighing 48,000 pounds — at their new home in the courtyard of 520 Newport Center Drive, Newport Center’s newest office building now leasing for occupancy starting in late 2014.

The sculpted panels are among 39 originally created for the Irvine Company’s headquarters complex in the 1960s. Like the 520 Newport Center Drive building itself, the panels date back to the origins of the company’s headquarters complex.

Eye on the Future

As Pereira’s plans moved from paper to reality, he called upon famed California sculptor and visionary Tom Van Sant to transform the utilitarian concrete panels into art. The panels would surround both buildings and their annexes, serving as seismic support.In 1968, renowned urban planner and architect William Pereira, who drafted the Irvine Ranch master plan, guided the building of the Irvine Company’s headquarters complex with the 500 and 550 Newport Center Drive buildings. Pereira’s master plan for the 500 block also envisioned a third building at 520, realized this year, nearly half a century later.

Van Sant experimented in his studio with a method known as intaglio, an Italian word used to describe an approach to sculpting sometimes referred to as “reverse” or “hollow relief” sculpting because all of the artwork appears below the surface. In the case of the Irvine Company buildings, his sculptures dip below the surface of the 14-inch-thick panels.

“He asked me if I had any interesting ideas,” said Van Sant, who is now in his 80s and still sculpting.

Van Sant proposed an intaglio tribute to Southern California’s native wildlife and people with the theme, “Indigenous Inhabitants.”  Today you’ll see those intaglios at the base of 500 and 550 Newport Center Drive.

Working with clay, Van Sant replicated in miniature how the sculptures would be applied to the huge slabs and showed his idea to Pereira. “He said, ‘Let’s do it,’” Van Sant recalled.

“Pereira had a budget of $1,000 per panel, and he asked me if I could work with that budget,” Van Sant said. “It seems inconceivable now — $39,000 for 39 walls. But as a young artist at the time, I had an opportunity to create sculptures on 39 large walls.”

Neither Pereira nor Van Sant could have predicted the company would later cut loose, preserve and re-install the panels as freestanding sculptures in the 21st century.

Moving Giants

In late 2012, Irvine Company removed two annexes from the 500 and 550 buildings in preparation for building 520. At that time, the company elected to save 14 intaglios from the annexes.

The effort required the teamwork and combined talents of the project’s builders, Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction, U.S. Demo and the welders from Schroeder Iron.

Tim Carey, vice president of design and construction for the Irvine Company, described the task in a word: Complicated.

“We had to take everything apart carefully to preserve the panels,” he said. “These were structural exterior walls.”

Upon dislodging the panels from the annexes, they discovered good news: There was already a metal ledger on the bottom and rebar reinforcement inside.

“At first, we didn’t’ know what to expect,” said David Byrd, vice president of construction for the Irvine Company.

That metal ledger would provide extra support and a ready-made section for the Schroeder Iron team to later weld to the final structure.

Once the U.S. Demo team cut a panel loose, they lifted it out with a crane and onto a flatbed truck. All 14 panels made the trip to University Research Park in Irvine, with an outdoor location large enough to accommodate the approximate 15- by 25-foot concrete behemoths.

For Hathaway Dinwiddie and their partners, maneuvering the unwieldy is part of the job. Even so, there is no precedent or best practice for moving concrete intaglio panels that were never designed to stand alone.

With building of 520 now in its final phases, the crew prepped for six of the panels’ return from Irvine in late January, engineering a way to permanently stand each panel upright for an artistic display.

“Some structural engineers said they would crumble,” Carey said. “Others said they would be fine.”

Before the move back to Newport Beach, the crew mounted ledger tube steel to the top backside of the panel, similar to the existing ledger at the base. They installed a series of four bolts to each panel, reminiscent of gargantuan picture hangers.

The bolts had to be shipped on special order from San Diego as they are rarely used in construction anymore. “Engineering has changed — everything is stronger and smaller now,” Byrd said.

They attached each bolt to the cables of a 375-ton crane.

“We like to be extra safe here,” Byrd said.

Once the power of the crane lifted the panel into place, a forklift delicately pushed the intaglio upright into place, using the protection of a two-inch-thick piece of Styrofoam.

The first panel, depicting condors, arrived onsite at 9:58 a.m., Jan. 28, and was snugly in place with welding under way by 10:05 a.m. “You’d be surprised how much a little welding can hold,” Byrd said.

“I love these intaglio panels,” said Edgar Esqueda, project engineer for Hathaway Dinwiddie, as he watched the first panel settle into place. “I see so many pieces of art, especially in historic districts of Los Angeles, get knocked down. So this is great to see.”

By 3 p.m. the remaining five panels, sculpted with pelicans, an eagle, bear, sharks and mountain lions, joined the condors. They were moved and set in place without missing a mark, without incident and without a double take.

Preservation Beyond Concrete

The courtyard also is set to house a kinetic sculpture by late American artist George Rickey. The Rickey artwork comes from Fox Plaza, the Irvine Company’s landmark office tower in Century City, with installation to be supervised by Ken Bortolazzo, an artist recommended by the George Rickey Foundation. Installation is expected in coming months.The intaglios now line what will become a courtyard area just outside one of two newly built parking structures behind 520.

Van Sant, a California native who lives in Santa Monica, said he was “very gratified” that, four and a half decades after the intaglio sculptures were installed, people still admire them.

“I very much appreciate the Irvine Company’s enjoyment of the panels and that they are including them in the new buildings. I’m flattered and pleased by that.”

You can learn more about Van Sant by visiting his website.

The remaining eight reclaimed intaglios are in storage and will be incorporated into future projects.