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The Architecture of Ideas -- RAND and Ayn Rand

 

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You can't judge an enterprise by its building.

 


Or, can you?


Or, again, can you?


Today, TTLA takes a look at the interiors and exteriors of two Southland think tanks -- but don't call at least one of them by that term, please -- RAND Corporation and the Ayn Rand Institute.

 

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RAND is of course the Rose Bowl game of west coast smart orgs.


RAND's Santa Monica h.q. has ocean views, is Gold LEED Certified, situated along on bus routes, prominently features bicycle racks in its underground parking garage, and most significantly, is bunched in a civic stretch of buildings that also includes Santa Monica City Hall, the Los Angeles County Courthouse, and the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium -- where My Bloody Valentine plays.

 

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Meanwhile, the Ayn Rand Institute, formerly located in Marina Del Ray, has been in Irvine since 2002. The ARI's home edifice is located in the nondescript office park titled the Von Karman Corporate Center. The surrounding parking lot has a larger footprint than the building itself.

 


Certainly, its unfair to expect same-sized offices for RAND and the ARI. The former has, as we understand, at least thirty or so times as many employees. And that's not to mention each organization's respective scale, scope, reputation, reach, and budget.


But since Ayn Rand herself gave the world the character, Howard Rorke, it might stand to reason that architecture matters to the organization that carries her name. Not particularly, as it turns out. Yaron Brook, the executive director, explained the location choice to TTLA this way: "We got a good deal, you know?"


And as for why the O.C. location, Brook says, "Basically, because it's a nice place to live."**

 

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The Ayns' interior serves in part as a shrine to Rand, the Atlas Shrugged and Fountainhead author and Objectivism philosopher. Rand's desk (pictured here) is kept here, as are photos galore of her. Other wall displays group Rand book covers from various international editions. Conference rooms are named after book titles.

 

 

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Up north, in Santa Monica, a different design vision exists. One consciously intertwined with the work done inside, and in particular, the process behind that work.


RAND executive vice president Michael Rich spoke during his TTLA sit-down a while back about the interdisciplinary team manner in which RAND staffers conducts their work. "Most times," Rich said, "You've got a scientist, somebody from the humanities, somebody from social science, working together."**


Rich also said: "RAND, I think, was one of the first that recognized that for complex problems it was preferable to attack from different perspectives;" and he added: "It just produces, we think, the most creative and practical approaches to some complex problems."


And Rich noted the "the absence of barriers to working together." That interdisciplinary aim has been consciously incorporated into the RAND building's design, by architecture firm DMJM. During a 2008 tour of the campus, a pair of RAND spokespeople showed TTLA and photojournalist Brett Van Ort the flora-filled outdoor courtyard and dining area (pictured above), the skywalks that connect various building wings, and the multiple "Activity Hubs" on each of the five-story buildings'' top four floors.


Walking through one of these Hubs, RAND's Lindsey Kozberg said: "This is a good example of one of the ways that the architects made a conscientious effort to create an interaction area.... Mailboxes are all in the same place, there's no office-to-office mail delivery. There are communal printers, and there are kitchens that are set up so if you want to have a snack, if you want to pick up your mail, if you want to grab a cup of coffee -- you move through this area." The Hubs have chairs, end tables, and magazines, too.


And back in the outdoor courtyard, where TTLA would later that afternoon meet with traffic expert Paul Sorenson, is also an amphitheater, where convenings -- public receptions, panels and lectures -- take place. "It's a chance for us," Kozberg said, "to put our researchers in contact both with practitioners if we're having a panel, and with a public audience. Its always designed with the chance to ask questions."


(**= Note: Future TTLA posts will give Brook and Rich much more space to articulate each's organizational vision, as well as other topics.)

 

RAND photos copyright 2008 and courtesy Brett Van Ort. Ayn Rand Institute photos copyright 2008 and courtesy Jeremy Rosenberg

 

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