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Homecomings & Headquarters: Two of HBC’s Projects Receive Global Recognition


World Architecture News, a globally-reaching online publisher for the architectural community, hosts an annual awards show to celebrate the year’s most impactful designs. The mission is to distinguish projects and products with the “greatest impact on the world’s cultural landscape.”The 2018 event was held on Monday, November 19, 2018 in London, where industry leaders gathered to recognize top products, designers, and projects from across the country.

Despite being Southern California-based, two of HBC’s projects took the limelight at this international design event. Both in the “Workspace Interiors” category, the Fender space was nominated, and the Vans headquarters won. The impact of reaching a broader audience through the design of globally-relevant spaces is astounding. Taking a closer look at the driving inspiration behind the two projects, and the companies that they were designed for, sheds light on why the spaces had such an international appeal, revealing a widespread soft spot for a homecoming story.

Classic Kicks Return to Costa Mesa

The well-known trajectory of the Van Doren Rubber Company, or Vans, can be traced back more than 50 years ago to Anaheim, CA. The company has built a legacy on bold and durable designs that have since become iconic—sticky waffle soles, black and white checkerboard canvas, and an undying commitment to the skating subculture. This was the guiding direction of their new headquarters in Costa Mesa, which was a strategic move back to the city that housed the first Vans retail store. Global notoriety, along with sustained success, resulted in the company outgrowing several of their previous locations, leading them to seek a more permanent residence to accommodate continued growth and innovation.1 Enter Rapt Studio, Cushman & Wakefield, and Howard Building Corporation and you have Southern California’s top talent to bring this vision to fruition. The 169,000 square foot headquarters had to be adaptable enough to provide a space capable of physically evolving alongside Vans. The result is a sprawling campus-like landscape with a framework designed to withstand the flow of creativity and culture.  

From its very inception, Vans has provided a means for unfettered innovation. Each new shoe iteration was developed to satisfy skateboarders’ needs, from implementing thick rubber soles, leather heels, and padded ankles for more protection and durability. Tracing Vans’ evolution reveals a company that has always catered to the cultural community, and the new headquarters is no exception. The walls themselves largely resemble a careful curation of renowned artists, including murals from Edward Colver and John Van Hamersveld, both subculture heroes in their own right.8 In the spirit of transformation, however, several spaces are intentionally unfinished to allow up-and-coming artists to display their work.6 Each of these curated elements were designed with cultural and global significance in mind, resulting in a thoughtful collection with universal appeal.

As a globally-minded company with strong ties to the local community, the Vans headquarters needed a way to optimize efficiency while maintaining a healthy, viable relationship with the environment. As a result, the space is certified LEED platinum, signifying the highest commitment to sustainability and efficiency. Of the 111,075 buildings worldwide that are eligible for LEED certification, only 6% meet platinum qualifications, rendering this project a progressive achievement for a far-reaching brand.7 The building itself is powered by expansive solar panels, which supply most of the company’s energy needs. Additionally, the parking lot incorporates electric-vehicle charging stations, encouraging employees to integrate environmental awareness as a lifestyle. Sealed concrete floors offer an alternative, but equally environmentally-friendly, way to get around, as employees can skateboard across the campus from meeting to meeting. A pre-existing fountain was drained in an effort to conserve water, and it now functions as a skate bowl for employees and visitors.4

Vans is synonymous with a family-based sense of community, which was one of the guiding elements in mind when developing the new headquarters. Most of the workspaces are designed in an open-office format, keeping collaboration and creativity at the forefront of the brand. A centralized red staircase serves as a distinctive visual and physical hub of connectivity, and all office spaces branch off from there. The campus-like environment has the potential to accommodate over 600 employees, and several working nooks with uninterrupted Wi-Fi encourage constant mobility and flexibility.

The decision to recruit local industry leaders in designing a space for one of Southern California’s success stories makes Vans’ homecoming even more significant. Furthermore, their unwavering promotion of art, sustainability, and collaboration created a framework to guide the design of the buildout. These very values are embodied in every design detail of their new headquarters and, as a result, it has captured the attention of industry experts across the world.

Hometown Hero Moves to Hollywood

Around the same time that the Vans legacy was beginning, and only four miles away, another Southern California company had already gained momentum in the music world and was making its way towards becoming a global icon. After gathering feedback from musicians and employees, Leo Fender designed the first solid-body electric guitar in 1951, unlocking limitless potential and carving a path directly to modern music.2 Due to superior craftsmanship and innovative solutions, Fender has since grown to become the global leader in instrument design. With origins in Fullerton, the headquarters were relocated to Corona, CA, and then again to Scottsdale, AZ. In the same spirit of innovation that prompted Leo Fender’s original designs, the company assessed ways to satisfy the needs of modern musicians while remaining one of the leaders of music evolution. This led to the recent relocation back to their Southern California roots to once again be at the hub of creative innovation.

Rapt Studio, Cresa, Kilroy Realty Corporation, and Howard Building Corporation were recruited to deliver a space that poignantly considered Fender’s history while positioning it for future innovation and connection with the music community. The result is an impressive duality—two distinct buildings that visually oppose and functionally complement one another. Similar to Fender’s guitars, each detail of the space was designed to satisfy an unfulfilled need. In the same way that Leo Fender considered the needs of the modern musician, Fender’s production process was carefully studied, and a framework for the design was developed thereafter. In both instances, the stable framework allowed for more flexibility in the details. In Fender’s new space, a structured division of two buildings allowed that necessary pliability—the Gower building is the more corporate-like environment, while the “Bungalow” resembles a fusion of sound studios and workshops.

The Gower building includes 100 workspaces, open work areas, huddle rooms, and conference centers. Stylish and non-traditional finishes reinforce the company’s cultural influence, including exposed sealed concrete, metal office fronts, and an interconnecting staircase comprised of AESS steel stringer and railings with blackened wood stair tread. Full-height guitar storage cabinets showcase the pinnacle of instrument design, highlighting expert craftsmanship with a painted lacquer finish and custom hardware. Large diagrams of amp and guitar patents line the walls of the “Bungalow,” paying tribute to the company’s claim to fame. Wall-height lightboxes display photographs of noteworthy musicians in action. A separate soundstage area allows musicians to beta test guitars and amplifiers, and the CEO’s personal guitar collection is available for anyone to play. In both buildings, Fender guitars and amps are scattered throughout, encouraging impromptu jam sessions.3 For as much as the two buildings are separate entities, they are very much in tune and both are integral to the success of the company.

Despite the two physical locations, large windows and a central reception area promote collaboration and connectivity. The combination of the two creates a sense of balance because the functioning of one is dependent on the other. Mimicking that of a guitar body, the architectural silhouette of both spaces adds to the sense of continuity. Woodgrain textures and classic Fender colors are imbued throughout, aligning the new space and the classic branded image.5 The pale wood traditionally found on Fender guitar necks sits atop huddle tables, while dark wood encases the reception desk and conference tables. Reinforcing the classic image and structurally encouraging collaboration serves as a reminder of the company’s past while anticipating the next phase of music evolution.

Homecomings like these reach a global audience because the tenant improvement team is successfully able to tell the company’s story. Through the planning, coordination, and execution of these two projects, Howard Building Corporation infused two company’s values into physical spaces. It was these values that garnered global recognition from experts in the industry. Although HBC’s projects are local, they can have a global impact on design practices and cultural landscapes.

HBC would like to thank everyone involved in these two projects. For Vans, this included VF Corporation, Cushman & Wakefield, and Rapt Studio. The Fender project included the folks at Fender, Cresa, Rapt Studio, and Kilroy Realty Corporation. A special thank-you also goes out to World Architecture News and the World Interiors News Awards.


1.   “2017.” Vans. Accessed December 10, 2018.

2.   “About Fender.” Fender. Accessed December 10, 2018.

3.  Cohen, Edie. “Fender Rocks Out at New Los Angeles Headquarters by Rapt Studio.” Interior Design, June 7, 2017.

4.  Connelly, Laylan. “Exclusive look: Vans new Costa Mesa headquarters includes billiards table, a big bell, and of course, a skate pool.” The Orange County Register, July 17, 2017.

5.  “Fender.” Rapt Studio’s work. Accessed December 10, 2018.

6.  Jablansky, Jeff. “Rapt Studio’s Young Talents Design Skate-Centric SoCal HQ for Vans.” Interior Design, November 27, 2017.

7.  “Project Search.” U.S. Green Building Council. Accessed December 10, 2018.

8.  “Soles with Soul: Vans Headquarters in Costa Mesa.” SoCalPulse (blog), November 26, 2018.

9.   “World Interiors News.” Haymarket Media Group. Accessed December 10, 2018.

Homecomings & Headquarters: Two of HBC’s Projects Receive Global Recognition