Transform a warehouse to an office
Designed in under two weeks and built without subcontractors in less than two months, the eight-person office replaces the banal interior of a new metal warehouse with a dynamic, interwoven assemblage of skewed timber, luminous acrylic, gleaming metal, and fluid space. “Everything was carefully designed and crafted,” says Brown, “because the client challenged us to challenge him.” Many decisions were made on site, according to Brown, as design solutions were developed spontaneously at full scale.
The building, 30 ft. by 40 ft. by 20 ft. high, came with an envelope that could not be punctured apart from two existing windows near the front and a single entrance. It nonetheless offered a lofty, ready-made volume that could be manipulated and shaped. Working with design collaborators Matthew Kruntorad, Geoff DeOld, and Kimberly Brown, the architect maintained the light steel structure and acoustical ceiling panels, and gave the concrete floor a good cleaning and new epoxy finish. A 650-sq.-ft. mezzanine was introduced to hold three work stations, the owner’s office, and additional service spaces. Below, at ground level, are the entry and reception area, more work stations, a conference room, bathrooms, and an informal break area.
In addition to educating his own clientele about the contractor’s skills, the owner wanted the office to facilitate collaborative relationships among the staff. According to Brown, “Offices are so often about discontinuity, but in this case we wanted to create a space that would be more open and allow people to work together closely.” Semi-private spaces maintain visual and spatial contact with the rest of the office. “We never wanted space to stop,” he says. “We wanted it to keep flowing, extending, moving, so you always feel like you’re connected to other spaces.” Walls were built short of the ceiling, and sanded acrylic was used in several locations to suggest space beyond. Thread-like elements begin in one space and extend into others, and reflective metal surfaces serve to bounce light, especially limited natural light, around the entire interior.
Brown and his client dedicated extraordinary attention to the design of individual elements. Along the wooden stairs, one of the Paralam beam stringers was positioned below the tread, the other on the side, to emphasize spatial continuity. Stainless steel cables begin as a handrail before wrapping uninterrupted around the mezzanine level. The conference table, a one-in.-thick slab of stained concrete on steel legs, gains a distinct, variegated patina from the rusty nails that Brown threw into the pour. Large sliding plywood panels join to close off the conference room for private meetings, and a set of diminutive, hinged panels near the owner’s desk allows him to open that wall of his office and speak directly with estimators and other colleagues across the mezzanine.
Fluorescent lights were mounted and concealed in the structure and positioned behind translucent panels so they would glow. Incandescent downlights highlight the sculptural aspects of the staircase, as well as the conference and reception area work units.
Cast concrete work surfaces and topnotch Modernist furniture further convey a sensibility that charts a steady course between pragmatism and a kind of tectonic luxury. All in all, a convincing demonstration of the client’s abilities, as well as the designer’s.