Specht Harpman joins nautical and industrial elements in its design for the New York offices of Concrete Incorporated.
Henry Urbach -- Interior Design, 5/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
Hovering above the Hudson River on the eighth floor of the famed Starrett-Lehigh Building, the offices of Concrete Incorporated, a company that develops and implements strategies for web-related businesses, enjoy stunning views and an uncommon connection to the city and its surrounding waters. Specht Harpman approached the design of the 40,000-sq.-ft space as a refined, abstract extension of the urban landscape beyond, with special attention to the building's status as a landmark of industrial Modernism. Built in 1931 as a depot for the Lehigh Valley railroad, the Starrett-Lehigh Building provided a distribution center for manufacturing industries in the mid-20th century; now it houses artist studios, designer workshops, and new media, fashion, and technology firms.
Specht Harpman designed the offices in dialogue with the building's distinctive architecture, particularly its concrete mushroom columns and curving ribbon wall of steel-framed windows and brick. Open areas, including more than 200 work stations and numerous social and informal meeting spaces, were organized in an open field that allows flexible staff distribution and leaves the window wall unobstructed. New enclosed spaces, such as meeting rooms, technical centers, and service areas, likewise were joined along interior partitions held away from the perimeter. The outer wall provided further inspiration for the new partitions used at the office entrance; Specht Harpman located the original window steel manufacturer and constructed a new interior façade that reiterates the building's historic wall.
"We wanted to bring the outside in," says partner Louise Harpman, "because the site offers such an incredible opportunity to connect with the Hudson River corridor and the city's industrial landscape." Specific elements from the world beyond the perimeter were imported further to articulate the interior as a kind of landscape, with transitions in the ground plane and individual moments called out within an open field. A set of "think tank" meeting rooms was constructed of translucent resin fiberglass and steel window frame; their cylindrical form recalls the building's prominent exterior crown of water towers. Farther afield, the USS Intrepid and other ships that ply the Hudson provided inspiration for the incorporation of raised, steel-clad decks that elevate the reception area and informal meeting spaces 18 in. above the main floor. This subtle shift in the horizontal datum provides a sense of differentiated space while intensifying one's sense of floating above the city.
Durable yet chic industrial materials were used throughout the office. In addition to blackened steel and resin fiberglass, Specht Harpman built work stations of steel, laminate, and Douglas fir, and a steel sliding display system that loosely separates work station areas while providing lounge seating on one side and, on the other, cork panels for pin-up presentations. A new topcoat of concrete was applied to the floor, and custom steel lighting collars were wrapped around the mushroom columns. Industrial exterior steplights were used along the ramps to the elevated decks. Some new walls were finished in unglazed ceramic penny-round tile, a material commonly found in early 20th-century bathrooms and steamrooms, further demonstrating Specht Harpman's distinctive ability to work with modest materials in fresh and compelling ways.