Glitz and gravitas
At the Times Square headquarters of Ernst & Young, Gensler proves that opposites attract
Alan G. Brake -- Interior Design, 9/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
"What's better than Times Square for a signature location?" asks Gensler design director Keith Rosen. Now that the area's seedy character has faded—eclipsed by major media, entertainment, and finance—even the eminently respectable Ernst & Young felt comfortable consolidating six New York offices at the Crossroads of the World. Hired by the accounting giant to scout sites, plan the consolidation, and design the interiors of the new headquarters, Gensler homed in on a Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates building across the street from the Reuters news agency and kitty-corner from the editrixes at Condé Nast and attorneys at Skadden, Arps.
The neon Ernst & Young sign, attached to the 37-story building by a sleek steel armature, conveys the message immediately, emitting respectability while acknowledging the visual cacophony of the neighborhood. Gensler carried that message indoors. Taking charge of the 35 floors occupied by E&Y, the designers executed a site-specific version of corporate modernism.
The E&Y floors are served by four reception areas, two of which are the most significant: one for floors three through 22, another for the conference center on 23. Receptionists sit at large, curved desks clad in anigre veneer. For visiting clients, Gensler provided waiting areas furnished with black leather-upholstered chairs and tables topped with granite. The waiting areas vary slightly from reception floor to reception floor—with different Tibetan area rugs and original artwork—but a contemporary, almost residential feel is common to all.
On all floors, double glass doors at the east end of the spare elevator lobby reveal a mysterious object. It's a curved wall clad in precast metallic fiberglass panels—and a rather glamorous way to conceal each floor's pantry, copy room, and supplies. On non-reception floors, glass doors at the west end of the elevator lobbies offer an equally intriguing sight: a patterned glass screen wall with integral hardware accommodating evolving E&Y branding images.
The elevator lobbies' cream-colored terrazzo flooring continues on the landings and treads of the upgraded fire stairwells, which employees use regularly to travel within the E&Y floors. Gensler's graphics department, Studio 585, designed large red film panels that incorporate each floor's number, then affixed the panels to the landing walls. "The bold graphic design enforces the movement between the floors," explains Rosen.
Gensler's consistent graphics, materials, and furniture office-wide reflect E&Y's democratic desire to downplay staff hierarchy. Even on the largest floors, at 25,000 square feet, workstations and private offices are grouped in small "neighborhoods," never exceeding 16 workstations, and everyone gets an ergonomic Aeron chair. To help employees navigate the various neighborhoods, Gensler made sure that circulation paths maximize views of Times Square and West Side landmarks—a ready-made way-finding system.
Meanwhile, says Gensler vice president Joshua Katz, the E&Y project director, "We tripled the amount of teaming spaces—conferences rooms, training facilities, and informal areas—the tools that E&Y uses to get its work done." On most floors, Gensler created "touchdown stations," with data hookups for clients and visiting colleagues. The 23rd floor features a full conference center with multiple large rooms, state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment, and catering services. Gensler's design language is slightly quieter here, with taupe wool carpeting and light woods rather than the high-contrast color schemes elsewhere in the building.
E&Y's splashiest attraction shows up in the employee cafeteria, which seats approximately 300. Running the length of the wall facing windows on the Times Square side of the building, an LED screen gradually cycles through bold colors. In contrast, the rest of the cafeteria is markedly subdued, with parallel rows of maple chairs flanking rectangular tables topped in off-white laminate. As Rosen points out, "Times Square is right there. Why compete?"