Beckson Design Associates accentuates scale in its design for Summit Entertainment's Santa Monica offices.
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 5/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
Great volumes offer great temptations—at least to architects and designers—and a warehouse with a double-height space and a generous open stairwell at its center would be tempting, indeed. In this instance, the challenge faced by Beckson Design Associates (BDA) in designing the headquarters for Summit Entertainment, an international film distribution company which numbers American Pie and The Blair Witch Project among its deals, may have been in knowing when to leave well enough alone.
BDA's history with Summit dates back to 1992, when it created offices, also in Santa Monica, for the then-fledging firm of ten. BDA relied on an infusion of color and cunning design embellishments to enliven an otherwise featureless space without much natural light. In the new offices, however, an increase in area and personnel demanded that architectural interventions recede in deference to spatial considerations.
The site, encompassing 13,000 sq. ft. in a renovated brick warehouse, already had an exposed timber ceiling and a steel stairway and railing. To emphasize the 24-ft.-high central void, BDA first installed a skylight and then built out the interior space. The central volume remained the linchpin of a planning scheme in which open sight lines were essential.
"Programmatically, there was a conflict between the need for private offices, large amounts of filing and archive storage, and the clients' desire to maintain the open spatial volume," comments Steven Heisler of BDA. To resolve this conflict, BDA kept the center open, with a concentration of built forms along the brick perimeter wall, where drywall establishes private office enclosures. These planes are punctured with etched glass doors and transparent glass for the front panels and transoms. Work stations compose the next layer in shifting and overlapping configurations. "Having the least dense volume at the center of the space orients one's focus less on the perimeter windows," explains the architect.
The BDA team abided by a self-imposed challenge to eschew applied color and surface decoration. Thus, materials tied to the intrinsic warehouse vocabulary, along with the objects they create, assume center focus. The designers favored custom product for the furnishings: Work stations are built of Finn plywood with sandblasted, galvanized-steel fronts, bamboo transaction counters, and translucent acrylic storage units. These designs complement the architecture and provide a sense of structure. The same rationale applies to the reception desk, a construction of Finn plywood, medium-density fiberboard, and sandblasted and hot-rolled steel. The reception area also includes a set of three eight-ft.-high cast-glass panels in raw steel frames, screening the heavily trafficked film archive behind the desk. Glass functions "as a material rather than just as a transmitter of light," Heisler says. Another partition, constructed of raw steel, divides workplace and lobby. Even lighting conveys a structural quality with unistrut uprights and halogen lamps reflecting off acrylic diffusers.
Interestingly, what has become an almost universally accepted workplace aesthetic was initially greeted with disappointment by many of Summit's 36 employees. "They had hoped to see color," says Heisler. "But they got past it. They loved the rawness of the space and didn't want to loose it."
Summit Entertainment was completed in five months. The project team consisted of Heisler, principal Michael Beckson, and designer Paul Simpson.
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