Making a Case for Change
Jorge S. Arango -- Interior Design, 5/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
Mahogany desks and leather-covered wing chairs may be conventional symbols of gravitas. But they're hardly the way to impress clients in the ideas business. So how did Core Architecture + Design handle an Akron, Ohio, office for the intellectual-property division of law firm Hahn Loeser + Parks? By exchanging stodgy for edgy.
In a huge departure from the reserved interior that Core had designed for Hahn Loeser's Columbus office, this 20,000-square-foot space offers exposed ductwork, metal details, and glass walls that instead might remind forward-thinking Fortune 500 companies and technology start-ups of their own headquarters. "It looks cutting-edge—without going too far into the twilight zone," says Core principal Peter Hapstak.
In this industrial city steel is a natural motif. "When used correctly, it's very elegant," Hapstak says. The reception desk, for example, is basically a rolled-steel plate bolted to a maple frame. The surface was repeatedly washed and cleaned over several days to produce a rust-colored patina. "I don't think you see a lot of lawyers who would go along with that," the architect adds. "Especially in a conservative place like Akron."
Core also built the library's shelves from rolled-steel boxes affixed to steel pipes. Steel mesh curtain panels, suspended from the ceiling, partition reception from work areas. The metal also frames glass walls enclosing a small conference room—a jewel box conveying the idea of transparency in business practices, while ribbons of frosted film on the glass retain a measure of privacy.
Locally sourced artwork, curated by a former partner, also connects to the region's industrial history; each piece makes a different mechanical or chemical reference. River and Lake, a diptych by Don Harvey, incorporates glass tubes filled with oil and windshield-wiper fluid, reminders that the city is an auto-parts manufacturing hub. Jurgen Faust's abstract painting on plywood, 7X7, actually changes color with fluctuations in temperature and humidity.
Cheery orange is the keynote color in work areas, which accommodate roughly 30 attorneys and support staff. In a nod to the egalitarian office cultures among its clients, a majority of the firm's workstations were also created equal in size. They're bordered by a strip of orange-red fabric, the shade of the law firm's logo.
At first glance, partners' workstations are hard to distinguish from those of associates. Each measures 135 square feet. "But partners get additional amenities," Hapstak explains. Extra storage, glass-topped desks, better task chairs, and more adjustable lighting round out the perks.
"When you're in the business of ideas," says Hahn Loeser managing partner and CEO Josh Knerly, "a stimulating environment is critical."