Johnson & Johnson's New York office gets the design treatment from Lalire March
Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 5/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
In the reception area at Johnson & Johnson's office in New York, an entire wall is taken over by a constellation of miniature J&J-brand items from across the ages: Likenesses of packaging for Aveeno, Band-Aid, Effergrip, Tylenol, and obsolete curios such as belladonna and capsicum plasters are a visual history of the company, reminders of its founding mission to cure, comfort, and heal. The installation complements the surrounding interior by Lalire March Architects, which—in a similarly medical-minded fashion—took the Hippocratic oath as an overall guideline for the office, occupying the 15,000-square-foot 16th floor of the Starrett-Lehigh Building. "First, do no harm," Christopher March recites. "The space has a pure beauty that didn't need disturbing." That meant exposing and emphasizing the 1930's mushroom-cap concrete columns, board-formed concrete ceiling slab, and steel-framed ribbon windows on two exposures.
The impetus for opening this particular office, the New Jersey company's first in Manhattan, was the founding of a global strategic design division two years ago. "Previously, all design work was done by outside firms, so there was no consistency across the brands," chief design officer Chris Hacker says. "Having in-house designers gives us a competitive advantage." Being in the city also allowed him to recruit the best talent while providing an off-site location for New Jersey staffers. Plus, Rex Lalire adds, "The design deliberately forges a connection between the very strong, important history of J&J and a start-up that explores new ground."
After gutting the space, a former upholstery shop, the architects kept the plan mostly open, relegating the few private offices to the center of the floor plate and designing low workstations that maximize views out and in. "Everything pulls back and down, keeping the focus on the envelope," March explains. Like archaeologists on a dig, the team even peeled up old vinyl tiles to expose the original poured concrete, then ground and polished it to a subtly reflective sheen. Preserving the existing floor jibed nicely with Hacker's environmental stance—in addition to leading the design team, he oversees the J&J consumer-products group's environmental-responsibility effort.
Wherever possible, Lalire and March chose eco-friendly finishes and materials: low-VOC paint, tackboards of compressed recycled paper, linoleum desktops, and goat-hair floor coverings. Creative reuse makes a statement, too. Hanging on the reception area's concrete-block wall, for instance, is a vintage red J&J logo that Hacker discovered being removed from one of the company's facilities and diverted from the landfill. A few feet away, slipped between lapis-blue Womb chairs by Eero Saarinen and a languorous red sofa by Piero Lissoni, is a low table constructed from stacked plywood tabletops rescued from the design team's previous office. The topmost one is emblazoned with the J&J credo.
Other elements save resources by performing two roles at once. Fiberboard panels absorb ambient noise while doubling as a decorative accent in the open office area. (Their random running-bond pattern, composed of rectangles and squares of alternating thicknesses, was derived from a computer program.) Exposed HVAC ducts, carefully placed to reinforce spatial divisions below, also support fluorescent strips, slipped on top.
The level of artificial light is nevertheless kept low to conserve energy. To compensate, classic Tolomeo task lamps by Michele De Lucchi and Giancarlo Fassina were given to every employee—even the 33 design-group staffers, who work shoulder to shoulder at a pair of long tables. "It's the Last Supper approach," March says with a laugh. Like the workstations, individual desks, and conference tables, the communal tables are built from clear-finished veneer-core maple plywood.
When employees need to have privacy or to meet in a small group, they can choose between the numerous break-out areas and conference rooms. Indeed, the office boasts a rather high ratio of common space to work space. "Our 'clients' are the marketing and R&D departments, who come here to brainstorm," Hacker explains. "Often, the conference rooms are full of people who don't really work in this location."
There's also an airy lounge-café, where the window wall bows out to embrace the sweeping Hudson River view. "The curves are sacred," March says. "Everyone should be able to appreciate them." Suspended from the ceiling are curtains of tin-plated steel mesh and rows of light fixtures cobbled together from off-the-shelf electrical parts and squiggly compact-fluorescent bulbs. Below, molded-plywood chairs by Charles and Ray Eames and half a dozen square white tables can be rearranged as needed. A partition surfaced in light-gray projection paint stands ready for multimedia presentations or a quick brain-clearing game of Wii tennis. Animating another wall is a long, horizontal acrylic on canvas that looks like a color chart. "Apparently it was made for a boardroom, but it was in storage for many years," Hacker says. "Our corporate curatorial group said, 'We have the perfect piece for you—nobody else in the company wants it!'" Recycling is the best medicine.
PROJECT TEAM: DANIEL MCFARLAND (PROJECT ARCHITECT); ERICA KEOUGH; JAMIE SNEED: LALIRE MARCH ARCHITECTS. LUDWIG MICHAEL GOLDSMITH, ARCHITECTS: ARCHITECT OF RECORD. GILMORE GROUP: GRAPHICS CONSULTANT. RYCAT: AUDIOVISUAL CONSULTANT. M-CORPORATIONS: STRUCTURAL ENGINEER. LILKER ASSOCIATES CONSULTING ENGINEERS: MEP. MONARCH INDUSTRIES: WOODWORK. CELTIC GENERAL CONTRACTORS: GENERAL CONTRACTOR. PRODUCT SOURCES FROM FRONT LIVING DIVANI: SOFA (RECEPTION). CECO DOOR: CUSTOM DOORS. SCHLAGE: DOOR HARDWARE. WESTBROOK CONCRETE BLOCK CO.: CONCRETE BLOCK (RECEPTION, ENTRY). KNOLL: CHAIRS (RECEPTION, BREAK-OUT AREA). TRETFORD: CUSTOM RUG (RECEPTION), CARPET TILE (OFFICE). ARTEMIDE: TASK LAMPS (OFFICE AREA). FORBO: DESKTOP SURFACING. INTERFACEFLOR: CARPET TILE. HERMAN MILLER: CHAIRS (OFFICE AREA, OFFICE, LOUNGE, CONFERENCE ROOM). HOMASOTE COMPANY: DIVIDER MATERIAL (OFFICE AREA), PANELING (CONFERENCE ROOM). OFFI & COMPANY: SOLID TABLE (BREAK-OUT AREA). STEELCASE: FILE CABINETS (OFFICE, OFFICE AREA). TECTUM: PANELING (OFFICE AREA). CASCADE COIL DRAPERY: CUSTOM CURTAINS (LOUNGE). SCRAPILE: STRIPED TABLE (BREAK-OUT AREA). THROUGHOUT KONINKLIIJKE PHILIPS ELECTRONICS: CEILING FIXTURES. AL LIGHTING: LINEAR FIXTURES. BENJAMIN MOORE & CO.: PAINT.