One Design Fits All
A San Francisco office by William Leddy of Leddy Maytum Stacy was conceived with the general needs of ad agencies in mind
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 10/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
Notoriously competitive, ad agencies wage perpetual tugs-of-war not only to win accounts but also for the talent producing those memorable tag lines and indelible images that constitute so much of our business and pop culture. That competitiveness extends to the workplace. Hip surroundings, so the belief goes, help to skim the cream of the creative crop. Such was the thinking at the Interpublic Group of Companies, the parent entity of more than 50 U.S. agencies, when it came to hiring a design firm to transform a 1920s printing plant in San Francisco into a vibrant work environment for 350.
William Leddy, now a partner at Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects, presided over the six-month process. One set of challenges was presented by the idiosyncratic site, a 95,000-square-foot, three-story concrete building sprawling over a whole city block in Jackson Square. Another challenge was presented by a complex, seemingly contradictory agenda. The space had to meet the specific needs of its first tenant agency—whose employees worked on campaigns for Dunkin' Donuts, Cisco Systems, and Coca-Cola—and still be flexible enough to suit subsequent agencies in the event that Interpublic Group eventually made a switch.
"Our brief was to create an open environment while giving teams enough privacy. And remember that we were facing block-long spaces," says Leddy. An orthogonal solution would therefore have produced a "huge, impersonal" effect. Instead, he based his response on serpentine paths along which anchored zones take form as game centers, meeting rooms, a broadcast suite, and an impressive presentation room, all with varying degrees of transparency. This prompts staff interaction, today's sine qua non of media businesses, as well as maximizing views of Coit Tower and the Financial District. Pathways are defined by freestanding curvilinear panels. Some are reinforced acrylic; others are made, improbably, from a composite material developed from recycled sunflower seeds. Supplementing the fixed panels, pivoting counterparts work as display boards and confer added flexibility.
While horizontal circulation was the most daunting, Leddy also faced the question of vertical passage. At the building's core, a sweeping stairway of perforated raw steel curves around an elevator shaft, clad in copper mesh, to connect the upper two floors. The stair's form and location introduce the agency with appropriate celebration, and an adjacent glazed screen soars 25 feet to proclaim the agency's creativity through vinyl-film images of campaign highlights. (Supplementary stairs are situated next to window walls at the end of each wing.)
Leddy's design also had to address the adjacency of separate departments. Everyone agreed on a team-based plan, joining creative and account-exec personnel. Virtually all staff members occupy workstations that—with their reversible desktops, interchangeable bases, and mobile document trolleys and boxes—define flexibility itself. The exceptions are the spaces with special requirements, i.e. recording studios, editing bays, and video-conference rooms, which cluster at the second floor's center.
The agency's showplace is, understandably, the presentation room. Affectionately dubbed the Egg, this oval configuration occupies a double-height drywall enclosure and is composed of three rooms whose sliding panels allow varying permutations and combinations. A perforated-aluminum ceiling, chestnut wall paneling concealing an of-the-moment AV system, and a custom zinc-topped table assure that the space is dressed for success.
Leddy's commission didn't end at the third floor but extended to the roof. Conceived as an outdoor "office" for casual meetings and large agency functions—or a weather-permitting lounge—the expanse is furnished with seating and a rather poetic series of Lumasite reinforced-acrylic enclosures to control wind and sun. At nighttime, industrial fluorescent lighting transforms them into glowing lanterns.
"The job was about providing a framework and a variety of moments within that framework," Leddy says, returning to the theme of flexibility. And his intent has since been validated. With the bursting of the dot-com bubble, Interpublic opted to relocate the original tenant and move in a bigger agency. The name on the front door may differ, but the concept remains unchanged.