Not Your Common, Garden-Variety Job
Joe Mamayek of Jung/Brannen draws on Japanese elements for Praecis Pharmaceuticals
Monica Geran -- Interior Design, 1/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
Little did he know what fortuitous happenings would evolve from a Chinese-furniture exhibit he designed for the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston about five years ago. He—Joe Mamayek, AIA, director of architecture and project designer at Jung/Brannen Associates in the aforementioned city—had never met Malcolm Gefter, CEO and chairman of Praecis Pharmaceuticals and an authority on the many faces of Asian culture. Nor could Mamayek have guessed that the executive was planning to alleviate the overcrowding at his offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And he certainly had no inkling that Gefter, after seeing the furniture exhibit and ascertaining its creator's name, read about him and his work in the design section of the New York Times, thus reinforcing first impressions.
Such was the background that prompted the company chief to telephone Mamayek who, no novice to the industry, anticipated that next he'd be asked to prepare a comprehensive presentation to complement a lengthy interview. Instead, the caller invited him to tour the Praecis premises, talked about possibilities of relocating the offices but leaving behind the laboratories, and announced that Jung/Brannen, with Mamayek in charge, was to handle the job. Too good to be true? Of course. A glitch brought incipient negotiations to a halt. Plans were put on hold. And that tired old platitude, "I'll get back to you," seemed to be the terminal sign-off. Yet, mirabile dictu, almost a year later, the call to action did come. Gefter had found a fine site in Waltham Woods, west of Boston, with a mostly finished multi-tenant building. There he resolved to settle—that is, after learning the apposite architect's identity. It was, incredibly, Jung/Brannen, making it apparent that the collaboration had been preordained. Now it was official.
The time lag had, as it happens, given both principals leeway to contemplate the ramifications of the project. Size specifics are now as follows: a 17-acre plot for the trilevel 175,000-square-foot structure, divided into 40,000 square feet for executive and administrative offices, 60,000 square feet for labs, and 75,000 square feet for leasing or future expansion. A skylight-topped atrium pierces the built expanse.
Interiors and outer surrounds are punctuated by a variety of Japanized gardens that are the scheme's most unusual and character-determining ingredient. Mamayek calls them a "very modern interpretation of traditional Japanese vernacular design." The concept invites a broad range of definitions, resulting in fairly conventional as well as offbeat gardens large and small, with and without verdure, paved with granite slabs or cobblestones and occasionally identified by extraordinary rock formations. Against the south side of the glass-and-painted-steel building, the cultivated frontage presents a mini-panorama of trees, shaped lawns, and more greenery, collectively producing an arresting grand-entrance tableau. Within the building, gardens may appear in the guise of small tucked-away spots sporting sculpturelike stone forms. There are no walls to define the would-be landscaping; it's the gardens that provide separations.
For these and other uncommon designs meant to please the eye and make functional sense, Mamayek credits Gefter, who, having extensively visited Asia, lent his books on Japanese art and architecture for the project. As a result, both could think and speak as one—and there was no need to discuss the CEO's office site. Having early on spent considerable time roaming through the empty, unfinished structure and taking note of sight lines, he staked out a choice spot. Visual connections capture outlying hills, gardens, and a reservoir. Similar exposure to the outdoors is accorded to all staffers.
In offices and labs, furnishings are predictably unconventional. High-rankers rate customized pieces; scientists work amid what Mamayek calls a "contemporary industrial aesthetic." In the office sectors, one finds a "merging of furniture, architecture, and art," the latter by Boston-area artists. Among special rooms are the so-called "oasis," a place devoted exclusively to informal exchanges and relaxation (and thus devoid of computers or test tubes); a multipurpose room for high-tech presentations, formal receptions, and rentals by other companies; kitchenettes; and a cafeteria. Traffic lanes are strategically placed to encourage impromptu confabs between members of all departments.
The job won the local AIA chapter's 2001 Honors Award for Design.