Making it in Mayfair
Orlando Diaz-Azcuy designs the London offices of a San Francisco-headquartered financial firm.
Monica Geran -- Interior Design, 2/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
IT S A FAMILY SORT of operation, notes designer Orlando Diaz-Azcuy, speaking of his long-time client Horsley Bridge International's financial business and, at the same time, alluding to the two groups 'many joint ventures. He expounds by adding that Horsley Bridge employees are hired on the basis of their potential, the idea being to train and advance bright young staffers to leading in-house positions. As for client/designer relations, the Horsley Bridge partners-they manage and invest large private business funds, doing so, says the spokesman, "in a quiet manner"-not only engaged Diaz-Azcuy to design their San Francisco-based headquarters in 1989 and enlarge it nearly a dozen years later, but additionally commissioned five residences for CEO Horsley, two of them for his children, and another pair for partner Bridge. Not to mention this office in London, considered one of the world's most sophisticated yet traditional financial markets.
The dual-nationality factor played an important but very subtle and inconspicuous part in the overseas project. "Similar to yet distinct from San Francisco headquarters" was the client's mandate, the collaboration between the two groups having been so steady that there was no need for more detailed explanation. Diaz-Azcuy's shorthand translation, in turn, was "clean, strong, light, fresh, contemporary," later reinforced with "dignified, comfortable, and stylish." The prevailing image, composed of these traits, simply was to be that of an American company in the U.K. No hoopla, no flag waving-only the spirit of the Bay Area city was to be transplanted to the overseas venue. The site covers 3,000 sq. ft. on a full floor in a brand-new commercial building near New Bond Street in Mayfair. Street-facing windows measure just a little more than three ft. across and nine ft. tall. Neighboring structures seem to crowd the block. Thus the harnessing of inward-flowing light and the optical opening up of the space became the project's most challenging tasks.
To this end, the designer limited the use of solid walls to the computer room, kitchen, and storage space. Elsewhere, vertical dividers are formed by 3¼ -in.-thick frosted glass and, between the six perimetric offices, by linen-wrapped partitions that don't quite reach the core-facing glass façade. Bracketing the reception area are white-lacquered grids anchored to the ceiling with stainless steel "sleeves." One of these uprights faintly reveals the likeness of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, a feat effected by silk-screening photographs onto the acrylic panes. While the gleaming white reception desk, with its brushed stainless-steel modesty panel and dark-lacquered Japanese box (it conceals ungainly computer components and telephones), was fabricated in London, the pair of grids was constructed in California and shipped, ready to install, to Mayfair.
Perhaps most appealing about Horsley Bridge International's public spaces is the lack of blatant or, for that matter, any sort of powerhouse commercialism. No, this obviously is not a residence, and the conference room, for example, will never be mistaken for a salon. Nor are crafts and decorative accessories-Diaz-Azcuy excoriates the word art-strangers to business realms. Still, something does indeed propound an air of civilized "quiet manners" in a milieu of tranquility. It could be the prevalence of gentle light colors, the non-visibility of work tools (they are hidden away in cabinets; even the small lunch/tea room is tucked into a corner) or, conceivably, the perception of area rugs on wood floors actually consisting of wall-to-wall carpet with dark borders. Or was it the familial factor that left its mark?
With the help of co-principal David T. Oldroyd, the project was done in about seven months. The architectural firm Anshen+Dyer of London took charge of construction drawings and handled administration in the Americans' absence.