Needs no Preamble
At Rand Elliott's Houston office and showroom for ImageNet, the architectural metaphors speak for themselves
Raul Barreneche -- Interior Design, 2/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
ImageNet Office Systems started life in 1956 as a one-man typewriter-repair service in Oklahoma City. Over the last half century, the company has changed to accommodate new times and new technologies—it's now part of a mini conglomerate, with interests including real-estate development and property management. ImageNet's business includes the sales and repair of copiers, scanners, and other office equipment as well as data management, storage, and security. There's even a discovery service, extremely popular with law firms, for locating "lost" documents. Thought that deleted e-mail was gone forever? Think again.
Offices and showrooms, designed by Elliott + Associates Architects since the 1980's, reflect ImageNet's tech-driven business as well as its modest beginnings when typewriters were cutting-edge. In a string of recent projects in Oklahoma, Texas, and Washington, D.C., Interior Design Hall of Fame member Rand Elliott unleashed his imagination, creating interiors that, among other fantasies, suggest being inside a copier. One idea in particular, first implemented in an Oklahoma City showroom, has become a company signature: copy paper stacked to form whole walls, like masonry blocks, or freestanding pedestals, used to display a museum-quality collection of vintage typewriters.
ImageNet's newest outpost, a 13,500-square-foot facility in a Houston office park, repeats the paper motifs with an added nod to the DNA of digital technology. Customers first pass through a portal framed by two long, black-painted concrete walls before entering a courtyard. The canopy overhead, actually chain-link fencing interwoven with vinyl strips, is adorned with large numeral zeros and ones representing the fundamental binary code of digital communication. As sunlight casts shadows of the numbers on the courtyard walls, the suggestion is that you're floating in a data stream. The numbers continue on the walls and ceiling inside the lobby and adjoining showroom, where digital ephemera collide with the physical realm: the signature stacked-paper walls. Slivers of clear acrylic backlit by blue-gelled lighting, inserted among the reams, allude to missing information and data recovery. "Research suggests that 10 percent of all documents get lost," Elliott says. "With the flip of a switch, an architectural illustration becomes a business marketing tool."
Elliott constructed the building's shell of tilt-up concrete. As the name suggests, this inexpensive technique typically used for warehouses and factories involves pouring concrete panels on the ground, then tilting them up to make walls. "The idea of tilt-up has a lot to do with duplication and the economics of reproduction," he notes. A side elevation is not concrete, however, but corrugated steel that can be easily removed when a planned expansion is built.
Whereas Le Corbusier invented his own Modulor scale of proportions, Elliott chose the 11-by-17-inch sheet of paper, an appropriate icon of the print and copy industry. Glazed gaps between the tilt-up walls, reveals in the ceilings and walls, and even mullions and paving patterns imprint the 11-by-17 proportions inside and outside the building. Such details also give rhythm and scale to what is essentially a vast warehouse with concrete floors and exposed steel ductwork. Dramatic flourishes of simple but carefully detailed materials—plastic laminate and polycarbonate surfaces, compressed-paper composite ceiling panels, and, of course, bundled paper—say a lot about ImageNet. "We made architectural solutions very specific to what they do as a business," Elliott says. "It's not just an envelope that the company inhabits. The building becomes them."
He divided the boxy structure roughly in thirds. Behind the entry court and lobby, the front contains an open suite of sales offices. The middle is packed with a pair of videoconferencing rooms, management offices, a dust-free technical-support department, and a secure inventory area for valuable replacement parts. The farthest bay is the warehouse, serviced by a loading dock. He handled storage areas with the same finesse as the front-of-house, as ImageNet customers tour every inch of the facility. "Visitors can see they are neat and organized and pay attention to details," he says.
The three-part division is reflected along two of the minimally punctuated facades by 16-foot-tall polycarbonate panels in ImageNet blue. "They're bookmarks," Elliott explains, extending the analogy of the printed page. On the wall extending perpendicular to the entry portal, he drove the point home most literally by covering the concrete expanse with the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. The gesture isn't purely patriotic, though. One letter in each line of sandblasted text is cast all the way through the slab. Lit from behind, the letters spell out ImageNet.
Photo by Scott McDonald/Hedrich Blessing.
Michael Shuck (Project Manager); Brian Fitzsimmons: Elliott + Associates Architects. Wong & Associates: Landscaping Consultant. Haynes Whaley Associates: Structural Engineer. Cobb, Fendley & Associates: Civil Engineer. E/B/E: MEP. Panel-Tech: Woodwork. Beyond Metal: Metalwork. Schlitzberger & Daughters: Sandblasting Contractor. Mission Constructors: General Contractor.
From Front H&C Concrete: Concrete Stain (Exterior). Formica Corporation: Desk Surfacing (Lobby). Vitro: Desktop Material. Awnings and Such: Custom Acrylic Sheets. Gotham Lighting: Recessed Ceiling Fixtures (Lobby, Showroom). Knoll: Table (Break-Out Area). Umbra: Chair. Lithonia Lighting: Track Lighting, Linear Fixtures (Hall). Homasote Company: Ceiling Paneling. ClarkwesternBuilding Systems: Studs. Herman Miller: Chairs (Conference Room). Engineered Lighting Products: Track Lighting. Privacylink: Canopy Material (Exterior). Kawneer: Storefront System. Throughout Atlas Carpet Mills: Carpet. Polygal: Polycarbonate Paneling. USG: Drywall. Sherwin-Williams Company: Paint.