Thomas Connors -- Interior Design, 5/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Sports is big business. But for countless amateur athletes, making it to the finish line is about achieving a personal best, not ending up on a box of Wheaties. When it came to designing a headquarters for the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon—a 30-year-old footrace that's as much a part of the city's fabric as Lake Michigan and the Sears Tower—VOA Associates principal Nick Luzietti celebrated this elemental spirit of athletic endeavor by treating the 10,000-square-foot rectangular space as an abstraction of the city.
The right angles and intersecting planes of the five perimeter offices, two conference rooms, and 19 workstations represent the urban grid. The green nylon carpet and yellow-painted walls of the interior lunchroom and lounge symbolize parks on a sunny day. Running between these two areas, a swath of concrete-gray and black striped carpet evokes the roads that the marathoners race on.
Opposite the open office area, a curved feature wall is punctuated with myriad tiny round holes backlit by LEDs that emit an ever changing spectrum of colors—from blue to purple to green. As the wall progresses, the number of holes decreases until there's just one, like the winner of the race. While the initial concept for the wall included literal images of runners, Luzietti decided against that plan after it was accepted, reverting to an old pencil sketch that seemed to suggest energy.
"Energy is what the race is when you're running it," the architect explains. "And design is evolutionary. You start out with a framework. Then you've got to hang on and let it take you where it wants to go."
For all the symbolic playfulness, however, this isn't a case of the dish running away with the spoon. Luzietti paid close attention to the everyday needs of the 20 on-site staff members responsible for the operations of the marathon and its 40,000 runners. He was also mindful of LaSalle Bank's corporate culture: Eero Saarinen's Tulip side tables and chairs, Harry Bertoia's side chairs, and an Arne Jacobsen Swan chair convey the International Style pedigree that has long characterized Chicago business interiors.
A little zip comes via upholstery. In one office, Piero Lissoni's sofa is covered in first-place blue. Other seating sports orange and yellow wool. "Runners wear some of the most colorful and graphic clothes out there. The furniture has that same spirit," Luzietti says.
You won't see posters of those brightly dressed athletes on the walls here, however. "Unlike a traditional sporting office, ours captures the essence of the marathon," executive race director Carey Pinkowski says. "It's energizing."