To present itself as edgy yet professional, San Francisco graphic-design agency Cahan & Associates turned to Jensen & Macy Architects
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 5/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
Cahan & Associates is constantly redefining the cutting edge. How many graphic-design agencies, for example, can lay claim to winning 2,000 awards worldwide or—perhaps more stupendous—reinventing the ho-hum annual report? (General Magic's is a sassy 22-foot-long gatefold that collapses to fit in the palm of a hand.) Strategic-branding maneuvers have included sheathing Effen premium vodka bottles in white rubber and launching Pottery Barn Kids. In fact, the title of Cahan & Associates's monograph, I Am Almost Always Hungry, could double as the agency motto.
Founder Bill Cahan, a former architect, 'obviously holds strong views on design in several dimensions. So do Mark Jensen and Mark Macy, partners in Jensen & Macy Architects. Ideas meshed when the trio devised a program for Cahan's new San Francisco headquarters, the top two floors of a South of Market building, circa 1910. Avoiding clutter was Cahan's chief imperative. Jensen and Macy's rejoinder: "Contrast is a designer's best friend."
Jensen & Macy's efforts began with gutting the 5,450-square-foot space to expose the original brick walls, concrete columns, and zinc-coated window frames, then zeroing in on a restricted palette of walnut, white-painted drywall, clear and translucent glass, and integrally colored concrete. After which, says Macy, "We were able to figure out exactly what each wall does, and where it's needed."
The dramatic result is subtle, too. ("Quiet and disinterested" is how Jensen describes it.) The most theatrical move occurs at the entry, where a double-height atrium visually connects the lower-level business center to the design studio above. On one side, sliding doors of laminated glass blur the distinction between the reception zone and the conference room, while a drywall partition opposite the reception desk makes a clear separation between the public area and workplace proper. Combined, translucent and opaque create a graphic abstract composition.
Although work areas on both levels are bull pens, free of dividers, Jensen & Macy cleverly mapped out semiprivate spaces on the studio level. A walnut shelving unit, 9 feet high and topped by 4 feet of transparent glass, partially encloses a staff lounge furnished with an Isamu Noguchi table, vintage chairs by Jens Risom, and a plywood daybed reminiscent of the Case Study House aesthetic. On the other side of this divider is a meeting room. It's 'usually open, but two perpendicular walnut panels can render it private by sliding shut to meet at the outer corner.
For continuity, the architects also designed much of the furniture, and many of the same materials carry through. All workstations are walnut, topped by white plastic laminate. At reception, a monolithic walnut desk accompanies a white vinyl-covered seating platform. "The seating intentionally faces out," Macy says. "And we used the proportions of a queen-size bed to make people feel somewhat uncomfortable," he continues, revealing a slightly subversive streak.
The meeting-room table, a custom piece that's regulation Ping-Pong size, is topped by translucent plastic laminate, but it's the 15-foot-long table in the conference room that's really notable. Surrounded by Eero Saarinen chairs upholstered in pale blue leather, the top is a 3-inch-thick slab of Corian too big to fit into the building as a single piece. Instead, Jensen & Macy brought in two 7 1/2-foot pieces, then heat-formed and sanded them on-site. "It's the classic ship-in-a-bottle," says Macy. "To remove it, it would have be to sawed into bits." That's certainly cutting edge.