Artist and Craft
René Gonzalez Architect transforms a warehouse into an artsy, sleek office for a Miami event-production company
Beth Dunlop -- Interior Design, 6/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
It might be his art deco–style renovation of the Wolfsonian museum in Miami Beach, or his contributions to the design of the Getty Center in Los Angeles while working for Richard Meier. It could be his own exuberant forays into conceptual sculpture. Whatever the reason, René Gonzalez has built a reputation for being an artist's architect. "I take a special interest in exhibition design and installations," he says.
His namesake firm is adept at spaces that communicate creative and abstract ideas without ostentation. And that ethic figured heavily in its latest commercial project: a gallery-chic white-on-white office and production facility in Miami for Karla, a high-end event designer to the stars.
Eleven years ago, Karla parlayed its theatrical presentation of exotic flowers from a start-up—once run out of owner Karla Dascal's car—to a boutique serving the likes of Madonna, Steven Tyler, and Sylvester Stallone. Dascal bought a 12,000-square-foot warehouse and an adjacent lot to accommodate the next phase of growth from floral design to full-fledged event production. She commissioned Gonzalez for a showpiece office suitable for courting the growing list of entertainment-industry and corporate clients knocking at her door.
Gonzalez envisioned a luxurious home office for that expanding image. "Not the type of luxury associated with rich materials but the kind that's found in artful simplicity."
That translated into gradualism—a campus that unfolds itself to the visitor in slow and subtle ways. Outside, plain high-tensile steel walls announce the building; their naturally oxidizing finish visually links the site to its industrial neighborhood, providing a transition to the manicured grounds. A courtyard has transformed the formerly empty lot. Gonzalez applied his signature light touch by landscaping with a sparse collection of mature palms and feathery bamboo.
Inside the white-stucco former warehouse is a multipurpose room, a conference area, and offices, all glossy white, which give way to a production area in the rear. "It's layers of perception," Gonzalez explains.
Front-of-the-house is pure showroom: Paired only with its Charles and Ray Eames task chair, reception's lacquered plywood desk fairly glows. The lobby is glamorously stark, just two aluminum benches. It bridges ' reception on one wall and the multipurpose room, where Dascal stages everything from parties to exhibits to photo shoots, on the other. "This space is really about dramatic elegance—a style consistent with our products," Dascal says. Instead of drywall, lit etched-acrylic panels delineate the conference room, furnished with more Eames chairs, a resin-topped table, and a gray lacquered plywood credenza of Gonzalez's design. Floors covered in polished epoxy enhance the luminous sheen on everything, contributed by the floor-to-ceiling fenestration and white walls.
Given Gonzalez's aesthetic sensibilities, artwork pops in the space. A sculpture by Alyson Shotz—a pendant made from clustered magnifying lenses—hangs from the lobby's ceiling. Behind the reception desk, a textured feature wall made from overlapping strips of wallpaper is more installation than decorative element. For 16 gleaming workstations, the architect perched boxy modular acrylic planters atop their partition walls.
Back-of-the-house is straightforward workshop. Floral designers carry out the demanding task of creating up to 300 individual arrangements a week using four mobile stainless-steel worktables, eight sinks, a walk-in cooler, and maple shelves that store Karla's memorable copper or aluminum containers used in arrangements. Sealed concrete covers the floor.
From her centrally positioned office, Dascal can survey both sides of her enterprise: A row of sliding-panel windows along the front wall overlooks account managers in the workstations, while a row behind her desk offers a view of the busy production floor.
Indeed, the space is full of Gonzalez's carefully orchestrated glimpses. Windows in the conference room also overlook production; reception offers a view into workstations. "It's a creative space," the architect says. Imagine the presentations in an office that's your very own exhibit hall.