Animated by inventive stairs, Gensler's design for San Francisco media company CNET Networks offers infinite views of interior vistas
Monica Geran -- Interior Design, 2/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
Gervais Tompkin sets something of a record in understatement in describing CNET Networks's recently completed headquarters. "Spatially, it's rather complex," notes the architect, a vice president and design director in Gensler's San Francisco office. The Bay Area media company, which disseminates technological news via the Web, radio, print, and wireless devices, had acquired various other companies since launching in 1992. Three years ago, CNET began searching for a venue to accommodate staff expansion and consolidate scattered locations. Seizing the rebranding opportunity, the company hired Gensler to establish a more sophisticated image in a new setting—one that's decidedly noncorporate.
Left: The south facade of the CNET Networks building, San Francisco, presents a preview of interiors by the city's Gensler office. Visible above the double-height lobby is the third-floor break-out area.
Left: The skylit bi-level employee lounge on the fifth floor features a Piero Lissoni sofa and coffee table.
Left: Anish Kapoor's 6-foot-tall, polished stainless-steel sculpture and the reception desk's backlit glass panel—which offers a stylized take on the company's business card—greet visitors in the lobby. Flooring is Portuguese limestone. Water-white glass balustrades give way to steel-cable railings on upper floors.
CNET located a suitable property in the South of Market district, known for turn-of-the-last-century warehouses that served as incubators of the dot-com explosion. As project designer Dan McCloskey tells the story, CNET's SoMa site started out as a stucco-clad three-story building. Base architect Fee Munson Ebert Architecture and Design stripped the exterior and left only the original floors and concrete columns untouched. After wrapping the skeleton in concrete shear walls and adding a concrete extension on the south side, the firm stacked three steel-reinforced floors on the enlarged base block. Tompkin calls the resulting six-story 285,000-square-foot structure a "building within a building," referring to the manner in which new and old construction artfully contrast.
The 700-square-foot double-height lobby, designated as a public area by city ordinance, was therefore off-limits to blatantly commercial signage, so Gensler abstracted CNET's business card as a backlit glass panel fronting the reception desk. Behind it, an illuminated wall recess glows in an intense orange, an introduction to the corporate color. A 6-foot-tall solid stainless-steel sculpture by Anish Kapoor—Tompkin describes it as "quirky, friendly, and humorous"—stands opposite the foot of Gensler's concrete-and-steel stairway.
To animate the otherwise boxy floor plates, the stair takes an unusual route. Rather than doubling back on itself, it veers off in diagonal spurs as it ascends from the ground-floor lobby, on the west side of the building, passes communal spaces, including break-out areas and copy-fax rooms, and eventually arrives at the conference zone on the east side's fifth and sixth floors. This idiosyncrasy accounts for a multitude of vantage points, affording ever changing vistas. Developing and refining this dramatic vertical circulation route required many brainstorming sessions, three months of experimentation, and a supersize, 4-by-6-foot model to convince the client of the design's appropriateness.
Interspersed throughout the building, workstations for some 600 of the 1,000 employees feature tables with curved plastic-laminate tops and chrome legs, plus perforated metal panels for attachable shelving and other accessories (in CNET orange). Private offices, Tompkin says, are "simple white boxes with sliding glass doors."
Left: The stairwell's painted-steel sconces cast slivers of incandescent light both up and down. Above right: On the second floor, tempered glass separates a server from workstations with tables topped in plastic laminate.
Left: Stacked conference rooms on the building's top floors overlook the double-height staff lounge, where wicker seating by Pierantonio Bonacina accompanies George Nelson's Coconut chair in leather and molded plastic.
The staircase concludes its ascent at the skylit bi-level conference area. Orange-painted walls curve partway around three conference rooms—two above and a larger one below—stopping just short of a 25-foot width of glazing. The glass separates the conference rooms from a double-height employee lounge, where Gensler deployed a mix of funky furnishings, including a George Nelson Coconut chair in leather and molded-plastic and wicker seating by Pierantonio Bonacina. Other public areas are fitted out in a similarly lively manner, as is evident through the building's south curtain wall. Gensler placed a series of conference and break-out areas directly behind the glazing, with the amusement of passersby in mind. Think "quirky, friendly, and humorous" once again.
CORE TEAM: SCOTT DUNLAP; JIM GOTTA; VALERIE CHEN; DIAN DUVALL. PROJECT TEAM: JUSTIN STERN; STEVE CHRISTENSEN; TOM HORTON; STEVEN KELLOGG; MARTHA SCHNITLER. STOOLS (BREAK-OUT AREA): BALERI ITALIA. SOFA, CHAIRS: CAPPELLINI. COFFEE TABLE: ARVID. COUNTER PLASTIC LAMINATE: FORMICA CORPORATION. RESILIENT FLOORING: AZROCK. SOFA, COFFEE TABLE (LOUNGE): CASSINA. WICKER CHAIRS: PIERANTONIO BONACINA. FLOOR LAMPS: PALLUCCO ITALIA. BROADLOOM: BENTLEY PRINCE STREET. DRAPERY FABRIC (CONFERENCE ROOM): LUNA TEXTILES. DESK METALWORK (LOBBY): DEVINCENZI ARCHITECTURAL PRODUCTS. DESK SIGNAGE: VON KOHORN KITZMILLER SIGNMAKERS. SCONCES (STAIRWELL): B-K LIGHTING. STAIR: ROMAK IRON WORKS (METALWORK); PULP STUDIO (GLAZING); BEGA (LIGHTING). FLOORING: ASN NATURAL STONE. LAMPS (WORK AREA): ARTEMIDE. OVERHEAD FIXTURES: LAM LIGHTING SYSTEMS. WORKSTATION SPINES (WORK AREA), TABLES (CONFERENCE ROOMS): HAWORTH. TASK CHAIRS (WORK AREA, CONFERENCE ROOMS), MOLDED-PLASTIC CHAIR (LOUNGE): HERMAN MILLER. TABLES, ACCESSORIES (WORK AREA): VITRA. CARPET TILE (LOUNGE): MILLIKEN CARPET. MILLWORK: BDL MILL. GENERAL CONTRACTOR: SWINERTON BUILDERS.