AC/2 Studio designs a mod and modular office for Sunny Bates Associates in the Fashion District.
Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 10/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
The bland, grey cubicle is the bane of many a 9-to-5 drone. But a modular office installation boasts many benefits—namely, flexibility and cost-effectiveness—and need not be visually uninspiring. It just takes a little ingenuity, an offbeat use of materials, and, ideally, a dash of color—all of which play a starring role in AC/2 Studio's office design for Sunny Bates Associates (SBA), an executive search firm whose clients include such new media mavericks as Fast Company, Oxygen Media, and Vindigo.
Partners Anita Cooney and Anthony Caradonna of AC/2 Studio had previously collaborated with SBA, having designed its former headquarters, and were already acquainted with the company's programmatic requirements. The staff needed fluid avenues of communication between individual offices, common space to accommodate large and small meetings, and—given that they traffic in confidential and sensitive information—to have aural and visual privacy. The layout also needed to address the experience and comfort of the steady flow of interviewees who come through the office on an hourly basis.
"We employed a strategy and materials sensibility that was sympathetic to the first office," says Cooney. Caradonna elaborates: "We used the same details," such as light-filtering translucent primex panels, sliding glass doors, and a spunky blue/green color palette, "but brought them up a notch." A key difference between the two spaces—namely, an increase from a diminutive 1,750-sq.-ft. to a plentiful 7,500-sq.-ft.—necessitated a shift in approach, from designing a few multipurpose rooms to one large, multipurpose installation that could be reconfigured as the company evolved over time. "The first office was about creating design moments with multiple uses. The new office was the complete reverse. We had to subdivide a big, empty loft into a circulation system that would still allow for flexibility," says Caradonna.
A modular system proved the best means of achieving that goal. In place of solid walls, AC/2 Studio installed partitions fashioned from "a kit-of-parts that was easily brought to the site and assembled, and that can ultimately be adapted to changing needs," says Caradonna. Panels of MDF are nailed to plywood frames that span lightweight, four-in.-wide columns of Extren (a structural fiberglass) which are screwed to the floor and ceiling at regular intervals; the hollow columns double as conduits for wires and cables. The free space above and/or below the partitions can be closed off with either wood or translucent primex for additional privacy. The use of primex and sliding glass doors throughout also helps filter light into the hallways and windowless interior spaces.
"The big design moment was to create a sort of code along all the walls," continues Caradonna—a means of facilitating spatial orientation, creating visual interest, and aiding acoustical absorption. The designers composed a colorful, patchwork patterning along the corridors by affixing rectangles of fabric-wrapped, sound-absorbing homasote to the MDF partitions. "With long runs of circulation, the layout could have felt like a maze." Instead, reds and ochres demarcate the various meeting and conference rooms, blues and greens signal private offices, and purple shades indicate CEO Sunny Bates' own office. The patterning, says Cooney, "allows for variety and helps explain the many levels that comprise the wall. We like to play with two-dimensional organization."
AC/2 Studio also designed and built much of the furniture—computer desks, a polygonal conference table, and overhead fixtures of folded felt—all of which were initially developed for SBA's former office. For the desks, the designers "played with the idea of templating," experimenting with ways to cut as few pieces and use as little material as possible, says Caradonna. "The shape of the desk was inspired by the people in Sunny's office," primarily fashion-forward females. "We wanted an anthropomorphic quality, to confuse the legs of the tables with those of the people sitting beneath them." A rod dowel inside a galvanized metal tube binds the four curvy plywood legs, which are topped with MDF work surfaces. The felt light fixtures (see page 345 for more information) are an inexpensive and playful way to disguise the fluorescent tubes and further dampen sound in the high-ceilinged space.
Although built around a standardized set of parts, the SBA office has a lighthearted and almost handcrafted quality that betrays Caradonna and Cooney's cross-disciplined approach to architecture. "It's more fun when we can develop both the products and the space, to think about things on both scales. The interdisciplinary moments are the ones we like best," concludes Cooney.