It's a challenge to divine the provenance of materials used by Specht Harpman for Oasis advertising.
Monica Geran -- Interior Design, 9/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
Blue wall covers inspired by plastic ice-cube trays sold at Kmart? Pendant lights made of air filters used in tractor-trailer rigs? Aluminum louvers turned into decorative screens? Yes on all counts, and there are still more such enticing anomalies to be found. They are part of the magic practiced by designers Scott Specht and Louise Harpman, professional as well as private-life partners operating as Specht Harpman in the first-named capacity. In this role they created the spaces for Oasis International Group, an advertising agency with big global accounts. The client firm, also wont to do the unexpected, had gone against established trends by moving to New York's Tribeca area long before it was "discovered," then relocating early this year to the city's changing Garment District. The job entailed the transformation of 14,000 sq. ft. of raw space into an inviting setting for 48 occupants on the top floor of a disused fashion factory.
Having previously worked together, the client/designer teams could communicate with a minimum of words and explanations. Speaking of the wanted company image, Oasis management expressed its preference for something "smart, but not too clever," alluding to those outré manifestations of out-of-control décor in dot.com spaces. ("All that stuff that makes the workplace look like a gym or frat house," says Harpman.) Directives here called for an upgraded mien consonant with the blue-chip clients' expectations and reflective of the Oasis group's standards and needs. With this in mind, the designers aimed at two main objectives: to map out a spatial plan supportive of the company's work routine and ideology, and to apply aesthetics that highlight colors plus unusual, often experimental, uses of varied materials. For starters, then, perimeter areas were kept free of view-blocking obstacles and the datum line near windows was drawn low. Desks rise just 30 in. to sill height, and partitions don't exceed four ft. In the interest of fostering "office democracy," general work stations are spread out near windows, while private offices are more tightly clustered near the unusually large core. Work stations are designed for creative types to operate in pairs: art people and copywriters sit side-by-side and collaborate tête-à-tête; when the task is completed, they resume back-to-back positions. Unifying the main corridor is a ceiling-high arch starting near the entry, coursing above executive work stations, and continuing all the way to the corner kitchen. Encased support columns seem to interconnect with the superstructure.
The project's visual tour de force is, of course, the unexpected and imaginative use of commonplace materials. Starting at the reception desk, the eye is drawn to the unit's custom façade, horizontally defined with shiny aluminum louvers ordered, as it turns out, from an air conditioning catalogue. Elsewhere the slatted product is used as a decorative screen and privacy panel. Then there is the permutation of ice trays into wall covers. The designers, as noted, spotted the prototype-to-be at Kmart, initially attracted by the deep blue color. They acquired a few samples, built a crude mock-up, and showed it to the client. All voted in favor. Whereupon the designers took the model to a local boat builder who, skilled in the methods of fiberglass manipulation, turned the envisioned surfacing material into reality. Custom frames holding together these assemblies were crafted by a neighborhood steel fabricator. Lighting didn't escape the designers' hands-on ways, either. Pendants are made with air filters ordinarily used in tractor trailer rigs. (Construction notes for major items are on page 294.) Then there is the topsy-turvy use of ceiling lights—instead of being tilted downward, they were inserted horizontally into walls, leaving black-painted rims exposed. As for the trays' lovely blue, it has become the official logo color for Oasis letters and ancillary materials.
That still leaves the big Q: How do Harpman and Specht manage to come up with their dare-to-be-different schemes, and where do they find the way-out sources? Well, think of it this way. Some, if not most, designers spend their free time in museums, traveling, reading learned books. Not so the protagonists. Comes the weekend, they can be found at construction sites, body shops (not the health/beauty kind), and sheet metal makers, all along studying product catalogues excluding only those issued by Sweet's; standard architectural elements are thought to be rather dull. So the pair avers.
Construction took about 14 weeks. Jon Handley was the project manager; the team included Courtney Allan, Tim Lindner, Amy Lopez-Cepero, and Laura Crescimano.