Grow With The Flow
Studios Architecture updates the public face of a fast-growing Internet company in New York
Craig Kellogg -- Interior Design, 10/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
"It's all about liquidity," says Studios Architecture managing principal Brian Tolman, talking about the offices his firm redesigned for Liquidnet, a Manhattan-based online trading company. "The culture is everything to these fellows," continues the architect, who worked to bring some of the original Internet boom's exuberance to the project. Obvious manifestations include the cafe's slushie maker and soft-serve machine; fully stocked under-counter refrigerators with stainless doors; and a bank of transparent acrylic drawers brimming with snacks.
In a perfect world, Tolman says, the company would probably be based out of a new Class-A office tower in New York rather than what he characterizes as "an old building cursed with a tight column grid." Tolman's fellow Studios principal Tom Krizmanic concurs with the description, rating the former warehouse "Class B-minus." Liquidnet, however, held a patchwork of leases on several floors, including one that, Tolman says, other architects previously recast as a sea of beige and brown.
The ongoing renovation involves linking the company's various levels with a new internal staircase. Studios recently completed the first phase, 30,000 square feet of open-plan space on the previously vacant 15th floor, right at the top of the new stair. Each flight hangs from steel rods secured to the floor slab above. A translucent ceiling of stretched PVC film, backlit by fluorescent tubes, brightly illuminates the stairwell, which is enclosed in acid-yellow glass. The colorful lanternlike structure is a major landmark on the renovated floor.
Natural light streams through the clear glass walls that provide acoustic privacy for three nearby meeting rooms with exterior windows (there are three additional meeting rooms in the open office area). Visual privacy is rendered by flipping a switch that turns the glass opaque; automatic controls reset the glass to clear each morning. The meeting rooms' other walls are clad in low-iron glass, back-painted white to serve as huge writing surfaces. "When there's marker buildup in the cracks, it just needs Windex," Tolman explains. At the center of each room, a white solid surface tabletop bounces light from the fluorescent "skylight" overhead for what Tolman describes as a "healthy" reflected glow.
The remainder of the space on the 15th floor is multifunctional. "We lumped reception, a café, and hallways in one spot," Krizmanic explains. The resulting commons is like an ultra-cool college lounge where furniture can be removed to accommodate both formal and casual gatherings of the fast-growing company's several hundred New York-based employees. In its typical configuration, the seating area features Hella Jongerius sofas in avocado and army-green wool. The adjoining café, with its bentwood chairs, winds along the floor's spine, to link various sections of the warehouse's pinwheel floor plan.
To calm nerves, spalike restrooms have small Zen gardens planted in fluorescent-lit entry alcoves. Because those entries open directly into the commons, the designers created a room divider to screen the view. The undulating partition comprises dozens of floor-to-ceiling, 2-by-6-inch planks of poplar—chosen because it's straight and true—each upholstered in aniline-dyed red leather.
Laminated bamboo flooring—slightly carbonized to warm the color—is used throughout the commons and returns as a narrow accent stripe beneath the glass partitions in carpeted perimeter offices. Meanwhile, what looks like an art installation at the end of each row of open workstations is actually the architects' solution to a functional problem: What to do with the plethora of data cables, which are usually bundled into unsightly metal risers? Studios put the meticulously color-coded wires in frameless glass display cases where they can be seen ascending to the server room like so many vertical rainbows. Networked video monitors hang from the cases to provide traders instant access to cable news broadcasts.
The office hallways are lit by recessed fixtures fitted with halogen bulbs that will flatter yet-to-be-acquired artworks. That's just one more gesture designed to appeal to Edward Merrin, a former art dealer tapped by his son, Liquidnet founder Seth Merrin, to liaise with Studios and guide the renovation. The elder Merrin cast the swing vote on the most adventurous finishes and furnishings. Consider the small internal meeting room filled with Javier Mariscal's multicolored club chairs that Edward Merrin first spotted while thumbing through a book of Studios's completed projects. The playful wool upholstery lent so much personality to Liquidnet, he decided to add them to the mix in his own antiques-filled home.