In Mies We Trust
Bradley Lincoln -- Interior Design, 10/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
When the structural engineers at Thornton Tomasetti began to outgrow their Chicago space, managing principal Joseph Burns—who's also an architect—knew exactly how to assuage the growing pains. Garofalo Architects, which had designed the firm's current office, was prepared to take on the new job. At 25,000 square feet, it was 10,000 larger than the first, but the biggest draw was the location, the 15th floor of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's 1972 tower for IBM.
Next, Burns called on Powell/Kleinschmidt to collaborate, and the project progressed quickly and easily, with the 70 employees settling in at their new office in just six months. "Joe Burns is such a visionary—he was a key force behind this whole project," Robert Kleinschmidt says. Douglas Garofalo set the arrangement in motion by conceptualizing the overall plan. Kleinschmidt's team then "worked through many of the specific space solutions," principal Bill Arnold adds.
Importing and rethinking existing elements helped speed the job along and keep the budget down. "I've always been interested in the reuse of materials rather than assuming that we would throw things away," Garofalo says. Every one of the honeycomb sliding panels that used to wall off a conference room in the old office was resized to become doors for offices and closets. Butcher-block tabletops, too light-colored to suit the new mood, were ebonized and reused for library bookcases as well as for tables in the library and the conference rooms.
"We treated as much as we possibly could like a raw material," Arnold notes. "The same goes for the steel table legs, which were fitted with new tops." Steel file cabinets, aluminum doors, and Louis Poulsen pendant fixtures are among other components that make an encore appearance.
The building's celebrity provenance and 5-foot module were integral to the design process. "The space is modulated three-dimensionally by both architecture and furniture," Kleinschmidt says. For example, acoustical ceiling tiles that usually measure 24 inches square were custom-ordered at 30 inches to allude to Mies's grid.
To maximize the views—and, oh, what views—as little as possible touches the perimeter, which remains unobstructed save for an occasional seating arrangement or structural necessity. "I was thrilled not to have to deal with clunky air-conditioning units at the windows," Garofalo admits. "We also put the private offices inboard and pushed lower workstations and corridors toward the outside edges. When visitors enter the office, they see that panoramic view and really understand the building." Unless employees are standing up, they are almost invisible.
There are, however, definite contrasts to the master's vision. "Typically, a Mies building will have low ceilings and a very finished, geometric look," Arnold says. "Here, we went for a partial 'loft' feel, opening certain areas, exposing the ductwork, and painting it black. We also incorporated light-colored metal for hardware and finishes instead of Mies's trademark rubbed bronze."
Besides giving the ceiling an animation that contrasts with the Miesian formality overall, the varying levels and materials define function areas. So do the colors of carpet and walls, some influenced by—but not identical to—the burnt orange and olive green of Thornton Tomasetti's graphic identity. In this smartly executed interior, crisply respectful of its landmark landlord yet possessing a distinct identity, less is definitely not a bore.
Photography by Scott McDonald/Hedrich Blessing.
FROM FRONT STYLEX: CHAIRS (LIBRARY). INTERFACEFLOR: CARPET (LIBRARY, ELEVATOR LOBBY, CONFERENCE SUITE). FOCAL POINT ARCHITECTURAL PRODUCTS: PENDANT FIXTURES (LIBRARY), LINEAR FIXTURES (LIBRARY, RECEPTION). ICF: STOOLS (LIBRARY), SIDE CHAIRS (OFFICE AREA). ALLSTEEL: TASK CHAIRS (OFFICE AREA). TEKNION: WORKSTATIONS, BENCH. SHAW: CARPET. TECH LIGHTING: TRACK LIGHTING (RECEPTION). SIGNATURE INDUSTRIES: CUSTOM SIGNAGE. HUNTER DOUGLAS: CEILING SYSTEM. KEILHAUER: CHAIRS (CONFERENCE SUITE). VECTA: TABLE. HBF: CREDENZA. SELUX: LINEAR FIXTURES (CONFERENCE SUITE, HALL). LOUIS POULSEN LIGHTING: PENDANT FIXTURE (OFFICE). RICHARDS-WILCOX: SHELVING (OFFICE AREA). PANELITE: DOOR MATERIAL. THROUGHOUT ARMSTRONG: CEILING TILE. JOHNSONITE: BASE MATERIAL. BENJAMIN MOORE & CO.: PAINT. BUTTERFIELD COLOR: CONCRETE STAIN. HUGH LIGHTING DESIGN: LIGHTING CONSULTANT. ENGINEERING PLUS: AUDIOVISUAL CONSULTANT. ENVIRONMENTAL SYSTEMS DESIGN: MEP. TRAINOR GLASS COMPANY: GLASSWORK. PARENTI & RAFFAELLI: WOODWORK. BARRIER CORP.: CONCRETE CONTRACTOR. SKENDER CONSTRUCTION: GENERAL CONTRACTOR.