Catch the Wave
Clive Wilkinson rides wit and pragmatism to the max at Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 3/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
Client to architect: "Knock us out." It was a fitting directive from Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide, whose stock in trade is creativity. The ad agency, among the global top 10, challenged the right man to convert a 100,000-square-foot industrial building in Irvine, California, into offices. Clive Wilkinson had already transformed a warehouse in Marina del Rey into an "advertising city" for TBWA\Chiat\Day as well as designing its New York headquarters, so the architect was well versed in project type.
The call to equal or outdo himself was complicated, though, by the structure's odd characteristics. Formerly home to a heart-valve factory, the building was essentially split in two. The front sector had been a lab and manufacturing space, the rear a double-height warehouse with a mezzanine. Between the two stood a concrete fire wall. Obviously, Wilkinson needed to navigate both the space and FCB's complex operating requirements before the fun part, adding a layer of spirited visuals to give the place a distinctly southern California animation.
At the start of the 10-month design and construction schedule, the architect faced the prospect of a 300-person staff occupying open stations on both levels, and adjacency requirements did not help break up the floor plates. Account and creative personnel in workstations were to intermingle with no distinctions or physical departmental boundaries. Only managing and chief creative directors would merit semienclosed spaces, and even these had (rarely closed) sliding doors. Get the picture? Wilkinson faced a potential morass unless he could devise cogent circulation and visual relief.
The entry, enlivened by a lime-green Kawasaki bike and chain-link fencing, establishes a strong axis. This 12-foot-wide main street leads past a crimson-lacquered display wall, through the front work area, and up to a similarly red mezzanine stairway, which pierces the fire wall. Logistically, the pathway anchors some of the agency's services, e.g. café and lounge, conference rooms, and boardroom. Each is a statement unto itself. Each is an excuse for an exercise in creative expression. So compelling are these treatments that they triumph over workplace density. After all, what could compete with a boardroom defined by "walls" composed of 160 surfboards made for the project by a local surf shop? Playful and appropriate, the boards hang vertically from steel cables to surround a custom table in the same fiberglass finish.
Hugging the fire wall nearby, two metal-clad pyramids enclose a pair of meeting rooms. Their form, material, and geographical location lead to an inevitable association, and Wilkinson is quick to acknowledge a debt to Frank Gehry: "Since the 1980s, there's been a longstanding Gehry influence with a lot of young L.A. architects."
The café and employees' lounge, another defined area off the principal circulation route, are anchored by blazing-yellow studded rubber flooring. This space features aluminum café chairs, booths covered in Naugahyde, and a plywood-faced bar. In the employees' lounge, Wilkinson's seating steals the show: He calls the upholstered pieces his "sheep," designed to "graze" through the office landscape.
The architect extended his lively interpretation of workplace needs to the mezzanine. At the rear, an open conference zone called the "ping and pong" space features a white-board tabletop sandwiched between massive freestanding X and Y forms holding such audiovisual equipment as speakers and a television. Like the table, these sheet-metal monoliths are surfaced with white-board. The main conference room, a metal trapezoid with an interior veneered in Douglas fir, sits on this upper level, as do two smaller meeting rooms.
Workstations, developed with Sitag's D-Tank, offer maximum flexibility at minimal cost. They consist of painted MDF counters, painted steel legs, and metal pedestals branching off a cable-carrying spline. To guarantee flexibility, Wilkinson points out, "There is no hard-wired attachment to any walls." The splines, along with freestanding work islands for files, help establish neighborhoods, in turn broken up by private project "rooms," white tents of polyester on tubular aluminum frames.
While the industrial building's timber and metal framework required little upgrading, work did extend to the building shell (factored into a construction cost of $56 per square foot). Wilkinson sandblasted interior concrete walls for a polished finish and, more important, added 12 skylights and two large windows to capture that most precious of southern California commodities. Impressed, FCB offered a final assessment as terse, the architect recounts, as the initial directive: "When we want another kick-ass building, we'll call you."