James Nestor -- Interior Design, 2/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
The custom reception desk at AKQA in San Francisco features a walnut body and a plastic-polymer counter; poured-epoxy flooring extends through most of the 21,000-square-foot office.
Corbusier-style lounge chairs sit outside the team area, which is flanked by project rooms clad in a dry-erase surface.
The scrim used for movie screens covers the steel-framed door of the media room; Charles and Ray Eames designed the table inside.
In the conference room, Eames chairs meet a table with a walnut-veneered top.
The table in reception is also Eames.
This custom screen made of glass baffles, framed in painted maple, marks the entry to a creative director's office. DESK POLYMER (RECEPTION): 3FORM. CHAIRS: BERNHARDT DESIGN. TABLES (RECEPTION, MEDIA ROOM), WORKSTATIONS (OFFICEAREA), CHAIRS (CONFERENCE ROOM), TASK CHAIR (OFFICE): HERMAN MILLER. EXTERIOR PAINT (PROJECT ROOMS), NICHE PAINT (RECEPTION): ICI PAINTS. PENDANT FIXTURES (CORRIDORS, MEDIA ROOM): COOPER LIGHTING. LOUNGE CHAIRS (TEAM AREA): MALIK GALLERY COLLECTION. CARPET: MASLAND CONTRACT. ARMCHAIRS (TEAM AREA, OFFICE): MARTELA; KVADRAT THROUGH MAHARAM (FABRIC). CHAIRS (MEDIA ROOM): HARTER. CREDENZA: IEXPRESS HOME FURNISHINGS. CARPET: BLUE RIDGE COMMERCIAL CARPETS. BANQUETTE FABRIC (RECEPTION, CONFERENCE ROOM): INSTYLE CONTRACT TEXTILES. TABLE (CONFERENCE ROOM): NIENKMPER. SCREEN PANELS (OFFICE): A.L.P. LIGHTING COMPONENTS. LOUNGE CHAIRS (OFFICE): MONTIS. FLOORING: DEGUSSA. PAINT: BENJAMIN MOORE CO. PAINT CONSULTANT: TOM HENRY. STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: MURPHY BURR CURRY. ELECTRICAL ENGINEER: EMT ELECTRIC. GENERAL CONTRACTOR: NOVO CONSTRUCTION.
Walls painted the yellow of Nike's LiveStrong wristbands denote soundproof project rooms.
David Meckley's projects usually start out as a clean plate—on which he serves up furniture, fixtures, and colors to suit a client's taste. But designing the San Francisco office of digital-marketing and interactive- media agency AKQA was not a usual job for Meckley, an associate senior designer at the Huntsman Architectural Group. Instead, like a nightmare episode of Iron Chef, his ingredients were waiting in a pile in the attic of a former Hills Brothers coffee warehouse: 100 unassembled workstations, an undersized HVAC system, and a rat's nest of aluminum ducts and vents—all remnants of a previous ETrade Financial renovation gone awry.
Preferring another analogy, Meckley describes the scene as a "huge jigsaw puzzle. Piece by piece, we had to find a way to put it all together." And put it together in a manner that would not only accommodate 125 employees but also wow clients such as Coca-Cola, Palm, Visa, and Xbox.
The first step was to establish a color palette. AKQA's previous office had kept strictly to the corporate scheme of black and white, and employees were eager for a change. But rather than "running off to Colorland," the designer says, he proposed a witty compromise: literally mixing the black with the white to produce various shades of gray for the walls. Then he added mustard yellow, inspired by the Lance Armstrong LiveStrong wristbands that AKQA helped market for Nike.
Pure white remains in the form of the epoxy flooring that flows like milk through most of the 21,000-square-foot space. From reception, this Milky Way runs to the right, down a hall to the media room, and straight ahead, linking the agency's three departments: corporate, design, and production.
Having neither the time nor the budget to cover up the jumble of old beams and pipes beneath the peaked attic roof, Meckley left a 6-inch buffer of empty space between new construction and existing architecture. Meanwhile, rough posts plunge down to connect the raw ceiling to the glossy floor. The effect is contemporary but still steeped in the building's industrial past.
Meckley used off-the-shelf furniture throughout, but he balanced those pieces with extensive custom work, a notably imaginative example being the media room's steel-framed sliding door. Covered in the semitrans- lucent white scrim made for movie screens, the door doubles as a projection surface for ad hoc meetings. Inside the room, red and gray chairs offer a counterpoint to the grayscale floor and walls.
Existing side windows boasted bird's-eye views of the San Francisco waterfront but weren't big enough to provide all the light AKQA needed. To compensate, Meckley installed bi-directional runner lights in the rafters; the fixtures illuminate workstations below as well as bounce the light off the ceiling above.
AKQA's departmental "neighborhoods" are separated by the enclosed project rooms that run in two rows down the center of the space. Since the agency's work is often confidential, each room is soundproof and windowless. One exterior wall of each is clad in a white magnetic dry-erase surface, for rough sketches and printouts related to clients' Web sites. As you walk from front to back, these drafts pop into your field of vision, like pages on an ever-changing computer screen.
Meckley completed the office in three months, at $45 a square foot. "Working that way can sometimes be stressful and limiting," he admits. "But since you don't have time to second-guess yourself, it also sparks creative solutions."