Financial Statement/Fashion Statement pix
For the Royal Bank of Scotland's Houston office, DMJM Rottet put on the plaid
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 10/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
It's a long way from 18th-century Edinburgh to the tallest building in Texas. But after almost two decades on the 60th floor of a Pei Cobb Freed & Partners tower in downtown Houston, the Royal Bank of Scotland felt at home there. When expansion called for a move, executives jumped at the chance to lease 13,000 square feet right upstairs on 65. Then DMJM Rottet jumped in with a design that riffs on the ancestral kilt—while adhering to the firm's own modern lineage.
"It had to be inspiring for both employees and guests," principal Lauren Rottet says. A tall order for a standard space with a low ceiling. In addition, the floor plate has a chamfered edge at the southwest window wall, producing terrific views but a strange geometry.
To handle the situation, Rottet and senior associate Kelie Mayfield devised a plan for two office wings that meet in the center, at a 4,000-square-foot communal area that consolidates reception, conference rooms, and an entertainment zone. "We broke with a formal plan and put everything that would be exposed up front," Rottet explains. This "collaborative box," as she calls it, takes the form of a rotated square. Planes of glass, birch, and white drywall define boundaries while leaving sight lines to the southwest windows uninterrupted. Public spaces, not private offices, get the money views.
Planning was one way to increase perceived scale. Interior building was a second: The ceiling looks higher when punched with fluorescent-lit rectangular cutouts. A third involved materials, in particular a striking gray-striped marble, a charcoal-colored limestone, and a figured birch burl. All wrap and fold to blur distinctions between floor, walls, ceiling, and furniture. "Materials were part of the architecture instead of being applied afterward," Rottet says. "Even though there's a lot of pattern, it's not just decorative."
She makes her point starting with reception's waiting area. Leave it to this ever-stylish architect to find an Italian marble called Chinchilla Mink—and use it for the floor and a built-in bench that's a seamless extension of the ground plane. She and Mayfield also interpreted the marble's pronounced pattern in wool for a carpet inset right below. (Instead of gray, the carpet's stripes are the royal blue of the RBS logo.)
Like the bench, the reception desk seems to grow out of the floor—only here the flooring has shifted to limestone. Separating this weighty base from a solid-surface transaction counter, a birch accent strip ties in with the birch that panels the walls and lines the ceiling cutouts.
Running side by side, the swaths of limestone and marble flooring extend to the windows, passing between the two conference rooms along the way. The main differences between the rooms are size and doors: sliding glass for the smaller and pivoting birch for the larger. But both are furnished with chairs by Charles and Ray Eames and 'a custom table topped in that same striped marble.
The marble plays perhaps its strongest role in the window-hugging entertainment zone. Again, marble flooring wraps upward to form a bench. Rottet used marble for the side and counter of the bar, too. It's lined with Stefano Giovannoni's Bombo stools, front-row seats for a view that stretches to the end of Texas.
On top of the bar sits a sculpture by James Surls, a botanical form abstracted in bronze and stainless steel. Rottet collects contemporary paintings and sculpture herself, and she was thrilled that the RBS project encompassed a separate art budget. She and Mayfield collaborated with two Houston galleries to acquire work primarily by local artists who, Rottet notes, "work with pattern and precision."
As if the office didn't abound with enough pattern already, employees add a layer of their own at the annual Robert Burns night, celebrated around the time of the poet's birthday in January. The men wear kilts, the women down whiskey, and a few brave souls sample the haggis. All that's missing is the Scottish brogues.