United, They Sit
Studying different subjects, New York University students and faculty share a Greenwich Village facility by Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis
Craig Kellogg -- Interior Design, 9/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
Gender and sexuality studies. Latino studies. American studies. Each sounds like an embattled militia in some academic guerilla war. However, those fields and several more peacefully coexist in New York University's Department of Social and Cultural Analysis, and Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis managed to accommodate all that diversity in a single 16,000-square-foot loft in Greenwich Village. The key was the original ceiling, of which the previous tenant had left only "a few moments" exposed, Marc Tsurumaki says. Handsome in a utilitarian way, the barrel-vaulted concrete could conceptually tie together the disparate fields of study. "Maybe the metaphor is cheap," he continues, "but the idea is 'under one big roof.'"
Tsurumaki had completed NYU's Office of Strategic Assessment, Planning, and Design two years earlier, so he was familiar with the university's commitment to sensible, economical design. After he gutted the 12-foot-high volume intended for the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis, the faculty committee began the design process by asking for as many private offices as would fit were the perimeter completely lined with them. Instead of blocking all the windows like that, Tsurumaki countered with a 25 percent reduction of offices. His successful campaign resulted in a layout that reserved critical square footage for naturally lit communal zones and corridors "as wide as we could get away with," he says.
Bamboo plywood hugs the surfaces of the department's reception desk, while bamboo clads reception's floor and built-in seating. Overhead, Tsurumaki suspended prefab bamboo-plywood ceiling panels that were custom-perforated using a CAD file, then installed with the help of a map, since no two perforation patterns are exactly alike. A similar canopy appears in the grad lounge, where students from various fields can grab a book from open shelves, hang out on benches, post ephemera on a strip of bulletin board, and, in the process, generally cross-pollinate.
The largest gathering place is a multipurpose zone divided from the rest of the space by sliding panels of translucent resin. Flooring here is random-width cork strips in a range of natural colors. Unfortunately, coordinating cork stools were ultimately returned to the manufacturer. "They exfoliated on people," Tsurumaki explains. (Custom replacements are currently awaiting university approval.) The cork stripes wrap up to surface stepped seating for gathering or lounging and also extend beyond the multipurpose zone to clad the torqued corridor wall that runs nearly the entire length of the space from front to back. Along the way, slim boxes of clear acrylic protrude from the wall to display their contents, a single book apiece—the latest scholarship by department faculty. Finally, at the far end, doorways cut out of the wall reveal tidy technology carrels, places for students to dock their laptops.
Enlivening what associate Clark Manning calls "potentially banal office corridors," similar through-the-wall acrylic boxes hold a book or two. These "visible bookcases," as LTL terms them, keep students abreast of what their professors are reading behind closed doors. Meanwhile, additional boxes contain sheets of letter-size white paper simply printed with the occupant's name, an efficient solution in a highly mobile department. Tsurumaki refers to the boxes as a way to "introduce a sense of connection without direct visual access, through a symbolic projection of the professors' identity." Seen from the hall, the boxes add a colorful accent. "In a project like this, you have to find a way to animate a lot of surfaces," he says. Still, he explains, he was careful to avoid a profusion of acrylic colors that "might have read as a superficial illustration of difference." After much debate—"NYU purple was thrown around for a while, but we just couldn't bring ourselves to choose it"—he picked a soothing, lightly frosted sea blue.
Straightforward, flat graphics transform to function in three dimensions. In conference and meeting rooms, vinyl appliqué on windows morphs into protruding acrylic lettering on the walls. "These professors are not your tweed-jacket-wearing crowd, and the graphics add a playful quality," Tsurumaki says. As for restroom signage, the word toilet was chosen for its perceived neutrality, in comparison with more common euphemisms, and emblazoned on the wall in 2-foot-tall vinyl letters. But municipal planning officials nixed the idea, now common in local restaurants, of abandoning single-sex restrooms in favor of private toilet compartments sharing unisex sinks. Perhaps this will merit a chapter in the book that an NYU professor and a doctoral candidate are editing on the history of the public restroom.
PROJECT TEAM:PAUL LEWIS; DAVID LEWIS; JASON DANNENBRING; KRISTEN NAKAMURA; LAURA CHEUNG: LEWIS.TSURUMAKI.LEWIS. DESIGN360: GRAPHICS CONSULTANT. RENFRO DESIGN GROUP: LIGHTING CONSULTANT. VIDEOSONIC: AUDIOVISUAL CONSULTANT. ROBERT SILMAN ASSOCIATES: STRUCTURAL ENGINEER. LASZLO BODAK ENGINEER: MEP. IGNELZI INTERIORS: WOODWORK. R.P. BRENNAN GENERAL CONTRACTORS & CONSTRUCTION MANAGERS: GENERAL CONTRACTOR.
PRODUCT SOURCESFROM FRONT FORBO INTERNATIONAL: BULLETIN BOARD MATERIAL (RECEPTION, LOUNGE). SMITH & FONG CO.: FLOORING, BENCH SURFACING, DESK SURFACING, CANOPY PANELS (RECEPTION, LOUNGE), BENCH SURFACING (HALL). CAPPELLINI: CHAIRS (MULTIPURPOSE). GLOBUS CORK: FLOORING, BENCH SURFACING (MULTIPURPOSE), WALL SURFACING (HALL). MARK ARCHITECTURAL LIGHTING: LINEAR FIXTURES (CONFERENCE ROOM). VITRA: CHAIRS (CONFERENCE ROOM, COMPUTER LAB). WILKHAHN: TABLES (CONFERENCE, MEETING ROOMS). TED BOERNER THROUGH DESIGN WITHIN REACH: SOFAS (LOUNGE). XIBITZ: CUSTOM DISPLAY BOXES (HALLS). 3FORM: SLIDER MATERIAL (MULTIPURPOSE). STEELCASE: FILE CABINETS (HALLS). THROUGHOUT KARASTAN CONTRACT: CARPET. ROPPE CORPORATION: BASE MATERIAL. HUNTER DOUGLAS: CEILING TILE.