In La Jolla, California, Nissan Design America switches its gears to an interactive environment by Luce et Studio
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 7/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
"Our strategy is research, research, research," says Jennifer Luce, principal of Luce et Studio, the small architectural outfit that was recently commissioned to update Nissan Design America in La Jolla, California. The structure, which encompassed 60,000 square feet of interior space and 5,000 square feet of courtyards, was built in 1980 by architect Ken Ronchetti. Nissan felt the workplace needed a serious tune-up. Even though Luce et Studio had absolutely no experience in the automotive industry, continues Luce, "our favorite thing is to do something we don't know anything about."
Nissan executives had been captivated by the spirit of open spaces and noncorporate settings in Luce's 2001 project, Burton Landscape Architecture Studio and Solo, a mixed-use studio, gallery, and retail space. Now Luce and her team were charged with studying how to bring these qualities to Nissan, as this is the place where cars such as the Armada SUV and the sporty 350 Z are dreamed up and designed.
But what started out as a relatively low-key mission evolved into a mega-dimensional endeavor. Ultimately the project entailed several building components as well as a complete revamp of interior studios, furnishings included. Nissan today includes exploratory, color, concept, and modeling studios, a kitchen, a meeting area, and a presentation room, all arranged in an H-shape plan that hugs a long, narrow outdoor courtyard.
Luce began with the exploratory studio, the 2,700-square-foot space where designers develop concept cars of the future. This "reclaimed" courtyard space, as Luce calls it, is now a nexus between three other studios. On one side are the newly configured concept and color studios. On the other is the modeling studio, where full-scale mock-ups are built.
In planning, Luce realized the studios weren't taking advantage of the courtyard. "A courtyard naturally promotes dialogue, but in this case the studios had become sequestered from each other," she explains.
Along courtyard elevations, wide glass-and-steel pivoting doors allow views from one ' wing to the other. So do windows that are 12 by 8 feet. Now there's a constant subliminal swap of information between designers on both sides of the courtyard.
In the case of the exploratory studio, roll-up hangar doors open to the courtyard. Its interior is fitted out with Piero Lissoni's Soft 3 sofa in lemon automotive vinyl, Adam Simha's 7-12 lounge chairs, and Alberto Meda's Frame meeting tables.
Luce's penchant for research materializes in the form of an MDF wall unit in both the color and concept studios. At 100 feet long in the 2,025-square-foot color studio, it accommodates all manner of books, archival documents, and stimulating resources. The custom workstations have steel frames, aluminum tops, and acrylic privacy panels.
A 55-foot-long run of shelving serves the 1,055-square-foot concept studio, which is essentially a think tank. Furnishings such as Jean Prouvé's Cité chair, Paola Lenti's sofa and ottoman, and Danny Venlet's mobile Easy Riders are conducive to informal exchanges of ideas. When talk segues to ' computer work, laptops come out on Carlo Scarpa's glass-topped desk at one end and a pair of sleek Dutch tables at the other. An 18-by-11-foot magnetic plane of waxed-steel panels encourages further information sharing.
In the adjacent kitchen, European furnishings give way to pieces of Luce's own design. The staff—85 now, 20 more anticipated—sit in Pepe Cortes's Jamaica stools at custom bleached-oak tables topped in powder-coated aluminum.
A 9-foot-high slate blackboard, often scrawled with doodles as well as finely wrought drawings, separates the kitchen from the meeting area, with Le Corbusier's glass-topped LC6 table surrounded by Alberto Basaglia and Natalia Rota Nodari's Margherita chairs.
After streamlining existing spaces, Luce and team turned their attention to the interior of the new presentation room, which Ken Ronchetti came back to build. Its wood-and-steel-framed construction houses a 2,000-square-foot felt-clad space geared to the hilt for video-conferencing and global interaction. "Communication was previously based on travel," says Luce. "This room has cut that in half."
Over the three-year project, Luce et Studio designed four temporary installation pieces for the site. Most poetic was the first, called Un-Veil, in which a Lycra-wrapped Z Roadster prototype was veiled by a 50-foot-long vellum "quilt" of hundreds of archival drawings and concept sketches collected by Luce.
"Designing for designers requires unparalleled trust," says Luce. During this project, her firm simultaneously created ground-up headquarters for Nissan in Farmington Hills, Michigan. It looks like she's gained access to the winner's circle.