Palmy days ahead
Marisa Bartolucci -- Interior Design, 5/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
Not your typical media tycoon, Chris Blackwell wears flip-flops to work. According to Meg Friedman, CFO of his Palm Pictures multimedia company, "His office is wherever he's got a phone and a fax." That's usually near water. But when he's at work in New York, you won't find him basking in stunning views of the Hudson River. It's his junior staff, sitting in bull pens, who occupy the windowed zone. Blackwell's office is in back, which says a lot about his management style. It's effective—he is, after all, the fabled founder of Island Records.
Palm Pictures is in the Starrett-Lehigh Building, where each of the 16 lofty floors is banded with tall windows. Captivated by the 27,000-square-foot space even in its raw form, Friedman chose Sidnam Petrone Gartner Architects, contract veterans, to convert it. The layout had to be highly flexible, since the staff frequently reconfigures for new projects, and the construction budget was tight, just $100 per square foot. SPG leapt at the challenge. "Lots of companies talk about creating 'nonhierarchical' workplaces, but they always end up with executive suites. The program at Palm Pictures was truly democratic," says principal Eric Gartner.
Blackwell's unpretentious spirit becomes immediately apparent at the fully glazed entry, with its simple reception desk in maple; new CD and DVD releases are displayed in an adjacent backlit acrylic case. Behind the desk, the company's logo is projected against the white-painted wall. Extraordinary amounts of daylight stream through the windows beyond.
Gartner lined the back wall of the office with conference, storage, and service areas, plus Blackwell's own 150-square-foot office. Down the middle of the floor plate, he placed a full-height row of offices fronted by steel-framed glass panels that mirror the ribbon windows. "Transparency was an important theme," says Gartner. "The walls are more about soundproofing than privacy." Between these offices and the window wall, the bulk of the staff sits in rows of workstations. "We believe that everyone should feel visually linked," says Friedman. To absorb sound, Gartner specified an office system covered in polyester-cotton. Acoustical blinds surrounding the bull pens can occasionally serve as video screens.
Gartner ran all the utilities and building services along the ceiling and left them exposed. The existing concrete floor he simply polished. To enhance the industrial airiness, he partitioned the communal spaces—lounges, meeting areas, conference rooms— with Acrylite sheets on steel studs.
Blackwell's designer wife, Mary Vinson, furnished the AstroTurfed terrace with wooden picnic tables and benches. Gartner installed data-ready ports around the perimeter, so staffers can work overlooking the river. That's of course OK by the boss.