No one finesses a colossal corporate setting like Lehman Smith McLeish—witness DLA Piper in Washington, D.C.
Laura Fisher Kaiser -- Interior Design, 6/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
A lot has changed since 2004, when DLA Piper hired Lehman Smith McLeish to personalize a spec building going up on a parking lot in the Penn Quarter in Washington, D.C. As the desolate neighborhood blossomed into a vibrant mixed-use hub, DLA Piper morphed, after multiple mergers, into one of the largest law firms on the planet. Leaving behind a tired 1980's office, the expanded firm seized upon the 230,000-square-foot space to forge a new identity and work paradigm.
Debra Lehman-Smith lost no time in presenting modifications to developer Boston Properties and building architect Hartman-Cox Architects, which embraced her vision to reshape the structure, still in the schematic phase. That set the tone for an extensive and remarkably collegial collaboration and of course reduced the expenses and complications that last-minute interventions entail. The changes were hardly insignificant. Lehman-Smith completely reorganized the entry and eliminated a through-block lobby that would have bisected the building and fragmented the other ground-level spaces. This created two distinct entries, including a dedicated one for DLA Piper on the building's quieter side, facing the historic General Post Office, now the Hotel Monaco.
By far the biggest modification was to the central atrium, a shaft that was to have been surrounded on four sides by interior office windows but wouldn't have had any natural light. Lehman-Smith realigned the atrium's orientation by 90 degrees to improve the relationship between the elevator cores. Most dramatic, three levels were added, and an opaque roof was replaced by a glass canopy. "By pushing the atrium up and adding a skylight, we not only brought in natural light but also turned the atrium into the building's main organizing element, with all functions grouped around it. That facilitates interaction and a convergence of cultures," Lehman-Smith says. Along the atrium's far wall, she removed closed offices and replaced them with open balconies. Their glass balustrades, protruding slightly into the vertical void, allow constant visual exchanges from all vantage points.
Partners and associates, whose offices line two other sides of the atrium, voted to reduce the size of those offices by 20 percent, reflecting a shift in corporate culture and an optimistic eye toward growth. There's hardly a drywall partition to be found. Offices are enclosed by demountable storefront systems, and they all have sliding doors to save even more space. "Everything was done on purpose to get the lowest square-foot cost per partner and the greatest flexibility over time," Lehman-Smith says. "Nobody knows what a law firm will look like in the future. This way, if anything changes, you can wipe it clean and change it."
In addition to basic inches and feet, she analyzed DLA Piper's business culture to shape spaces that support particular tasks. The programming phase began with a full-staff survey of workplace issues. It revealed, for example, that paralegals in the old office lacked storage for cases with pending litigation and that associates were setting up their groups in hallways because of the scarcity of case rooms. Partners, associates, paralegals, and secretaries can now commandeer one of several small meeting rooms. Meanwhile, most of the second level is devoted to larger conference rooms identified by the jewel-tone etched glass panels next to the doorways, i.e. 2 Red. Placing support functions such as accounting and printing on the two basement levels allowed for further flexibility and efficiency above.
The boardroom is up on the top level, seven, across from the staff café. Those two spaces and a break-out lounge, in between, have direct access to a private roof terrace that runs the length of the building. Minimally furnished with modular seating, the expansive terrace overlooks Foster + Partners's glass roof for the courtyard shared by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, up the street.
Another hub that encourages movement, activity, and interaction is the ground level's 1,900-square-foot multipurpose room, which Lehman-Smith had to remove a column to create. (To redistribute the load, she built a shear wall on the floor above.) DLA Piper uses the multipurpose room for outreach activities, for example election monitoring. Along with the atrium and the café, this space creates a strong Washington presence for a firm that employs multiple former members of Congress. They even include two House Majority Leaders, Dick Gephardt and Dick Armey.
Photography by Adrian Wilson.
JAMES MCLEISH; RICK BILSKI; TERESE WILSON; JANET RANKIN; REBECCA MONTESI; MONICA CASTRO: LEHMAN SMITH MCLEISH. SBLD STUDIO: LIGHTING CONSULTANT. LISA AUSTIN & ASSOCIATES: ART CONSULTANT. PROPP & GUERIN: GRAPHICS CONSULTANT. CMS INNOVATIVE CONSULTANTS: AUDIOVISUAL CONSULTANT. DENNIS HICKOK LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE: LANDSCAPING CONSULTANT. THORNTON TOMASETTI: STRUCTURAL ENGINEER. TOLK: MEP. WASHINGTON WOODWORKING COMPANY: WOODWORK. DEPP GLASS: GLASSWORK. HITT CONTRACTING; CLARK CONSTRUCTION GROUP: GENERAL CONTRACTORS.
FROM FRONT FRITZ HANSEN: CHAIRS (ATRIUM), PEDESTAL TABLES (ATRIUM, BREAK-OUT AREA), BENCHES (RECEPTION). HARMON: WALL SYSTEM (STAIRWELL). DORMA: CUSTOM DOOR (CAFÉ). KNOLL: CHAIR (MEETING ROOM). UNIFOR: STOREFRONT SYSTEM, TABLE (MEETING ROOM), WORKSTATIONS (OFFICE AREA). RENAISSANCE BATH & TILE: FLOOR TILE (OFFICE AREA). SELUX: LINEAR FIXTURE. CONSTANTINE COMMERCIAL: CARPET (MEETING ROOM, OFFICE AREA, CONFERENCE ROOMS). CARL HANSEN & SON: SIDE CHAIRS (BREAK-OUT AREA). B&B ITALIA: SOFA. SAXONY: CARPET. PRISMATIQUE DESIGNS: TABLES (CONFERENCE ROOMS). HERMAN MILLER: CHAIRS (CONFERENCE ROOMS), CHAIRS, DINING TABLES (CAFÉ). LIGNE ROSET: CREDENZA (ATRIUM). SPINNEYBECK: WALL COVERING (BOARDROOM). ZOGRAPHOS: ARMCHAIRS, TABLE (BREAK-OUT AREA). FLOS: LAMP. MAHARAM: WALL COVERING (BREAK-OUT AREA, CONFERENCE ROOM). ZAXXON: FLOORING (CAFÉ). MARTIN BRATTRUD: BANQUETTE. VICCARBE: SIDE TABLES. GANDIA BLASCO: FURNITURE, PERGOLA (TERRACE). THROUGHOUT ARMSTRONG: CEILING SYSTEM. NEWMAT USA: STRETCHED CEILING SYSTEM. FREDA MARMI: STONE SUPPLIER. SHERWIN-WILLIAMS COMPANY: PAINT.