Facing the Future
Lehman-Smith+McLeish rejuvenates the offices of a venerable Pittsburgh law firm.
Monica Geran -- Interior Design, 5/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
This being the tale of a city, a building, a law firm, and a design group, it would seem expedient to start with a fourfold introduction.
The municipality is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, famed at the start of the last century as the hometown of industrial giants such as Andrew Carnegie and A.W. Mellon, and reborn in recent days. The 25-story Oliver Building, completed in 1909 by Chicago architect D. H. Burnham, is the project's venue. Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, LLP (K&L), is the legal practice founded in 1946. And then there is Lehman-Smith+McLeish (L-S+M), led (with co-principal Jim McLeish) by Debra Lehman-Smith who, having previously worked with K&L on their offices in Washington, D.C., pulled it all together. The intent was to create for the lawyers a place that, though attuned to the historical site, was distinctly fit to face the future.
It almost didn't happen this way. For having gone through the repetitive vicissitudes of degenerative aging followed by rejuvenation, the vintage building's spaces appeared to be losing the race to keep up with the times. Not surprisingly, then, there came the day that K&L, under the aegis of managing partner Peter Kalis, had to face the unenviable decision: to move to a state-of-the-art venue elsewhere, or to stay put and embark on drastic and expensive renovation. Options were weighed and debated, and no one could deny that, everything considered, relocation would be simpler. And yet the course of action adopted was to stay at the coveted heart-of-Pittsburgh location after all, to add two vacated floors below, and to meet the challenges of major in-situ improvement. And that's where L-S+M's expertise came in.
In close collaboration with Kalis, the designers worked out a plan for total reorganization involving the new second and third levels as well as the eleven extant K&L floors at the top. (Collectively, that adds up to 250,000 sq. ft.) Upper spaces were to be renovated two at a time so that work need never be interrupted. Efforts there concentrated mainly on reconfiguration and contraction in densities, resulting in increased efficiency and financial savings. Money thus freed by the changes upstairs was applied at the lower areas, devoted entirely to K&L/client meeting rooms. As for aesthetics, Kalis, seconded by Lehman-Smith, voted for a "looking to the future" style. Because the law firm's clients are Fortune 500 leaders, he further wanted a prevailing look of quiet quality. And because many of them represent firms making building or furnishing products—like DuPont's Antron nylon, used for carpeting, or PPG's glass and paints—their goods were to be incorporated into the design scheme as much as possible.
Going from the second-floor entry corridor to the 14 meeting/waiting rooms—the new level above holds a corporate boardroom and support groups—one faces a multitude of handsome materials: backlit onyx, pommele sapele (a tough, variedly figured mahogany), and white statuary marble. A so-called caucus room with window view establishing linkage to Mellon Square is a favorite break space for K&L/client people before, between, and after conferences. Ceilings, rising to 13 ft., appear lowered via added overhead planes, corresponding also to Lehman-Smith's predilection for layered, rather than inset, combinations of materials. Munch metal, an old bronzed substance once popular for elevator doors, was given a fresh metallic finish. Artworks complement the interior design.
It took a year to complete the lower floors, while the renovation work upstairs is to be finished this autumn for a two-and-a-half years' total. Working with the co-principals were senior designer Scott Nguyen, plus senior architects Kent Fee and Janet Rankin.