Specht Harpman designs a new Manhattan headquarters for Inside.com by transforming exterior urban elements into handsome interior volumes.
Henry Urbach -- Interior Design, 3/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
INSIDE.COM IS A New York-based internet company founded by Kurt Andersen, Michael Hirschorn, and Deanna Brown, all veterans of successful print magazines, to report inside information on the media and entertainment industries. When they approached Specht Harpman-a New York studio known for distinguished work with creative and media industry clients-they asked for a design that could be built and fully operational within 90 days. They also insisted that the work be done within a very strict budget to economize on precious venture capital.
"We wanted to make a place that was tough but smart and also had a sense of play," says Louise Harpman. The 6,000-sq.-ft. office, located in the tumultuous Starrett-Lehigh Building on West 26th Street, accommodates about 50 people along with an open-pit newsroom, meeting and conference rooms of various sizes, and a small pantry and lounge area. Specht Harpman made minimal interventions to the shell itself, grinding and coating the concrete floor and repainting the distinctive mushroom columns, walls, and ceiling. The expansive window wall, with 13th-floor views towards the Hudson and the whole West Side of Manhattan, was given over to a passage that links, at either end, a pantry and a line of upholstered benches for lounging. "We tried to hold everything away from walls to privilege views and light," says Harpman. "You can see the QE2 come in, as well as helicopters and amazing tugboats." The rest of the space comprises executive offices and open work stations for editorial, technical, and marketing staff. Work areas were built with simple, sturdy assemblages of galvanized steel, maple plywood, and cork. Working with parts from industrial supply catalogues, Specht Harpman designed special stanchion lamps with toggle switches so everyone can control his or her own lighting.
Beyond the reception area looms an enigmatic, cylindrical meeting room that has become an Inside.com icon (and is being adapted for the company's Los Angeles and San Francisco offices). Framed with exposed wood members sheathed in blue industrial plastic, the chamber provides an intensified sense of interior space while also evoking the crown of five water towers atop the Starrett-Lehigh roof. Beyond the cylinder there is a second, larger conference room featuring a wall made from pivoting steel-and-glass doors designed to remain open and held in place with mechanical catches. The zone of the open doors creates an area of spatial leak, an interstitial passage between the corridor and meeting room that recaptures, as architectural space, the company's own mandate: to bring what is inside out.