Law and Order
Jorge S. Arango -- Interior Design, 5/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
Imagine an analyst treating someone with multiple-personality disorder, and you'll begin to fathom Studios Architecture's design of a Washington, D.C., office building for its main tenant Venable law firm. The architects created a single commercial complex by combining a 223,000-square-foot new structure with a landmark former department store—itself, the product of merged row houses.
While reconciling these disparate structural personalities into one entity, project designer Jason deChambeau also saw a chance to update his 100-year-old client's brand image. "The firm needed an interior that's stable and professional, but not just the traditional leather chairs and crown moldings," he says.
Venable occupies many spaces spread throughout the complex. Its circulation paths, work areas, and public spaces needed to appear connected, despite any physical distance or retail tenants that pop up in between them. Studios' unifying design is neatly represented on six levels of the former department store.
A street-level lobby announces the firm's huge presence. From there, you either head straight up to lawyers' offices on floors five through seven by private elevator, or take the stairs down to IT, human resources, and marketing on the basement level. "The interiors needed to have a cohesiveness in what could have come off as extremely disjunctive space," deChambeau says.
Constructing a transitional mezzanine between the lobby and basement bridged an awkward space where the floor in the old department store didn't match up with one in the new building. On upper levels, architects connected the old floors with new portions by creating ramps and stairs.
For aesthetic continuity, the lobby's focal point reappears upstairs in the firm's eighth-floor reception area: Both feature floating beige Venetian-plaster panels framing Poul Hennigson's stainless-steel Artichoke pendant fixture. The lobby's glass balustrade announces the stairwell that descends past the mezzanine to the basement.
Eighth-floor reception offers access to meeting facilities. One level below, partners and associates enjoy north-, west-, and south-facing windowed offices a the perimeter. These work spaces have clerestory windows that filter daylight to the secretarial pool's workstations. Quarter-sawn etimoe wood forms the latter's cubicles, topped by etched-glass partitions for a hint of privacy.
The crowning effort at unifying the sprawled staff are the rooftop dining area and multipurpose room that open onto a terrace with teak patio furniture, landscaping, and a bocce court. "It sends a message that we're a happy and cohesive firm," says Venable managing partner William Coston. Call it an architect's version of conflict-resolution.