Time and Space
Howard Halle -- Interior Design, 9/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
When Creative Time, a feisty nonprofit sponsor of public-art projects, got its start in 1974, the husband-wife principals of Work Architecture Company were barely out of diapers, and New York was a very different, much more desperate place. One could certainly argue that it was organizations such as Creative Time—the organizer of efforts supporting the former landfill that became Battery Park City, the Anchorage performance space under the Brooklyn Bridge, and the giant video screen in Times Square—that helped in some small way to rescue the crime-ridden basket case the city had become and turn it into the gleaming metropolis we know today.
Ironically, of course, the skyrocketing real-estate prices resulting from New York's rebound have made it harder for arts organizations to operate. Creative Time has been lucky. After years of renting, it was able to purchase a permanent home, half of the sixth floor in a ramshackle East Village building formerly owned by the city.
A decrepit stairwell leads to the shotgun office. Despite being just shy of 1,700 square feet, it speaks volumes about the economic realities impinging upon the art community in New York. "We have too much staff for too little space, but we were determined to make the environment fun," Creative Time executive director Anne Pasternak says of her early conversations with Work AC.
Pasternak admits that the organization's needs for its new home were contradictory: "openness but also privacy, quiet but also transparency, light but also a way to close off rooms for meetings." Given the narrowness of the space, counterbalanced by the windows on all sides, a simple solution suggested itself almost immediately to architects Dan Wood and Amale Andraos.
A long hallway would run down the middle of the office. On one side would be a row of 10 cubicles. On the other would be rooms including a pantry, a spot for interns, and storage. The only significant departure from this scheme is the placement, at one end, of an office for the deputy director and, at the opposite one, of Pasternak's office and a small meeting room. Thanks to sliding glass panels etched a deep orange-red, the latter two can combine into a conference room large enough for board meetings—they used to take place anywhere a couple of tables could be pushed together.
The same orange panels front the various rooms along the central corridor. Across the way, the cubicles' floating partitions are cut into slightly different shapes, creating a sense of syncopation, and painted different shades of gray. This contrast of bold and cerebral colors is resolved by the ethereal blue of the epoxy flooring throughout.
Both the colors and the reflective surfaces bounce light around. By the same token, sound bounces, too. So Wood and Andraos devised an ingenious solution: Sound-deadening domes covered in thick gray industrial felt are suspended over each cubicle. Dubbed the Cones of Silence after the old Get Smart show on television, they also act as oversize shades for halogen lights.
It's this sort of innovation that perfectly captures Creative Time, an organization that's both slick and edgy, established and cutting-edge. It's also very much of the moment while still looking back to the age of Debbie Harry and Keith Haring. "Here they are in this vestige of the '80's East Village," Wood points out. Right down the block, in fact, is La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, where playwright Sam Shepard ignited his career.