Quality of Light
Architecture Research Office creates a luminous work environment for a Manhattan investment firm.
Julia Lewis -- Interior Design, 1/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
SHORTLY AFTER ARO ( Architecture Research Office) completed the renovation of a 19th-century Soho warehouse building, the New York-based firm was invited back to design offices for its anchor tenant, Capital Z Partners. A two-year-old "alternative asset management firm" that controls $3.35 billion and has satellite branches in both London and Hong Kong, the company was set to occupy the first five floors of the 7-story edifice of brick and granite.
"The client brief was straightforward," reports ARO principal Stephen Cassell, who was the project's managing partner (with principal Adam Yarinsky acting as consulting partner). "The company does not see itself as a typical financial office. They wanted a professional environment, but one with personality," says Cassell. "In addition, they are a tight group whose work involves a great deal of collaboration. There had to be an emphasis on communal spaces where employees could converge." Of greatest concern, however, was light. Although the building has three exposures, explains the architect, "it doesn't get a lot of light because the windows are actually quite small." The client asked that ARO resolve this problem without recourse to fluorescent lighting. This, says Cassell, was the client's most daunting request, which greatly influenced the plan of the 25,000-sq.-ft. office.
The ground floor is comprised of a reception area, gym, and pantry, as well as a 20-seat boardroom that opens to a lounge where employees typically eat lunch. The lounge looks out onto a landscaped courtyard with a private basketball court. Sleek, contemporary furniture and polished concrete floors establish Capital Z's decidedly non-corporate aesthetic. Naturally, all areas of the office, including the courtside sitting area and rooftop terrace, are wired so that laptops can be plugged in and work can take place beyond the confines of a desk.
On the upper floors, private offices and small meeting rooms are planned around centrally positioned common areas. Inspired by "early Alvar Aalto details" that he observed during a trip to Finland, Cassell and his team devised a simple yet elegant partition system that divides the private rooms from the public spaces in the middle of each floor. Extruded polycarbonate panels and transparent glass sliding doors are framed with blackened steel and cherry wood. The stationary panels are illuminated along their top edges by halogen lights which, coupled with the material's translucence, ameliorate the amount of light that reaches the center area. "The polycarbonate was originally developed for skylights and scatters light beautifully," says Cassell, who worked with the manufacturer to adapt the material for use at Capital Z.
Distributed on four floors, the nine partners' offices are approximately 325 sq. ft. each and furnished with a stylish mix of custom pieces and items from Geiger Brickel's Petri system. Desks, designed by ARO, feature granite tops and blackened steel frames with anigré panels. Task and guest chairs were selected for their lithe profiles.
In keeping with the rooms' subtlety and refinement, upholstery fabrics and carpeting are textured but generally monochromatic. Halogen lighting provides a bright and warm ambience. "All of the partners have eclectic and varied collections. We tried to make the offices restrained and well-lit, assuming-correctly-that they would be filled with the individuals' own art and objects." The 18 principals' offices are slightly smaller and furnished similarly, while associates and staff work in semi-custom cubicles that are concentrated on the fifth floor.
Furniture and art lend a distinct character to the common areas on each level. A tasteful mix of contemporary and classic modern pieces provides continuity on the second and third floors. However, the lower of the two levels is "more playful and relaxed," says Cassell. Here, bright red Vermelha rope chairs and Gerrit Rietveld Zig-Zag chairs provide lively foils for Antonio Citterio's pared-down sofas and ARO's simplified table designs. Toys with Strings by Patrick Miceli, an installation comprised of approximately 8,000 McDonald's toys, animates the space with bands of bold color. Elise Engler's Z Desks #1 through #5, a group of drawings based on the contents of employee desks, is another of the many pieces that were commissioned by Capital Z. The third floor, where guests are received and client meetings take place, is comparatively formal and subdued. However, it is enlivened by scattered frosted glass pendant lights and additional pieces of contemporary art. The fourth floor contains the library and is furnished with built-in and freestanding wood cabinetry.
"Our ultimate goal," concludes Cassell, "was to create simple, elegant architecture that would play off the character of the occupants and the furniture." Capital Z was completed in a year and a half. ARO principals extend credit to project architect John Quale and project manager Kim Yao.