Gary Lee Partners designs a new conference facility for Latham & Watkins, twenty-five stories below the law firm's Sears Tower offices.
Henry Urbach -- Interior Design, 5/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
The Chicago offices of Latham & Watkins, an international corporate law firm, occupy the 58th, 59th, and 60th floors of the Sears Tower. For the first phase of an ongoing expansion and renovation project by Gary Lee Partners, the firm decided to remove its conference facility to another floor nearly 250-ft. below the office level, relying on the building's speedy elevators and an integrated design language to connect spaces so vertically attenuated. "The firm was initially hesitant to separate its conference area," says project principal Craig Pierson, "but we worked closely with them to ensure that the architectural identity of the new facility would link it closely with the upper-level offices."
Latham & Watkins' new, state-of-the-art conference facility offers a high degree of flexibility and comfort. Because the 34th floor is an elevator transfer level, access to the meeting facility is easy and the firm gains a degree of visual presence among Sears Tower pedestrians. The designers specified a translucent glass door to the conference reception area that ensures visual privacy while providing a sense of the space behind it. On entering the 6,500-sq.-ft. interior, visitors encounter an integrated set of design moves meant to represent the firm's image as a leader in international corporate law while also nodding to the muscular, glass-and-steel architecture of the Sears Tower itself. Translucent glass, stainless steel, and stone were used along with warm wood veneers to impart a sense of luxury and corporate sophistication; clubby residential furniture in the reception seating area yields additional comfort.
The transfer-floor location has a 12-ft. ceiling, substantially greater than the height available on other floors, which allowed the designers to modulate the interior section for both architectural and technological reasons. Barrel vaults were used to emphasize spatial continuity in the reception and corridor, and meeting areas were set one-ft. above the reception space to gain a raised floor that gives ready access to cabling. Removable floor panels allow technical support systems to be rerouted as necessary, and the entire network can be readily upgraded as future needs dictate. Steps from the reception areas up to the meeting rooms further provide a sense of spatial transition and procession.
The designers developed a movable wall system so that the main conference facility can be divided into smaller rooms; likewise tables can be reconfigured into various arrangements by detaching and realigning table legs. Conference rooms were outfitted with flat, leatherette-wrapped shelves along the perimeter window wall to provide additional surfaces for display, collating papers, and other uses. Additional program elements include lounge areas, a catering kitchen, and copy/fax center.
Special glass partitions were used in the reception area to compensate for its lack of natural light and views. Assembled from glass with fabric stretched between them, these panels bring diffused light into the interior space while maintaining acoustical privacy between the reception area and the meeting rooms.
Similar design features animate the expansion and renovation currently underway on the upper floors. "The conference facility set the tone," says project manager David Grout, "and the new office reception area on the 58th floor has a similar design language." Soon, ever so seamlessly, multiple levels nearly 250 feet apart will join to form a greater corporate entity.