More open space, more efficiency, and more enthusiasm are the result of Gensler New York's newly devised eighth-floor studio.
Monica Geran -- Interior Design, 9/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
It was about five years ago that census figures began to crescendo. Previously, when Gensler New York relocated from East 46th Street to two floors at One Rockefeller Plaza in the summer of 1988, there were 80 employees in Manhattan. Thirteen years and another floor (plus fractional space) later, the people-count reached 272, excluding satellite offices on Wall Street, in Parsippany (soon to be shifted to Morristown), New Jersey, and Boston. The New York charter floors, five and six flights up—each covers 18,740 sq. ft.—contain reception/executive/presentation/library and production facilities respectively; three studios are apportioned between them. In the fractional space are accounting, a model shop, and GIS, denoting Gensler Information Solutions. The eighth floor, added just a year ago and filled with studio groups plus conference center and lunch-room, is the subject of these pages.
For it was on this newest floor that the state of congestion became most uncontrollable. As vice president/New York design director/spokesman Mark Morton tells it, in no time at all there were 108 staffers hard at work on this floor, whereas the programmed headcount was to have been 85. Theoretically, transfers from lower floors should have freed evacuated spots but even that didn't happen. "We'd been stuffing people into available space," the spokesman recalls, "but the staff kept growing. It wasn't working." That's when it was decided to scrap conventional workspace planning and to invent for the topmost floor a new and more efficient system of working collectively in the studio way and, at the same time, accommodating more people than had been possible heretofore. Thus the first priority was to increase the headcount without enlarging pricey square footage; the second was to develop the new concept so that it would become a sort of Gensler trademark for updated aesthetics in the studio workplace, encouraging collaborative team work and doing so in a productive manner freed from the pressures of overcrowding.
Before the challenge of more-in-less had been faced and resolved, Gensler had—and still does, on lower floors—followed the traditional route of providing individual cubicles with systems furniture for most of the staff. As a first step in efforts to reduce crowding, therefore, elimination of partitions was tried. And sure enough, the subtraction did pave the way for allowing more people to work in teams rather than operating in isolation. Along with spatial gains, there is a corresponding raised-morale factor: Open space, according to the spokesman, is a coveted commodity, rated higher by the staff than privacy or territorial reign. It's today's version of the don't-fence-me-in syndrome.
Specifically, then, the paradigm for the new work center is a take-off on brokers' trading tables, here known as drawing desks. Each measures 36 in. by 72 in., seats four people on either side, and offers ample clear surface space for all sorts of visuals ranging from drawings and blueprints to swatches and chips. Separate mobile tables holding flat-screen computers are adjuncts; overhead cabinets and files hold more reference materials; and personal possessions can be locked up in pedestals. As staffers don't have home bases, coats and boots and such can be stored in cloak rooms at both floor ends. There are four private offices at the northern terminus near the training area. The overall layout was determined by structural bays placed at 28-ft. norms.
Further indicative of Gensler's changed modus operandi on the eighth floor is the expanded utilization of the circa five-ft.-wide circulation lane at the core. Walls here double as pin-up boards for drawings, and small seating groups become hubs for get-togethers with consultants, engineers, contractors, and the like. For more formal meetings with clients, there are two conference rooms at the southern end; between them are the lunch room and, encircled by four contiguous metal mesh curtain panels running on tracks, a pantry and copy area. On special occasions, the doors of the conference rooms are opened to create a broad multi-use east/west swath. Flexibility, it would appear, is another coveted by-product.
Lighting and ceiling design are interrelated. Acoustically tiled planes hung at nine ft. above drawing desks hold ambients; wall-mounted task lights focus on raised shelving and work counters; and pendants illuminate reference files. "We used both modern and old-fashioned fixtures," Morton asides. Scattered here and there are periodically changed panels propped on railings; they may exhibit diverse graphics or simply add a burst of bright color. Also variable are "inspirational words" laser-printed on adhesive vinyl at the southern core wall, where mail is posted and picked up at a concatenation of built-in letter boxes.
It took less than five months to effect the eighth-floor conversion. Team members were Madeline Burke-Vigeland, Ana Gonzalez, Ambrose Kelly, Connie Pelina-Lueken, Henry Hong, and Susan Merrell.