Clear As Crystal
Laura Fisher Kaiser -- Interior Design, 10/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
With its office and apartment towers and underground malls, Crystal City was considered avant-garde when it sprang up in the 1960's amid the brownfields of Northern Virginia. Here was the urban village of the future, where people could live, work, and shop without ever, God forbid, having to go outside.
Today, this cliché of urban sterility has again become a hub of forward thinking, with pedestrian esplanades, street-level stores and restaurants, and a new generation of occupants. Among the newcomers is an office by Envision. Registered in the LEED program for commercial interiors, this is the new headquarters of National Datacast, a small for-profit subsidiary of Crystal City tenant PBS.
The 6,500-square-foot space declares its unconventionality from the start with a reception lounge that foregoes a receptionist altogether. Instead, it's a living area that morphs into a party room when an ash-veneered panel slides back to reveal a wet bar. A delicious shade of blue extends up a wall and across an unfinished concrete ceiling, glimpsed through slots in a floating panel.
"The ceiling could have been more finished," Envision senior associate David Kay says. "But this gives a sense that there's something more beyond." It also establishes the office's theme of overlapping planes.
A wall of pivoting glass panels can open the lounge to the conference room, which surveys Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Metro tracks, the Potomac River, and busy roads. "You've got all the modes of transportation going by. Planes, trains, ships, cars," Envision principal Ken Wilson says—as a helicopter swoops past. "It's very dynamic from the second you enter."
Enclosed by fixed glass panels, the smaller operations center houses a battery of HDTV screens showcasing the company's national network of digital broadcast stations. The communal desk here runs along a backlit wall of frosted glass, behind which is the all-important server room. This relative transparency, CEO Jacqueline Weiss says, instills confidence in clients.
Environmentally friendly strategies throughout the office include materials with high recycled contents, flooring of rapidly renewable bamboo or cork, low- or zero-VOC finishes, and millwork with agri-fiber cores and no added urea-formaldehyde. In some areas, mineral-wool ceiling tile made of 72 percent recycled material reflects the light from indirect-direct T5 linear fixtures designed for low ceilings. As Wilson points out, "You couldn't do this five years ago, having a linear fixture at 8 feet. You needed at least 18 inches of clearance."
In other areas, linear T5 fixtures add drama while also helping to maintain a lighting load of less than 1 watt per square foot. Both fixture types work in conjunction with occupancy sensors and daylight-responsive controls. With glass-fronted executive offices along perimeter walls, natural light is extensive.
"The funny thing is that the clear glass walls were not part of the original brief," Wilson reveals. "Every time we met with the client, the office walls got more transparent, from frosted to a film pattern to nothing at all."