Brininstool + Lynch's research facility for a group of Chicago physicists
Monica Geran -- Interior Design, 2/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
Physics, most sources agree, is the science dealing with properties and interaction of matter and energy. "Traditional" physics is defined in brief as encompassing mechanics, optics, and electricity, while "modern" physics, based on quantum theory, embraces atomic, nuclear, particle, and solid-state studies in addition to such applied fields as geophysics and meteorology. The moral of the preamble, to stretch the connection a bit, is this: When clients describe themselves as a "small group of theoretical physicists who provide partial differential equations calculated by supercomputer over the Internet," translating an office concept into reality could be complex and confusing—or simple, serene, and clearly appropriate. The latter describes the present scenario. The design principal is Brad Lynch of Brininstool + Lynch. The clients are personal and professional partners Estia Eichten and Deborah Forman of Extreme Computing. All are based in Chicago.
Eichten, who also works at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, has extensive experience obtaining mathematically derived information vital to businesses. The process involves, in oversimplified terms, setting up equations that crunch the relevant figures and dish up data sought, in the present case, by other physicists. Were this procedure pursued privately, it would require millions of dollars for supercomputers housed in megaspaces.
Forman's professional forte is real estate, and Lynch was recommended to her by a broker contact, quickly seconded by several reliable friends. When the three principals met, she and Eichten had already bought a brick building in rather less than prime condition. Erected in the early teens of the past century, the three-story industrial structure offered 10,000 square feet of space and a south-facing brick and limestone facade obviously beyond salvation.
Lynch replaced that frontage with steel, aluminum, and glass. On the building's other sides, only the first of three wythes (layers of brick, one learns) had to be removed; the rest was tuck-pointed. Concrete floors, their surfaces smoothed, stained, and sealed, were solid, able to support 200 pounds per square foot should such strength be wanted—an unlikely prospect, since the 1,500 control computers are in the basement, with only terminals on the top floor.
What could have required major construction was resolved by good thinking: The main access point, next to the freight elevator in the rear, was commonly known as the "back entry," which sounded neither nice nor logical. The solution? Make a positive of a potential problem by stressing the importance of observing staff at work before assembling in the conference room to talk about the firm's services. Giving physical support to that theory, the aged freight cab was replaced and attractive stainless-steel doors and trim added.
Since the space is narrow and long, transparent and translucent planes were used to maximize natural light. Most crucial for this purpose is the glazed south facade, but even the dry-erase board—superimposed onto glass, leaving wide translucent margins—contributes to the effort. Less illuminating but totally indispensable is the manner of integrating the mass (could be mess) of cables that rise from the basement by running them through the building's core and distributing them through conduits in the lowered chipboard ceiling.
After 18 months of work, Lynch won two 2001 AIA Chicago honor awards for the project. He also left his clients a significant legacy: advice not to add to their properties just now. When Eichten and Forman want to expand, they'll have, in real-estate parlance, their pick of good deals.