Fun and Games, Seriously
Clive Wilkinson wasn't Mickey Mousing around at the Disney Store kingdom in Pasadena, California
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 5/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
Clive Wilkinson likes to have fun. By now, we all know that the Interior Design Hall of Fame member's Los Angeles firm brings levity to the workplace, often with the architectural equivalent of surf and turf. But Clive Wilkinson Architects's real stock in trade is serious corporate strategies. So where better to mix work with high jinks than at the Disney Store's headquarters in Pasadena, California?
In 2004, the North American Disney Store chain was acquired by the Children's Place, another retail giant. Once its CEO, Ezra Dabah, was introduced to Wilkinson by workplace consultant DEGW and taken on a tour of his "advertising city" for TBWA\Chiat\Day in Marina del Rey, the deal was sealed. Dabah's vision of the new headquarters: "A communicative environment with a creative smell in the air."
On a more tangible note, the Disney Store was desperate for breathing room. With 328 retail locations, the company outfits the entire family with clothing, accessories, and toys, all designed and prototyped or sourced at headquarters. To say there needed to be space for stuff is putting it mildly. Dabah found that and more at the Royal Laundry, a complex of three 1920's structures, two of which had been consolidated into a warehouse photogenic enough for advertising shoots.
The front portion features a 14-foot ceiling with hefty timber trusses, while the slightly larger rear is double-height. In between, a narrow brick-walled space connects the two zones. Taking account of assets, Wilkinson noted value beyond the overall 76,500 square feet. For starters, the rear zone's sawtooth roof results in dramatic clerestories spanning the width of the space. The area's U-shape steel-framed mezzanine needed just minor interventions: Wilkinson added abridge to create a continuous loop and tipped his modernist hand with a new steel balustrade.
"Solutions were obvious from the building," he continues. Up front, logically, is reception with its light box of a desk. There's also a 3,000-square-foot model store, a conference room, and a café-lounge. Who wouldn't want a "time out" in one of Eero Aarnio's acrylic Bubble hanging chairs?
Work areas, with their intricately mapped adjacencies, flow through both levels. VPs get glass-fronted offices tucked below the mezzanine. The upstairs executive suite has a bird's-eye view from the corner. As for the 17-foot-wide space between the central brick walls, CWA designated it the brainstorming room—alluding to its positive outcomes with rose-colored glass sliders. (Foam-block seating inside is hot pink.)
Then the real fun begins. "Clients often request space for the whole company to meet—but generally back away from taking up a whole area to do so," Wilkinson says. At the Disney Store, he provides that option. When it's time for all 220 staffers to get together, they can literally tear down two of the front conference room's walls, since they're built from huge blocks of lightweight foam in red, orange, yellow, and ocher. As the blocks spill into reception, they become seating. At meeting's end, employees simply reverse their deconstruction. Blocks go back up, walling in a conference room for 30. Now the focus is on a CWA signature: a custom table with, yes, a surfboard-resin top in the shape of a jigsaw puzzle.
From the front conference room and reception, the office's central boulevard extends rearward. Along it, Wilkinson stacked sunny-yellow honeycomb units of rotation-molded plastic, connected by threaded aluminum rods. And how cool is the idea of 250 honeycomb units snaking around to enclose a second conference room, out back? This freestanding sculpture scales down the workplace with a fixed center point.
Plus, the components are designed for nonstop storage. Planned as a one-off solution to control the Disney Store's clutter, the honeycomb system will soon spread those benefits worldwide. It's entering production by Belgian manufacturer Quinze & Milan, following a launch at Milan's Salone Internazionale del Mobile.
Along with the two conference rooms, Wilkinson says he relied on customized versions of Antonio Citterio's Ad Hoc desk and storage systems to "form the architecture as well as the furniture." Leave it to him to make a maximum statement with minimal impact on a building's intrinsic assets. Wilkinson is also as famous for his color sense as he is for those surfboard motifs. Here, the office landscape is interspersed with jolts of aqua, chartreuse, and magenta from the tinted-glass fronts of the training and team meeting rooms.
This being Southern California, no project would be complete without a nod to the outdoors. In addition to the original clerestories, eight new skylights lessen the need for fluorescents in the daytime. Wilkinson enlarged an existing courtyard as well. In front, landscaping includes a 12-foot-tall mouse-ear topiary. Signage not required.