Gensler New York singles out Peter Wang for his work on ING Direct Café, a cheerful place for learning all about top-yield savings.
Monica Geran -- Interior Design, 11/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
This is a tale in three chapters: One, a brief summary of Gensler policies for finding and advancing incipient talent; two, a synopsis of an unusual client's atypical business, demanding off-beat design solutions; and three, the project report by a bright young Gensler designer who, though below vice-presidential rank, played a leading role in the pertinent job. The design firm's key participants interviewed are vice president/managing and project principal Robin Klehr Avia; vice president/design director John Bricker; and the alluded-to prodigy, senior associate/project designer Peter Wang. The client firm is ING Direct, a Dutch enterprise said to be one of the world's largest integrated financial service organizations paying, moreover, highest interest rates. Its New York command post, on 49th Street off Park Avenue, is the café/information center; its raison d'être is to promote the company's name and marketing program—concepts known, in today's lingo of gerunding, as "branding" and "visioning"—in a cheerful technology-steeped environment.
And then there is Peter Wang, who, after joining Gensler, came to the attention of Bricker and, one may assume, his colleagues. Having been hired, it was a given that Wang would show talent. But what made him special, his mentor reports, was his ability to communicate and listen, convey clearly his creative visions to his team, and to execute responsibilities inherent in leadership positions. To this one might add that his familiarity with the ING job's design minutiae is prodigious, and that his enthusiasm is irresistibly catching. All in all, the profile fits management's conviction that its fortune depends on its people, a credo backed by Gensler's recruiting task force; the unit is charged with gathering information based on interviews and résumés for monthly dissemination to the 20 offices in the U.S. Staff hunters in London, Amsterdam, Tokyo, and Hong Kong are on their own.
As for the client, headed by chairman/CEO Arkadi Kuhlmann, ING Direct does not, as do traditional banks, handle cash deposits and withdrawals; it does deal with loans, mortgages, federally insured CDs and the like, all handled exclusively via Internet and telephone. Asked for some explanatory words, Jim Kelly, vice president for sales, cuts through recondite financespeak. "The ING Direct café," he says, "is a physical manifestation of our virtual essence…[it stands for] value and convenience in a hospitable environment." He omits a vital point: financial companies of this type cannot open branch offices, which assures immense real-estate savings convertible into those high interest rates. The venue for the subject venture is a 3,600-sq.-ft. ground-level-with-mezzanine space in an atypical low building, incongruously shoehorned between high-rises.
The design plan, developed during several client/designer meetings, called for a prototypical setting that acts as a "branding billboard" attracting potential and present customers to learn all about the savings program while sipping Pete's coffee and munching Cipriani pastries—the product/brand-name linkage proffered by Bricker. Here Wang picks up the tale. Several identity icons, he explains, were derived from the client firm's TV and print advertising. (Actually, the only obvious carryover is a large orange ball that, in the brick-and-mortar version, appears as a flat disk.) Also specified for the built surround were ample transparencies, lighthearted graphics, and, of course, varied devices to facilitate information exchanges. Communication sources include a centrally located two-level Internet kiosk with three computers per floor; attendant ING personnel; and telephones at a stainless-steel column near the mezzanine-connecting stairs. Orange, the signature color, makes its debut outside by a down-swooping canopy and full-scale framing; and inside, by circular, squared, and curving shapes. Perhaps most arresting on the double-height floor are bands of Pirelli rubber tiles. Predictably hued orange, they rise up walls, scoot across rounded corners onto the ceiling, and land on the mezzanine level opposite. More of the textured flooring material is cut and laid as rugs. Outstanding indeed is the coffee bar of plastic laminate and Corian with wood insert. Displayed bicycles, T-shirts, and other ING goods are for sale. But surely most arresting of all are the mock-serious laser-cut vinyl graphics, applied to fronts of translucent panels, advocating the virtues of saving. Stairs were inherited, but the handsome glass/stainless-steel railings are new.
Completing the team were project director Julia Simet, project manager Andrew Kamins, designers Gregory Okshteyn and Laurent Lismachio, graphics design project manager Jill Wittnebel, graphic designers Tracy Silverstein and her associate Beth Novitsky. The job took about a year.