Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained
Mansueto Ventures, designed by TPG, is a pioneer tenant at New York's ground zero
Craig Kellogg -- Interior Design, 5/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
Downtown loft luxury with a river view—sounds more like new condominiums than a high-rise office. However, the 39,000-square-foot space in question was among the 50 locations offered to Kristine Kern, general manager of Mansueto Ventures in New York. The publisher of business magazines Fast Company and Inc., the company is the pet project of Joe Mansueto, founder of the mutual-fund research firm Morningstar.
Financial incentives to lure office tenants to lower Manhattan after 9/11 are still in effect, making the parallelogram-shape 29th floor of 7 World Trade Center "far and away the most beautiful office space we saw for the price," Kern says with a note of relief. A self-described "design freak," she was initially attracted to the window walls. "You saw it all when you walked in," she says—that's "all" as in a 360-degree panorama including the construction site at ground zero, next door.
"You still see a lot of it," she continues. That's largely because of the glass partitions installed by TPG Architecture founder James Phillips and associate principal and managing design director Luc Massaux. As Phillips puts it, "We tried not to get in the way of the view." Even the boardroom's wall of rippling glass panels allows vague impressions through. But the skyline is most clearly seen beyond the clear glass of the storefront system enclosing smaller conference and meeting rooms and the perimeter offices.
During the design process, CEO John Koten renounced a stretch of prime corner real estate. "I decided it would be easier for me if everybody had the same size office," Koten says. And he did indeed settle for one of the standard-issue 100-square-foot glass boxes. Let the record show, however, that his just happens to enjoy a floor-to-ceiling vista centered squarely on the Empire State Building.
The perimeter offices have panelized suspended acoustical ceilings. In contrast, the lion's share of the communal space has a 13 ½-foot ceiling covered in nothing more than fireproofing sprayed with pale gray low-VOC paint. Phillips and Massaux highlighted it by directing some illumination from the linear fixtures upward.
Because the building is column-free, both the ceiling and the floor could flow as uninterrupted as the designers desired. They used carpet to set off ganged workstations from circulation zones and loosely programmed communal spaces, where the sealed concrete remains bare. "It's like a cityscape, with the carpet as city blocks and the surrounding concrete as sidewalk," Massaux says.
The only people at Mansueto who face entirely away from the view are the interns, who sit at counter-height workstations set up against the walls of the building core. Pass through a steel door, into the core, and you'll find yourself at one end of a long corridor lined with bright red lockers and sprayed with the colorful graffiti-style murals now trendy for New York office towers. During business hours, coats and gym clothes are stashed here. Building architect Skidmore, Owings & Merrill also intended the reinforced-concrete core to be used as a refuge in the event of a smaller attack at ground zero.
Kern spins it this way: Mansueto's sunny perch on the edge of the World Trade Center construction site offers a front-row seat for the rebirth of New York. She says her only regret is that the office isn't bigger. (Mansueto Digital, a $10 million expansion, is under way online, and an entrepreneur's magazine is in the works.) In fact, one of Kern's colleagues, originally a skeptic, recently admitted that the airy interiors have become a recruiting tool. Meanwhile, Silverstein Properties has taken to showing off the 29th floor to potential tenants. Confidence breeds confidence—a lesson in strategic fearlessness well known in Mansueto's target demo.