Swanke Hayden Connell outfits a multipurpose conference center to crown the Reuters tower in New York's Times Square
Craig Kellogg -- Interior Design, 5/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
For Reuters, the global financial-media company, a primary advantage of centralizing scattered New York operations in Times Square was rooted in zoning. Amid the hustle of Broadway and 42nd Street—with their tag teams of sidewalk evangelists and mounds of plump purple trash bags—the broad, garish signs not permitted in other Manhattan locations are actually encouraged as adornments for the mirrored-glass facades of office buildings. Accordingly, the base of the 30-story Fox & Fowle tower purpose-built for Reuters boasts a pileup of blinking LED video billboards that advertise the company to the millions of passersby who traverse the crossroads of the world each year.
A quieter, corporate tone was needed inside, however, for Reuters and its Instinet subsidiary, an on-line securities brokerage. This was particularly the case for the 30th floor, a 25,000-square-foot conference facility. There, far above Times Square's din, executives would entertain potential clients, showcase products, and ease into marketing efforts of all kinds. But typically luxurious finishes were not available to Swanke Hayden Connell Architects, charged with the 22 floors of Reuters and Instinet interiors. Being publicly traded, the companies asked for the aesthetic of a start-up: functionalism, in other words, that would in no way seem wasteful. "Lean and mean" is how Joan Blumenfeld, the Swanke partner who supervised the fit-out, characterizes the desired look.
"We knew it was going to be a color-and-paint job," project team leader Agatha Rady notes. For metal stairways and elevator doors and frames—finish elements that would have been fabricated of stainless steel, budget permitting—the architects instead availed themselves of the chunky, metallic qualities of Scuffmaster paint. Beginning in the elevator lobby of the conference center, designed by senior associate Scott Habjan, floors are simulated limestone tile rather than the real thing. Visitors follow a tile "sidewalk" past a reception desk, en route to a wall of windows overlooking Broadway and a 200-degree swath of Manhattan skyline.
Private rooms conceived primarily for in-house dining or small meetings skirt the side and rear facades. Except for residential-quality lighting and Norman Foster's high-tech glass-and-chrome tables, these areas are clean-lined and functional. "Corporate dining finishes tend to be more traditional and elaborate," Blumenfeld says, referring to projects her firm has undertaken for investment banks. Here, simple modernism prevails. (On the 16th floor, by contrast, the bright employee cafeteria features retro surface-mounted fluorescent lighting and decorative portholes glued to the wallboard. "It's just fun," Blumenfeld notes.)
Because the 30th floor serves as a public face for Reuters, a few outright luxuries did sneak past the value engineers. Pearwood-veneer paneling was used in the boardroom, while walls in its anteroom are wrapped in leather. Similar upholstered surfaces were employed throughout the space. In six small demo rooms, walls are velvety midnight-blue crepe that evokes black-box theaters, a suitable metaphor for Broadway. These rooms' brushed-aluminum ceilings are dropped, but other areas are as tall as possible, for a bit of grandeur. Most spectacular is the multipurpose room, where a ribbon ceiling undulates down to sheath a pair of low-slung structural elements before flipping up into a "porch" over the entrance.
Midway through the design process, economics again won out in the decision to exclude visual branding from the conference floor so that facilities could be rented out to other companies. "This way, people coming from the outside don't feel like they're in a Reuters space," explains Rady, and the 30th floor can compete for business with meeting rooms at nearby hotels. In striking contrast to those sumptuous but confining venues, Reuters's top floor boasts an unbeatable amenity: spectacular views of Central Park, the Hudson River, and the Empire State Building.