Clive Wilkinson Architects applies a nautical theme to TBWA/Chiat/Day's New York offices.
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 5/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
Less than a year after completion of TBWA/Chiat/Day's acclaimed Los Angeles headquarters (Interior Design, March, 1999), Clive Wilkinson Architects (CWA) embarked on the design of the agency's relocated New York offices. Wilkinson had described the 120,000-sq.-ft. warehouse conversion in Playa del Rey as an "advertising city." Given New York's tighter real estate market, the agency's new site at 488 Madison Avenue encompasses roughly a third of the space of its L.A. counterpart, and Wilkinson's urban analogy is replaced by views of the city itself—St. Patrick's Cathedral offers one dazzling vista. For the design of the new offices, Wilkinson also worked within certain predetermined constraints, for example a layout that had been previously created by Gensler.
TBWA/Chiat/Day has a history of high-profile projects. Their previous New York offices on Maiden Lane, designed by Gaetano Pesce, were rather wild, replete with vivid epoxy floors, cast-resin doors, and walls treated with a dizzying array of materials and finishes. Initially, agency executives and Wilkinson explored the possibility of adapting the space to accommodate the firm's growth, but it soon became clear that something entirely new was called for. Jeremy Miller, TBWA/Chiat/Day's director of public relations worldwide, describes Pesce's design at Maiden Lane as "a Disneyland cocktail party. It couldn't change. We were looking for a space that would be adaptable."
Uptown, the two 22,000-sq.-ft. floors were flexible but not without problems. Wilkinson first turned his attention to internal circulation. Opening the two floors with a 20-ft.-high atrium and suspending a steel-and-concrete staircase from ceiling-affixed metal rods, the architect provided at once a striking entry volume, a magnet for informal interaction, and an anchor for the distribution of public spaces. The sixth floor has a pair of large meeting rooms for audio/visual and print presentations, as well as a reception area. The seventh floor houses a broadcast suite, a production zone, a freestanding conference room whose amorphous form has led to its appellation as the "Blob," and the all-important lounge/clubhouse area that is a standard agency perquisite. Both floors incorporate a scheme of work stations and meeting rooms that integrates departments while sustaining a feeling of openness which, according to Miller, "eliminates some of the hierarchy."
Sensitive to the building's mid-century vintage and urban context, the architect refrained from using the freewheeling visual effects that distinguish the West Coast headquarters, favoring instead more refined treatments. The reception area is dominated by a 15 ¼-ft.-long aluminum table fitted with holes for 90 flowerpots. It's the first detail one sees upon entering the space from the deep blue painted tube of the elevator corridor. "I wanted to create a statement evocative of nature," says the architect of the project's signature element—an idea, he is quick to acknowledge, derived from the Hempel hotel in London. "One of the things you miss most living in New York is nature," he continues. "This is a means to cheap, disposable nature."
The stairwell wall is another vivid statement. Steel-clad and punctured with an archway and portholes, it makes a subtle nautical reference. The "Blob" conference room is notable for its whimsical form detailed with graphic cutouts for windows and maple-strip surfacing that comes from the project's recycled flooring.
Johnny Vulkan, the agency's COO, praises the accomplished design: "The whole dynamic changed once Clive completed the project. There's a remarkable change in connection and morale. And we now have a place to gather 220-odd people—for weekly meetings on Mondays and drinks on Thursday."
Completion of the TBWA/Chiat/Day project took 19 months. The CWA team included Steve Lesko, Ali Hocek, James Kelly, Christian Bandi, Jane Wuu, Ho-Yu Fong, Jess Mullen-Carey, and Bill Beauter.