MAP Architecture + Design tuned in to the Woolworth Building location of an advertising agency's New York office
Monica Geran -- Interior Design, 5/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
Four years ago, contemplating relocation to a larger office, advertising agency Fallon New York began the search for a suitable architect. Shortly after initiating the hunt, Fallon executives kept hearing about—from various sources—two exceptionally good spaces in Manhattan being built for another ad shop. Both installations, it turned out, were the work of the same firm: MAP Architecture + Design. On a hunch, the Fallon group visited one of the spaces to size up the design; although the particular project would have not met Fallon's exact needs, there was nevertheless an elusive quality of rightness about the job, giving rise to the conviction that MAP's design approach would be appropriate for whatever site was eventually selected. Intrigued, Fallon executives called the designers for an introductory meeting. Morris Adjmi, who cofounded MAP with his wife, Lisa Mahar, says that he loosely interpreted the prospective clients' vision as "something more polished and modern" than the space they had seen. According to third partner Wesley Wolfe, they also liked MAP's work process, which involves intensive and assiduously analyzed interviews to determine the direction of a project. Both the rationale and the results pleased, and MAP was engaged to design Fallon's new office, 28,000 square feet in the "cathedral of commerce," Cass Gilbert's 1913 Woolworth Building on lower Broadway.
The program called for a collaborative environment in an open plan scored by two rows of 50 workstations. There are just eight private offices: four corner offices plus two pairs connected by double doors. Thematic guidelines were set by the building's Gothic architecture, particularly its vertical emphasis. This motif is introduced in the 17-foot-wide by 23-foot-long elevator lobby, where strong lines are formed by whitewashed maple struts set against backlit acrylic. Long, low leather-covered benches placed in the middle of the space would seem as well suited to a museum as to an office. Visitors step over a brushed-aluminum Fallon logo, which is laid in the original shot-blasted, epoxy-coated concrete floor, in order to enter the main reception area—a basically white space that resembles a shimmering shell, Wolf notes. The area's glossy finish is counterpointed by dark rosewood-and-acrylic table-height cabinets, 15 feet long, spanning a corridor that cuts perpendicularly through the entrance hall. Each cabinet has an illuminated top layer that exhibits periodically changed advertising samples. Decorative wall art is also replaced as desired.
Indeed, MAP treated all the public areas as showcases for Fallon's work. Another prime place for viewing is the long corridor that runs parallel to the elevator lobby and connects all the public spaces. Standing perpendicular to alternating sides of the passageway, six double-faced display units subliminally direct visitors to walk a serpentine line when examining the graphics, by Fallon staffers. Shows change weekly.
The ecclesiastical associations of the Woolworth Building's Gothic style account for the layout's axiality, which brings to mind aisle-bordered pews, Wolfe remarks. Further alluding to the building's churchlike bearing, MAP cleverly reinterpreted stained-glass windows in the form of light boxes that project a slowly changing sequence of green, yellow, blue, and red casts against a sheer white fabric scrim behind the reception desk. Activated by a theatrical fixture with a motorized spinning disk, the four colors fade in and out, commingling to produce a kaleidoscopic light show in perpetual slow motion.
Equally sweet to the eye are corridor walls washed by the same four tints, projected by gelled fluorescent fixtures mounted near the floor. Walls in the office proper are enlivened by backlit fabric panels selvaged with zippers; the play of light through the fasteners' teeth adds to the lighting artistry and restates the emphasis on vertical lines. Lighting, Wolfe says, is an all-important ingredient of the design scheme. He points out that lightbulbs have a second meaning: They can stand for idea flashes—as the funnies taught us—which is precisely what ad agencies need to survive and thrive.