Design Laboratories goes the distance at Red Bull in Hoboken, New Jersey
Maria Shollenbarger -- Interior Design, 11/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
"This is not a suit-and-tie culture we're talking about," says Design Laboratories principal David Ruff. "Some people don't feel the need to wear shoes at work." And that's OK when your employer is Red Bull, the energy-drink company whose Eastern regional headquarters Ruff and principal Karen Frome recently completed in Hoboken, New Jersey.
With their blend of caffeine, vitamins, and herbal stimulants, energy drinks have become one of the fastest-growing segments in the beverage market, the natural upper of choice for a hyper-achieving workforce (and hyperactive club kids). Design Laboratories's pared-down 4,800-square-foot office reflects the youthful ethos of the energy-drink phenomenon in general and Red Bull's aggressively edgy brand in particular—an identity defined by hip marketing, sponsorship of extreme sports, and grassroots sales tactics.
"There's a roving sales force that's in for a day or two, then out again," notes Ruff, so the architects had to address the needs of a largely mobile staff while considering Red Bull's occasionally barefoot worldview. Design Laboratories accomplished this dual task by using economical, functional materials, an approach that the eight-year-old firm had successfully applied at the offices of the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
"We went with Design Laboratories because of the BAM project," says Red Bull finance and administration director Greg Domico. "Rather than the linear thinking you normally see in an office, they did something much more organic. And their relative youth certainly wasn't a deterrent."
The foyer immediately establishes the Red Bull attitude: A floor coated in brazen cobalt-blue epoxy and walls painted metallic silver—two of the Austrian company's branding colors—read as stark and a bit brash. A low bench with white vinyl tufted cushions runs the length of one wall, angling down to the floor just as it reaches a glass wall dividing the foyer from reception. Visible on the other side of the glass, two additional cushions, a swath of white epoxy flooring, and the flared white base of a table extend the bench's line, in what Ruff calls a "graphic response."
The office's activity hub and spiritual center consists of two pods, immediately to the right of the foyer. The larger houses a lounge-cum-conference room known as the think tank, the smaller an interview room, and both are equipped with laptop docking stations. "Red Bull needed a place for people to work together," Ruff explains of the pods' austere interiors. In the larger pod, the docking stations are inserted in gaps between back cushions of the white vinyl-covered banquette ringing the circumference. Sitting in the center is an apple-plywood conference table, soon to be replaced by a Foozball table.
Ruff and Frome built the pods of wallboard and plaster layers coated with outdoor silver paint. The result, with its intersecting convex and concave shapes, resembles a skateboard ramp—not by accident. Frome confirms, "The inspiration for the group areas came from skate parks. Red Bull does a lot of skate sponsorships. It's a huge part of their culture." The pods' construction process was equally unorthodox. Aided by a three-dimensional modeling program called Rhino, Ruff and Frome executed the structures' design down to the last wooden rib, then generated two-dimensional, one-to-one scale printouts of every element. Laid in place on-site, these functioned as an ad hoc construction manual for the contractors. "It was like a fashion designer making a dress pattern," says Frome. The "lining," according to that comparison, is waxed Marbelux, a synthetic somewhere between plaster and stucco.
Flanking the pods are 11 low-tech, mobile workstations for the sales force. Desks are apple plywood; dividers are nylon-spandex stretched over stainless-steel tubing and fiberglass rods to create a sleek air-flow shape. These featherweight dividers fit directly onto the desks, and all can be mounted and demounted with relative ease. "The pods are really the focal point of the office," says Ruff. "Work spaces needed to complement but not compete. They're light and fun and durable." Not to mention high-energy.